Monthly Archives: April 2020

Luke 24:13-35 – The Emmaus Road – Again

The featured image above  was the work of Rowan LeCompte (American, 1925–2014) and Irene Matz LeCompte (American, 1926–1970), Third Station of the Resurrection: The Walk to Emmaus (detail), 1970. Mosaic, Resurrection Chapel, National Cathedral, Washington, DC. Photo by Victoria Emily Jones. [1]

But we had hoped ……………

The BBC Radio 4 Sunday Service on 26th April was led by Revd. Prof. Jennifer Strawbridge and the Revd. Dr Steve Nolan. [2]. The theme was: “But We Had Hoped ……

I have been reflecting on that short phrase over the past few days. I don’t think I have ever really noticed that little phrase before Sunday.

“But we had hoped …” is an expression of lament. As Professor Strawbridge explained, these are among “the most heart-breaking and realistic words in all of Scripture: … ‘But we had hoped’.”

But we had hoped. …

Everthing has changed for these two people on the road to Emmaus. As Professor Strawbridge explained in the service on Sunday, “Jesus, who they thought was their Lord, was crucified and with his death, their hope for redemption and restoration has died as well. Moreover, the tomb of this hoped-for saviour is empty, his body is gone, and while rumours are flying around that he is alive, they have seen nothing to suggest this is true and they are going home.”

These two friends have lost hope. Hope has withered and died and they are bereft, sad and confused. Going home is all they have left to do.

Professor Strawbridge went on to say that “the words, ‘but we had hoped’, linger in the air. … So much is contained in those four words which speak of a future that is now irrelevant. And pain stems, not only from the tragedy of what has happened, but the empty space of all that could have happened but won’t.”

She continues,” ‘But we had hoped’ are words that speak to each of us still. Not because we enjoy wallowing in dark and sentimental emotions, but because they are true. …

  • But we hoped to celebrate Easter with our communities in person.
  • But we had hoped not to get ill.
  • But we had hoped to be so productive in our isolation.
  • But we had hoped not to feel lonely.
  • But we had hoped we could do more to help.
  • But we had hoped for one final hug.

‘But we had hoped’ infuses our days and our lives in ways big and small.”

‘But we had hoped ….’ is an expression of lament which must for many, if not all of us, say something, at least, about what we feel at this time. It may become a growing and significant element of our feelings as the next month or two unfolds.

“But we had hoped ……”

What we longed for is no longer going to happen! What we longed for has already gone! We cannot get it back! What does life hold for us now? ……

Professor Strawbridge went on to say that, “with this story on the road to Emmaus, more often than not we jump over these first bits to the recognition of resurrection and the burning hearts in the disciples, without recognizing that the same hearts that are burning within them have also been broken.”

It seems to me the most important part of this story of the “Road to Emmaus” is not so much an amazing truth of resurrection breaking into the lives of Jesus’ friends but the darkest of statement of loss which is expressed by the two friends to the stranger who meets them on the road. “But we had hoped ….,” and all that we had hoped for has gone for ever. Deep, dark depression. All hope is gone.

The distance from Jerusalem to Emmaus was about 7 miles. ….

How long does it take to walk 7 miles?

I guess it depends on our age and state of health. The most able of us might walk it in under two hours, for some of us 7 miles is an impossibly long distance to walk, for most of us it will probably take us around 3 to 3.5 hours.

The darkest times for all of us, when we experience them, do last a long time. But how long? The time will vary, it will be different for each of us. Throughout these darkest times, expressing our lost hopes will be so very important. Whether in anger or grief, sorrow or sighing, throughout the darkest times are these … “But Lord, we had hoped ……….”

Jesus himself draws near to us. His Spirit lives with us and in us. But we probably cannot recognise the Lord’s presence in the middle of what we face. Walking this road, for us, will take a while. As we walk this road, we will have to take our own time. And throughout the journey, our faith will probably only be expressed in the reality of loss, “But we had hoped ……”

Our faith somehow keeps us engaging with God, even when what we say to God cannot possibly be expressed to others but it is so full of doubt, anger, hatred and lament. …

“But we had hoped ….”

“We had really hoped, Lord. We had believed in you for the future and you seem to have taken it all away and left us with nothing. How can we possibly continue to believe in you? How?” ….

Professor Strawbridge said in that broadcast, that if we fail to recognise in the story of the Emmaus Road, “that the people filled with overwhelming joy are the same ones who were filled with fear and despair.” If we do not grasp, “that throughout their fear and despair, whether those disciples recognized it or not, they were not alone.” Then, in our rush to get to the news of the resurrection, we miss the crucial reality, “that even in the place of confusion and despair, the Risen Lord walked alongside the disciples.”

We can see that Jesus’ presence with those friends on the Road to Emmaus is robust and challenging.  But the challenges come from someone who is walking with them on the road. And he continues to walk with them, whatever the length of the journey, until they reach their place of safety, their home. It is also a presence which does not impose on them. It does not, ultimately, intrude. For Jesus would have continued on the road had they not invited him into their home.

And it is in their home, in the middle of all that is normal, in the simplest of ways, as they share that evening meal together, that finally they recognise their Lord.

Jesus walks with each of us: ahead of us, behind us, but most definitely with us, into all that we fear, into the unknown daily present, into a shrouded, frightening, confusing and uncertain future.


  1., accessed on 30th April 2020.
  2., available to listen to until the 25th May 2020, although the transcript should be available via the hyperlink for some time, accessed on 26th April 2020.

Railways in Iran – Part 7 – Some limited reflections on Iran’s Railways in the 21st century

For Iranians, life changed dramatically in 1979.

It is easy, from a Western perspective, to assume that Iran is a country that has chosen to avoid progress. So, I have to admit to being surprised by the current state of the railways in Iran. The network has been developing at a significant pace. Since 1979 there have been a significant number of major construction projects and there have been some significant changes in motive power.

There are holiday companies [1][2][3] advertising railway trips to Iran. Given what is reported about the instability of the country and its sponsorship of, what to Western eyes are, terrorist groups, these holidays do not feel very attractive. Yet the picture on the ground in Iran is seemingly one of relatively energetic technological development. “Since the first railway project was implemented [after] the revolution, 12 railway projects, that is 4676 km of the total 10171 km of the total network have been constructed. That is about 46% of the total rail routes in the country.” [21]

I hope that this article will provide a taster of what things are like on the railways in Iran today.

Before looking at the situation in detail, here is a video which focusses on the Trans-Iranian Railway in recent times. It was shared by D6700 a member of RailUKForums as part of a thread about Iranian Railways. [4] It is produced by a German team but the dialogue is in English. It gives a good impression of technological developments and notes a reluctance from many of the people encountered to talk with the Western film-crew.

The Trans-Iranian Railway. [4]

The notes that follow are inevitably far from comprehensive and rely heavily on sources on the internet (which are all referenced). A railway map of the network in Iran in the 21st century is provided by the national rail service, Islamic Republic of Iran Railways. The schematic plan they provide is shown immediately below. Not all routes are however shown on the map.The Iran Railway Network in the 21st century. [6] 

Wikipedia [5] notes the long-distance schemes which were undertaken by the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways in the 21st century, these include:

Bafq — Kashmar                        800km     1992—2001 (but see the comments  below)

Kerman — Bam                          225km     1999—2002

Bam — Zahedan                         546km     2000—2009

Isfahan — Shiraz                         506km     2001—2009

Khorramshahr — Shalamcheh   16km     2009—2012

Gorgan — Incheh Borun              80km     2012—2013   [22]

Tehran — Hamedan                   268km     2001—2017   [23]

Arak — Kermanshah                  267km     2001—2018   [24]

In addition to long-distance services, Iran has also developed commuter service for the major cities and a series of light rail/tramway schemes too.

For example, Tehran Metro carries more than 3 million passengers a day. [7] In 2014, 815 million trips were made on Tehran Metro. As of 2019, the total system was 229 kilometres (142 miles) long, [8] 186 kilometres (116 miles) of which is metro-grade rail. It is planned to have a length of 430 kilometres (270 miles) with 9 lines once all construction is complete by 2025. [9][10]

Commuter Services are currently available in Tehran, Tabriz, Kuzestan, Lorestan, Mashhad and Mazandaran-Golestan. [5]

Commuter and Metro Services are not covered in detail in this article and will have to await  a further post as time permits. ……..

