Category Archives: Comment

Ancient Tramroads near Telford – Part 5 – Newdale Bridge

The featured image above shows Newdale Bridge after some path work improvements were undertaken. [1]

Newdale Bridge is one extant remnant of the old tramway which probably ran between Ketley and Horsehay. The images below show its location. The bridge is recorded by Historic England as a Grade II listed structure (No. 1025096). It was listed on 8th April 1983. [5]

The Wrekin Local Studies Forum records this bridge in these words: “An extensive network of tramways was built, with horses pulling small waggons laden with coal, firclay and other minerals, connecting various mines to foundry sites. Pioneered by Abraham Darby II, Newdale Tram Bridge, crossing over Ketley Dingle, was built in 1759 around the same time [as] Darby’s revolutionary idea for the first purpose-built workers’ village, New Dale, with a small foundry, various cottages and the impressive long row consisting of 17 back-to-back dwellings.” [6]

Newdale Village has long-gone but the tramway bridge has been retained.

An extract from the ERSI World Topo Map as used by the National Library of Scotland. [4]
This first image shows the immediate vicinity of the Bridge in the 21st century. The blue line represents the line of the tramway. The redline represents the Wellington to Severn Junction Branch of the GWR which is now a part of the Ironbridge Way public footpath. Newdale Bridge is sited just to the West of the route of the old railway. It is clear that the tramway ran across the line of the old railway, perhaps going under a low bridge, although it did predate the railway and may have been cut by the construction work for the standard-gauge line. [2]
An extract from the 6″ OS Mapping of 1882 which was published in 1887. Newdale Bridge crossed the stream just to the West of the standard-gauge line and to the East of Newdale. Without further research it is difficult to be sure of the tramway alignment away from the immediate vicinity of the Bridge. The mapping suggests that the tramway and the road on the East side of Newdale was cut by the building of the railway. In all probability the tramway used to run North-South alongside what was to be the route of the new railway as shown below. However, by the time of the 1882 survey the tramway rails had been lifted. [3]
The same location but with the probable/possible tramway rote added as a red line. [3]
21st century housing to the West of Newdale Bridge. [My photograph, 9th June 2022]
Ironbridge Way, the old Wellington to Severn Junction Railway, looking North from close to Newdale Bridge towards the M54. [My photograph, 9th June 2022]
Ironbridge Way, the old Wellington to Severn Junction Railway, looking South from close to Newdale Bridge towards Morrison’s Supermarket which has been built over the line of the old railway. [My photograph, 9th June 2022]
Looking West from the Ironbridge Way over Newdale Bridge. [My photograph, 9th June 2022]
Looking East along the spandrel walls of the two arched Newdale Bridge. [My photographs, 9th June 2022]
Looking West at low level along the spandrel walls of Newdale Bridge. [My photograph, 9th June 2022]
Looking South towards Newdale Bridge from the adjacent footpath. [My photograph, 9th June 2022]
Looking East at low level along the spandrel walls of Newdale Bridge. You will note that all the low level pictures of the bridge are taken from the North side. The southern side is inaccessible because of thick undergrowth. [My photograph, 9th June 2022]


  1., accessed on 17th June 2022.
  2., accessed on 17th June 2022.
  3., accessed on 17th June 2022.
  4.,-2.47846, accessed on 17th June 2022.
  5., accessed on 17th June 2022.
  6., accessed on 17th June 2022.

Railways of Khartoum – Part 1 – The 3ft 6in (1067mm) Gauge

The featured image above is a 1946 photo of War Department steam locomotive No. 2807 (later Sudan Railways No. 243) at Abu Hamed Railway Station. [44]

Wikipedia tells us that “Sudan has 4,725 kilometres of narrow-gauge, single-track railways. The main line runs from Wadi Halfa on the Egyptian border to Khartoum and southwest to El-Obeid via Sannar and Kosti, Sudan, with extensions to Nyala in Southern Darfur and Wau in Western Bahr al Ghazal, South Sudan. Other lines connect Atbarah and Sannar with Port Sudan, and Sannar with Ad Damazin. A 1,400-kilometre line serves the al Gezira cotton-growing region. There are plans to rehabilitate rail transport to reverse decades of neglect and declining efficiency. Service on some lines may be interrupted during the rainy season.” [7]

It seems as though much of the network still exists although it is in need of major maintenance work. In July 2021, Global Construction Review informed us that Sudan was planning a $640m scheme to bring its rail network back into use. [8]

The African Development Bank (ADB) offered a $75m grant towards the cost, and China State Construction Engineering and several Gulf firms were interested in becoming involved with the project. The first action will be to undertake around $17m of emergency repairs to lines that are in use. This would then be followed by renewing abandoned lines, most of which are in the south of the country. The intention would be to reconnect the cities of Madani, Kosti and Sennar, as well as Nyala in Darfur. It will also establish a cross-border connection to Wau in the Republic of South Sudan. [8]

Sudan’s railway network. [7]

However, Sudan already had a fleet of modern train-sets. A service was started which linked Port Sudan to Khartoum in 2014 using sleek new modern units. The Nile Train runs between Port Sudan, Atbara and the capital, Khartoum. China lent Sudan nearly $1.1 billion toward the $1.5 billion project. [9] These new trains run on the old 3ft 6in (1067mm) gauge rails which have been improved where required.

In 2014 Sudan inaugurated a new train service from Port Sudan via Atbara to Khartoum. These trains also now run on a number of other lines throughout the country. The train to Nyala, in what was war-torn Darfur, goes every two weeks, while another makes a weekly trip north of Atbara to Wadi Halfa near the Egyptian border. [9][11]

A new standard gauge railway between Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Khartoum is planned said the International Rail Journal (IRJ). In 2020, the African Development Bank (ADB) awarded a $US 1.2m grant to the government of Ethiopia, covering 34% of the study’s $US 3.4m cost. The NEPAD Infrastructure Project Preparation Facility (Nepad-IPPF) will provide $US 2m with the governments of Ethiopia and Sudan each set provide $US 100,000 to cover the remaining cost. [10]

The agreed route between the two capitals includes a branch to Port Sudan on the Red Sea. The study will assess the project’s technical, economic, environmental and social viability as well as possible alternative financing arrangements, including the use of public-private partnerships (PPP). [10]

The first railway in Sudan

There was a number of false dawns in the bringing of steam power (both river and rail) to Sudan. [12: p1-1] The appointment of Sir John Fowler as engineering consultant to Khedive Isma’il was probably highly significant. It was Fowler who, in a report about surmounting the First Cataract on the Nile in 1873, first recommended the 3ft 6in gauge (1067mm) for railways in Sudan. [12: p11] Fowler was appointed consulting engineer for the railway. His work began in Egypt, addressing the surmounting of the First Cataract by constructing an incline to carry ships past the obstruction. As part of the construction work he built a section of railway which he expected would become part of a much longer system. That section of railway was built “in 1874 from the foreshore at Aswan to el-Shellal, a distance of 14.5 kilometres. … Work on the building of a railway depot and track began at ‘Anqash, a site slightly north of the old village of Wadi Halfa, in 1870.” [12: p12] More about this section of line later. …

The Sudan Railway was inaugurated on 15th February 1875 in the midst of a dust storm at Wadi Halfa, just south of the present border between Egypt and Sudan. [12: p12] By 10th April 1875, 8 kilometres of embankment had been built and railway headquarters buildings were completed. Administrative and financial difficulties meant that the railhead reached Saras, only 54 kilometres from Wadi Halfa, with the preliminary works of embankments and cuttings a further 47 kilometres ahead before General Gordon was appointed Govenor General of Sudan. [12: p12-13]

The first railway headquarters at Wadi Halfa [12: Plate 3]

Gordon disliked the railway because the cost burden primarily fell on Sudan. He suggested alternatives which were considerably cheaper. [12: p14]

Ultimately, this short section of railway was a commercial failure. “With its southern terminus at Saras hemmed in by the cataracts of Hannik and Kajbar it scarcely skimmed the Nile Valley traffic between Egypt and the Dongola and Kordofan Provinces. The ‘Ababda contractors continued to carry the bulk of the Sudan Nile Valley traffic over the Korosko-Berber desert road until the fall of Berber in 1884 to the Mahdist forces.” [12: p16] Heavy troop movements in connection with the Mahdist revolt produced only paper credits and, by 1883, Mahdist raids ultimately meant that any movement outside the defended perimeter of Halfa Camp ceased and revenue dropped to nothing. [12: p17]

The Railway Depot at Wadi Halfa in 1887. [12: Plate 4]

The next development was the construction of a military railway which consisted of “the original Wadi Halfa-Saras line of 1875 with two extensions: the first from Saras to ‘AKasha in 1884-85, and the second from ‘Akasha to Kerma in 1896-97.” [12: p18] This work extended the length of the line to 327 kilometres. Given that it was the only transport link available, the authorities ran a public service until 1905 when the line was abandoned. Writing in 1965, Hill said that the only traces remaining of the railway were “some of the sand embankments, some cuttings through the granite rock, a few stone bridge abutments and some lengths of twisted rail.” [12: p18]

During this time, much thought was given to possible future arrangements, and particularly to the gauge of the line. There was a debate about the various benefits of metre-gauge against the 3ft 6 in gauge. Kitchener favoured the 3ft 6in gauge. His biographers suggest that this was because he wanted to support the Cape-to-Cairo project. More prosaically, his position on gauge related to the availability of rolling stock at ‘Akasha. [12: p20-21]

The second of the two extensions above was well-planned and construction saw the railhead extending at a rate of over a kilometre a day! [12: p22]

Returning to that 14.5 kilometres of line which John Fowler built close to the First Cateract. Although Fowler advocated a 3ft 6 in line for the route along the Nile, Hill says that he built that short section to standard-gauge. [12: p23] In 1881, it was converted to dual gauge ” by the simple expedient of laying a third rail to enable engines borrowed from the 3ft 6ins gauge railway at Wadi Halfa to draw standard gauge wagons.” [12: p23]

The short section of dual gauge track was replaced by 3ft. 6in track when the Upper Egyptian Railway reached Aswan in 1895. But was relaid again in 1926 when the Upper Egyptian Railway was converted to standard-gauge as far as Aswan. [12: p23]

Kitchener eventually decided a route for his military railway which ran directly across the desert from Wadi Halfa to Abu Hamad – at this time the route along the Nile was abandoned. [12: p24] The ‘direct’ line was laid under miltary protection and “at the utmost possible speed and with the utmost economy of means.” [12: p24] The summit of the line was reached in July (166 kilometres from Wadi Halfa) and by November the line was back by the Nile at Abu Hamad. The next stretch to the mouth of the Atbara river was completed by July 1898. [12: p25]

In October 1898, after the battle of Omdurman, the railway crossed the river Atbara, initially by means of a temporary bridge which was replaced within a matter of months by a permanent structure. The railhead reached Shendi in June 1899 and arrived at the Blue Nile opposite Khartoum at the end of 1899. This was the location of the terminus and has become known as Khartoum North Station.

