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Rail: hundreds of years in the making

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It’s too easy to think that what we have in our lives will not last. All too often we say we live in a throwaway society.

I don’t buy into that ideology, but a headcount of my old mobile phones suggests otherwise. And I can still remember buying a laptop once and being told by the person selling it that the device would last two years, at best.

Rail, by contrast to this cynical outlook, is refreshing.

In three years, the modern railway will be 200 years old: the plans are already in motion for a fantastic showcase of rides, events and entertainment, celebrating the landmark over at the Stockton & Darlington Railway.

Okay, it’s fair to say that little of our network looks anything like it once did. Routes have been shut, infrastructure renewed, and new stations added while others have closed. Trains have become outdated and replaced by greener counterparts, and, just this week, we saw a consultation into ticket offices because the demand for them had significantly dropped before the pandemic.

But the reality is that the desire to build something to last is what has made components replaceable, track upgradable, and stations brought up to mobility-inclusive standards. If you don’t build big, if you don’t dream, then you don’t have something robust enough to be replaced gradually, part by part. That means older track can’t withstand newer trains, and those trains can’t evolve to house new systems, keeping things running for many years until a new generation arrives.

It’s this commitment to quality that builds rail. It’s what keeps it going. In short, the railway, as proven by its 200-year record, isn’t the track or the trains: it’s the ingenuity, determination, and vision of the people who design it, build it and maintain it.

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