Major Schemes

Wikipedia provides the list of schemes [5] above which shows construction, commencing in 1992, of a line from Bafq to Kashmar. Farrail, however, indicates that the line from Bafq to Kashmar and on to Mashhad was not started until 2001, this is verifiable from other sources as well. [11] [12]

1. Bafq to Kashmar and Mashhad – Despite its relatively small size, [13] Bafq has become a major junction on the Iranian rail network. Kashmar is in the Northeast of the country. It is in Razavi Khorasan Province and is located near the River Sish Taraz in the western part of the province, and 217 kilometres (135 miles) south of the province’s capital Mashhad. In  the 2006 census, its population was 81,527, in 21,947 families. [14][15] The city is the fourth most important pilgrimage city in Iran. [16] It is a major producer of raisins and has about 40 types of grapes. It is also internationally recognized for exporting saffron, and handmade Persian rugs. [14] It appears to be some distance from the railway. The town of Mehneh, approximately 50km Southeast of Kashmar, is close to the railway but has no railway station. This is also true of Shadmehr, which is 55km due East of Kashmar. Mashhad is the second-most-populous city in Iran and the capital of Khorasan-e Razavi Province. It had a population of 3,372,660 (in the 2016 census), which includes the areas of Mashhad Taman and Torqabeh.[27] It was a major oasis along the ancient Silk Road connecting with Merv to the East.

Trains to Mashhad from Bafq have about 800km to travel to their destination.

As we have already noted and as shown below, the Railway Station at Bafq is on the South side of the town.Bafq Railway Station is on the South side of the town of Bafq. It shown at the bottom of this map extract [17]

East of Bafq Station a triangular junction has the line to Kerman and Bandar Abbas heading away to the South and the line to Kashmar setting off the Northeast. A short distance beyond the town limits this line also divides. The more northerly of the lines serves the Choghart Iron Ore Mine.Choghort Iron Ore Mine in February 2019 (c) Reza 39 (Google Maps). [18]Choghort Iron Ore Mine in January 2020 (c) S.I.G Group (Google Maps). [19]

The main line then also curves round to the North by-passing the industrial complex which surrounds Cloghort MIne and continues on towards Kashmar. It curves past another open-cast mining site and climbs into the hills by means of a series of loops. Mining sites and sidings are a regular occurrence on the route through the hills.

This satellite image shows the trailing connection with the branch-line which serves Chadormalu Iron Ore Processing Plant (at the bottom of the picture) and the loop which allows trains from the branch to head towards Bafq (Google Earth).

En-route through the hills a trailing junction is made with a line that serves Chadormalu Iron Ore Processing Plant and extends on some distance to Meybod. (See Part 5 of this series. [20])

Leaving Yazd Province the line enters South Khorasan Province and continues predominantly in a Northeasterly direction across open wilderness and gradually getting closer to Route 68. A long tunnel takes the line very close to the road and the two transport modes run alongside each other to Dashteqarrān and Tabas.

Tabas is the first station on the line after leaving Bafq. In the satellite images there are a signficant number of large open wagons stored in a significant number of sidings.

Tabas Railway Station is sited to the Northwest of the city (Google Earth).

Leaving Tabas, the line heads North-northwest for a distance, passing through a small station at Dehshour before once again turning towards the Northeast and then leaving South Khorasan Province and entering Rasavi Khorasan Province.

The railway line runs into more mountainous territory once again and almost immediately passes through a long tunnel. It then crosses further open plains near Neygenan. A view typical of this area can be found below the satellite images of Tabas Station.

After some distance the line passes under Route 87/91 and through the adjacent railway station pictured in the landscape satellite image further below.

A closer view of Tabas Station (Google Earth).

Before the railway passes under Route 95, the surrounding land begins to be more cultivated. The line then passes to the Southeast of Mehneh and follows Route 95 towards Torbat Heydarieh Railway Station.

The Station at Torbat Heydarieh is also shown on a satellite image below.

After passing under Route 36, the line heads in a northerly direction, looping round to gain height as it once again enters hilly terrain and then follows Route 95 once again. After a time in the mountains the railway line  returns to relatively flat land. It passes Fathabad before once again entering the hills.Open plains near Neygenan. [25]Route 87/91 and its adjacent railway station (Google Earth).Torbat Heydarieh Railway Station (Google Earth).

Closing in on its destination of Mashhad the line encounters a triangular junction close to Dizbad Pa’in. At Dizbad Pa’in, the line heading North West through Dizbad Railway Station heads for Neyshabur and the North. That running to the Southeast heads for Mashhad. Triangular junction east of Dizbad Pa’in and south of Mashhad (Google Earth).

Between Dizbad Pa’in and Mashhad, a further triangular junction sees the line to Mashhad continuing North and a line to Turkmenistan heading East. Almost immediately, trains travelling East enter Martyr Motahhari Railway Station shown on the satellite image below. The line passes through the mountains and on to Sarakhs and over the Garagumskij Canal in Turkmenistan. [22]Martyr Motahhari Railway Station (Google Maps).Mashhad Railway Station (Google Maps).

The line terminates at Mashhad, and, rather unusually for Iran, the station is well within the city limits.

2. Kerman to Zahedan via Bam: Construction started on the line from Kerman to Bam (225km)  in 1999 and was finished in 2002. The 546km line from Bam to Zahedan was started in the year 2000 and finished in 2009. In a previous article we noted that Kerman‘s population was 821,394, in 221,389 households, making it the 10th most populous city of Iran.[15]

Wikipedia comments: “Kerman is … the most important city in the southeast of Iran. It is also one of the largest cities of Iran in terms of area. Kerman is famous for its long history and strong cultural heritage. The city is home to many historic mosques and Zoroastrian fire temples. [28]

Bam‘s popluation at the 2006 census was 73,823, in 19,572 families. [15] Before the 2003 earthquake, Bam had gradually developed as an agricultural and industrial centre, and until the 2003 earthquake was experiencing rapid growth. In particular, the city is known for its dates and citrus fruit, irrigated by a substantial network of qanats (gently sloping underground channels transporting water from an aquifer or water well to surface for irrigation and drinking). [30]

Zahedan is the capital of Sistan and Baluchestan Province. At the 2016 census, its population was 587,730. [31]

Kerman Railway Station (Google Maps)

The new line set off from Kerman Railway Station in a Southerly direction, heading for Reyan. The Railway Station at Reyan is on the Northeast side of the town.

From Reyan, the line heads South-southeast before later turning due East, then Southeast, then East again to head for Bam.

Bam Railway Station is well outside the town limits to the South. The line so far has been relatively level.

Reyan (Ryan) Railway Station (Google Earth).Bam Railway Station (Google Earth).

Beyond Bam the railway turns East. It passes under Route 84, the Bam-Narmashir Road and then follows Route 84 (now the Zahedan-Narmashir Road) on its Northside to the state boundary. The line then enters Sistan and Baluchestan Province and leave Route 84 behind. It crosses open country gradually drifting slightly to the North of East before it encounters mountainous country. The line follows river valleys, first Northeast, then in an Easterly direction, but with tight curves and steep grades, and then predominantly in a South-southeast direction  still in mountainous country towards Shuru.

The railway leaves the mountains close to Shuru and then follows the Zahedan-Shuru Road, often switching from one side to the other of the road, to meet Route 95 beofre following Route 95 until close to Zahedan, where the line turns directly East and runs across the South side of the city.

The line runs due East across the south side of the city and then connects with the old line which served Zahedan’s Central Station – the old line linking with Pakistan. The two images immediately below show the old railway station at Zahedan.Zahedan’ Central Railway Station. One of a few which relies on a turntable to turn locomotives rather than a triangle (Google Maps).Zahedan’s Central Railway Station – The view from the concourse. [32]

There is a newer station to the South of the City just to the West of the point where the line from Bam meets the line which heads off to Pakistan. This station is shown on the satellite image below.Zahedan Railway Station (Google Maps).

3. Isfahan to Shiraz – Isfahan is almost precisely due South of Tehran. We have noted before that it is the third largest city in Iran with a population of more than 2 million people. [33] Shiraz is the fifth-most-populous city of Iran . It has a population of around 1.9 million and is one of the oldest cities of ancient Persia. [34]. The size of the population of these two cities suggests that a railway line linking the two makes economic sense, particularly given that otherwise Shiraz would have remained isolated from the rail network in Iran.

As we have already seen, the station at Isfahan is a terminus trains all leave the station heading to the Northeast before turning south to a junction with the inter-regional lines. We have already followed a line West from Isfahan to Zarrin Shahr. [35] The route to Shiraz takes that line as far as Seyd Abad Railway Station. Then, immediately south of Seyd Abad Railway Station a junction allows the railway to Shiraz to head East back towards Route 65 (the Isfahan-Shahreza Expressway). The road and railway share the same corridor to Shahreza.