As an aside, Hill also relates the tale of the Suakin-Berber Railway (running East-West from the Red Sea) which had been considered for many years but only saw a serious attempt at its construction when the Mahdist revolution occurred. In June 1884 the British Government took some preliminary steps to facilitate the construction of the railway. Some minor work was undertaken and worked commenced and then ceased on an 18in. gauge line. In 1885, the British War Office decided to pursue the construction of the line. Initially a metre-gauge line was considered. This was adapted in favour of a standard-gauge line. [12: p34-38]

The contractors worked on supplying the planned works and a large amount of materials were on site at Suakin on the Red Sea coast by the end of the first quarter of 1885. By 20th March the line had crossed the causeway from the depot to the mainland and was nearing the outer fortifications. Despite regulars Mahdist raids, by mid-April the railhead was progressing at around a mile a day and 8 miles of mainline had been constructed. Logistics became a serious problem as the railhead move forward. Raids became more frequent and it became increasingly difficult to defend the line. In the end, it was pressures elsewhere in the world which meant that the British Government needed the troops for other campaigns and on 22nd April 1885 it decided to halt all work on the line. It was not until 2nd May 1885, when the railway had reached Otao, that work finally ceased. General Graham inspected the work and commented that it was roughly laid and the first shower would destroy large sections of it. The coming of the rains proved him right. [12: p41-44] The whole endeavour was ill-conceived and badly managed.

The Suakin-Berber Railway: The first train to reach Handoub Station on the ill-fated line to Otao. (Sketch by Walter Paget) [12: Plate 22]

Khartoum North

The line to Khartoum North took a number of years to turn a profit (1913 was the first year in which receipts exceeded expenditure). In 1906 railway headquarters and workshops were transferred from Wadi Halfa to Atbara. The growing Sudanese economy revealed that existing rolling stock and track was unequal to demand. As the railway network was expanding, opportunities were taken to lay heavier duty rails (75lb rail began to be used) and parts of the original line to Kahtoum had 50ib rail replaced with 75lb rail.

A postcard view of Khartoum North Railway Station from the North. [15]
Sudan Railways - Khartoum train station (vintage postcard)
Another view from the North of Khartoum North Station. [18]
A view of the inside of the train shed at Khartoum North Station, the terminus of the line, in 1904. [12: Plate 26] The modern railway station serving Khartoum North is no longer on the site of the first terminus.

Early in the life of the line, the journey from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum took 55 hours. This was improved to 34 hours. By 1912, two express luxury trains were running twice-weekly between the two terminals. [12: p50-53]

On the whole, the railway map between Wadi Hailfa and Khartoum has changed little over the years. A section of track which was troubled by drifting sand was re-laid closer to the Nile in 1902 (close to the Fifth Cateract). [12: p57] And, as we have noted above, Khartoum North Railway Station is long-gone. A replacement station has been provided on the line running South to the Blue Nile Bridge (Bahri Railway Station).

The Red Sea Railway and the founding of Port Sudan

The economic development of the Sudan was hindered at every turn by the tortuous routing of its imports and exports. Goods consigned by rail from an Egyptian port to Khartoum required no less than four transshipments on the way: at the port of entry, at Luxor and el-Shellal and again at Wadi Halfa. ” [12: p67]

Initially the British Government thought that Suakin was the solution to these and other problems and started to work on the basis of a line which led from there into the interior. Just 50 km down the coast, there was a far superior location for a harbour. In time this was realised to be the better option. The preliminary construction work and depot at Suakin was to have a significant and valuable role in the construction of a new line, but that line was first planned to run along the coast to Mersa Shaykh which was to be come Port Sudan and from there inland through Sinkat to join the Sudan Military Railway at Atbara. That route was not used either. Surveyor eventually recommended a route which ran through the Kamob Sanha Gorge and Tehamiyam to Atbara. It had the easiest gradients of the options considered did not require tunneling and only had one particular section which was difficult for construction (a cutting through 1,000 metres of granite at Kamob Sanha). Added benefits were the ease of making a connection to Kassala and a juction on the Nile Valley line closer to Khartoum. [12: p70]

Railways at Suakin [12: p35]

The first train from Khartoum steamed into Suakin on 16th October 1905 to a new terminus at Graham’s Point. By the end of the year a connection had been completed to the site of what was to be Port Sudan. [12: p71]

A view of the railhead camp on the Red Sea Railway in 1905. [12: Plate 39]

Back to Khartoum

First an early plan from 1905, showing the 3ft 6in gauge line and its terminus on the North bank of the Blue Nile. …

Khartoum in 1905 [14]

Next a plan showing Khartoum in 1910. …

In 1910, the railway line from the North is being extended round the South of the city to a new station. A line is being built to the Southeast of that new station and a line is projected beyond the new Station to the West, heading Northwest. [41]

Next, a plan from 1914 showing the enlarged network of 3ft 6in gauge railways in the city. At this time Khartoum North Station is still in use. …

A map of Khartoum and Omdurman dated 1914, very kindly provided by Iain Logie. The line providing access to the Central Station left the old military line North of the city and crossed the Blue Nile on the Blue Nile Bridge which can be seen in pictures below. The line to the West of Central Station has been extended towards the Blue Nile and that to the Southeast has been extended beyond the confines of the city and tracks the Blue Nile to the Southeast. [42]
An enlarged extract showing the 3’6″ railways of Khartoum North. The terminus station is immediately above the ‘E’ of ‘BLUE’. the line leaving the top of this extract through the ‘K’ of Khartum was a branchline to Omdurman Station which was on the East bank of the Nile, opposite that city. [From the plan provided by Iain Logie above]
Khartoum in 1914, showing the location of the Central Station. [From the plan provide by Iain Logie above]
A mid-20th century map of Khartoum on which the railways feature prominently. It would appear that, by the time this map was drafted, Khartoum North was no longer in used as a railway station. It is not visible on the map on the North side of the Blue Nile. It is also wroth noting that Central station has a railway junction at each end of the site. [16]

Khartoum Central Station

We will start our ‘then & now’ review of the railway lines in Khartoum with a look at Central Station. …

A map of the central area of Khartoum which shows Khartoum Central Station and the route of the railway line. [Mapcarta][6]

Some very early images of Khartoum Central Station. Each image is embedded and links directly to the site from which it was sourced. …

Khartoum Central Station. [1]
Khartoum Central Station. [2]
Khartoum Central Station. [3]
Khartoum Central Station. [4]
This image comes from an article in Railway Wonders of the World entitled, “Through Desert and Jungle
Modernity That Disturbs the Silence of Age-old Temples.” the cation on the picture reads: “KHARTOUM STATION, with its wide platforms pleasantly laid out with trees, is a refreshing charts to the traveller after his 250-mile trip across the Nubian desert. Although situated on the banks of the Nile, the town lies 1,200 ft above sea-level, and its station is the most important on the Sudan main line,” © Railway Wonders of the World. [20]

Some modern images of Khartoum Central Station. …

Khartoum Central Station. [22]
A satellite image showing the broad extent of the site of Khartoum Central Station. Central Station was not the first railway station in Khartoum. The first was North of the River Blue Nile and is known as Khartoum North Railway Station. Just about visible in this overall image are two modern train-sets sitting in the depot, [Google Earth]
The Google satellite imagery used throughout this article is dated 28th January 2021. On that date two modern train-sets sit in the yard at Khartoum Central Station. [Google Earth]
Two further train-sets sit alongside the platforms in Khartoum Central Station. [Google Earth]
Goods train running through Khartoum Central Station adjacent to the flats shown centre right on the satellite image of the station site, (c) Amro Zakaria Abdu. [19]
Sundan Railways Offices at Khartoum Central Station. [Google Maps]
Sudan Railways offices at Khartoum Central Station, © Andy Browning. [35]
Khartoum Central Station in 2021 [21]
Khartoum Central Station, also in 2021. [23]
Carriages stored on the South side of the Central Station site, © Andy Browning. [35]
Sunset in Khartoum – looking West along the railway tracks in late January 1983 showing former British signalbox and signals. (Photo by Rail Photo/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images) [36]

These next images show the route of the line between Central Station and the Blue Nile Bridge. All the satellite images are extracts from Google Earth. The line runs Northeast towards the Blue Nile.

