Railway is a platform to connect to the past


By Tim Carroll, Vandyke Upper School headteacher and chairman of the Leighton Buzzard Headteachers’ Group...

One of the joys of spring is the return to the air of the reassuring tooting, puffing and whistling of Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway.

Very few schools have a steam railway as its neighbour and I see this as something almost unique and certainly special. It is to be celebrated and we have done this again in the last few weeks with presentations to 750 students by traffic manager Nick Burton.

These were both informative and entertaining talks and an important part of our work in building a sense of community. My relationship with the railway goes back long before I arrived here in my present role. In the mid 90s we took my youngest daughter on a ride having journeyed some way by car to reach it as a Sunday family day-out.

It was a sunny day I recall and with ice creams in Pages Park everybody had a good time. Little did I know on that day that years later I would form a different relationship with this neck of the woods.

Through lower school, middle school and in upper school students learn local history and it is fascinating.

This is another fine example. We have on our doorstep, quite literally, a piece of history with links all over the world. Nick told us about the origins of the railway after WWI as a result of the damage being caused to local roads in hauling the valuable sand, the heritage of some of the locomotives including transporting sugar in India and the “tin turtle” that possibly made it to France for combat but that is in any case a remarkable war vehicle for us to see.

Students learned also about important safety matters as pedestrians but also as future drivers. They now know more about a range of volunteering opportunities and several have pledged to sign up. Perhaps most of all they understand a little more of what it takes to run a complex operation such as a railway and of its significance to the town both formerly in economic terms and now from a leisure and tourist perspective. With its centenary approaching in 2019 we have a treasure that helps connect the present with our past.