Track record

You don’t have to be a trainspotter to appreciate Keith Lovegrove’s new book. Clare Dowdy embarks on a scenic journey through the history of railways

British Rail purserette uniforms concept – 1974

For while train operators may not often be competing against each other, they do have to keep an eye on airlines and the motorways. And food and service is one area where they can make their mark, if they are prepared to put in the investment.

The hardware section kicks off with Henry Drefuss’s beautiful Art Deco-style 20th Century Limited Streamlined Locomotive of 1938. For the next two decades, the US dominated passenger locomotive design. The vital role that trains have played in films is given much coverage, and is the perfect opportunity to mention the work of Alfred Hitchcock and Some Like It Hot. This was the era (the 1950s and 1960s) of long distance trains and plenty of comfort, before the onset of utilitarian design in the 1970s. ‹

There’s the feeling that Lovegrove is really getting into his stride as a product designer when he allows himself to wax lyrical on the merits of different nose shapes. ‘The shape of the Eurostar’s nose… is optimised for its passage through the Channel Tunnel,’ he explains, adding that ‘one of the most attractive noses in the train industry belongs to German rail system Die Bahn’s electric Inter-City Express 3,’ which was styled by Alexander Neumeister.

The amount of research that goes into Airline and Railway doesn’t bear thinking about. Lovegrove has even collected UK sales data on specific foodstuffs. The book is so stuffed full of great images of the tasteful and the tasteless that slowing down and actually reading the text is hard.

It’s an entertaining romp through a familiar sector, and although there is no grand hypothesising on the meaning of it all (the double-spaced introduction runs to just half a page and the reader is left to draw their own conclusion), it’s hard not to come away with the impression that the reader’s next train journey will be considerably more rewarding. l

Railway – Identity, Design and Culture by Keith Lovegrove is published by Laurence King on 30 May, priced £19.95

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