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The elegant offering of the W&S was a world away from the overcrowding, rude staff, dirty toilets, cramped seats, microwaved burgers, plastic cups and lack of information that too often defines the modern railway.Even though it took more than four hours to trundle from London along secondary lines to its destination in North Wales, it inspired a fanatical band of followers who loved it because it seemed to encapsulate a lost golden age.Close your eyes and imagine yourself on the perfect railway journey of your dreams. There is proper cutlery on the neatly-set table, and at your elbow is a smart, liveried steward offering a menu for the freshly cooked food from the train’s kitchen.It is lunchtime and we are travelling through some of England’s loveliest countryside in a commodious carriage where the armchairs are soft and the wide windows offer gorgeous views – in this case over the ‘blue remembered hills’ of A. Lamb in red wine and rosemary sauce with a decent glass of Chilean Merlot. Well it wasn’t until last Friday night when the very last train run by the Wrexham & Shropshire Railway from London Marylebone pulled into Wrexham station at 22.36, bringing to an end not just the services of Britain’s best loved railway company, but an era of gracious rail travel extending back almost 150 years.So how come a train service defined by the public and critics as the best in the land ended up being shunted into the buffers?It might be easy to write it off as a casualty of the recession – after all, Wrexham is hardly the commercial powerhouse of Britain and the company had run up losses of £13 million, according to its chairman Adrian Shooter. The Wrexham & Shropshire, founded three years ago to bring back mainline services to an area which hadn’t had regular London trains since the Sixties, fell foul of the Alice In Wonderland rules that govern Britain’s privatised railways in which enterprise is stifled and quality too often goes down the rabbit hole.
The staff were welcoming and kept passengers informed of delays. It was possible to hop on the train without a ticket and not to be made to feel like a criminal for doing so.
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It is a shocking fact that nearly 20 years after privatisation only two stations in Britain – York and Doncaster – offer significant competitive services to London.
These are provided by the last remaining independent ‘open access’ operator Grand Central.
How nice it would be to summon a steward to bring a glass to toast the brief life of an enterprising little railway and the hope that other minnows will emerge.