Full Steam Ahead

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Full Steam Ahead

Series 1 - Episode 5



Archaeologists Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn are undoubtedly very clever blokes but images of Laurel and Hardy keep popping in to my mind when they’re together. There’s definitely a comic air as they lark about during the rudimentary eye test they must pass if they’re to be a steam train driver. Even more so when they have a go at “token passing”, a safety system introduced to prevent trains travelling on the same track colliding with each other.

In this edition they tell us about the branch lines – the small railways that connected rural towns and villages with the main lines. Used primarily for transporting goods, they turned cottage industries and regional produce such as Scotch whisky into global businesses. Viewers of a certain age will remember very well how, in the 1960s, Dr Richard Beeching scrapped 6,000 miles of rural lines and closed 2,000 stations.


The historians explore the life of the South Devon branch line before the Beeching cuts of the 1960s. Peter Ginn joins a footplate crew and receives coal-shovelling tips from a veteran steam engine driver of 63 years' experience, and with Alex he learns about one of Scotland's most lucrative exports. Ruth Goodman finds out about the dangers involved in working on the Victorian railways, and how those who lost limbs were catered for by a dedicated prosthetics workshop. She also discovers how the railways came to the rescue when a deadly disease wiped out almost the entire stock of London cattle.

Cast & Crew

Presenter Ruth Goodman
Presenter Alex Langlands
Presenter Peter Ginn
Editor Guy Scutter
Executive Producer Nick Catliff
Producer Emma Randle-Caprez
Producer Georgina Stewart
Series Director Stuart Elliott
Series Producer Stuart Elliott
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