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Flashback to a transport world in 1973

Norman Baker's picture
John Doherty (driver), Johnny Sweeney (shunter) and Inspector William Knox standing beside a train in Waterside Station in 1973

Someone once said that the past is another country, and that’s as true for transport as it is for anything else.

Back in 1973, when Campaign for Better Transport was founded (under its then name Transport 2000), it all looked very different. The buses I took on the way to school had open platforms, making it easy to get on an off, and with poles ideal for swinging on, until you were told to behave properly. Upstairs on the double deckers, the air was thick from all the smokers and there were signs that shouted “No spitting”.

The driver could be found in his cab (and they were all men in those days), separated from the rest of the bus, and governed, Pavlovian style, by the ring of the bell. Once to stop, twice to start.

The buses all had liveried conductors, of course, whose utterances were of the limited variety a parrot might produce. “Any more fares.” “Hold tight.” Rarely would they call out the stops. The assumption was you knew where you were going and where to get off.

The trains were all of the slam door variety which were actually more efficient in terms of station dwell time than the controlled doors we have now. This is no doubt partly due to the fact that people regularly jumped off, and indeed sometimes jumped on, when the train was moving.

For my part, I had this down to a fine art and would jump from the train precisely at the point on the platform where the station exit was. In fact, I regularly did this until 2004 when the last slam door came out of service. Oddly enough, the only time I was told off for jumping was on the last slam door service, from Lewes to Seaford. It signalled a new, safety conscious era.

The trains all had windows that could be pulled down and I loved to stick my head out on a hot summer’s day to feel the breeze, always being careful of course to make sure there wasn’t a bridge in the way.

Smoking was also permitted in designated carriages on the trains and incredibly on the tube as well. If you wandered through one of those carriages, you were desperately gasping for air by the time you got to the other end.

Smoking was even allowed on planes with smokers at the back, not that the positioning frankly made much change to the polluted environment that was created.

Train tickets were made of thick cardboard, bearing the name of both the departure and arrival stations. Travel was costed by the mile and there were no such things as cheap day returns. They would come in a few years later. I vividly recall when I worked for British Rail in 1984, there was a poster to promote these, which featured someone dressed as Henry VIII jocularly asking the booking clerk for a cheap day return to Hampton Court, underneath which some wag had scrawled “and a single for the wife”.

The roads were much freer of congestion and there were relatively few motorways, though the car was very much in the ascendancy and the train was seen as yesterday’s travel option.

As soon as I reached 17, I wanted to be on the road, and indeed passed my driving test 13 days after my 17th birthday. My first car was a Ford Anglia which cost me £35 and which I sold for the same price about eight months later.

So yes, transport has changed hugely. Except perhaps in one regard, for me at least. The car I drive when I need to is, a 1971 Triumph Herald (actually a K reg) so that too has also been around for five decades, just like Campaign for Better Transport.


Photo by The Carlisle Kid via WikiCommons featuring, from left to right, John Doherty (driver), Johnny Sweeney (shunter) and Inspector William Knox beside a train on Waterside Station in 1973.