A Wrexham & Shropshire train at London Marylebone, 6 May 2008
In the Victorian and Edwardian eras, Britain saw 'railway races' as rival companies competed for the prize of the fastest trains to places like Plymouth and Aberdeen. Elsewhere, the rail system had dozens of competing routes, few of which survived Dr Beeching's axe.
Over a century later, a similar rivalry has emerged, with the unlikely destination of Wrexham in north east Wales. (See today's Guardian article: In praise of ... Wrexham and Shropshire trains and this BBC story.) Wrexham & Shropshire Railway begun a train service to Wrexham and Shrewsbury from London Marylebone in 2008, prompting Virgin Trains to declare it wanted to offer a rival service. Suddenly, the media have taken an interest in the apparent David v Goliath clash. Virgin's move comes seven years after it axed direct trains to ago. (A Virgin spokesman got rather frustrated on last night's Radio 5 Live Drive programme trying to explain why it had changed its mind without descending into geekspeak.)
The Wrexham & Shropshire service has much to commend it, as John Vidal pointed out in a lyrical feature in Saturday's Guardian travel section. (Though what possessed the subs to describe this four hour, 195 mile journey as a commuter train?) It runs without a subsidy from the taxpayer, and has axed sky-high peak fares in favour of all day, every day low prices. It's also one of the few locomotive hauled services left in Britain, with spacious carriages in the old British Rail blue and grey colours. I'm always heartened to see it racing through our local station, and hope it beats off its opportunistic rival.
PS: The Guardian seems to be campaigning for Wrexham & Shropshire: Simon Hoggart praised it in his column last weekend!