This next sequence of three extracts from Google Earth takes us North to the Blue Nile Bridge. [Google Earth]
The railway bridge over Gamma Avenue – University Subway. The bridge can be seen on the satellite images immediately above, at the top of the central image and the bottom of the righthand image. [24]

Blue Nile Bridge

Satellite images from 28th January 2021 showing the two end spans of the Blue Nile Bridge. The North end is on the left and the image shows the lifting section of the bridge. The South end is on the right. This clearly shows the 3’6″ gauge railway which runs on the East side of the road carriageway. [Google Maps]
The Blue Nile Bridge, apparently under construction in 1910. [17]
A postcard view of the Blue Nile Bridge from the West. [5]
Blue Nile Road and Railway Bridge – Ministry of Oil and Gas barge on the Blue Nile river – view from Nile Avenue towards North Khartoum. [13]
Looking North along the footway which cantilevers out from the West side of Blue Nile Bridge. [25]
Looking North along Blue Nile Bridge. [26]
Looking North along the railway track on the East side of the Blue Nile Bridge, (c) Tariq Al-Khaleel, March 2020. [28]
The route of the railway between the Blue Nile Bridge and Bahri Railway Station. [Google Earth]

Bahri Station (Khartoum North)

Bahri Station (Khartoum North) [27]
Bahri Railway Station Platform in 2016, (c) Mohamed Gaafar. [29]
Bahri Railway Station Platform in 2017, (c) Siedahmed Abdallah. [29]
Bahri Railway Station Building seen from the station Yard. [30]

The main station buildings at Bahri Station. The station yard runs North alongside Al-Inqaz Street. to the next road junction and beyond [Google Maps]
The next length of the yard travelling North [Google Maps]
And again, further to the North. [Google Maps]
And, once more, further to the North. [Google Maps]

North towards Atbara

Bahri Railway Station (Khartoum North) was, in 2014, the terminus for the new Nile Train service. The service runs from Port Sudan to Khartoum by way of Atbara and is provided by four-car DMU trainsets. I have struggled to date to identify technical details for these units. They are supplied by Chinese manufacturers. The first sets arrived in 2014, further sets arrived in 2018. [31]

North of Bahri Railway Station the 3ft 6in gauge line travels North towards Atbara. Train speeds are low and the journey as far as Atbara takes about twice the time a bus needs to complete the journey, but trains are comfortable, safe, air-conditioned and cheaper than the buses. … “Every Nile Train service is almost full with an average passenger load of around 280. … Passenger Hannah Ali Mohammed, 35, said, ‘I think most people travelling between Khartoum and Atbara will stop using buses and change to this … train.’ … Student Ahmed Al-Haj Omer, 23, said … ‘It’s safer. There are a lot of bus accidents on the road between Khartoum and Atbara.’ … A bus ticket also costs about 50 per cent more than the £4 train trip. [32]

The condition of the rails is not necessarily as good as might be hoped, and there is little to no segregation between the trakcs and the wider world. This satellite image illustrates the kind of problems which have still, in 2022, to be addressed. The mainline can be made out running close to and parallel with Ai-Inqaz Street. The northern access to the goods yard at Bahri Station runs a little further to the east. Both are crowded by other uses at this location. [Google Maps]
Suburban Railway Station in Khartoum North. [Google Maps]
A further suburban station alongside Al-Inqaz Street, this time at its junction with Al Baraha Street. [Google Maps]
The next suburban station is close to Ibrahim Shams Aldeen Mosque. [Google Maps]

Slightly more significant facilities appear at Alkadroo [Google Maps]

Centred on the smae location as the satellite image above. This image shows that we are running parallel to the Rive Nile, perhaps about 3 km from the main stream. The modern railway still runs on the formation of the British Military line which secured the territory after the Mahdist revolution. [Google Maps]
Both road and rail need to bridge dry river beds which flow fast when it rains. [Google Maps]
The next station is at El-Kabashi. We are now running about 1.5km to the East of the River Nile. [Google Earth]
Another station, this time on the East side of the town of Al-Sagai. [Google Maps]

Further stations follow on the journey North. El-Gaili is the last before open desert. Further north the station buildings which remain are older, for example that at Ed Dowyab, as shown below.

The old station at Ed Dowyab, Shendi. [Google Maps]

Shendi is reached just a little further along the banks of the Nile.

Shendi Railway Station is more modern and sits at the heart of the conurbation. The Nile can be seen in the top left corner of this satellite image. The station site runs from middle-bottom to top-right of the image. [Google Maps]

Given that our focus is meant to be on the railways of Khartoum. it is at this point, just over 200km from Khartoum, that we leave the line heading North to Atbara.

Lines South from Khartoum Central Station

Historically there were junctions at either end of Khartoum Central Station. At the East End a line branched away to the Southeast following the West bank of the Blue Nile to Wadi Madani and beyond. The route of that line is shown below by a thin red line. In the 21st century, its route is beneath one of the main arterial roads into and out of Khartoum (Africa Street).

South and Central Khartoum in the 2st century. [Google Earth]

The ‘live’ line which leave Khartoum Central Station heading South West along side the White Nile, eventually crosses the southern suburbs of the city to rejoin the line heading Southeast close to the Blue Nile. This line can be seen marked on the satellite image above.

The Blue Nile Bridge was built when General Sir Francis Wingate [34] was Governor-General of Sudan. It was decided to “bring the railway over the Blue Nile … and to build it along the West Bank of the river to Sennar. Here the line would turn West, cross the White Nile at Qoz Abu Jum’a and head for el-Obeid. … The Sudan Government signed a contract with the Cleveland Bridge& Engineering Com[pany … for the building of a bridge to carry road and rail together … with a rollinglift span for the passage of river craft and seven spans of 218ft each. … Work on the bridge began in 1907. … Passenger and goods stations, a locomotive and carriage and wagon depot and marshalling yards were laid out at what were then the southern limits of the city, and opened in 1910.” [12: p79]

Hill stated in 1965, that it was “only recently that Khartoum Central [had] become a through station. In 1964, the section of the Gezira line between Khartoum Centra; and Soba via the airport was pulled up releasing valuable land for urban development.” [12: p80] Trains from the South now run along a line built from the West end of Khartoum Central through the marshalling yard South to Shagara Station and eastward to Soba.

Hill notes that the Cleveland Bridge Company also constructed the bridge over the White Nile at Qoz Abu Jum’a. The railhead rached that bridge in 1910 and the first train crossed the White Nile at that location on 24th December 1910. [12: p80] This line allowed the economic potential of the Gezira (cotton) and Kordofan (gum arabic) to be exploited.

Consideration of this line and others in the South will have to be left for a future article. … We return to looking at the railways on the South side of Khartoum City Centre. The plan immediately below schematically represents the key elements of the network as it was at the end of the Second World War. Two short lines ran from the West end of the Station, to Abu Se’id on the West side of the White Nile and beyond El Lamab on the East bank of the White Nile.

An extract from a British Survey of Sudan from 1945 which shows lines leaving the West end of Central Station, one leading down the White Nile to just beyond El Lamab, the other crossing the White Nile to Abu Se’id. [33]
This satellite image shows Khartoum Central Station and the engine, carriage and wagon works/depot to the West. [Google Earth]
The Sunday Railways maintenance depot and marshalling yard to the West of Khartoum Central Station. [Google Earth]
A closer view of the maintenance facilities. [Google Earth]
A modern goods train at the West end of the Central Station site. A signal box and semaphor signals can be seen in the distance. The picture is taken looking East, (c) Sameh Fathi. [37]

The line to Abu Se’id

The short line to Abu Se’id which is shown on the extract from the British Survey of Sudan from 1945 suggests that the line crossed the White Nile but was not extended any further. Looking back through available maps we can see that the line from Central station had been extended to the vicinity of the Blue Nile close to the confluence of the two rivers.

Khartoum and Omdurman in 1914. The 3’6″ gauge line has been extended round the West of Khartoum towards the Blue Nile. This map also shows the line of a steam tramway which will feature in a future article. That line is shown running from Morgan Point (where it connected with a ferry service to Omdurman), through Mongera and on into the centre of Khartoum closer to the Blue Nile than Central Station. [42]

The Old White Nile Bridge (also known as the Redemption Bridge or the Omdurman Bridge) is a steel truss bridge in Sudan on the road connecting Khartoum on the White Nile to Omdurman. The bridge was built between 1924 and 1926 by Dorman Long from Teesside, England: it is 613 metres long and is supported by seven pairs of round columns. [43] If the 1945 map extract is to be believed the 3’6″ line was extended from its position on the map immediately above this paragraph to cross the White Nile at the bridge.

However, we already know that provision was made for an electric tramway to replace an earlier steam railway and that this new electric system was in use in the 1930s. It seems as though the line shown on the 1945 map is probably a minor cartographical error. Please see later articles about Khartoum’s railways and trams.

We do know that later in the 20th century the route of the 3’6″ railway Northwest of Central Station was revised and even later abandoned. In the next image, the area is shown on a 1950s map of Khartoum. …

Khartoum in the 1950s. The line Northwest from Central Station is seen terminating just short of the Blue Nile but at a pint further West from that shown in the 1914 map above. Interestingly a connection is shown from this line to what is most probably the 3’6″ electric tramway running parallel to the river, through a series of sidings at the river side. At present, I can only speculate as to the purpose of these sidings. [16]
The thin red line imposed on this satellite image shows the route of the railway Northwest of Central Station. That route is now occupied by one of Khartoum’s major roads – Army Road which leads to Nile Street by the Blue Nile. A further new road has been constructed which leads from Army Road to the new Victory Bridge over the White Nile [Google Earth]
The White Nile Bridge at Khartoum/Omdurman in the 1930s looking along its full length and showing (if my reasoning is correct) the electric tramway tracks crossing the bridge. This is supported by evidence of a catenary system above the tramway tracks. [38]
The Old White Nile Bridge (Omdurman Bridge) seen from the river bank. It is possible that the image shows the catenary for the electric tramway and so cannot be dated before the 1930s. [39]
The Old White Nile Bridge in the 21st century (c) Khalid Hassan [40]

The line to the White Nile beyond El Lamab

Satellite imagery bears little resemblance to the 1945 British Survey of Sudan. The large island in the White Nile which features so prominently in the 1945 survey does not exist. The only place name similar to ‘El Lamab’ is Al Lamab which is an area to the East of the Airport close to ten Blue Nile.

Logic would suggest that the current railway follows the route shown in 1945. An estimation of the distances involved would place the point where the present railway turns to the East in the vicinity of the end of the railway drawn on the 1945 map. The satellite image below suggests that the line used to terminate on the South side of Wad Ageeb which appears on the East bank of the White Nile close to the bottom of the image.

A satellite image of the area South of the Centre of Khartoum which is now heavily urbanised. The railway which is still in use is shown by a grey line on the image. {Google Earth]
This enlarged satellite view gives no further clue as to the location of the railhead shown on the 1945 survey. [Google Maps]

Final Comments

We have looked at all of the 3ft 6in gauge railway lines in Khartoum as best we can. There are a number of things which would benefit from further investigation.

