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A new age of the train

The story of Britain's railways is one of chaotic genius in the Victorian era followed by a century of more or less uninterrupted decline. Christian Wolmar charts this history in admirable detail, but succumbs to unwarranted romanticism when it comes to the last days of British Rail

By Andrew Adonis   March 2008

Fire and Steam: a New History of Railways in Britain, by Christian Wolmar

(Atlantic, £19.99)

This magnificent book tells the tale of the railways from George Stephenson to privatisation in 300 pages. It has as much to say about politics as about the railways, and one question looms throughout: how can the nation that invented the railways and built the world’s first national network have fallen so far behind much of the rest of Europe today?

The achievement of the Victorians is mind-boggling. In 1843, only 13 years after the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester railway, there were already…

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