This blog is rarely controversial - the only real conflict seems to be between 'nostalgists' and 'modernists'. Nostalgists seem to love steam, uniforms, the good old days and a sort of pointless 'wasn't it better in the olden days' attitude. Modernists seem to love the future, shiny clean things, beeps and flashing lights and an aversion to grime, hard work or humanity. How the hell do we square the circle and keep both sides happy?
The S&D attracts people from both camps and from every in-between shade.
So will the future S&D be 'Slow and Dirty' or 'Sleek and Diminished'?
Progress is an odd thing, it means different things to different people. I actually think the 1950s, when residents of Radstock or MN could travel to Bath, Bournemouth, Frome or Bristol by train, was far more advanced than today, where the roads are horribly congested, full of ignorant and bad drivers, and the railways are currently closed. Where's the 'progress'?
Restoring the S&D can only be progress. It will give at first an alternative to the slow grind of trying to struggle anywhere by car, later it will mean we can still travel when there are genuinely no alternatives.
But what will the trains be like? A few years ago the successors to BR were so ignorant that they produced new trains where the seats didn't even match the window profiles, so passengers if they were unlucky were stuck looking at a blank wall! Today many trains, even outside the peak, are horribly crowded. People need personal space and they need to feel comfortable and safe. The old mark one coaches did this admirably, with the open saloons allowing little personal spaces for groups of 4 to 10, the compartment coaches doing the same for families. Everyone got a window, normally everyone got a seat.
And if travelling is a series of images and atmopheres what better way than to have the sight, sounds and smells of steam lingering to heighten those atmospheres? Diesel (RIP) and electrics will never do it. Steam is both a simple and efficient way of powering vehicles. Our most advanced power-generating equipment (nuclear power) uses steam, there's nothing old fashioned about it. It's dirty, but what's actually wrong with dirt? Who likes sterility anyway? And the best thing about steam is that it can be made fully sustainable - by burning wood rather than coal. On my economics blog I always advise buying gold, land and forests. The future will be built on gold and wood. The simpler an engine is, the less transformations the energy sources have to go through, the less friction and inertia, the more efficient it is. Steam may have started the 21st century in retreat, but it will end it as the victor over all the exotic and unsustainable sources we currently use as if they will last forever.
So perhaps the circle has been squared. Because on the last day of this century I can see the S&D running powerful steam locomotives pulling rakes of mark one (or very similar) coaches. The rails will be full of passengers and freight, the stations will be manned and warm and welcoming and once your train has passed in the night the countryside will be quiet and peaceful again with no intrusions from cars and planes. Surely this image will appeal to both the nostalgists and the modernists - steam supreme in a sustainable and prosperous world?