Shahreza Railway Station is situated on the Southwest side of the city, immediately adjacent to the Ring Road (Route 65) and the line and road continue roughly together to the Isfahan Province boundary and then enter Fars Province. The line follows along the Southwest side of Route 65 (now the Shahrez-Abadeh Expressway) to Abadeh Railway Station and then passes under Route 78 (Eqlid-Sumaq Road) and heads through open country to meet Route 65 (now the Abadeh-Safashahr Expressway) again.

South of Safashahr Railway Station the line runs on the East side of Route 65 (Sa’adatshahr- Safashahr Expressway) before heading away to the South-southeast and then South across the Qaderabad-Harat Road and then through open country in a westerly direction before running for a short distance alongside the Qaderabad Road before following Route 65 (Sa’adatshahr- Safashahr Expressway) into Sa’adat Shahr railway station. From there the railway stays alongside Route 65 (now the the Marvdasht-Sa’adatshahr Expressway). The line and road trun south for a short distance before they separate temporarily. The railway curves away to the West through an outcrop and then emerges from a short tunnel and back to align with Route 65, adjacent to a village called Khalaftahuneh. It then heads generally in a Southwesterly direction towards the city of Shiraz, crossing the Nahr-Azam River and entering Shiraz Railway Station.

Shiraz Railway Station (Google Maps).

The picture below shows the view of the station at Shiraz on the approach from the main road.Shiraz Railway Station in 2016 (c) Hussein Karim Almaliki (Google Maps [36]

4. Khorramshahr to Shalamcheh – this is a short, 16 km length of line in the South of the country. Khorramshahr  was used as an alternative port during the Second World War and a line was built from there North to join the Trans-Iranian Railway. This resulted in a significant increase in the port capacity for the supply effort to Russia during the War.

Passenger Train en-route between Khorramshahr and Shalamcheh, (Google Maps).

Khorramshahr is also known as Muhammarah. In the 2016 census its population was 133,097. It is an inland port city located approximately 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) north of Abadan. The city extends to the right bank of the Arvand Rud waterway near its confluence with the Haffar arm of the Karun river. [37]

Shalamcheh is situated on the border with Iraq, north-west of Abadan. The town was one of the main sites of invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the Iran–Iraq War. Some 50,000 Iranians died in the fighting around the town, and there is today a war memorial in their memory. [38]

The line West from Khorramshahr appears to be truncated some distance short of the border at Shalamcheh with no evidence of more than a single line running to a terminus and no obvious station. However, Google Earth’s imagery close to the border comes from 2004 while only a short distance to the East the imagery comes from 2016. The line is visible in the 2016 imagery and, unsurprisingly (as it was built between 2009 and 2012), not visible on the 2004 imagery.

There are plans at present (2019/2020) to extend this rail link to Basra in Iraq. [39][40][41][42] This would create a rail corridor running between Iran and Syria.

5. Gorgan to Incheh Borun 

Gorgan lies approximately 400 km (250 mi) to the north east of Tehran, some 30 km (19 mi) away from the Caspian Sea. In the 2006 census; its population was 269,226, in 73,702 families. [15][43]

Incheh Borun is little more than a small town on the border between Iran and Turkmenistan. At the 2006 census its population was 1,764, in 334 families.[15][44] Its station is about 1 km Northwest of the small town.

Gorgan Railway Station (Google Maps).

The line from Gorgan to Incheh Borun forms part of the Kazakhstan – Turkmenistan – Iran transit corridor east of the Caspian Sea which is being developed under a 2007 agreement between the three countries. The section within Kazakhstan was opened on 11th May 2013, and the Turkmen section was under construction in 2013. Bogie changing facilities are to be provided at the break of gauge in Incheh Borun. [22] The Iranian section, a length of 80 km (50 miles) was completed in 2013. The full line was opened in 2014. [45]

The line from Bandar Torkaman travels East to Gorgan. Around 15 to 20 km short of Gorgan there is a junction. The line into Gorgan continues Eastward and the line to the border turns to the North and follows Route 73 to Incheh Borun.

Transfer facilities are provided at Incheh Borun to allow for the change of gauge between the two countries. Iran uses the international standard gauge of 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in). Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan use the Russian standard gauge of 1,520 mm.

6. Tehran to Hamedan (Hamadan)

Hamedan (Hamadan) is believed to be among the oldest Iranian cities. It is possible that it was occupied by the Assyrians in 1100 BCE; the Ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, states that it was the capital of the Medes, around 700 BCE. At the 2016 census, its population was 676,105 in 210,775 families. [46]

Construction of the line between the two cities was started in 2001 but not finished until 2017. [5] Work stopped in 2004 before being restarted after the easing of sanctions in 2015. [23]

Hamedan Railway Station is sited some distance Northeast of the city itself. The line now continues South of Hamedan for no more than a kilometre. I guess to allow for future expansion of the railway network.

Just North of the station a junction allows for trains to travel towards Tehran (first heading North) and for a route travelling in a Northwesterly diirection which at the time the Google satellite images were taken in the  first quarter of the 21st century was under construction.

The route to Tehran first heads North for some 15 to 16 kilometres before running parallel to Route 37/48 in a Northeastlerly direction, and then parallel to the Saveh to Hamedan Freeway (No. 6) in a more easterly direction. It passes under Route 47 and continues to follow the same transport corridor as the Freeway (at times running immediately adjacent to the road. Route 48 re-appears and for a reasonable distance takes up an alignment between the Freeway and the railway. Close to Nowbaran Route 48 crosses the railway, as in a kilometre or two, does the Freeway.

The Freeway and the railway continue to follow similar paths but with the railway now on the North side of the Freeway as far as Saveh Railway Station.

Saveh Railway Station is 6 or 7 kilometres North-northwest of the city. A little to the East of Saveh, the land begins to rise and the railway and the Freeway find their own way into the hills. Beyond this point it is the Tehran to Saveh Freeway (No. 5) that the track follows.

A line from the South meets the Tehran-Hamedan line near Parandak and from this point two lines head Northeast. The more southerly of these lines passes through Roodshur Railway Station.And then through a series of sharp curves to gain height while also crossing the Shur river valley.The more Northerly of the two lines climbs more steadily and in a gracefully curved bridge crosses the Shur valley.The two lines eventually come togther as they approach Robat Karim Railway Station in Vahidieh on the Southwestern apporaches to Tehran. The line then passes through Kolmeh Station and Eslamshahr Station on the southside of Aprin and on into Tehran.

7. Arak to Kermanshah 

This is another line for which construction started in 2001 and was then held up by sanctions. Completion was finally achieved in 2018. It needed 175 kilometres of track laying across a difficult terrain which included building three kilometres of tunnels and seven large bridges. [24]

Kermanshah is located 525 kilometres (326 miles) from Tehran in the western part of Iran. According to the 2016 census, its population was 946,681 (and the 2019 estimate is 1,046,000). [47]

Arak has a population of 526,182, in 160,761 families. [15] The city is nicknamed the “Industrial Capital of Iran”. Arak produces around 50% of the needs of the country in steel, petrochemical, and locomotive industries. [48]Kermanshah Railway Station (c) Mohammad Yousefvand, (Google Maps).

Kermanshah sits adjacent to the border with Iraq in Iran’s western hills. As befits a line completed in the last few years, its station is of a highly modern design.

The line from Kermanshah heads East under the City By-pass – Route 48 – and then runs parallel to Route 48 on its Southern side, crossing under Route 35 and then over the Gamasiab River near Faraash. Route 48 stays on the Western side of the river.

The railway passes from Kemanshah Province into Lorestan Province and finds itself travelling through hilly terrain. It, once again, crosses the River Gamasiab and follows its Northern slopes into the hills. In a short distance along the valley the line leaves Lorestan Province and enters Hamadan Province. Three crossings of the River Gamasiab are quickly followed by a short curved tunnel and then another bridge close to Khalenjah. Now, once again, on the North side of the river, two tunnels precede another crossing of the River Khorram Rud, a tributary of the Gamasiab.

The railway is now on the higher plateau and turns to the North, passing under Route 52 and entering another curving tunnel in which it turns to the East. The land here appears much more fertile.  The line travels a distance alongside Route 52, through the Railway Station at Firuzan.The two, road and rail, separate soon after Firuzan Station with Route 52 heading way to the South. Later the line crosses Route 37 (the Malayer to Borujerd Highway).


