Archive for the ‘Transport’ Category

The Blue Pullman : How to design a train, the Bill Mitchell way…

March 14, 2017 4 comments

A quick post to capture some thoughts on a fascinating conversation I had with my friends Bill & Joy Mitchell a week or so ago, and the barely believable story that Bill helped designed a train, and not just any old train. The famous Blue Pullman luxury train that set speed records between London & Manchester throughout the mid 1960’s and 70’s.

It all started apparently when Bill was approached by George Williams who at the time was the chief designer for British Rail. He asked if Bill would be interested in developing some full size mock ups for a 125mph train and a 250mph version. Bill decided that he was and after a fact finding trip up to Derby (the main fact uncovered being that there were hardly any drawings available to work from) set about finding a space big enough to make the mockups.

The answer was found in three sheds on the Woolwich Road where Bill and his team set about forming GRP into an engine unit and a carriage. He told me that the finished versions were in polished silver GRP and not blue, and that they looked very futuristic, shining like stainless steel bullets…

To get these huge things out of the studio once finished required the removal of an end wall to get them onto a lorry to take down to Marylebone Station, and it was at this point that Bill remembered someone had rung up the local police to tell them they’d been a train crash on the Woolwich Road, a story that apparently made the local papers..

As well as the overall shape of the train, including the instantly recognisable twin windowed front nose, Bill told me he designed the round cornered windows (versions of which are still used to this day), the little table lights, the adjustable seats (“borrowed” from a Russian train) the galley kitchen, the overhead parcel racks (“borrowed” from a VC10) a non touch lavatory flush system and all the door ironmongery. He also designed the individual inlaid timber panels at the end of each carriage, one of which can just about be seen on the above video at about 13 seconds, and another at the top of the image below…

When I asked how as an artist, he had managed to interpret and ensure compliance with all the design briefs, H&S standards and rules that I assumed must surely play a part in designing something as serious and potentially lethal as a diesel-electric train, Bill just said “No, we didn’t bother with any of that business, they just wanted something that looked good and wanted it quickly…”

If only it were that simple today…


Lazy Post No. 19: A New Bridge Please…

July 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Gallions Reach Bridge_trimI’ve been sent an email from Transport for London inviting me to the next round of consultation for the new East London Thames crossing options…

Without doubt my favourite has to be the possibility of a new bridge at Gallions Reach. How amazing would that be?

I’m a big fan of modern bridges, especially concrete ones. Think of Fosters Milau Viaduct in France or The Oresund Crossing between Denmark and Sweden. Obviously the Gallions Reach bridge would not be anywhere near their scale, but it would still be a wonderful opportunity to create an elegant and timeless structure, right on my doorstep…

It’s not at all clear from the blurb if it will end up being a toll bridge, but I suspect that has to be a possibility. However on the assumption that a replacement ferry service would have to remain free for it to be used, arguably (and hopefully) the new bridge would be free also. We shall see.

The land is already owned, so it could potentially be open by 2025 and the whole project would cost around £600m. Cheap at half the price, especially when you think of the Billions that train projects seem to cost these days…

Do it I say. London can never have too many bridges…

milau viaduct






Lazy Post No. 17 – Hans Unger…

June 21, 2014 Leave a comment

unger64A quick and lazy post today of some wonderful posters from the 1960’s and 70’s.

Hans Unger (1915 – 1975) was a German emigree who came to London via South Africa in 1948. Unger was a gifted artist and graphic designer who created many posters for amongst others, the GPO, London Transport and the Public Information Office.

Unger was also skilled in designing and making mosaics (which he did in collaboration with Eberhard Schulze) and stained glass.

The Tower, by Hans Unger, 1969I can’t find much more about him to be honest, his work is easy to find, but the person himself seems to have left little trace on the net. The only other rather upsetting fact I’ve found on a site here, is that he took his own life in 1975 for reasons that are not clear…


Spring in the air; country walks, by Harry Stevens, 1963





unger-safariThe Zoo Aquarium, by Hans Unger and Eberhard Schulze, 1963

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poster06_428x652_to_468x312There’s a most excellent book I came across recently, “Keep Britain Tidy, Posters from the Nanny State” which contains some of Unger’s work along with a whole selection of others  from the collection of the National Archives. Thoughtfully, many of these excellent posters have been printed on single sided, removable pages especially for framing and hanging purposes…

Click the pelican to the left to find out more…

Finally there’s an interesting little video here about the book, narrated by the author Hester Vaizey…





Lazy Post No. 6: Fast Train to Brighton (x 3)

October 10, 2013 4 comments

Stolen straight from YouTube this one I’m afraid…

Sixty years ago the BBC fixed a film camera to the front of the London to Brighton train and then compressed the resultant footage into a rather wonderful four minute short…

Thirty years later in 1983 they did it again, and then again this year…

Although it’s very quick, if you randomly press pause whilst the video is playing, it’s amazing to see how little seems to have changed in the intervening years: platforms, stations, bridges, even the hedgerows all seem to be much the same.

