Fitting railways into the landscape.

Railway buildings at Conwy were designed in sympathy with the historic castle
Credit: NRM/Science & Society Picture Library

The railways’ march across the landscape wasn’t relentless and was occasionally defeated by local opposition and legislation. As early as 1846, for instance, a Royal Commission effectively banned railways from central London.

The railway companies were forced to build fourteen separate termini, and even now passengers must take taxis or connecting tube trains across the capital to continue their journeys.

Modern diesel and electric railways provided a far greener alternative to road transport.

Railway companies also tempered the style of buildings to match their surroundings. For example, the bridge at Conwy in Wales was built with crenellated portals and a Gothic archway in sympathy with the nearby medieval castle. In town and country alike, however, railways were soon accepted, and the country station became as much a part of rural life as the blacksmith’s shop. The closure of rural lines in the twentieth century therefore came as a major blow, and for many communities the Beeching ‘Axe’ of the 1960s hastened the adoption of lifestyles dominated by the car. Railscapes, too, changed as stations were abandoned and were given over to recreational use as cycleways, footpaths and nature reserves.

By the late twentieth century there was growing recognition that, although still reliant on fossil fuels, modern diesel and electric railways provided a far greener alternative to road transport. Even the construction of new lines causes less disruption than road building, which has a much greater negative impact in terms of land use, environmental damage and pollution.

The resurgence of the railways means that once again new lines are appearing, accompanied by ambitious new structures. Their continuing revival means that new ‘railscapes’ are still emerging today, two hundred years after the appearance of the first steam locomotive

Background: Class 87