Malayer Railway Station (Google Streetview).Malayer Railway Station (c) Jabbar Sattari, (Google Maps).Malayer Railway Station (Google Maps).

After the Station, the Railway passes under the Arak-Malayer Highway. The Highway and the Railway then share a transport corridor past Zangeneh and Cheshme Zoragh before the railway turns South-southwest leaving the highway heading East-southeast. The line passes to the West of Jalayer and then curves sharply to the East and rejoins the Arak-Malayer Highway which when it is joined by the Arak-Borujerd Highway becomes Route 56.

Shazand Oil Refinery (c) homayoun varzeshdost (Google Maps).

Close to Hesar and Tureh the road turns North and the Railway passes to the South of Hesar. On the North side of Akbar Abad the line turns sharply to the North, running past the Shazand Oil Refinery.

It rejoins the Arak-Borujerd Highway (Route 56) just before entering The Railway Station at Samangan.

Samangan Railway Station, (Google Maps).

The Road and Railway contiue together through Feyjan Bala and Senejan where the separate once again as the Road follows the North side of the increasingly urbanised area and the Railway, the South and then runs into Arak Railway Station.

Arak Railway Station (Google Maps).




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  2., accessed on 3rd April 2020.
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  8.; archived from the original on 18 March 2016, quoted in reference [10] below and noted on 4th April 2020. This article is not in English and will need translation software it it is to be read in English.
  9. “Tehran Metro, Iran”. Archived from the original on 1 July 2014; quoted in reference [10] below and noted on 4th April 2020.
  10., accessed on 4th April 2020.
  11., accessed on 4th April 2020.
  12. M. Frybourg et B. Seiler; Globe Trotter : Des trains en Iran; Objectif Rail n°77 September/October 2016, p 68-85.
  13., accessed on 4th April 2020.
  14., accessed on 4th April 2020.
  15. Census of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 1385 (2006); Islamic Republic of Iran. Archived from the original (Excel) on 11th November 2011 and quoted by Wikipedia in references [13] and [14] above and in references [28] and [29] below..
  16. “دومین شهر زیارتی خراسان رضوی”., quoted in reference 16 above and noted on 4th April 2020. This article is not written in English and will need translation software it it is to be read in English
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  18.,55.4698463,3a,75y/data=!3m8!1e2!3m6!1sAF1QipPYLmKr21Z-kKbP9-liOIvQOc7bUKvobIJgUXTI!2e10!3e12!!7i4128!8i3096!4m13!1m7!3m6!1s0x3fa82f568572170b:0x5a1d010a9aa87c!2sBafgh,+Yazd+Province,+Iran!3b1!8m2!3d31.6216425!4d55.4139392!3m4!1s0x3fa8273801690549:0x2c64d562f8ad363!8m2!3d31.700303!4d55.4698473#, accessed on 4th April 2020.
  19.,55.4698473,3a,75y,90t/data=!3m8!1e2!3m6!1sAF1QipPMm5u7jHg1feIHONAM9Xhl8ashkIa1GQkO8Yly!2e10!3e12!!7i1200!8i733!4m13!1m7!3m6!1s0x3fa82f568572170b:0x5a1d010a9aa87c!2sBafgh,+Yazd+Province,+Iran!3b1!8m2!3d31.6216425!4d55.4139392!3m4!1s0x3fa8273801690549:0x2c64d562f8ad363!8m2!3d31.700303!4d55.4698473#, accessed on 4th April 2020.
  20.…rom-1980-to-1999, written in April 2020.
  21.بخش-شرکت-ساخت-توسعه-زیربناها-16/44902-مقایسه-بهره-برداری-از-خطوط-ریلی-قبل-بعد-از-انقلاب-سال-تا-جدول, accessed on 6th April 2020 and translated using Google Translate.
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Luke 24:13-35 – The Emmaus Road

How has Easter left you feeling? First looking into the blackness of Good Friday – then the celebrations of Easter Sunday and the resurrection. All of which has felt so very strange in these weeks of lockdown. ……………

Children off school for so long. Trying to find things for them to do, encouraging them to learn. The lack of clarity over what the future holds, the fear that everything will be different but without any idea what that might really mean. The concern for loved ones and the fear for one’s own health. Living together with family and finding that it is not easy to stay together is a relatively small space for such a long time. Wishing that rather than irritability and lack of sleep we were on good form for those we love.

On top of all that, are the regular things that have to be sustained, work for some, volunteering for others, dealing with chronic conditions which we’ve had for a long-time before Coronavirus came along. It’s been a chaotic time. There’s been enough of a cocktail of different things to leave us all exhausted, or confused.

In our Gospel reading two people are struggling to get on with their lives amid the confusion of that first few days after the first Easter. Good Friday’s sense of despair isolation and loneliness has been turned on its head by strange rumours of resurrection. People running backwards and forwards, rumour and counter-rumour, no one sure just what to believe.

And as they walk on the road to Emmaus, weary, sad and confused,  perhaps we can feel some sympathy for them. As they trudge along they are trying between them to make some sense of what has happened. … And then we read these words. “While they were talking Jesus himself came near and went with them.”

And as the story unfolds and as their journey progresses we read that their hearts begin to burn within them as they listen to him talk. At first he is a stranger to them, they don’t recognise him, but then, just before he leaves them, they see him break bread and in an instant their eyes are opened and they see the risen Lord Jesus for who he is.

Some of us might recognise something of the story reflected in our own lives. We feel drawn to faith but at the same time it all seems a bit of a mystery. Then we are on the road with these two people. … Others of us might see the confusion and depression of the two travellers as part of our story, we too are on the road with them. … Some of us know the story of faith quite well, but the journey we’re on has become long and tedious and it is so hard to see the destination. We too are on the road with those two disciples.

Others of us are struggling with what is happening around us, the pace of change, Covid-19, the seeming lack of real direction, trouble in our relationships, vandalism on our estates, our fear which at times threatens to overwhelm us. Yes, we too are on that same road with those two people.

We can, if we choose to, bring everything that we experience, and with which we honestly struggle, to that journey, to that walk. Whether because we are in this together or because it is true for us as an individual – all of us in some way are on this journey with the two friends going to Emmaus.

In the midst of everything – before we are even sure who it is, there is someone walking along the road with us – a seeming stranger – if we knew the end of our story we’d know who it was – but now we cannot recognise him. As we talk together online, as we use social media or as we sit alone and quiet; as we pray with faith or as we struggle to believe. Jesus himself comes near and goes with us.

And as we continue on our journey of life, unsure what the future holds, even if we don’t recognise him, Jesus himself walks with us. And we have the opportunity to encounter Jesus not only as the unknown friend on the road – but as the one who welcomes us with nail torn hands into the warm embrace of God’s love. And in our shared faith, we take him in some mysterious unfathomable way into our lives and he becomes one with us in soul and body.

Take a few moments now in silence to imagine yourself walking on a journey. … See the stranger approach you and walk quietly alongside you on the road. … Walk with him, enjoy in your imagination talking to him as you walk. …

And as you go on with your life today say these words to him. “Lord, make yourself known to me in the mundane and the ordinary, speak to me and help me to listen to you.”

The Gloucester and Cheltenham Tramroad – Part 1

The featured image at the head of this article appears later in the text as well. It comes from an old article in The Railway Magazine. In the February 1953 edition of the magazine. The article in The Railway Magazine followed the route of the Gloucester and Cheltenham Tramroad from Gloucester to Cheltenham and Leckhampton Hill. [11]

The Gloucester and Cheltenham Tramroad was built, primarily, to transport of coal from Gloucester’s docks to the rapidly developing spa town of Cheltenham and to transport of building stone from quarries on nearby Leckhampton Hill. [1][2]

It was ”opened for mineral traffic on 2 July 1810. The line was a 3ft 6 in (1,067mm) gauge plateway, with cast iron plates on stone blocks. Wagons with plain wheels could run on the plates and were guided by an upstand on the plates. The route was single track, but passing places were provided at four to the mile, or more frequently. It appears that more passing places were added later, no doubt in response to higher traffic densities.” [1][2]

A steam locomotive was tried out on the line in 1831 or 1832. The engine was ‘Royal William’, built at Neath Abbey Ironworks. It was an 0-6-0 tender engine. It caused traumatic breakages of the tramplates and for a time the Company thought seriously about converting the line to an edge railway, something which would not have had the approval of traders who used the line at the time. [1]

There is an excellent schematic map of the route of the Tramroad provided in an online publication from the Gloucestershire Society for Industrial Archaeology (GSIA) [10]

Very little of the tramroad remains visible today. The urban areas of Cheltenham and Gloucester have grown closer together over the years and the roads linking them have been widened and realigned. What does remain in the 21st Century? …. We will discover this as we follow the route of the tramroad below and in a second article!