  • The line north to Egypt and the line to Port Sudan (both 3’6″ gauge)
  • Lines to the South of Khartoum (3’6″ gauge)
  • the Steam Trams in Khartoum in the early 20th century (narrow gauge)
  • the Electric Tram network of the 1930s (3’6″ gauge)
  • Industrial lines in Sudan which probably include the lines noted on the South bank of the Blue Nile close to its confluence with the White Nile, but definitely do include a narrow gauge railway serving the cotton industry to the Southwest of Khartoum in Gezira (narrow gauge)
  • the motive power and rolling-stock on Sudan’s Railways.

These will need to wait for further articles.


  1.–british_sudan%2C_khartoum%2C_central_station.html, accessed on 30th May 2022.
  2.–british_sudan,_khartoum_central_station.html, accessed on 30th May 2022.
  3., accessed on 30th May 2022.
  4., accessed on 30th May 2022.
  5., accessed on 29th May 2022.
  6., accessed on 30th May 2022.
  7., accessed on 30th May 2022. (Wikipedia notes that the article was written in 2010).
  8., accessed on 30th May 2022.
  9., accessed on 30th May 2022.
  10., accessed on 30th May 2022.
  11., accessed on 30th May 2022.
  12. Richard Hill; Sudan Transport; Oxford University Press, London, 1965.
  13., accessed on 30th May 2022.
  14., accessed on 31st May 2022.
  15., accessed on 31st May 2022.
  16. &, accessed on 31st May 2022.
  17., accessed on 31st May 2022.
  18., accessed on 31st May 2022.
  19., accessed on 1st June 2022.
  20. Through Desert and Jungle: Modernity That Disturbs the Silence of Age-old Temples; Railway Wonders of the World, 1935;, accessed on 1st June 2022.
  21., accessed on 1st June 2022.
  22., accessed on 1st June 2022 via Google Earth.
  23., accessed on 1st June 2022.
  24., access on 1st June 2022 via Google Earth.
  25., accessed on 1st June 2022 via Goggle Earth.
  26., accessed on 1st June 2022 via Google Earth.
  27., accessed on 1st June 2022 via Google Earth.
  28., accessed on 1st June 2022 via Google Maps.
  29., accessed on 1st June 2022.
  30., accessed on 1st June 2022.
  31., accessed on 1st June 2022.
  32., accessed on 1st June 2022.
  33., accessed on 2nd June 2022.
  34., accessed on 2nd June 2022.
  35., accessed on 2nd June 2022.
  36., accessed on 2nd June 2022.
  37., accessed on 2nd June 2022 via Google Earth.
  38., accessed on 2nd June 2022.
  39., accessed on 2nd June 2022.
  40., accessed on 4th June via Google Earth.
  41., accessed on 4th June 2022.
  42., accessed on 2nd June 2022.
  43., accessed on 4th June 2022.
  44. A Sudan News image sourced from Twitter,, accessed on 4th June 2022.

Ancient Tramroads near Telford – Part 1 – Tramroads Across the Area

A typical plateway [3]

The area around what is now central Telford, and particularly the Severn Gorge and Coalbrookdale are known as the cradle of the industrial revolution. They are significant because of the major steps forward made in the production of cast and wrought iron.

The geology of the immediate area was a crucial factor in these developments. Limestone, coal bearing strata and iron ore were all easily available in the one, relatively small area. Initially the iron production processes needed charcoal, also readily available in the wooded areas which surrounded the Severn Gorge.

Because of the topography, mining at a relatively small scale was easier than elsewhere as mining could be done by ‘inset’ (horizontal galleries) rather than pits. The proximity of necessary materials meant that transport costs were lower than elsewhere.

At a very early time in the development of the area, relatively primitive railway technology was in use. It is difficult to be sure when a ‘railway’ was first used. Some general guidance on undertaking research, particularly into early forms of railways is made available by the Railway and Canal Historical Society to its members. [12]

Peter King tells us that some very primitive systems were in use in Europe over the centuries but “the earliest railway-like transport system … was the Leitnagel Hund. … Planks were laid along the mine passage with a gap between them, and the truck – hund (German for dog or hound) or truhe (box or chest) – had a guide pin that pointed down between the planks to keep the truck going in the right direction. The word hund could be derived from the Magyar hintó, meaning a carriage. If so, this points to an origin in the mines of Hungary, which at the time included Slovakia and Transylvania. The system was widely used in central Europe in the early sixteenth century, and may go back to the fifteenth or even the fourteenth century.” [1: p20]

The German system was introduced in the UK in Cumbria to ‘Company of Mines Royal’ sites at Caldbeck, Newlands, and Grasmere and also at that company’s mines at Talybont near Aberystwyth. King notes that “Documentary evidence indicates they used ‘small rowle wagons bound with iron’ in copper mines at Caldbeck …The first of these … near … Silver Gill at Caldbeck, where investigation has yielded the remains of some plank rails and possible sleepers.” [1: p20]

Historic England organised a survey of available material on the early tramroads. This was undertaken by David Gwyn and Neil Cossons. They report that, “The first railways in England probably date, at earliest, from the second half of the 16th century and were associated with mines where German-speaking miners were employed. Smith-Grogan 2010 suggests that several Cornish rutways might date back to the 1550s and be associated with Burchard Cranich and Ulrich Frosse. The West-Country mining engineer Sir Bevis Bulmer (1536-1615) was familiar with Agricola’s De Re Metallica (Skempton 2002), and another possible literary conduit is Sebastian Munster’s Cosmographia Universalis, published in German in 1544 and in Latin in 1550. This includes a woodcut of a hund on flanged wooden rails in a mine at Ste Marie/Markirch in Alsace (Lewis 1970, 51).” [5: p20]

Gwyn and Cossons note that excavations in Leicestershire of the Coleorton deep collieries which were active from 1460 to 1600 failed to identify any railway systems. They also assert that, “The first rail system in England for which both documentation and material evidence survives is the hund guide-pin system described in ER4 (Allison, Murphy and Smith 2010) in one of the Caldbeck mines exploited by the Company of Mines Royal financed from Augsburg, which was introduced by Daniel Höchstetter in the 1560s.” [5: p20]

King notes that the Hund guide-pin system “had some characteristics of a railway, but differs from them in that neither wheels nor rails were flanged.” [1: p21]

He continues: “The first railways were English. Their function was to carry coal from the pit (or adit) down to a navigable river (or less often to a highway) to be transported to a distant place.” [1: p21]

In King’s opinion it is likely that the first can be dated to sometime in the late 16th century. He identifies one serving “the mines of James Clifford near Broseley in Shropshire, which has no clear date of construction. As Clifford was mining coal by 1575, the funicular railway, by which coal was let down from mines to trows (barges) operating on the river Severn, is likely to have preceded the others. Nevertheless, William Brooke was working his coal mines in Madeley, on the other side of the Ironbridge Gorge, where similar problems would have arisen, but that is only known because Arnold Bean of Worcester owed Brooke money when he died in 1579.” [1: p21]

Gwyn & Cossons concur with King. They say that “documentation dating from the opening years of the 17th century indicates that wooden railways, ‘waggonways’, were being laid as overland systems, connecting a drift or a shaft-head with navigable water, or occasionally with an interchange yard on a road system.” [5: p22]

Like King, they say that most of what we know of these waggonways “comes from legal disputes, and for this reason it is quite possible that there were other systems of which historians are unaware because they prompted no quarrels.” [5: p22]

They also cite the waggonway which ran from a “colliery at Broseley near the Severn Gorge in Shropshire, on the south side of the river, to a wharf at the Calcutts, slightly downstream of the later Iron Bridge; it was laid in October 1605, was a mile or so long.” [5: p22]

King asserts that there were “a number of mines along the side of the [Severn] gorge in the succeeding period and each apparently had an associated railway. Some mines were pits, but some were ‘insets’ – mines operated through an audit, and in these cases the railway extended underground to the coalface.” [1: p22]

After these short notes, King turns his attention away from the Severn Gorge to other parts of the UK, commenting on pits just to the west of Nottingham (using a form of railway circa. 1605) and Belington in Northumberland (1608). He then focusses on the Newcastle area. Again earliest dates are uncertain but by 1660 wainways were in use with “waggons carrying 15 bolls (about 33cwt); from 1700 19-20 bolls (42-44cwt) and from the 1750s, 24 bolls (53cwt). At Gateshead, Old Trunk Quay was at the end of the Old Wain Trunk Way, operating in the 1629s. In 1633 Thomas Liddell as owner of Ravens worth Colliery still had a wainway leading to a staith at Dunston. … Three other waggonways were built before the Civil War. … By the latter part of the 17th century three different waggonways were made,ball reaching the Tyne at Stella. … Stella was about the highest point to which the Tyne was easily navigable.” [1:p23]

Gwyn & Cossons chronology parallels that put forward by King. They refer to a railway that “had been laid from Strelley pits to a yard at Wollaton in the Nottinghamshire coalfield.”

Gwyn & Cossons write of Huntingdon Beaumont (who owned the Strelley pits) introducing the waggonway to the north-east. “According to the Newcastle historian William Gray, ‘Master Beaumont a Gentleman of great ingenuity… brought with him many rare Engines, not then known in these parts, as… Waggons with one Horse to carry down Coales from the Pitts, to the Staithes, to the River, &c.’ Beaumont’s three railways were on the north-east coast, at Bedlington, laid around 1608, and at Cowpen and Bebside, undated but probably much the same time (Smith 1960, Lewis 1970).” [5: p22]

Gwyn & Cossons go on to say: “Railways in the north-east developed into systems of extraordinary density with a complex history, reflecting intense regional rivalries and the profits that could be made from supplying London with coal. Even so, it was not until 1621 that the first recorded waggonway was built to the Tyne and it was not until the Restoration of 1660 that they became common. In the meantime, wain-roads remained a more cost-effective solution for most coal owners (Bennett, Clavering and Rounding 1990, 35-56).” [5: p22]

King cites other examples of early waggonways which include a ‘coalway’ owned by Sir John Lowther of Whitehaven from 1683. His son, Sir James, had waggonways from the 1730s serving to transport coal from collieries into Whitehaven.

Another ran from Sheffield Park to Sheffield, others took coal to the navigable lengths of the Rivers Ayre, Calder and Dun. There were even waggonways in the north of Ireland.

