Redhill is a town in south-east Surrey. It has a fairly large railway station which sits at the intersection of two lines – the north-south London to Brighton line, and an east-west route which used to carry trains from Reading to Tonbridge, but in recent times has effectively been split into two separate routes.
The station has always been a favourite of mine, probably because of its status as a junction, and also probably in part because some of the trains passing through it are diesels, in contrast to the electric trains more usual in this area.1 In the 1980s, its three platforms housed a control room, a station manager’s office, and train crew accommodation; two levels below the platforms were the ticket office and ticket hall; just off the “down” platform was the Area Manager’s building, and to the south of this were a series of “terrapin huts” used by civil engineering and permanent way staff (some of these later burned down and the rest were demolished); further south was the telephone exchange (later used to re-house the staff from the terrapin huts). A relay room was built in the 1980s. There were also numerous sidings, and a Carriage and Wagon office. And there was a conveyor that carried bags of mail between the platforms and the adjacent sorting office, and it is still there, but is no longer used.
This is not a blog about Redhill station, however.
In the early 1980s, while I was working on the Brighton Line Resignalling Scheme, I made a monthly pilgrimage to Redhill. But I didn’t remain on the station: after alighting from the train, I put on my orange High Visibility Vest and walked alongside the track to the south of the station as it swung round to the east, towards Tonbridge; then crossed the line and walked through the Oil Sidings which sat between this line and the southbound main line. At the end of the Oil Sidings, one found oneself on top of the southern portal of the Redhill Sand Tunnel, which carried the Quarry Line southwards towards Earlswood, where it joined the line from Redhill station.2
On the far side of the tunnel were rough steps that one could scramble down to the lower level, alongside the “down” line as it emerged from the tunnel. Looking south-east from here one beheld a large yard occupying the space between the main line and the Tonbridge line, with some fixed buildings and some additional temporary-looking ones. There were some tracks here which approached the yard from the Earlswood direction and led into a large warehouse. This was the former Parcels Concentration Depot, now used not for parcels but for various purposes connected with the resignalling scheme. And it was a small concrete hut on the north side of this depot that I was heading for, to take part in the monthly progress meeting for “external” civil engineering works associated with the scheme.
These meetings were scheduled to take all day, and usually did. They were attended by the more junior staff from the various engineering departments – Civil, Mechanical & Electrical, and both sides of the “S & T” – Signals and Telecomms. I represented the latter. We were the guys who actually did the work – well, not the actual work, I mean, we didn’t wield trowels or screwdrivers, but we were the ones who did the design work and supervised the people who actually got their hands dirty – I suppose you could say we were middle management. Some of us were based in Southern House, the 17-storey block in Croydon; others were “resident engineers” based in the depots. The purpose of the meetings was to monitor progress on all the various civil-engineering-related aspects of the scheme, and the main interest from my point of view was the telecomms equipment rooms that were being built at the stations for us to put all the new equipment in for the new public address systems, train departure indicators etc, that were included in the resignalling package; this usually meant refurbishing existing rooms no longer needed by station staff, although a few were completely new constructions.
Why am I writing about these meetings? After all, most of the stuff on the agenda was pretty boring, and an awful lot of it didn’t even involve me. But I remember them because of their rural setting, and because of the absence of the big bosses and other unwelcome office people. The pace was slow and leisurely; at lunch time the meeting was adjourned and we all got our sandwiches out. There was a good-humoured atmosphere – nobody banged the table or insisted on something being done “yesterday”. Once I do remember someone asking the signals representative when a certain job would be completed. The signals guy was a rather colourful character called John Child. By way of a response, he launched into a little story about when he used to run a wool shop. He said, sometimes a customer would come in and ask when he would have a particular sort of wool in stock, and he would give a sort of non-committal reply to the effect that it would come in when it came in, it was all in the lap of the gods etc. If someone had done this at some of the other meetings I went to – particularly later on when I worked on the Victoria Station Indicator scheme and the project manager, very much a table-thumping type, was always present at the meetings – he would not have been popular. But we all took this in good humour.
Is this any more than simple nostalgia? Well, maybe, and maybe not. One thing I value about my time on the railways was working in an environment in which one was trusted to get on with the job, and respected, to some extent. OK, the management was not, in general, terribly enlightened, and some of it (particularly on the maintenance side) was decidedly neanderthal – one colleague described the policy as “management by bollocking”. But three things made it tolerable: (1) there was the public sector ethos, which unfortunately is something most of the politicians who have been busy vandalising our society over the past thirty years haven’t a clue about; (2) we had reasonably benign bosses (particularly for the first 12 years when I was on the “Projects” side) and (3) the job involved spending a lot of time out on site where no-one could reach me (the Redhill days were pre-mobile phone days). Sadly, in this privatised rump of civilisation, such relatively stress-free working environments are rare.
Several years ago, a new housing estate was built on the site of the old PCD. As housing estates go, it’s a reasonably tasteful one, and it’s clearly a better use of the land. I wonder, though, whether, just occasionally, when the wind is in a certain direction, the residents catch ghostly snippets of murmured conversation about cable routes and relay rooms …
1 I should point out here that I am NOT a train enthusiast or “gricer”. It’s just that diesels are inherently more exciting because of the noise they make …
2 The Quarry Line is the fast line that bypasses Redhill, Merstham and Coulsdon South; it is used by fast trains, and in fact pretty well all trains that don’t stop at Redhill. I am reliably informed by my friend John Mewett that, when the South Eastern Railway wanted to build its line to Kent, the Government would not allow any more routes out of London to the south, so they had to share the route used by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway; hence they built their own line from Redhill to Tonbridge. Later there was a dispute between the companies about the use of the line, so the LBSCR built the Quarry Line. That’s how we ended up with duplicate lines running side-by-side. Of course we have grown out of such pettiness now … haven’t we?