The Route of the Tramroad – starting from the Quarries at Leckhampton Hill

Careful inspection of the 6″ OS Maps published around the turn of the 20th Century shows the old 3ft 6in [17] tramway still in place close to Leckhampton Quarries. The extent of the network was, by this time, drastically curtailed from that which existed in the heyday of the tramroad in the early to mid-1800s. The map extract below shows the tramroad terminating at the Stables and Depot close to the Sanatorium on Leckhampton Road. [12]Two passing loops can be seen, one close to Hill Cottage and the other close to Cotteswold (to the north of Ashmead). The southern terminus of the line was high above the main Leckhampton Quarries at Brownstine Quarry just at the southern edge of the map extract above. The black line on the satellite image below shows the approximate line of the tramroad.From the location of the old Sanatorium and the Tramroad Depot the line headed North along Leckhampton Road. We will return to that length of the line once we have a better idea of the various tramways and workings around Leckhampton Hill. Key locations on the modern satellite image are marked by flags.

The focal point of the network of tramways on the hills was close to the Limekiln remains flagged above. The sketch map below illustrates this. It shows what remained in around 1925. The majority of these tramways were narrow gauge (3ft 6in [17: p38]). As was the mainline of the tramway from Cheltenham to Gloucester with its branch up to Leckhampton Hill. The sketch map also sows a newer standard-gauge line it was planned would link to exchange sidings and to the line from Cheltenham to Banbury. Only around a mile and a quarter of the work on this line was completed. That did, however, include a significant incline with a bridge under Daisybank Road. This illustration comes from ‘Old Leckhampton’ by David Bick. The locations marked with numbers are: 1. Devil’s Chimney; 2. Bottom Incline; 3. Middle Incline; 4. Top Incline; 5. No name; 6. Dead Man’s Incline; 7. No name. [13][17] 

Cheltenham Borough Council Map of Historic Features at Leckhampton Hill. This map was published in 2003. The tramway routes shown in yellow and are quite hard to make out on the map. [18]

This sketch map was carried in the February 1953 edition of The Railway Magazine and shows the tramway running from the quarries in the bottom right of the map. [11: p120]

“Leckhampton Hill was a source of Cotswold stone of varying quality. The best stone was suitable for carving for interior use and some of this can, for example, be found in the Cheltenham College Chapel. However, the bulk of it was of lower quality and used for the likes of road stone and gravel and as a source material for the production of lime.” [14]

Most quarrying took place on the North and West faces of the hill and the visible areas of rock face which remain in the 21st Century are there as a result of the quarrying work. This is even true of the well-known Devil’s Chimney on the West face of the hill. One quarry, Brownstone, was on the top of the hill remote from the escarpment.

Devil’s Chimney and the view from the top of the Leckhampton Escarpment, (c) Adrian Pingstone, 4th June 2006 – Public Domain. There was a quarry incline between the present view point and the Devil’s Chimney. [15]

Engraving of the Devil’s Chimney Incline. [16]

Devil’s chimney was formed as a result of the construction of the incline, shown above, up to the top of the Hill, to allow the stone to be removed down the hill by trucks, it left an isolated section of rock that was then weathered over time, and possibly shaped by mischievous quarrymen. [14] Research on line resulted in the discovery of the image below, posted by Gordon Braithwaite, which shows quarry excavation in 1923 in the area close to where the Limekilns were being built. [7]

The Middle Incline, which starts by Tramway Cottage, is shown in a photograph on the website of the Friends of Leckhampton Hill and Charlton Kings Commom as it was in 2016. [14] The Friends of Leckhampton Hill and Charlton KIngs Common have also provided a shot of the incline at work in 1902 – taken when Tramaway Cottage was demolished as part of riots that year.

Middle Incline is shown at the right-rear of this photograph of the demolished Tramway Cottage in 1902. [14]

In the 1920s some major work was undertaken at Leckhampton Hill and a standard-gauge incline was installed.  It was an ambitious scheme in which four large limekilns were to be built near the Focal Point of the railways. “The lime produced would be transported off the hill on a standard gauge railway. …. By September 1924 the limekilns and one and a quarter miles of railway track including the long incline had been completed. However, the project was not a success and all production stopped about two years later and the plant [was] sold in August 1927.” [17]

The Standard-gauge incline (see the adjacent picture, [14[23] connected with further standard gauge tracks (on which was run a small steam engine) which ran eastwards towards the Cheltenham to Banbury line  at Charlton Kings. Hisoric England records the line as follows: “A 20th century mineral railway is visible as earthworks on aerial photographs. The railway connected the lime kilns at Leckhampton quarries to the Banbury and Cheltenham Direct Line, near Charlton Kings station. The railway was a standard gauge railway, constructed in 1924 to connect the works on the hill with the depot at Southfield Manor Farm and then the main railway line to the northeast. The railway was subsequently disused by 1927.”[17][19]

The standard-gauge line postdated the Cheltenham to Gloucester Tramroad and its branch to the quarries. David Elder says that little is known of this “ill-fated scheme, begun in 1922, to produce lime on the hill and transport it to Charlton Kings by a specially built standard-gauge railway. Today, the concrete foundations of four large steel limekilns are the main visible reminders of this project, which only lasted five years. The scheme was funded by a government loan to ease unemployment after the First World War.” [5]

Construction of the limekilns was completed by September 1924. “Standing 23.5 metres high it was hoped that, once the kilns had been fired up using producer gas made from coal, they could make 300 tons per day. However, this level was never attained and the resulting lime was not of sufficiently good quality to make the enterprise worthwhile. The standard-gauge railway, connecting the kilns to a depot at Southfield Farm in Charlton Kings and thence to join the railway line at Charlton Kings, employed a three-rail system with a halfway passing point below an overbridge … [at] Daisybank Road. … In the end, although an impressive engineering feat, it produced little of real benefit.” [5] 

Jock Leonard published a short piece about the standard-gauge line and its locomotives in a blog in 2015. [6]  That drew my attention to a Facebook group called ‘Days Gone by in Cheltenham’. In that group, a search for ‘Leckhampton Quarries’ produced some great pictures of the old tramways and the limekilns on the site. Some of those photographs are included below along with others from different sources on the internet and in literature. All are fully referenced at the bottom of this article.

Bottom Incline:

The bottom of Bottom Incline. it was at this point that the public tramroad gave way to the quarry tramroads. Interetsingly, Bick gives the date of this photograph as being around 1895. This is evidence that a length of the tramway alongside Leckhampton Road was retained in use after the closure of Gloucester & Cheltenham Tramroad as a whole, in 1861. Bick says: “Here the Leckhampton branch of the Gloucester and Cheltenham Tramroad met C. B. Trye’s quarry lines. c. 1895. (c) A. T. Bendall.” Leckhampton Road/Hill can be seen on the left of the picture. [9: p32a][21]The point where the tramway from Bottom Incline drew alongside Leckhampton Road, as it is in the 21st century. (Google Streetview).The top of Bottom Incline showing the winding gear most clearly. [8]

The Line between Middle and Bottom Incline:

The line crossed Leckhampton Road/Hill at grade at the junction with Daisy Bank Road.

The Tramroad and road crossing location in the 21st century (Google Streetviw).

Middle Incline:

At the bottom of the Middle Incline. The tramway curved round to Daisy Bank Road which is behind the camera, (c) B. Baxter. [11: p121]Middle Incline [8]Middle Incline. [21][23]Tramway cottage in the 21st Century (Google Streetview).

Devil’s Chimney Incline:

I believe that this is an etching of the winding gear at the Devil’s Chimney Incline. If this is the case, then the chimney is just out of the picture to the right. [8]

The 1923-1924 Lime Kilns:

Before we look at the pictures of the limekilns below, there is an interesting aside which is worth noting, that is that there was a 2 ft Narrow Gauge Railway which conveyed the limestone needed by the kilns. It was “a 2ft gauge “Jubilee track” railway which ran on a ledge which can be traced in part today. At the far end the trucks were pushed across a bridge which connected the cliff face to the kilns and the stone was then tipped from the trucks into the kilns. The change in level along the route may have required a small incline to have been built but it is not clear where this was.” [25: p41]

The Limekilns built between 1923 and 1924 – I believe that his is the same location as the image of quarrying above from Gordon Braithwaite [7]. This is another image sourced by Albert Hands. [8]The view from above the Limekilns constructed in the 1920s provides and excellent view of  both the top of the Middle Incline, for which the winding drum can be seen, and the standard-gauge incline which superseded it, to its right. [21] A wider version of the same image can be found in David Bick’s booklet which shws that the work to build the standard-gauge incline destroyed the higher parts of the Middle Incline, leaving just the short stub visible in the picture here. [9: p32e]

The focal point of the tramway system with Top Incline heading away to the upper right of the picture (c) T.F. Coke. The line heading towards the camera was at this time the access to some short sidings but in the past had been the tramway route round to the incline at the Devll’s Chimney.. [9: p32c][21]

Dead Man’s Quarry:

Dead Man’s Quarry was a lter addition to the excavations at the Leckhampton site it was not until 1905, according to Bick [9] that this quarry needed a tramroad and a new incline.