King’s eyes then turn bank to Shropshire. He comments: “Shropshire railways … form a different tradition from Newcastle waggonways. The waggons were smaller because the mines were often insets (rather than pits). The railway often started at the coalface and a smaller waggon meant that only a narrow adit had to be made through dead ground. The descent to the river down the side of the Severn gorge was precipitous, and the descent was controlled using a self-acting inclined plane, something not used near Newcastle until the late eighteenth century, but probably in Shropshire for its first railway. Wilcox’s & Wells’ railway to Calcutts may have been down Birch Batch. Its terminus was later called Jackfield Rails, and it remained in use well into the nineteenth century.” [1: p25]

Gwyn & Cossons comments about the Shropshire coalfield mirror that of King. They say that the Shropshire coalfield “developed smaller capacity systems running on narrower gauges. Here, mines were mainly levels, rather than deep mines such as prevailed in the north-east, and so a compact waggonway could run from the coalface to daylight and then down to navigable water. The Severn Ironbridge Gorge and its immediate environs were home to many such railways. From the mid-18th century, similar waggonways also ran direct from ironstone mines to Bedlam furnaces downstream of the later Iron Bridge.” [5: p23]

King says that a “longer railway, ultimately from John Wilkinson’s New Willey Furnace of 1757, went down Tarbatch Dingle to Willey Wharf but was probably built in the 1700s to serve coalmines and remained in use in parts for some 300 years, though from 1862 it led to the Severn Valley Railway, rather than a river wharf. North of the Severn, the lords of Madeley had railways at Madeley Wood when they let their mines in 1692.” [1: p25]

They go on to say that the “establishment of new coke-fired furnaces in the 1750s and the expansion of mining led to the provision of further railways, the longest running from Ketley (near Watling Street) to Coalbrookdale Wharf on the Severn, so that by about 1775, Abiah Darby (the widow of Abraham II) stated that the Company had 20 miles of railways.” [5: p23] These comments are drawn directly from King [cf: 1: p25]

King notes that “Other railways ran to landsale wharfs on Watling Street. In all, five gauges of railway were in use in the area, with those wholly above ground probably of a similar size to those at Newcastle.” [1: p25]

Gwyn & Cossons found that railways deriving from Shropshire practice “were to be found in coalfields which were adjacent and technically influenced by it. Staffordshire and Warwickshire, as well as parts of Wales and of Scotland.” [5: p23]

Interestingly, Gwyn & Cossons assert that “the Tyneside system is the design-ancestor of the median-gauge railways of the present day, and in particular of the UK, continental European and USA gauge of 4′ 8″. Narrow-gauge railways derive ultimately from the Shropshire system, as the inspiration for the railways built in the heads of the South Wales valleys in the 1790s, subsequently adopted and developed in the Gwynedd slate. industry. This was then offered as a cut-price system suitable for the developing world by the Festiniog Railway’s engineer in 1870, when the great and the good were invited to see it in operation (Gwyn 2010, 138).” [5: p23]

“Tyneside systems ran on gauges of between 3′ 10″ and 5′, Shropshire systems of between 2′ and 3′ 9” (Lewis 1970, 181, 267). [5: p24]

“By the mid-17th Century tramroads were fairly common and continued to be so through the 18th century, so that by the start of the 19th Century they often ran for considerable distances, taking mineral products (notably coal) from their source to the point of consumption, or … to a canal wharf for onward carriage by boat.” [2]

Early tramways in and around the Severn Gorge and in East Shropshire as a whole are noted in works of Bertram Baxter, [4] Savage & Smith, [6] Catherine Clark & Judith Alfrey [13]

These include:

  • Benthall Railway [7][13]
  • Caughley Railway [8]
  • Gleedon Hill Tramroad [9]
  • Sutton Wharf Tramroad [10]
  • Tarbach Dingle Tramroad [11]
  • The Coalbrookdale Company Tramroads [12]
  • Deerleap Tramway [13]
  • Lime Kilns Tramway [13]
  • Ash Coppice Tramway [13]
  • Clay Mine Tramway [13]

This list is the result of a relatively limited search online and is unlikely to be comprehensive. Some of these will warrant further study, the links provided in the references are worth a read.

It is my plan to look at a number of these in coming weeks and months. The first will be the Coalbrookdale Company Tramroads.


  1. Peter King; Before the Main Line; in ed. David St. John Thomas; How Railways Changed Britain; Railway & Canal Historical Society, Derby, 2015, p13 – 32.
  2., accessed on 17th April 2022.
  3., accessed on 17th April 2022.
  4. Bertram Baxter; Stone Blocks and Iron Rails (Tramroads); David & Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1966.
  5. David Gwyn and Neil Cossons; Early Railways in England: Review and summary of recent research; Historic England, Discovery, Innovation and Science in the Historic Environment Research Report Series No. 25-2017.
  6. R.F. Savage & L.D. Smith; The Waggon-ways and Plate-ways of East Shropshire, 1965.
  7., accessed on 22nd April 2022.
  8., accessed on 22nd April 2022.
  9., accessed on 22nd April 2022.
  10., accessed on 22nd April 2022.
  11., accessed on 22nd April 2022.
  12., accessed on 19th April 2022 – particular reference is made to a document which gives a good sense of the development of various waggonways, tramways, plateways and Tramroads … Research-agenda.pdf which can be downloaded from the members area of the site.
  13. Catherine Clark & Judith Alfrey; Research Paper No. 15, Benthall and Broseley Wood; Nuffield Survey, Third lnterim Report; University of Birmingham, 1987.

Holiday Reading Again!

Two more books which are worth taking with you on holiday.

Chris Arnot; Small Island by Little Train; ISBN 978-0-7495-7849-7.

Tom Chesshyre; Slow Trains to Venice; ISBN 978-1-78783-299-2.

The first of these two books, by Chris Arnot, is the story of a meandering journey round some of the narrow-gauge railways of the UK. It is published by the AA in hardback. The dust jacket says: “From stalwart little locomotives of topographical necessity to the maverick engines of one man’s whimsy. Britain’s narrow-gauge steam trains run on tracks a world apart from it regimented mainlines. They were built to carry anything from slate to milk churns, and go where mainline trains could not go – around sharp bends, up steep gradients, or rolling downhill for miles all the way to the sea. And they have not just survived against the odds, but thrived.”

Chris Arnot has been a freelance journalist and Author for around 30 years, writing for the Guardian on everything from arts and travel to education and social issues. His material has also appeared in most of the other broadsheets and he has written a number of books of his own. In this book he provides a delightful, gently observed commentary on his own journeys along narrow-gauge lines around the UK. The most northerly line he visits is the Leadhills and Wanlockhead Railway in Lanarkshire, the most southerly, the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. Five chapters cover lines in Wales. A short chapter covers a day visit to Graham Lee’s amazing private 2ft/2ft 6 inch dual gauge line, the Statfold Barn Railway, with his extensive collection of narrow-gauge locomotives.

Two long-lost favourites warrant a chapter each – the Leek and Manifold Railway and the Lynton and Barnstaple. As do the South Tyndale Railway, the Bure Valley Railway (Wroxham to Aylsham in Norfolk) and the Southwold Railway.

The Bure Valley Railway is in private ownership and now returns a significant profit. The Southwold Railway continues to look forward to a day when a line can be relaid between Southwold and Halesworth but has managed to create Steamworks, a Visitor Centre building with cafe, shop, toilets, museum and engine shed, a 7¼ inch gauge miniature railway plus 11 chains of three foot gauge track, including a run parallel and close to the site of the original track as it approached Southwold Station. [1]

Map of the Southwold Railway drawn by John Bennett. [2]

Arnot comments: it is easy to think “that the UK is becoming more uniform. But trundling around its more remote parts has proved to be a way of reminding myself that … This small island was anything but uniform. It remained a place of infinite variety, and its contrasts, from Devil’s Bridge to Dungeness, Wroxham to Ravenglass, were best savoured through the window of a sedately paced narrow-gauge railway.” (p251)

Arnot further reflects: “I’d seen a desire to get close to those [narrow-gauge] engines among many who’d visited these railways, and not just among those old enough to remember when steam trains ran on the main line. … [I] met people of all ages and both sexes who’d become fascinated by a precious part of our history. And while I may have sometimes cursed the lengthy journeys to visit those lines, I’d revelled in meeting most of their passengers as well as the volunteers and indeed the paid staff who kept them running. … Just as enjoyable had been sitting back to savour the scenery beyond the windows confirmation that, when viewed from a little train, this small island still has breathtaking variations in landscape, a marked contrast to the corporate and municipal uniformity that has taken hold of large parts of our towns and cities. But then, unlike so many of our towns and cities, rural landscapes have remained largely unscathed. … And those parts of the landscape that were ‘scathed’, particularly by mining, have largely blended back into their natural surroundings, adding layers of fascinating industrial history in the process. Those contrasts in landscape … struck me forcibly. … Were we still on the same small island?

In the second of these two books, Tom Chesshyre heads abroad, seeking to wander his way through Europe to Venice with his route dictated by whim and the availability of trains. This ends up being a 4,000 mile adventure. “Escaping the rat race for a few happy weeks, … [he] indulges in the freedom of the tracks. From France ( dogged by rail-worker strikes), through Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Poland, he travels as far east as Odessa by the Black Sea in Ukraine.” He then heads back, “via Hungary, the Balkans and Austria. Along the way Tom enjoys many an encounter, befriending fellow travellers as well as a conductor or two.”

Simon Calder (The Independent) says that Tom, “relishes the joys of slow travel and seizes every opportunity that a journey presents: drifting as a flaneur in Lille, following in the tracks of James Joyce in a literary exploration of Ljubljana, cosseted in luxury on a trans-Ukranian express, all decorated with a wealth of detail and intrigue.”

I enjoyed his humourous reflections on his encounters. I found the manifest nationalism (if that is the right word) of some countries enlightening. Most of all, however, I found that I discovered a sense of freedom in following his meandering tale. An entirely appropriate thing while on holiday myself!

