Many of our acquaintances now rarely watch 7.30, partly out of irritation with the succession of whingers and trade union officials who dominate the program, but they have been lured away to SBS to watch Michael Portillo’s Great British Railway Journeys and American Railroad Journeys. Portillo is enjoying a successful television career after being a leading Conservative politician. His programs, which come and go in the schedule, are delightfully informative and play to the community’s deep love of trains. (Nick Greiner didn’t like them much; disastrously removing train services from numerous regional centres such as Bourke.) Some of the best stories about trains come from India. Christian Wolmar, a British train historian, has published Railways & The Raj: How the Age of Steam Transformed India.
Not everyone loves the idea of India but programs like Joanna Lumley’s India, virtually a love letter to that country, help viewers to understand the pull and fascination of it. Starting late, India’s first line was not completed until 1853 but by building the railways, Britain radically changed the nation, and Wolmar believes, unwittingly created the preconditions of independence. The Indians continue to build railways; they now have a huge network, serving over 25 million passengers each day, running remarkably on time. Australians want more trains; if India can do it, so can we. Hasten the Melbourne-Brisbane inland railway, to bring greater life to our rural towns.