Dead Man’s Quarry 1911, (c) H.G.W. Household [9: p32c][23].Horse-drawn empty tram ‘train’ returning to Dead Man’s Quarry, Leckhampton in June 1911, (c) H.G.W. Household. [9: p32b][23]

The Standard Gauge Incline and Sidings:

The Linekilns and the Standard-gauge incline are in a very real sense just a footnote to the story of the Cheltenham & Gloucester Tramroad. They appeared late and lasted nothing but a few years!

This first photo shows a Great North of Scotland Railway wagon half-way up the rope incline.  It seems unlikely that it was just visiting. Had it been bought or leased by the quarry company – we will never know!


Great North of Scotland on the Standard-Gauge Incline at Leckhampton. [24]

There are very few images available which show the standard gauge railway and incline one is much earlier in this article and shows the standard gauge incline, that view looks roughly Southwest up the incline towards the limekilns. The next image, below, shows that incline during its construction. …. Again the view faces up the incline towards the kilns.

The standard gauge incline and Daisy Bank Bridge under construction. [21]

Steam power was used on the line at the bottom of the incline and this has been covered in a short article by Jock Leonard: “Standard gauge steam locomotives working at the Leckhampton Quarry, circa 1920.” [26] (

The Friends of Leckhampton Hill and Charlton Kings Common  and the GSIA (Gloucestershire Society for industrial Archaeology) arranged with Cheltenham Borough Council and LifeChart for a display to be placed at the Limekilns site (shown below) which aids visitors in interpreting what they encounter. [14][20]The GSIA & Friends of Leckhampton Hill and Charlton Kings Common display board at Leckhampton Quarries and Limekilns. [14]

The OS map extract below shows that by the time of the publication of the OS 1:25,000 series (1937-1961) very little of the old tramway remained, just a short length behind the old Tramway Depot.

Returning to the line of the old tramroad/tramway branch from Leckhampton Hill into Cheltenham. The quarry tramway lines were served by a Depot alongside Leckhampton Road. The Depot was built in about 1810. it was the location of the Leckhampton Industrial Estate (although I think it has now been developed for housing). In 1923 the depot was transferred to Southfield Farm. [25: p41]

North of the Depot, the old tramroad ran along the west verge of Leckhampton Road towards Cheltenham. When we see images, particularly in the next article in this series, of a tramway in the centre of Leckhampton Road, we need to remember that the tramway in those images is a later tramway which operated in the early 20th Century and which was primarily a passenger tramway. The image below comes from the year 1900, the trees in the verge have just been planted, there is no evidence of a tramway in the centre of the road and the old tramway rails are still evident to the west of the road, on the right of this picture.

Leckhampton Road under reconstruction. The old tramroad rails appear still to be available at this time as the tramroad wagon on the right of the image testifies. Although some sources do suggest that the rails were lifted when the old tramway closed in 1861, [27][9: p50][23] Bick is clear that the length at this location survived into the 1890s.  He says that Trye who owned the quarries in 1861, “retained about 500 yds. of line down the side of Leckhampton Road to a point opposite the Malvern Inn, where he established a stone wharf. This bit of line, the last of the Gloucester and Cheltenham Tramroad, was not taken up until the late 1890s.” [9: p51 (and very briefly on p29)]Leckhampton Road in the 21st Century at approximately the same location as the image above (Google Streetview).


  1., accessed on 18th April 2020.
  2. David VereyAlan Brooks; Gloucestershire 2: The Vale and the Forest of Dean;
    Yale University Press, 2002, p99
  3.,, accessed on 18th April 2020.
  4., accessed on 18th April 2020.
  5. David Elder; Secret Cheltenham; Amberley Publications Ltd,  Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2009; accessed via, accessed on 22nd April 2020.
  6., accessed on 22nd April 2020.
  7., accessed on 22nd April 2020.
  8. Albert Hands who posted these images on the facebook group “Days Gone by in Cheltenham” has sadly passed away and his permission cannot be sought for their inclusion here, neither can their provenance be checked;, accessed on 22nd April 2020.
  9. D.E. Bick; ‘The Gloucester & Cheltenham Railway and the Leckhampton Quarry Tramroads’; The Oakwood Press, 1968.
  10., accessed on 18th April 2020.
  11. B. Baxter; The Route of the Gloucester & Cheltenham Railway; The Railway Magazine, February 1953: p117-121 & p133.
  12., accessed on 19th April 2020.
  13. D.E. Bick; ‘Old Leckhampton (Its Quarries, Railways, Riots and the Devil’s Chimney)’; 2nd Edition, Runpast Publishing, Cheltenham, 1994; noted in reference [14] below.
  14. accessed on 20th April 2020.
  15., accessed on 21st April 2020.
  16., accessed on 21st April 2020.
  17. Ray Wilson; The Industrial Archaeology of Leckhampton Hill; in the Gloucestershire Society for Industrial Archeaology Journal, 2001, p38-46,, accessed on 21st April 2020.
  18. Leckhampton Hill and Charlton Kings Common Management Plan – Issue No. 2 , April 2003; Cheltenham Borough Council;, accessed on 22nd April 2020.
  19., accessed on 22nd April 2020.
  20., accessed on 22nd April 2020.
  21., posted on the ‘Days Gone by in Cheltenham’ website by Bridget Capon on 18th November 2018, accessed on 22nd April 2020.
  22., accessed on 23rd April 2020.
  23., accessed on 23rd April 2020.
  24., accessed on 23rd April 2020.
  25., accessed on 23rd April 2020.
  26., accessed on 21st April 2020.
  27., posted on the ‘Days Gone By in Cheltenham’ website by Nik Thomas on 14th May 2015, accessed on 23rd April 2020.

Appendix 1 – THE INDUSTRIAL ARCHAEOLOGY OF LECKHAMPTON HILL – Ray Wilson – Extract from the Gloucestershire Society for Industrial Archaeology Journal for 2001 pp. 35-46



John 20:19-31 – Thoughts for the Second Sunday of Easter

Doubting Thomas

How often have you sat in a room with a group of friends and realised that you’ve lost track of what they’re talking about? Like you’ve dozed off for a bit and the conversation has dramatically changed direction. How did you feel? It can be a quite lonely or confusing experience.

I don’t have many Manchester United memories, except perhaps the famous cup final in 1979. Being an Arsenal supporter, I remember the excitement of Arsenal’s 3-2 win in the FA Cup that year.

However, there is one United memory that sticks in the mind. An episode which I was reminded of recently on facebook when someone posted a clip about times not to leave the room to put the kettle on. Nearly 21 years ago, Wednesday 26th May 1999 – I’d been watching the Manchester United/Bayern Munich UEFA Champions League Final on TV. The match took place in the Nou Camp Stadium.

I had to go out to do a Baptism visit, there was perhaps only a minute or two to go and United were losing 1-0, they were on the rack and going nowhere. The result was a foregone conclusion – Bayern Munich had obviously won the cup.

I wasn’t out that long, but I missed the key last minutes of the match. When I got back, I couldn’t believe what people were saying. United had scored twice in the last minute – they’d won. I wasn’t there – and if there hadn’t been independent accreditation of the victory, I would not have believed what people were telling me!!!

Whether we wake after having dozed off in a crowded room, or we were just not there when a key event happened – we easily feel ostracized and left out. No matter what anyone says, it still feels that way.

We’re not told why Thomas wasn’t in the upper room that first Easter evening when Jesus visited his disciples. We could spend time trying to imagine where he was – but we won’t! Suffice to say, he missed the key event, the turning point, the moment that changed defeat into victory. And how did he respond? In exactly the same way as most of us would have done. …


Thomas couldn’t believe what the others told him. I doubt any of us would have done under those same circumstances. … Seeing is believing – but so is sharing in an experience with others. Thomas not only didn’t see what happened, he was left out of the experience that everyone else shared. He was in a lonely place, wanting to believe, wanting to share in everyone else’s happiness, but unable to do so. He hadn’t been there, he hadn’t seen Jesus.

