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Editorial to Part 9

NEXT week we shall come to a little-known aspect of the world of railways, certainly an aspect that it is not possible for many people to view. I refer to the automatic tube railway that belongs to the General Post Office, and runs for approximately six and a half miles from Paddington Railway Station to the Eastern District Post Office of London. There is little doubt that the postal system of Great Britain, criticize it though we may, is the best and speediest in the world; and that of London itself is a model of quick transport. The object of the G.P.O. tube railway is to provide a rapid means of carrying some of His Majesty’s mails, and one of its peculiar features is that the trains are driverless. The trains are controlled electrically from operating cabins at the various stations along the route. Speed on the level reaches thirty-two miles an hour. Behind this miniature line is a most interesting story; and it has gone down in war history, for when it was in its early stage of construction the length of tube that had been so far completed was used to safeguard some of London’s art treasures from the aerial attacks of the enemy, and the effects of our own anti-aircraft defences. Here these art treasures lay until the war of 1914-18 was concluded.

WHO among us would not go to Italy again and again if the opportunity presented itself? For those who have never known the delights of that historic country, it nevertheless must ever have a magnetic appeal; and for those whose interest lies in railways, Italy has a particular fascination. Its unusual shape and mountainous nature set unique problems to the engineers and resulted in many remarkable construction feats, including the second longest tunnel in the world - the great Apennine Tunnel. Since the geological formation of the Apennines differs considerably from that of the Alps, the Italian engineers were faced with a task quite different from that which confronted the tunnel builders of Switzerland. A worse soil for tunnel construction could not be found, yet the old Roman “will to win’’ found means of overcoming the formidable oppositions of nature; and building some of the most astonishing of the world’s tunnels constituted a drama of human achievement. As I have said previously, I am sure that it is the note of conquest that inspires so much interest in railways. Italy provides yet another fine example of man’s struggle to conquer what at first appeared to be unconquerable odds, as we shall see next week.

WE shall also come to an informative chapter on Diesel locomotives. A few of the trains utilizing Diesel power-plants have already been dealt with. The chapters covering them brought much additional correspondence asking for more detailed explanation of the working of the heavy oil engine. The forthcoming chapter will clearly explain how and why a Diesel engine operates, and will show that in certain circumstances the heavy-oil engine is superior to the steam locomotive, although no responsible writer would ever claim that the age of steam is yet anywhere near to passing. Steam-power still has a long life before it, as we shall abundantly prove in this work.

Another fascinating chapter will deal with the trans-Andine railways. The story, which is entitled “The Magic of the Andes”, includes the line that runs from Mendoza to Los Andes, on which the trains are operated on both rack and adhesion principles. At one point this line is 10,512 ft above sea-level. The engineering resource that made the building of the line possible cannot fail to win the admiration of all my readers.

AMONG my correspondents is C.K.B., who, after having expressed his appreciation of Railway Wonders of the World, says: “Incidentally, I can never refuse the opportunity to visit occasionally Paddington on my way home in the evenings to see one of the great locomotives pull out the 6.30 pm for Bristol and Plymouth.” That little confession interests and thrills me merely because it shows that the railway enthusiast is no indifferent lover of his hobby. It stirred in me a chord of memory that brought back the days when I was young enough to enter in a notebook the number of every train I could possibly see, for we begin our train-consciousness very early - and we remain faithful.

DO not forget that Part 10 will be on sale everywhere on Friday next. It will contain a beautiful art plate, illustrating “The Magic of the Andes”. I should like to add at this stage that it would be of considerable assistance to me if those readers who have not already done so would place a regular order with their newsagents. This saves the newsagent from ordering too many or too few copies, and the advantage to everyone interested in Railway Wonders of the World will readily be seen.