And finally. …. One short section of the book took me back to a holiday in Slovenia quite a few years ago. We were staying in Bled, not far from Lake Bled which Tom Chesshyre missed out on. We travelled a few times to Ljubljana. On one of those occasions, we found our way to the Railway Museum of Slovenian Railways which Tom Chesshyre also stumbles across. We arrived at the gates of the museum, which happened to be open even though the museum seemed closed, and decided to try our luck and ambled in. After a short while, we came across someone who invited us to wander round the whole site. We managed to get through every door that we tried but we did not get chance to speak to the Professor!

Some reflections on Slovenia can be found at:


  1., accessed on 8th September 2021.
  2., accessed on 8th September 2021.

Holiday Reading!

Two great paperbacks!

Michael Williams; The Trains Now DepartedSixteen Excursions into the Lost Delights of Britain’s Railways; ISBN 978-0-099-59058-3.

Tom Chesshyre; Ticket to Ride – Around the World on 49 Unusual Train Journeys; ISBN 978-1-84953-826-8.

Two excellent paperback books for an enjoyable read on holiday! I picked up both second-hand at very reasonable prices.

Tom Chesshyre starts, seemingly, from a lack of knowledge about the railways and finds that it does not take too much effort to begin to enjoy speaking with railway enthusiasts. Tom is a journalist who is on a quest to find out why people seem to love trains so much. His idea, as the back cover of his book explains, was to find the answer, “by experiencing the world through train travel – on both epic and everyday rail routes, aboard every type of ride, from steam locomotives to bullet trains, meeting a cast of memorable characters who share a passion for train travel.”

So, Tom embarks on a whistle-stop tour around the world. His adventures are recounted in a humorous and entertaining way. The different chapters are held together by the common theme of the railways an people that he encounters. Beginning at Crewe, his journeys take him to: Kosovo and Macedonia; Sri Lanka, India and China; Turkey and Iran; Finland and Russia; Australia and America; North Korea, Italy, Poland, Peru, Switzerland and Spain; Kaliningrad and Lithuania. After such a smörgåsbord of different railway experiences he returns to three UK railways to complete the book – two lines in Scotland, the Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh line and the Mallaig to Glasgow line, and finally the Kent and East Sussex line in England.

Reading this book in early Summer 2021, interested me in exploring some of Tom Chesshyre’s other books. Perhaps further reviews will follow.

Michael Williams’ approach is similarly eclectic, although he restricts his perambulations to the United Kingdom. Thoroughly absorbing chapters focus on a variety of different railway-related loses. The Spectator says that ‘‘Williams celebrates the best of what is gone from our railways in 16 vivid, highly-readable chapters.’’

It was a delight to read of specific lines long-closed, such as Somerset & Dorset; the Stainmore line over the Pennines; the Stratford-upon-Avon & Midland Junction Railway; the Lynton & Barnstaple; the Withered Arm; the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway*; the Liverpool Overhead Railway; and the Waverley route. Among these was a saunter through Metro-land to what was the furthest outpost of the line from Baker Street. Verney Junction was, what Williams refers to as the Shangri-La of the Metro-land paradise, invoked by the skilled advertising gurus of the Metropolitan Railway.

William’s reflections on long-lost lines are supplemented by chapters on other great losses: the Night Ferry from Victoria to the Continent; the myriad of named trains which used to invoke a sense of glamour, speed and luxury; the dining car; the destruction, in a spate of wanton vandalism, of some of the architectural gems of railway heritage.

He includes reflections on: Parliamentary trains; engineering marvels sent for scrap; seaside specials which carried millions from industrial centres to holidays on the coast.

Williams introduces his book by talking of ‘‘the ghosts of trains now departed – lines prematurely axed often with gripping and colourful tales to tell, marvels of locomotive engineering prematurely sent to the scrapyard, and architecturally magnificent stations felled by the wrecker’s ball,’’ and ‘‘the lost delights of train travel.’’

C. Hamilton-Ellis, in concluding his book, The Trains We Loved, says:

‘‘These were the trains we loved; grand, elegant and full of grace. We knew them and they belonged to the days … when the steam locomotive, unchallenged, bestrode the world like a friendly giant.’’

Williams’s book does not pretend that everything was perfect in those nostalgic days of yore, but it does invoke the ‘essential flavour of the railways of the past,’ and draws the reader back into that world which, in some inexplicable way, seems to define the British spirit even in these days of websites, apps, air-conditioning, speed and frequent rail services.

*The Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway features in short series of articles on this website which can be found on the following links:

The Owencarrow Viaduct Accident in 1925. ….

The featured image above shows the Viaduct in good condition. [7]

In the February 1963 edition of The Railway Magazine there was a letter from L. Hudlass which said: “The accident on the Owencarrow Viaduct, on the Letterkenny & Burtonport line, Ireland, of January 30, 1925, involved a westbound train running from Londonderry to Burtonport, on the Burtonport extension of the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway. The 380 yd.-long viaduct, sited between Kilmacrenan and Creeslough in County Tirconaill is in wild and open country and, on the day in question, a gale of 100mph caught the train broadside on and one carriage plunged through the parapet, pulling another with it. The couplings held and neither of the vehicles fell into the valley, but roof destruction caused several passengers to be thrown out, three people being killed outright, a fourth dying later in hospital. Being situated on a north-south section of the line, the 30ft.-high viaduct, across Glen Lough and over the Owencarrow River, caught the full force of the westerly gales. When the line was in operation a wind velocity of 60mph meant the exclusion of open wagons from the train, while a wind speed of 80mph caused the suspension of all traffic. The breach in the viaduct parapet was still visible in 1949. Other derailments due to gales gave been recorded on the west coast of Ireland.” [1]

One day, I will get round to covering the route of the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway (L&LSR) which ran from Derry to Burtonport through some of the wildest of Co. Donegal scenery.

This article is by way of a taster and focusses on an incident at Owencarrow Viaduct in the 1920s.

The Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway ran from Derry to Burtonport via Letterkenny. [2]

The Owencarrow Viaduct was sited between Barnes Gap and Creeslough and was, other than earthworks, the major civil engineering structure on the L&LSR.

The Owencarrow Viaduct with a Burtonport train crossing. From an old postcard. The photographer is not known. [8]

The Google Maps satellite image and Google Street view images below show what remains of the structure in the 21st century.

The Owencarrow Viaduct in Co. Donegal. [Google Maps]
The remains of the Owencarrow Viaduct, seen from the Northwest on the L1332. [Google Streetview]
The remains of the Owencarrow Viaduct seen from the West on the L1332. [Google Streetview]

Wikipedia/Wikiwand covers the accident in a single paragraph: “Disaster occurred on the night of 30 January 1925 at around 8pm at the Owencarrow Viaduct, County Donegal. Winds of up to 120 mph derailed carriages of the train off the viaduct causing it to partially collapse. The roof of a carriage was ripped off throwing four people to their deaths. The four killed were: Philip Boyle and his wife Sarah from Arranmore Island, Una Mulligan from Falcarragh and Neil Duggan from Meenbunowen, Creeslough. Five people were seriously injured. The remains of the viaduct can today be seen from the road (N56) which carries on from the Barnes Gap on the road to Creeslough.” [2]

The scene of the accident. This picture was taken on 31st January 1925, the day after the disaster. The photographer is not known. [3]

There are a number of accounts of the accident available online which provide a bit more detail of the tragic events of 30th January 1925.

Walking Donegal looks at the event through the eyes of fireman John Hannigan who was on the footplate that day. [4] Long after that day Hannigan recalled “vividly the events of the night, the passing years ha[d] not erased the memory of the harrowing scenes or stilled the sound of the screams of agony. He still relive[d] the feeling of hopelessness he endured as he surveyed the scene of desolation in the fleeting moments, oblivious to his own danger, he scrambled over the wreck-strewn terrain to run the two odd miles to Creeslough to raise the alarm.” [4]

Hannigan was interviewed in 1984. [5] He was 85 when he gave that interview, a few years before he died in 1987 at the age of 88. Much of the text of the interview was reproduced in a Donegal Daily news item on 14th November 2019 and was extracted from a Christmas Annual published by Letterkenny Community Centre in the 1980s.

Hannigan spoke eloquently of his experience of working on the railway, first joining the staff of the L&LSR when he was just 15 years old, he was just 26 the night the train left the rails in the storm. After years of efficient service on the footplate, he realised his youthful ambition and was promoted to the position of driver the following year.

John Hannigan. [5]

Speaking of the first part of the journey from Derry, Hannigan said, “We left Derry that evening around 5.15pm, we had two wagons of bread next to the engine. They were sent out from Derry by Stevensons and Brewsters Bakeries. After that was three carriages, a first, a second and a third class, behind that were six wagons of general merchandise and the guards’ van at the end. Neilly Boyle was in charge as guardsmen who was from Burtonport, who later was a conductor on the buses.” [5]

When the train reached Letterkenny a bit of shunting was required to remove the six wagons and replace them with others. Hannigan remembered that they were using locomotive No. 14 which was a 4-6-2T and is shown below.

Locomotive 4-6-2T No 14 seen here at Pennyburn, Derry, 1931. Donegal Railway Heritage Centre (DRHC) Collection. [8]

By the time that they reached Kilmacrennan Station the wind was starting to blow hard and Hannigan and the train driver, Bob McGuinness, consulted about the state of the weather, wondering about whether it would be safe to go ahead.  Hannigan commented: “I had often gone over the viaduct in a smaller engine. We decided to proceed. Bob slowed down to a snails pace and as we crossed the bridge we did not think that the storm was all that bad.”