Thomas’ reactions and feelings are understandable. And as we read the story we can see that Jesus thought so too. he provided aa repeat of the same encounter – one in which Thomas could share. Jesus gently reminded Thomas of his outburst – no indignant rebuke, just words which drew Thomas back to faith. Thomas’ response is one of the clearest statements of Jesus’ divinity in the Bible. Having seen the truth of the resurrection he cannot but exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”

The next 3 verses are important, they are pivotal to John’s message:

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” ….  Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

John has led his readers through a story – a story which allows those readers to meet Jesus and begin to understand who he is. It’s a journey of discovery, one in which we can identify with the different characters, feel their emotions, struggle with them to understand what Jesus is doing and saying. Thomas’ words are the culmination, the pinnacle of the story – the point where even the strongest of doubters expresses faith. Jesus response is not just for Thomas’ ears, not just for the disciples, but for all who read John’s Gospel in coming generations. “Don’t think,” says Jesus, “that the disciples were in some way special because they saw all these events first hand. Rather, blessed are those who read the stories and encounter Christ through the work of his Spirit in their lives and the lives of those around them.”

“Blessed,” says Jesus,  “are all who read this Gospel, who struggle with doubts & come to believe that he is the Son of God.”

We’ve not missed out on the party, we can still be part of the events which changed defeat into victory. We too can own the risen Jesus as our Lord.

This is good news – particularly for those of us who struggle with doubt; for those of us who’d like to believe more strongly than we do; for those of us who see other people’s faith, or the joy they seem to experience in their Christian life, and feel that we are somehow missing out. The story of Thomas is important because it embraces doubt.

The story is also important because it embraces change. Everything is different, Jesus was dead and is now alive. This changes everything – nothing can now be the same. Thomas struggles to accept the new situation. For so many of us change is difficult to handle, yet it is happening all the time. We need to continue to engage with the communities around our churches, looking for new ways to serve, new ways to make Christ known and to bring hope where there is despair. We need to accept that the future for the Church of England is one with significantly less stipendiary clergy – perhaps one third less in numbers in ten years time – and we need to imagine new forms of ministry both lay and ordained, new ways of being church. Nothing is the same as it was, nothing will be the same as it was, and we want to shout out the loudest “No!” that we can manage.

There are two key things we need to take away from this passage.

First – it’s OK to be honest – don’t pretend that everything is OK when it isn’t,. Don’t manufacture faith if it isn’t there. We can express our fears and we can express our doubts. In fact expressing our fear and our doubt is often, like it was for Thomas, the first step to faith.

Second – this story of doubt and faith is made the crowning moment of John’s Gospel – the pinnacle – Jesus reaching out to his loyal but doubting and fearful follower, not in anger but in love. Thomas’ exclamation, “My Lord and my God!” is the point at which John choses to rest his case. Honest struggling with change, honest struggling through doubt towards faith is given the highest honour in John’s Gospel.

So, don’t be discouraged if the pace of change or the circumstances we face are a struggle. Don’t be discouraged if believing is a struggle.

12_pasc_c_tFor many football fans, winning or losing is a life or death issue. But here we go beyond issues of life or death, we’re concerned with eternity.

Be encouraged as you struggle to be faithful in an ever changing context, when at times everything you hold dear seems threatened. Be encouraged as you struggle to believe, for the story of Thomas makes clear that God loves the open and honest doubter.

Saturday 18th April 2020

I switched on my desktop computer this morning to find that the Church Times was offering me a series of interviews of songwriters. I don’t have a fully-encompassing membership for on-line access to the Church Times so I looked down the selection of interviews in the Church Times email which included writers such as Nick Cave, Michael Kiwanuka, Grace Petrie and Matt Redman, and decided to read just one. The article article about Matt Redman which was first published in 2016 when “10,000 Reasons: Stories of faith, hope, and thankfulness inspired by the worship anthem,” by Matt Redman and Craig Borlase (David C. Cook, £9.99) was published. [1]

In Madeleine Davies interview with Matt Redman, a number of things caught my eye. [2] They chimed with some thoughts that I had been having about the value of the Psalms in our worship.

1. First, some things from that interview ….

Matt Redman

“While undergoing brain surgery in 2015, Reuben Hill was asked by surgeons to sing, to reassure them that the speech centre of his brain was unharmed. The song he chose was “10,000 Reasons”, [1] by Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin. “Whatever may pass And whatever lies before me Let me be singing When the evening comes,” he sang.” – Madeleine Davies starts her article with this very short story. There are songs which get inside our heads, and clearly this one was right at the forefront of Reuben Hill’s thinking.

She goes on to say that, “The song echoes both Psalm 103 in its refrain (“Bless the Lord, O my soul”) and those that find the Psalmist exhorting himself to remember God’s goodness. It also contains a nod to John Newton’s “Amazing Grace” in its anticipatory verse (“Still my soul will sing Your praise unending, ten thousand years, and then forevermore”).” Two powerful passages from scripture and the hymnody of the past.

Speaking of those words, Ms Davies continues to say that the inspiration for this verse, with its reference to failing strength and the end drawing near, was one of Matt Redman’s favourite lines which come from Charles Wesley’s “In age and feebleness extreme”, dictated on his death bed in 1788. She quotes:

In age and feebleness extreme,
Who shall a helpless worm redeem?
Jesus, my only hope Thou art,
Strength of my failing flesh and heart:
O could I catch one smile from Thee,
And drop into eternity!

It seems that Matt Redman found/finds great inspiration in the Psalms: “Pointing to the high proportion of laments in the Book of Psalms, Mr Redman spoke of the importance of songs that address pain. ‘There is no one who escapes pain, heartache, confusion, stress. . . It’s not just relevant to people in church. If you sing honest songs that are raw and real, they will be relevant to people’s lives outside the church’. . .”

“Young people needed to be reminded,” says Matt Redman, that “the Church is an ancient family, and we have this rich family history and heritage. . . It’s best not to write that off as we are standing on the shoulders of giants.”

2. Now, the Psalms

These comments apply to our own historic hymnody, which  still speaks with great power, perhaps because it is rooted as much in pain as in joy. But they apply most fully to the hymnody of the scriptures – the 150 Psalms recorded for us in the Hebrew Scriptures and appropriated by Christians in our Old Testament.

We struggle with the text of some of these Psalms because they seem to be either too negative, or too aggressive. They express sentiments that we feel perhaps should not be voiced out loud. So, we bracket off the parts that upset our sensitive natures – the Anglican church literally does this in its Psalmody. We want to make our worship about love and faithfulness and we want it to be about expressing positive thoughts. ………..

When we do this, we misunderstand what Psalms are primarily about. They are not so much about praying the vengeance of God on our enemies but rather about the honest expression of the depth of our feeling and at times our anger. This is lament rather than aggression. It is the honest expression of our hurt, our anger, our fear, our loss to the only person who ultimately can carry those feelings and who can help us through them – to God.

The Lament is something vital for our times. Something which, for our sanity, we cannot do without.

This week, Jo (my wife) and I have been reading a psalm each morning. [3] We are doing it because we have set these psalms for our church congregations to read as a shared act of prayer each day. Over the past three days we have read Psalm 77, [4] Psalm 82 [5] and Psalm 86. [6] They are psalms which express something of the confusion and fear of the times which our world is experiencing at the moment. Listen to a few of the sentiments expressed:

Psalm 77: 1-3

I cry aloud to God;  I cry aloud to God and he will hear me. In the day of my trouble I have sought the Lord;  by night my hand is stretched out and does not tire; my soul refuses comfort. I think upon God and I groan; I ponder, and my spirit faints.

Psalm 77: 6-9

I commune with my heart in the night; my spirit searches for understanding. Will the Lord cast us off for ever? Will he no more show us his favour? Has his loving mercy clean gone for ever? Has his promise come to an end for evermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he shut up his compassion in displeasure?

Psalm 82: 2-4, 8

‘How long [O. Lord] will you judge unjustly and show such favour to the wicked? ‘You were to judge the weak and the orphan; defend the right of the humble and needy; ‘Rescue the weak and the poor; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. …………………

Arise, O God and judge the earth, for it is you that shall take all nations for your possession.

Psalm 86: 1-4

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and in misery. Preserve my soul, for I am faithful; save your servant, for I put my trust in you. Be merciful to me, O Lord, for you are my God; I call upon you all the day long. Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.

