Platform Souls

My summer reading is ‘Platform Souls’. First published in 1995 I got my copy quite by chance during one of my many forays into second-hand bookshops. It tells the story of a trainspotter over three decades.

In 1964 the 11 year old Nicholas Whittaker is drawn to trains, starts trainspotting and travels across the country ‘bunking’ into locomotive sheds to get numbers.

Steam was already vanishing and over the next five years Whittaker goes long distances, often alone, to find the last operating steam locos so he can underline them in his copy of the ‘ABC Combine’. For me his descriptions of the last days of steam are the most evocative and enjoyable parts of the book.

Whittaker was open to the rise of diesels. He hunts Warships, Westerns, Hymeks and Deltics while these are in the assendance and then, in their turn, withdrawn from service.

Finally, the book reflects on the rail scene in the mid 1990s, the increasing use of multiple units, the dwindling numbers of locomotives and the decline of the railway as an attraction for ‘spotting’.

It could easily have been a dry tome listing the classes and numbers that the author collected, but Whittaker avoids this. Instead, he gives insights into what attracted him to trains, the characters (good and bad) associated with the railways and how changes to the network reflected the social changes in Britain. It’s all told with a sympathetic, understanding humour that appreciates what it is to love railways and to be British.

The cover suggests that the trainspotter is a 20th Century hero. I’m not sure Whittaker convinces me of that, but the book is a good read.

I couldn’t help wondering what Whittaker would make of the sad state of rail services today. I see that in 2015 an updated version of ‘Platform Souls’ was published. I may try to get a copy…secondhand of course 🙂


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