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Monday, 13 March 2006
1970 - British Rail and the nuclear-powered flying saucer.

Yes,  you did read that correctly. Readers from outside the UK may well have heard of British Railway's, as they were called then, reputation for poor timekeeping, poor catering, poor everything.  Which situation has not been improved, or only on certain lines, by privatisation.

You may be familiar with the excellent service provided in Western Europe.  Train journeys that I have taken in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria spring to mind.  I understand that rail travel in the US has it's problems but my only experience of Am Trak, which was a journey on the Mark Penn line between DC and Baltimore went without hitch.  But the UK is not so fortunate, especially on commuter lines into London. The excuse of leaves on the line which could not be deal with by the expensive machinery bought for the purpose because "these were the wrong kind of leaves"  Ditto, snow, the "wrong kind of snow" was apparently soggy and wet.  The right kind was powdery and dry, as found on piste.

This is from The Times.

The next service to arrive at platform twelve will be . . . a flying saucer

Patent filed in the 1970s for a passenger spaceship shows British Rail had designs on the final frontier.


Ladies and gentlemen, because of signalling problems in the Venus area, and the wrong kind of asteroid on the line at Jupiter, the 11.27 for Uranus is running approximately 3½ light years behind.


Back in the distant days of our nationalised railways, when they should have been concentrating on congestion at Crewe and uncurling their onboard sandwiches, the British Railways Board was busy filing a patent for a spaceship.


Deep in the archives of the European Patent Office, researchers have found evidence that in the early 1970s railway chiefs envisaged an era beyond slam doors and tilting trains — they registered a design for a nuclear-powered flying saucer.


Had the application been filed on April 1 it would have been understandable, but it was lodged at the Patent Office, in London, by Jensen and Son on behalf of BR on December 1, 1970, and the patent, numbered 1310990, was granted on March 21, 1973.......

Colin Pillinger of the Open University, who is still looking for his Beagle 2 Mars probe, said that there was not enough information to determine whether the British Rail flying saucer would have taken off. He dismissed the propulsion system as fanciful. “It is very unusual, and if I hadn’t seen the documents I wouldn’t have believed it.”

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said yesterday: “We have no plans to introduce nuclear-powered flying saucers to the network.”

BR’s imaginary spaceship is incontrovertibly grounded. A note at the bottom of its archive documents says: “Patent lapsed through non-payment of renewal fees.” Just another case of government underinvestment in public transport.

    Last Train to San Fernando

                             If you miss this one, there'll never be another one....

                             I'll take the last train to Clarksville, 'cos, I'm leaving in the morning....

Apart from an instrument piece of music from the 50s called the Coronation Scot I cannot think of a single popular song about train travel in the UK.  Everything that springs to mind is American.

Ho hum!  

Posted on 03/13/2006 5:16 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
13 Mar 2006
Send an emailMarisol Seibold
If they were serious enough about it to register a patent, somebody got paid-- probably quite a lot-- to cook this up.

I don't know whether to feel a mild distaste at the misallocation of funds, or to be envious of whoever actually landed that job.

But in any event, I wonder if Amtrak (or perhaps Greyhound) has anything similar on the books...

13 Mar 2006
Send an emailMary Jackson
"?We have no plans to introduce nuclear-powered flying saucers to the network.? This is hilarious. Songs about trains - well isn't there a song by the Kinks with the line "takes the same train every time"? Then there's "Down in a tube station at midnight" - does the tube count?