The photographs in this book were taken in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The period became known by rail enthusiasts as BR Blue – because all the locomotives were painted blue. The era was characterised by institutionalised thrift, standardisation, and possibly an air of fatalism. The railway was being run on a shoestring and was treading water: trapped in the doldrums. Everything about the network appeared to have more to do with the past than the future. Some people were glad about this and would happily have reintroduced the steam locos which a decade earlier had been so hastily and needlessly withdrawn. Obviously, these people were not the long-suffering commuters who could never find a seat on their train or be sure of its departure or arrival time. The railway had become unglamorous and worse still, in the eyes of some, it failed to meet expectations.

A Class 86 electric loco hurries through Leyland, hauling a southbound passenger train. (BR Blue: A Portrait, Amberley Publishing)

Perhaps none of the criticism above is accurate; it is merely a belated reflection on a railway which was a victim of circumstances beyond its control. There was an economic recession in the country: an extended period of uncertainty; and the railway was an illustration of this decline. Inevitably, by comparison, the past appeared to be better than it really was, and no-one knew what the future had in store. Throughout this challenging period the railway remained dogged and steadfast: a constant, relatively reliable, determinedly struggling against the odds to fulfil impossible demands.

Class 40 loco No. 40115 between Pleasington and Cherry Tree, hauling a freight train toward Blackburn. (BR Blue: A Portrait, Amberley Publishing)

The photos in the book feature portraits of locos and scenic of trains in the landscape. The locations are places I would visit knowing that they presented photo opportunities. I preferred the known to the unknown; but I do sometimes wonder why I didn’t visit other places and why I don’t have photos taken in locations I did visit: Bristol, Norwich and Newcastle, for example, it can’t simply be because of the weather.  

Class 40 loco No. 40122 nears Cherry Tree on a beautiful winter morning, hauling a freight train of oil tanks toward Blackburn. (BR Blue: A Portrait, Amberley Publishing)

I’m certain we would all rather see photos taken in sunshine, with blue skies and an attractive landscape, but this is not always possible. Some parts of the UK are blighted by adverse weather, and the industrial nature of some areas provides an alternative backdrop. It often appears to be the case that the railway traverses both the best and the worst scenery. However, this scenery serves as a reminder not only of the industrial decline of the country, but the way the railway has had to change and find a new role.

Stephen Owens's book BR Blue: A Portrait is available for purchase now.