The only notable differences I can see, are the bright colours of the passengers clothes when the journey ends at Brighton Station (even compared to those of the Eighties) and the quality of the film stock (although again, the Eighties footage seems oddly inferior to that from the Fifties)

Truly fascinating…

It’s good to hear the Chem’s Star Guitar track again. Chosen I would guess because of Michel Gondry’s wonderful train ride video with the different elements of the scenery zooming past the window, brilliantly playing the beats, rhythm’s and instrumentation of the tune…


New Oyster Card Holders…

August 14, 2013 2 comments

These new Oyster card holders are rather nice: stylish, contemporary, appropriate and ego free. This one by Noma Bar I think is particularly clever, easily up to to his impressively high standards, the two mice creating the roundel is very clever…


In lieu of writing about how good they are, I’d like to suggest you might quickly revisit this post I wrote on the Olympic Posters last year. Compare these new offerings from imaginative graphic designers and skilled artists, to the abysmal Olympic posters created by a cabal of (mostly) talentless egotists that somehow seem to always represent the UK’s fine art establishment. They were scattered around the Underground a year or so ago, but are (thankfully and understandably) now long forgotten…

As an aside, you might also note that of the five designers I suggested as being better able to reflect the Olympics and design contemporary posters that would sit well within the pantheon of our fine tradition, TfL have chosen two of them for these holders… Ahead of the game or what.






In praise of the Monorail…

April 9, 2013 13 comments

1964NYI’ve recently completed and submitted (for hopeful publication in a respected arts and culture magazine) a short piece of writing all about the wonders of the monorail, in my opinion, a timeless and much misunderstood mode of transport that deserves far greater support.

The essence of my argument is that the monorail’s almost Pavlovian depiction as THE earthbound transport of the future, has resulted in it being underused and mistrusted as a viable urban commuter option in the large majority of today’s’ Cities..

Evidence, I suggest, can be found in countless imagined future cities in countless films, books, comics and TV programmes of the last 100 years or so:  Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926), Things to Come (1936) Francois Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966), in Mega City One (Judge Dredd’s home in 2000AD) and Logan’s Run, the writings of Arthur C Clark, Philip K Dick and Iain M Banks to name just a few.

Couple this often over exaggerated and/ or improbable Sci-Fi imagery with the monorail’s undeniable association with novelty rides, at things like World Fairs, Disney Land resorts and countless airports and zoo’s the world over, and the character assassination is complete…

Thankfully however, attitudes have been changing over the last couple of decades or so, and successful urban transport systems can be found in Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo and Moscow to name just a few of the forward thinking cities who have recognised the many benefits of electrically operated aerial monorails including reduced land take, reduced emissions and quiet operating volumes.

Due to copyright reasons, it’s difficult to include found and uncredited images with written articles published in proper magazines. On my blog of course no such restrictions apply, so I’ve collected below some of my favorite images, ones that I think best illustrate the idealism, excitement and overall futureness of the monorail…

Bertin monorail



New_York_World's_Fair_The_AMF Monorail_83734_B


Inuyama01 - Copy










pop science july 1934





The DLR and London Docklands (before anyone took them seriously…)

January 14, 2013 9 comments

Steve White_25Oct88_2I love the internet, you can find so much amazing stuff, things you never even knew existed, just tucked away waiting to be found…

Take the photos that accompany this post for example. They are all borrowed from Steve White’s amazing Flickr site here, where he’s gathered over 1100 images. I can’t begin to imagine how long it must have taken to scan in all those original prints…

I came to London at the end of the 1980’s to do my year out and take my Architectural Diploma and by the early 1990’s was working for a Greenwich based architectural practice. Then, as now (apart from buses of course) there were really only two ways to get to Greenwich from north of the river:  overground from London Bridge or via the Docklands Light Railway (DLR).

In the early 90’s the DLR (much like the Docklands themselves) still had something of the novel about it: driverless trains, elevated trackways, unfinished stations, continuous weekend and evening closures, an abundance of blue powder coated steel structures and a track that stopped north of the Thames at Island Gardens.

Steve White_Canarywharf_17Oct89

What Steve obviously did and what I regret not doing, was documenting these early days with his camera, and for someone like me who regularly used the fledgling service to commute to work, his images are a treasure trove of visual clues and reminders of what a different world it was back then, covering everything from Tower Gateway to Beckton and Stratford and all points in between.

Admittedly these images won’t mean much if you’ve never been to the Docklands or had the opportunity to ride on the DLR, but trust me when I tell you that NOTHING looks like this anymore: not the buildings, the landscape, the trains, the stations… its all now super shiny, super busy, super dense and super expensive…

Steve White_WestIndiaQuay_21Aug89

Even having lived here over the last 12 years and experienced it all first hand, it’s still staggering the rate and amount of change the Isle of Dogs has been through. The huge empty spaces around West India Quay (above) and Limehouse (below) are particularly impressive especially when you think that these photos were all taken less then 30 years ago…

Steve White_Limehouse_13May88

I’ve taken the liberty of stitching a few of Steve’s photos together to give them a more panoramic feel, but even without doing that, the amount of space that the developers had to work with must have been simultaneously exciting and intimidating…

So a huge thanks to Steve for taking the time to document it all, I for one am very appreciative of his efforts.

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Steve White_Island Gardenss_1988

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The above four photos are especially poignant for me as they show the old Island Gardens station as it was before the extension below the Thames made it all redundant and it was demolished.

Being the end of the line, the tracks split into a V either side of the central steps so that one train could wait for the other before it ran along the single track that ran most of the way to the next station, Mudchute. Reliability was not the DLR’s strong point in the early days, and I used to spend seemingly endless hours on these two platforms waiting to get back to civilisation in North London. Steve White_17Oct89_4

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It’s incredible to think that when Steve took this photo in June 1988, looking north from Heron Quays, nothing of the Canary Wharf existed… at all. One day I should go and take the same view as it its today and put it up here for comparison…

Steve White_19Oct88_1

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