From Hannigan’s recollection of the evening it seems as though a freak gust of wind hit the train close to the end of the viaduct. He said:  “The carriage behind the two bread wagons was raised up on the line, it was like a hump on its back. It then fell against the parapet and the roof was smashed, two passengers were thrown out, Phil Boyle was killed, his wife was injured and died afterwards.” [5]

“A Mrs Mulligan also lost her life, they had fallen through the roof and into the river below. Another man, Andy Doogan, was found dead near the viaduct, he must have also been on the train.” [5]

As the minutes ticked by, the wind continued increasing in strength, the hostility of the gale made it hard for voices to be heard. Hannigan remembered managing to stumble across the bridge to the end of the train to free Neilly Boyle jammed against the bridge railing. He then trekked the two miles to Cresslough Station for help. “Between running, walking and falling I finally made it. On the way, I called at the homes of the two-level crossing men and brought them with me. We told John Gallagher the Station Master what had happened. Next we alerted the local guards and doctors. I got a lift back to the scene. It was about quarter to eight. A young priest, Fr. Gallagher was attending to the dead and injured.” [5]

The ‘Why Donegal?’ Facebook page carries a less personal account of events. [6] The train apparently left Letterkenny at 7:05PM. The journey to Kilmacrennan was uneventful, but “by the time they reached Barnes Gap, the driver remarked that the wind was bad. As the train approached the Owencarrow viaduct a strong gale was blowing. He slowed down to 10m.p.h. and was a few dozen yards from the Creeslough side of the viaduct and almost clear of it, when a sudden gust came so strong that it blew the carriage nearest to the engine off the rails. Two were derailed in all. One somersaulted and the roof was smashed. The four occupants of the coach were thrown through the roof into the rocky ravine forty feet below. The victims were Philip and Sarah Boyle from Arranmore Inland, Una Mulligan from Falcarragh and Neil Duggan from Meenbunowen, Creeslough. Duggan’s home was only a stones throw from the crash.” [6]

“Six of the injured were taken to Letterkenny General Hospital. Of the 14 passengers, just one was unhurt, a young woman who was flung from the upturned carriage and landed on the soft boggy soil.” [6]

The ‘Why Donegal’ Facebook page includes a few photographs of the viaduct as it remains today which were taken by Jacqui Reed.

The Owencarrow Viaduct in the 21st century (c) Jacqui Reed. [6]
The Owencarrow Viaduct in the 21st century (c) Jacqui Reed. [6]


  1. L. Hudlass; Owencarrow Viaduct Accident; a letter in The Railway Magazine, February 1963, p148-149.
  2., accessed on 30th May 2021.
  3., accessed on 30th May 2021.
  5., accessed on 30th May 2021.
  6., accessed on 30th May 2021.
  7., accessed on 30th May 2021.
  8., accessed on 30th May 2021.

The Railways of Jamaica again. …..

I have been reading historic copies of the Railway Magazine again. This time it was a bound copy of the magazines from 1963. …….. I came across an article about the Railways of Jamaica in the September 1963 edition which was written by H. G. Forsythe. [1]

My previous article about the Jamaican network can be found at:

The Railways of Jamaica

Forsythe visited the island’s railways in the early 1960s and quotes figures from the late 1950s as part of his article.

In 1959, the Government “transferred ownership of the railway to a statutory corporation – the Jamaica Railway Corporation – which now [1963] operates the system.” [1: p644]

Forsythe talked in 1963, of the network having “some 205 route miles open to traffic, 112 miles being in the mountain sections. Mainline standard rail [was] 80 lb. per yd. and was laid on native hardwood sleepers. The highest point reached [was] at Green Vale, on the Montego Bay line, 1,705ft above sea level. This altitude [was] reached rapidly from the foothills and there [were] long stretches at a ruling gradient of 1 in 30 and right curves of a minimum radius of 320ft.” [1: p644]

Forsythe noted that the mountain sections of the network had a total of 41 tunnels which were cut straight through solid rock were generally unlined and had no portals.

Later in his article, Forsythe points out that the Jamaican railways “cover some of the most difficult standard-gauge mountain sections in the world. The schedule on the Montego Bay line [was] a generous 6 hrs and 45 mins allowed for the 112-mile run.” [1: p649]

He also commented that there were a total of 234 bridges/viaducts on the network. Some of these were combined road/rail bridges. He mentions 46 fully-staffed stations and 41 unmanned halts. The station buildings were to a standard design.

Wikipedia provides a full list of all the stations on the network on this link:

That link also includes a map of the rail network, [2] which appears below. …


When Forsythe was writing his article, the latest available statistical reports for the railway network were dated 1959. By that date the Bauxite industry on the island had become well-established. In 1959, the railways on the island carried passengers on 1,084,588 journeys [1: p645] and 900,000 tons of freight, [1: p644-645] including:

380,000 tons of Alumina; [3]

210,000 tons of Alumina processing materials; [3]

94,000 tons of bananas;

125,000 tons of sugar cane;

5,000 tons of citrus fruit;

15,000 tons of sugar; and

71,000 tons of general goods.

Rolling stock was largely of an American style. Forsythe notes that goods wagons were bogie-wagons with buck-eye couplings and Westinghouse air-brakes. He comments: “Box cars have the familiar American high handbrake wheels and ‘catwalks’ for the brakeman on top, the sides carrying gaily painted advertisements.” [1: p645] He also remarks on the Jamaican practise of converting goods wagons into ‘market cars’ which had seating provided inside a box car with added windows. On market days passengers were able to travel with their goods.

Train control used the block telegraph system, ” three telegraph lines emanate[d] from the Train Controller’s office at Kingston. … A dispatcher [was] in charge of each line and [was] linked by telegraph and telephone with each station … each station was similarly linked with every other station on its line.” [1: p645]

Signalling was “carried out by hand-held flags or lamps. Trains [could not] enter station areas until a yellow and green flag [was] displayed.” [1: p646] An additional precaution was employed at busier centres. … Trains were not permitted to move unless the pilotman was on-board. There was only one pilotman on duty in such centres. His duties included, “setting and locking points for incoming trains before walking to station limits to meet them.” [1: p646]

At the time of Forsythe’s visit, dieselisation of the motive power on the network was taking place. However, the steam locomotives were all oil-powered, so rather than seeing coaling stages, oil tanks and hoses were in place across the network.

Forsythe provided an update on the locomotives available on the network at the time of his visit. He wrote: ” Motive power comprises, first and foremost, a rapidly vanishing group of superb-looking Canadian-built 4-8-0 steam locomotives. Designated classes ‘M1’, ‘M2’ and ‘M3’, they are all of the same general design and were built by the Canadian Locomotive Company between the years 1920 and 1944. Originally coal-burners, they were converted to oil after the last war when good quality coal became far too expensive. The maximum locomotive axle loading which the line can accommodate is 15.4 tons and the sharp curves restrict the rigid wheel-base to little more than 15ft.” [1: p647]

sljmjgrM2Built in Canada, these 4-8-0 locomotives were, according to Forsythe, the main stay of the Jamaican steam loco fleet. [5]

Forsythe continues: “These ‘Mastodons’ are typically American in appearance and are fitted with bells (now inoperative), ‘cowcatchers’, and electric headlamps. Cowcatchers are a very necessary piece of equipment, much livestock straying into the largely unfenced main lines.” [1: p647]

In addition to these 4-8-0s, there were a couple of US-built 0-6-0 tank shunting locos which Forsythe observed in Kingston Goods Yard working alongside a General Electric Bo-Bo 360 horsepower diesel-electric shunter.

US-built 0-6-0T locomotive. [5]

He also came across an elderly 0-8-0T built by Liston & Co. of Leeds standing used in the roundhouse of Kingston MPD.

These steam locos are tabulated by J.D.H. Smith on this link: [4]

Forsythe also pointed out the innovative attitude of the management of the Jamaican railways. As early as 1938, “the internal combustion engine was in use in the form of s small fleet of 110-hp railcars supplied by D. Wickham & Co. Ltd., Of Ware. Some of these railcars are still in use and performing well. At least one has been thoroughly refurbished and painted in silver. It operates a popular and interesting rail tour from Montego Bay, known as ‘The Governor’s Coach’.” [1: p649]

More information about the developing use of Modern Traction in Jamaica can be found via Wikipedia: [6]

Forsythe refers to delivery of some Kalamazoo railcars from the US during the war. The name ‘Kalamazoo’ is now used in Jamaica to refer to any diesel railcar. He also mentions Metropolitan-Cammell units which were being delivered at the time of his visit, and a series of ten English Electric general-purpose Bo-Bo 750-hp diesel-electric locos. These EE locos were apparently mist successful under Jamaica’s arduous operating conditions.


1. H. G. Forsythe; The Railways of Jamaica; in The Railway Magazine, September 1963; p642-649. The full article can be accessed in the Railway Magazine Archive which is available for a subscription over and above the regular magazine subscription price.


3. Alumina is produced from bauxite, an ore that is mined in various tropical and subtropical regions. Jamaica’s bauxite occurs in a series of deposits across the middle of the island, east to west. The largest deposits are in the parishes of St. Ann, Manchester, St. Elizabeth, and Trelawny. … The Bayer process, discovered in 1887, is the primary process by which alumina is extracted from bauxite. To produce pure aluminum, alumina is smelted using the Hall–Héroult electrolytic process.

4. Smith has tabulated a whole series of different locomotive rosters. This is just one table of many!




Easter Day – John 20:1-18

Mary Magdalene is in the Garden of the Tomb – mourning the loss of the person who turned her life around. The one who loved her when no one else did. The one who brought her healing when she was filled with demons and mentally disturbed. The one who gave her dignity. The one who made her feel loved and accepted. But now he was gone, Jesus is gone, he is dead. Nothing can bring him back.

And what makes it worse for Mary is that someone has removed his body, stolen his body. She no longer has somewhere to go, somewhere to express her grief, somewhere to place her memories. For her, this theft, this desecration, is the greatest of cruelty – it brings despair.

At Easter we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. So easily, we rush past Good Friday and the long hours of Saturday, we rush past the pain of death and mourning and move as quickly as possible to the resurrection. It is uncomfortable to stay too long with death, with the cross – we prefer to think about new life, new hope – about resurrection.

The story of Mary in the Garden of the Tomb reminds us of the pain of grief, but it also of the need to allow grief to run its course. However much we long for the darkness to pass, for the feelings of anger, of guilt, of despair to go away, we cannot just brush them under a carpet of false hope. Nor can we talk glibly of the Christian hope of resurrection without experiencing the reality of loss.

If we are not careful, as Christians, we become so concerned to emphasise resurrection hope that we forget that it has always been a hope borne through the pain of death and loss. Resurrection can only follow death and loss – just as it did on that first Easter morning. Our resurrection hope is not just a general hope of resurrection, nor is it just about heaven, nor is it a denial of the reality and power of death,.

Christian hope of resurrection is specific and personal it relates to me and those I love. It is not an abstract, general, hope of resurrection.