It is only through the honest expression of what we feel, to a God who hears our prayer, that we will find any hope and peace. I still remember well the time when I was suffering with acute depression and the only part of scripture that I could read was the Psalms. I found in them the honest expression of my fear, my doubts and my confusion.

“There are times when life is so hard, when those who are against us appear to be so powerful that we fall into a state of utter despair. We feel our ……… enemies have such control over our lives and fate that we begin to doubt whether even God has the power to save us from this disaster. ………….”

In these times, when we are losing those we love and respect, to a pandemic that seems to be completely beyond our control; when we are contemplating funerals with few or no mourners; when careworkers and NHS staff have to watch those they are caring for facing painful struggle at the end of their lives, while at the same time risking their own health and well-being; when hospital chaplains stand alongside those who work so hard but can only offer their presence in the midst of that pain; and when we cannot come together physically to worship. It is the Psalms which offer us the opportunity for honest grappling with pain that we most need. No feelings need to be excluded when we express our concerns to God – our anger, our doubt, our anxiety, our hurt are all acceptable, all embraced by the love of God.

And as God sits with us in the pain he continues to point so very gently to the Cross. The place where God, in the person of Jesus, reached out arms of love and embraced all that we could lay on him. The Cross is the measure of the love of God, there can be no hiding from the truth at the Cross. Great pain, unbelievable anguish, harsh actions by those who do not understand, faithless and faithful together in one place. the whole of life caught, trapped in the experience of a few hours. And the hurtful and horrible truth of the words expressed by Jesus who feels so much pain:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why have you left me alone to die here? Where are you now?”

I like the title of the article in the Church Times about Matt Redman: “Honest songs will be relevant to people’s lives,” [2] but the truth is actually more profound than that. The truth is that we will only be able to handle the deep dark nights of the soul when we bear that soul honestly before God, when wide hide nothing in our worship, when we refuse to pretend that things are OK.

At the moment, in April 2020, they are, clearly, anything but OK. ……………….


  1., accessed on 18th April 2020.
  2. Madeleine Davies; Honest songs will be relevant to people’s lives; Church Times, 12th August 2016;, accessed on 18th April 2020.
  3. The Common Worship Psalter;, accessed often but on this occasion on 18th April 2020. The booklet we have prepared is in the Appendix below.
  4., accessed on 18th April 2020.
  5., accessed on 18th April 2020.
  6., acessed on 18th April 2020.
  7., accessed on 18th April 2020.


Praying together through the month


Book Series Review – Neil Parkhouse: “British Railway History in Colour”

Over the last few years I have been collecting and reading a series of books written by Neil Parkhouse and published by the Lightmoor Press, an imprint of Black Dwarf Lightmoor Publications Ltd.

The author of the series is Neil Parkhouse. He and Ian Pope are the leading lights of the publishing house. Both are experts in railway history and infrastructure, and they publish some of the best railway history literature on the market.

I have quite an extensive library of railway books, but if you were to tell me that I could only keep say 15 to 20 books from the whole library. This series (5 books so far) would make up one third of the total and books by Ian Pope would also be included, specifically the two books on the Forest of Dean Railway and the five volumes which make up the series on the Severn & Wye Railway. (The earlier volumes in that series were jointly authored with Bob Howe and Paul Karau). I guess thatI’d probably also want to keep the books I have about the Railways in and around Hereford which I model in N Gauge.

Neil Parkhouse has, for many years, been collecting colour photos of the railways of Gloucestershire and this series of books is the result. The series is ambitious, and I can imagine that it is a labour of love for Neil Parkhouse. His enthusiasm shines out from the pages of each book. The series title is ”British Railway History in Colour” and Neil Parkhouse hopes soon to broaden the series out beyond the immediate area of Gloucestershire.

I have the full series up to and including Volume 4A and cannot recommend them highly enough. A very short introduction to each volume in the series follows here, a longer introduction can be found on the Lightmoor Press website:

Volume 1: West Gloucester & Wye Valley Lines: Second Edition – if you purchase the first edition, be sure to pick up the supplement which contains all the changes between the two editions.

This volume, and those which follow, relies on an army of photographers who from the late 1950s onwards determined to record the railway scene, and particularly on those who chose to use the medium of colour transparencies. In this volume he concentrates on the Southwest of the county, an area of striking natural beauty with a long history of industrial activity.

The Lightmoor website introduces this volume by saying that, ”The aim has been to show the infrastructure – stations, signal boxes, goods yard, engine sheds – which has been lost, as much as the trains and their motive power. Along the way, some of the other locations which were once railway served – such as docks, quarries and industrial works – are also illustrated.” [1] The book certainly achieves those objectives and, in effect, is a pictorial commentary on life in this part of Gloucestershire in the middle years of the 20th century.

This volume has colour images from the 1930s through to the mid 1970s. It is a feast for sore eyes!

Volume 2: Forest of Dean Lines and the Severn Bridge – the horse operated tramroads of the Forest of Dean were later turned into railways and for a time provided both for passengers and freight. By the time embraced by this series, these Railways were drafting toward their final years. This volume covers the full range of routes within the Forest and also looks at the Severn Bridge.

The period covered by this volume is, ”from the late 1950s to the mid 1970s, when traffic on the branch to Parkend finally ceased and the Dean Forest Railway took over.” [1]

Volume 3: Gloucester Midland Lines Part 1 : North – the Midland Railway surprised many at the time by transgressing, in the mid 1840s, into what was Great Western Railway territory.  It bought the Birmingham & Bristol Railway and as a result gained access to Gloucester. Neil Parkhouse had thought to cover the Midland line and its associated branch lines in Gloucestershire in one volume but the material has ultimately provided three really engaging volumes of colour photography. This first volume focuses on the routes on the north side of Gloucester. The subsequent volumes look at the Midland lines on the South side of the city.

Volume 4A: Gloucester Midland Lines Part 2: South – I have just finished reading this volume. It covers the Midland Mainline between Gloucester Eastgate Station and Stonehouse. Its illustrations come from the period between 1959 and 1975. It also looks at a number of other lines as well.

My brother-in-law lives in Nailsworth, and it has been good to see images of the station in the 1950s/60s. For a time he lived in a flat in the Railway Hotel which can be seen in at least one of the photographs which Neil Parkhouse has drawn together. I was, however most interested in the three ancillary lines in Gloucester itself that Neil Parkhouse explores: the Tuffley Loop; the High Orchard Branch serving the docks; and the Hempsted or New Docks Branch. [4]. I want to explore these areas more, when times and opportunity permits.

These books do that to you. They draw you in, not only in your imagination but in a way that begs you to explore not only the past but the present as well.

Volume 4B: Gloucester Midland Lines Part 3: South – This is the one book in the series that has been published so far that I have yet to purchase. I am looking forward to getting it in the near future. Lightmoor Press say of this book that, “The pictures range from circa 1959 to 1975, illustrating the end of the steam age, the dawn of the diesel age and the start of the BR blue years in colour, whilst also showing the huge amount of railway infrastructure that has now gone, much of it within this period.” [5] If it is anywhere near as good as the earlier volumes, it will be an absolute delight.

The personal reviews of this series posted on Amazon, are very positive, almost every review posted is a 5* review! ………………..

“Yet more wonderful photographs bringing the age of steam back to life. Every time I look at [this book] something new appears in a photograph – truly evocative.” [2]

“Packed throughout with excellent, unseen before (especially in colour) photographs.” [2]

“Excellent, wonderful photography, congratulations to all that contributed to this book, it evoked precious memories of the happiest childhood, I could smell the engines again and see the excited faces of lads around the stations or sheds, after school or on weekends.” [2]

“A lot of the photographs in the book put the train in the landscape, giving you a great sense of the railway within the Forest. However it’s the captions that go with the photographs that for me make the book, they are incredibly detailed and do much to enhance the book.” [3]

“Absolutely brilliant book full of high quality colour photographs I own many books on British Railways but none as good as this one. This book is a comprehensive [g]em on the Forest Of Dean Lines, cannot get over the high quality photographs from times long past 100% recommend.” [3]

“An excellent book.” [6]

If you want to sample the contents before purchase, then the Lightmoor Press website provides a few photographs from each volume in the series.


  1., accessed on 17th April 2020.
  2. Amazon:, accessed on 17th April 2020.
  3., accessed on 17th April 2020.
  4., accessed on 18th April 2020
  5., accessed on 17th April 2020.
  6., accessed on 17th April 2020.