There’s a nostalgic song by Flanders and Swann called ‘We won’t be going again on the slow train’.
It was a hymn to all those branch lines Dr Beeching closed: but to the people who used the Wrexham and Shropshire line to take them from North and Mid Wales to London, the news that the service ends on Friday comes with a similar sense of loss.
I was there for the first day it started back in 2008 – barely awake at just after six to take the inaugural train from Wrexham. And it had a different feel from any other train.
The carriages were comfortable.
First class made you feel that you were actually travelling in first class.
The route by which it threaded through North Wales down to Marylebone was one of the best journeys in Britain: down the spine of the Marches, past Shrewsbury Abbey, Villa Park, the beautiful and underrated Chilterns, and slipping into quiet Marylebone – an experience that could have happened in black and white, four hours worth of civilised travel.
The staff were different too. This was a small railway. The people who worked for it gave a damn. They tried to use local food in the restaurant car.
How many other trains will there be where the driver will lean his head out of the cab and wish you goodnight as you pick your way through the dark to find where you parked your car in Gobowen?
There were problems: on the first day an engine broke down.
The timings of trains could go occasionally haywire whilst they waited for other trains to pass on the tracks they needed to use: you could find yourself sitting in some unknown bit of the Midlands for twenty minutes, feeling the frustration of the people running the service.
But it was brave: unsubsidised, a little railway taking on the bigger alternatives.
It had its own signature and a lot of soul: and now we scurry back to the timetables to check out the other options.
Don’t just take my word for it. In between reviews of what’s happening in Manhattan and the best souk in Marrakhesh, Time Out ran a feature on it bringing a bit of the past back to travel, where the journey could be as pleasant as the destination.
You could get off the train into the red brick terminus Marylebone and your fellow travellers would turn and say – ‘well, we might be ten minutes late, but it was a lovely trip’.
The people who started it were brave to try. From Friday, we won’t be going again on the slow train. And this part of Wales will be much the poorer for it.