Christian resurrection hope does not deny the reality and power of death. It is, in fact, is born in the midst of death, Calvary precedes Easter, and in a very real sense over this Easter season we are called to feel something of the power of death, to struggle with the disciples through death, through the uncertainty and fear for the future that Jesus’ death left them with. It is, in a very real way, intended to be a struggle for us to move through Good Friday into Easter Saturday and then on to Easter Day and ultimately, finally, resurrection hope. Hope born out of death.

Christian hope is for now as much as for the future, the impossible is possible with God, new things can be born out of the shell of the old, new things can spring to life, the phoenix can rise from the ashes of despair. We can be renewed, made new, have new life now, as individuals and as communities. This too is resurrection hope.

Mary Magdalene discovered resurrection hope not through dismissing her grief and putting on a brave face, but rather in her grief – Jesus himself drew alongside her, he reached out to her with one word of comfort – “Mary.” Hope, real hope, was born from the darkness of despair. This was no false dawn that would fade, this was a new day in which the brightness of the sun would warm Mary’s heart.

In some words that have at times been very special for Jo and me. Isaiah promised Israel:

“When you pass through the waters I will be with you, and through rivers they shall not overwhelm you.” ‘I will stand with you’ says Isaiah, speaking for God, ‘I will stand with you in the pain, … you are not alone’.

For Mary, resurrection still meant loss – Mary could never have Jesus back as she had known him. “Do not hold on to me,” he says. “Do not keep clinging onto me.”    Mourning and grief are about letting go – letting go because we have confidence that we can trust our loved ones to God – letting go because we cannot hold on to them, letting go because we also trust in God’s love for us.

Jesus resurrection does not deny death, it fulfils it. Jesus resurrection assures us of all God=s promises not to leave us or forsake us – neither in life nor in death will he let us go. He draws near to us in darkness and despair, he speaks our name and gently draws us to himself where true hope begins.

Palm Sunday and Holy Week (Mark 11:1-11)


One of the early experiences I remember well is watching Doctor Who. I always sat on the settee, with a cushion close at hand – and when things seemed to be getting to frightening I’d bring the cushion up to my face and peep over the top. If things looked really bad I’d hide behind the back of the settee – peeping out occasionally – with my imagination running riot!

I’ve carried this forward into adult life – some friends and I went to the cinema to watch Braveheart. The film has some very graphic and dramatic battle scenes. I was unaware of how I was responding. Each time an axe hit someone’s torso I was apparently jumping in my seat. At one point, I looked along the row of friends to find that they were all watching me rather than the screen.

I always get engrossed in what I’m watching on TV or at the cinema – and I find that I can usually anticipate the story line. My imagination works overtime – and if I’m not careful when I am watching TV, I find that the anticipation has got the better of me – I’ve got up from my seat and left the room. Before I even realize what I’m doing, I am in the kitchen putting the kettle on to boil!  In some things we watch on TV it is easy to get ahead of the action, anticipate what is going to happen and react accordingly.

We have a similar, but greater, problem with Holy Week and the Easter story. We can anticipate everything that is going to happen. It’s not that the plot is predictable or easy to anticipate – for us it’s the problem of hindsight.

We know that Palm Sunday’s jubilation was followed by the despair of Good Friday. We know that the seeming failure of Good Friday was quickly overtaken by the triumph of the first Easter Day. Hindsight is supposed to be beneficial – but in the case of the Easter story it robs us of the possibility of living through the events as they happened.

img_mouseover3What was going through the disciple’s minds as they came into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday? What was Jesus feeling as he rode into Jerusalem on that donkey? Our danger is that knowing the outcome we minimize the intensity of the events and feelings of Holy Week because we know it turned out OK in the end.

What was Jesus feeling as he entered Jerusalem knowing what the week ahead would hold? Was he was already feeling that overwhelming sense of loneliness that comes when we are completely misunderstood.

How many times had he told his disciples that he was going to Jerusalem to die? How often had they failed to hear what he said?

Palm Sunday dramatizes for us the chasm in understanding which existed between Jesus and everyone around him – his disciples and the happy shouting crowds. … Jesus was alone. Really alone – no one understood what he was doing – no one grasped what was about to happen!

When we talk of Christ’s suffering – we think primarily of the Cross. We miss the agony of the anticipation, the loneliness of the last week of his life. The shame of abandonment and torture. … And because we miss his anguish we minimize the significance of many of the events of that last week. With the benefit of hindsight we rush on to the resurrection – to the good news.

1dc2b2a68ab7fd0b323a3e9778c579faAs Jesus repeatedly talks about his death his disciples remain at best confused, at worst oblivious to what he is saying. And the loneliness Jesus felt in the crowd of Palm Sunday, gets replaced by the loneliness of the garden of Gethsemane. Only he can walk this road. No one will walk it with him!

When we grasp this, we will begin to be able to believe that Jesus understands our loneliness. … He knows the loneliness of the cell for those in solitary confinement; those condemned to die for their faith. But more than that – he feels the dark loneliness of depression; he is with us in the loneliness of the hospital bed; he knows the loneliness of watching other people=s pain; and he knows the loneliness of being misunderstood. It=s not just that he cares – he knows what we go through. He is the one that has gone before – he is the one who calls us on – in spite of the darkness or the pain – to continue to serve, to continue to love, to continue to hope.

So, as we live through this Holy Week, lets not get to far ahead of the plot anticipating the final outcome. Let’s rather to the best of our ability stay with the story watching and feeling it unfold. For then, perhaps only then, will we really begin to understand how much God loves us.


John 2:13-22 – Jesus in the Temple.

Have you ever experienced what it is like to be an outsider? The first time I went to Uganda in 1994, I had people’s warnings ringing in my ears. “Be careful travelling on the buses.” … “Everyone’ll be out to get what they can from you.” “Don’t walk around on your own at night.” I also had had my own fears about going to a different culture. And, yes, I did feel like an outsider. I was white, everyone else was black. I was treated like an oddity because I was different. A reversal of what many black and Asian people felt in coming here.

You may have experienced something like this – perhaps joining a new club, going to a new job, or a new town/city, going to the hospital for the first time. Unease in unfamiliar surroundings is something many of us experience. Often it isn’t helped by the way that those in the know, those who already belong, behave.

What would it have felt like as a Gentile coming into the temple in Jerusalem for the first time? An unfamiliar place with strange customs. It can’t be too hard to imagine some of the confusion and uncertainty that any Gentile must have felt.

The temple had its barriers even at the best of times – there was the Holy of Holies at the centre – where only God and the occasional male priest could go, next, separated by a richly embroidered curtain was the Holy Place where offerings to God were left by the priests (all of whom were male), next was the court where the altar sat – Jewish men were welcome here – then there was an outer court where Jewish women were allowed, and out beyond this – in the outermost court of the temple Gentiles were permitted. The temple system reinforced these divides, both gender and nationality. A place that was intended to proclaim God’s welcome had become a place where barriers obstructed access to God.

No doubt the Temple was a place of familiarity and comfort for those who attended regularly, particularly Jewish men. Everything had a structure and a place – it was somewhere safe and secure. But those very structures created barriers for others and a hierarchy of access to God. Rather than seeing the different outer courts as places of welcome for the outsider, Jews began to see those courts of lesser significance – and the Gentile Court, rather than being a place for worship, had become a place of business. The place where Gentiles could worship had become a market place.

In our reading, Jesus erupts into this outer court, turning over tables and setting animals and birds free. And his comment in Mark’s version of the story reinforces his concern for the outsider; “It is written,” he says “God’s house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” The temple, says Jesus, is not to be a barrier to worship but a place of worship. The way the temple is run, the way things are done, needs to draw in the outsider.

Later, Matthew’s Gospel tells us that, at the moment of Jesus death, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom – opening the path for everyone directly into God’s presence. No longer could anyone justify barriers which restricted access to God.

The Jews had allowed their place of worship to become a place that created barriers between God and those who came seeking him.

These short verses In John’s Gospel seem like a window into what it was like in the temple in Jesus’ day. But they are not a window, they are a mirror allowing us to see what we are like, they are a direct challenge to us:

How open are we to welcoming the outsider? Are we as welcoming as we think? What barriers do we place between God and those who seek him? Are we no better than the temple authorities?

How hard is it for new people to get their heads around our liturgy? How keen are we to have people in our services who don’t know what to do? What do we do to help those who are new? In a lot of our churches you can tell who is new … the regulars pick the seats at the back of church. I’m not sure why we see those as the best, but we hardly ever sit on the front row, do we. Often a guest will come into church and see the front seats clear and chose to sit there – anywhere else they’d be the best seats! It is only once the service starts that they realise their mistake – which bit of paper am I supposed to look at now, which book, do I stand or sit at this point in the service? Our guests end up feeling embarrassed. …. Is it any surprise that they choose not to return?

What happens after our services? Who talks to whom? Who seeks to include the outsider? One of our previous suffragan bishops, told a story about his wife Early in his ministry in the Diocese of Manchester he attended one church to preach and his wife went with him. At the end of the service she went to get her coffee and was very politely served and then she stood to one side, quietly drinking her coffee, and no one spoke to her.

When the Bishop introduced her to a few people, one woman said, “If only I’d known you were the Bishop’s wife, I’d have come over to talk to you.”

I wonder whether she had any real idea what she had just said about her own, and her church’s, attitude to the outsider.

How do we respond when children are noisy? How do we cope if someone sits in our regular seat? Do you have baptisms in your main church service? If so, what do you feel about Baptism families? Are we quicker to comment that they are bound not to return – rather than to welcome them, understanding just how alien the service must feel to them? How welcome do we make people feel? Are we really as helpful and welcoming as we=d like to think we are? We need to try to imagine what a newcomer sees and feels as they enter our buildings.

These short verses in our reading challenge each of us to take a step back to look at we do in God’s church, God’s temple. To try to look at what we do through the eyes of the outsider.

Jesus gave priority to the Gentile, to the outsider. He explodes in anger over the ugly barriers that religious people had created almost without thinking.

If nothing else, these short verses in our reading demonstrate that Jesus longs that we and all his followers will give priority, not to our own hopes and desires, but to those of our community and the wider world. Priority to drawing them into relationship with God.