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I live next to a railway line. This isn’t uncommon … lots of people do. There’s less than 15 metres between my bedroom wall and the track and, in the time I’ve lived here, I have come to hate the trains.

 

Trains have been part of my life since I was very small. My maternal grandparents lived next to the Great Eastern Main Line connecting Liverpool Street station in London with the east of the country: Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. They had a very long garden at the end of which was a field and then the railway line on an embankment. The trains on the line were high-speed and to my young ears seemed very loud even though, looking at the map, I can now see they were further away than I remember. On hearing a train roar past my brother and I would race round to the front of the bungalow in time to watch the train as it disappeared into the distance. It all seemed very exciting at the time.

 

I also remember visiting my great-uncle who lived next to a famous stretch of railway called the Lickey Incline. Here the trains were extremely close to the house and, while my memory is sketchy at best, I do remember the noise being incredibly loud. Part of the reason for the noise level was that this particular stretch is the steepest sustained mainline railway incline in Britain with a gradient of 2.65% (1 in 37.7) for a distance of 2 miles (3.2 km). Even now, some trains still require the assistance of a banking locomotive to ensure they reach the top. I can’t imagine what the noise must have been like in the days of steam!

 

My dad has always had an interest in trains. He built a huge model railway for my brother that took up half his bedroom. I even had my own Flying Scotsman to run around the track. I was never especially enamoured with trains. When we visited model railway exhibitions I was more interested in the buildings, landscapes and people than in the actual trains themselves.

 

Flying Scotsman (Hornby model). Source.

 

As I got older my interest waned even further while my dad’s took off. What started off as a hobby for him eventually became his livelihood (he makes model railway engines and such-like for paying customers). It’s hard to get very far inside my parents’ house without being confronted by something railway-related. There are signs, posters, prints and books everywhere, and much to my mother’s dismay, pieces of roof, buffers, carriage seats and bogies (the wheeled sort) turn up in places she’d rather they didn’t.

 

Trains and railways have become a bit of a joke in my family; it gives us plenty of fodder for winding up my dad! Over the years it was very often the case, especially in this country, that when going on holiday we would find, quite by chance, that there was a steam railway nearby that had to be visited. But, for all the joking, it gave us great pleasure to arrange for my dad to drive a steam train for his 60th birthday.

 

So, almost 6 years ago, I moved into my current home.  I picked it because it was by far the nicest flat I’d seen, being light, airy, huge by British standards and cheap. The railway being so close wasn’t a big concern and I didn’t think about the huge volume of traffic it would see. On my first night, I had almost no sleep.  It wasn’t trains that kept me awake, it was the sound of workmen re-laying the track. I wasn’t happy but assumed I’d get used to it.  Over the next 12 months, I suppose I did get used to it but sleeping with the windows open was impossible.  On the rare occasions I tried it, I woke several times convinced that something was about to collide with the building and bring it all crashing down. And then there was the huge amount of TV that I missed in the summer when the windows were open, because I couldn’t hear it over the roar of the frequently passing trains.

 

The railway outside is not just some quiet little branch line. It’s the Midland Main Line from London to Sheffield. There are approx. 4 high-speed trains and 3 local trains in each direction every hour, and countless goods and service trains.  The trains don’t stop at night either. In fact, in the region of 250 trains pass by my home every 24 hours and the majority of them are noisy, heavy and make the whole building shake quite considerably. There’s also a local station directly opposite. On the plus side, since I’ve been here, the engines pulling the high-speed trains have been improved so the clouds of diesel fumes are less of an issue and the noise has lessened a little, but no such changes have been made to the engines pulling the goods and service trains. To top it all off, the noise and shaking is not helped by the significant point work on the track outside.

 

Midland Main Line train (not outside my flat). Source.

 

At some point within my first 2 years in this flat, my brother and his wife came to stay for the night and, despite my warnings, elected to sleep with the window open. The next morning I was surprised to hear that they’d slept without any problems. So, after they’d left, I decided to give it a go once more and, rather surprisingly, I slept fine. At some point, the roar of the trains had become so familiar to me that my sub-conscience was no longer disturbed by them. I was very relieved. Now, all this time later, I still sleep with the window open unless it’s very windy or below freezing. Even men working on the line rarely disturb me now unless they’re using especially heavy machinery.

 

There was one glitch in 2008 when I woke with a start in the early hours of the morning to a train-like roar and significant bed-shaking. Convinced a train had derailed outside I leapt out of bed and pulled back the curtain to be confronted by … nothing! Of course I was relieved but the amount of lights coming on in other properties suggested I hadn’t dreamt it. I don’t know why, but I put the radio on and immediately discovered that we’d just suffered the largest earthquake the UK had seen in almost 25 years. It kind of put the railway into perspective!
 

I still have trouble hearing the TV in the summer when the windows are open, but since I invested in a digital receiver that allows me to rewind whatever I happen to be watching it’s now less of a problem.  My dad is still the butt of many jokes, especially when he does his meerkat impression whilst sitting on my sofa and sits bolt-upright to peer over the window sill each time a train passes.  He has never been a train-spotter but that doesn’t mean we won’t accuse him of that just to get a rise! And, very occasionally I’m treated to the passing of a steam train. I may not be a train enthusiast but I can still muster a modicum of excitement for the nostalgia of the age of steam. Sadly any steam trains go past too fast for me to really appreciate them although, at some point, I ought to do some research and stand on the station platform with my camera when one is expected.

 

Since losing my job and being at home so much I have come to a startling realisation. I can honestly say that, despite learning to live with them, I still hate the trains; however, I realise that I also take a great deal of comfort from the roar and shake of a train passing.  It’s a sign of life and a sign that I’m not alone. The railway has become such a part of my life that I think that, if I were to move, and I do want to eventually, I might actually miss it!

 

 

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