A Lifetime Enthusiasm For The Railway

Roger Palmer on his photographic memoir of The Southern Electric system

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Chiswick resident Roger Palmer has no idea of what stimulated his interest in railways. His earliest recollections are of seeing blue Duchesses flashing past a gap in the houses at the end of the street where he lived and of the first two engines he “officially spotted” when he started collecting train numbers and duly underlining his sightings in his Ian Allan ABC.

His parents gave him a Brownie Cresta camera when he was 14 and two years later, when he had started full time work he bought a 35mm Agfa Silette which itself was replaced by an SLR Pentax some ten years later.

From the 1970s he travelled extensively over the British rail system accumulating photographs all the while and for a brief period from the mid-1990s he wrote book reviews for the magazine British Railway Modelling. In 2006 his first book Southern Electric Slam Door Stock – The Final Years, was published.

The Southern Electric system was a self contained, roughly triangular area of lines with its apex in London and its base running along the south coast from Kent to Weymouth. It also made a couple of forays into Middlesex. Here, in his book, some 196 previously unpublished colour photographs, are shown not only of the variety of unit types that were around during the first twenty years since railway privatisation, but also evidence that on some services, Southern Electric types had penetrated the Home Counties whilst others had migrated to join their ranks.

Roger has lived in Chiswick with his wife, who is local to the area, since 1983. He grew up in Harrow, and his local railway line went out of Euston Station. The West Coast rail line was 100 yards from his garden, and his uncle's house backed onto the railway near Kenton.

He says the purpose of his book is to bring history to the modern day reader. He got the germ of the idea in 2006 and it seemed like a natural follow on from his previous book on an earlier generation of trains.

Describing himself as 'an old train spotter turned railway historian', he is highly sceptical about rail privatisation. He believes that the post-Nationalised railway will be a golden era for railway historians of the future. Train operating company’s franchises come and go and the units themselves are in a constant state of flux due to changes in liveries and various upgrades and refurbishments.

He laments what he describes as "a fixation for speed" and the fact that trains are no longer places for people to relax and look out the window, but extensions of the workplace with travellers busy on laptops. He believes train travel should give people a break from the workplace. He also is critical of South West Railways, his local train company, for the frequent delays on the line, and he is scathing about toilet facilities or the lack of them, on some modern trains.

Roger has now celebrated his sixtieth year of taking photographs of railways, and the amassing of his huge collections has now been pieced together through his books.

Southern Electric....the Final Years, is available to buy online.

March 23, 2019

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