There was a moment of delight as the amber light flashed followed by the two red lights. The barriers closed and the traffic came to a halt. No matter how humble the train that would roll through the level crossing, it would be a train and trains are always a source of intrigue, they always have the capacity to evoke a sense of the magical.
Being someone who has no understanding of machinery, for whom the number of wheels on an engine and the type of rolling stock it pulls are arcane matters, there is nevertheless always a fascination in railways; each line, each station is imbued with a sense of something indefinable.
There are moments when one stands and ponders the industry demanded in building such lines, the ambitious investments, the technical skills, the hard labour, the countless people for whom the railways brought work – and hope. Maybe, in rural areas, hope was the most significant factor: expectations of wealth for investors, aspirations to become successful among entrepreneurs, access to markets for factories and farmers, jobs for those who were prepared to travel. The prospect of travel itself changed communities; shopping, excursions, even holidays.
Perhaps in some future time when the means of transport have been revolutionised, the railway lines across the landscape will be regarded by future generations in the way monastic and ecclesiastical ruins are regarded today, as artefacts of a society whose ways and customs were very different. Perhaps the archaeologists in centuries to come will excavate sites where stations once stood and ponder the lives of those who travelled from these places, perhaps children will stand in museums and watch hologram trains making sedate progress along cuttings and embankments.
Perhaps there is a deeper fascination in sitting at a level crossing waiting for the passing of a humble diesel multiple unit train, perhaps it is about connecting with deep childhood memories. Perhaps it is about standing with my mother on the platform of Langport West station when not yet four years of age. Perhaps it is about watching the level crossing gates of the station at Martock swing open to allow the passage of a train, and to discover decades later that the line closed in 1964. Perhaps it is about being at Weymouth while very young and seeing a train travel the line through the streets on its way to the docks. There is something in a railway that connects with memories of security and inexhaustible hope.