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Well, it's fair to say that I'm keen on railways. Right from an early age I used to enjoy going out with my father to watch trains which led onto train spotting, model railways as well as travelling by train. My grandfather had worked on the railway at Birmingham New Street so when I left school I thought I'd give it a go too. I was hoping to mix this desire with my enjoyment of engineering but there was certainly no scope in my local area of Hereford so I put the idea on the backburner and instead completed a 4 year engineering apprenticeship at a local firm. This luckily gave me the weekends free to pursue my interests and saw me give up on train spotting for the more challenging bashing (not just content with seeing a loco you had to ride behind it as well!). This had the bonus of increasing my travelling which has also got me more involved in photography and beers - well, you've got to find something to do while waiting for the next move!

After finishing my apprenticeship, I decided to have another go at joining the railway and this time I was prepared to move so I was lucky enough to find employment as a trainman "D" at Stonebridge Park, North London. Since then I've never looked back and grabbed the first opportunity to get back to my roots in Hereford which included promotion to a driver. My basic traction was the class 37 which pleased me as it was a class that I'd always been interested in. They're an excellent design of locomotive and over the years have proved themselves to be a jack of all trades which has included working passenger, container trains, heavy freight and parcels services through my home town.

It's been a fascinating and enjoyable job but full of highs and lows and it's very different now to what it was 20 years ago. That said, it does still have its moments and the travel concessions around the UK and Europe are certainly a huge perk of the job for me!

Travelling around Europe has been a real eye opener, not just for railways but also to witness the different lifestyles and cultures (and sample the beers!). The huge variety of European railways has recently seen me start to compile fleetlists for each countries, a huge task considering the very fluid state of raiways today but one which is increasing my knowledge and interest even more. As in the UK, most countries are heading towards privatisation resulting in new companies who are investing heavily in modern rolling stock so many of the old and characterful locomotives are sadly heading for the scrapyards. DEpite that, there's still plenty of variety and the enthusiast/preservation scene is booming.

I do still enjoy doing the occasional UK railtour to meet up with old friends and have a "bellow" but most of my free time is spent travelling abroad so my photo's, reports and beer info will reflect this.

My interests also got me involved in Mercia Charters, a group of Midlands enthusiasts who were frustrated that tours never quite seemed to be doing what the passengers wanted. We celebrated 10 years of operating UK and European rail charters in 2007 but the market is fraught with risks and problems brought on by privatisation, brexit and the poor exchange rate so the future is currently uncertain.

I've been active in organising and stewarding tours and took on the role of organiser and train manager for our first full tour in the Netherlands on the 7th of July 2007 - our tenth anniversary tour. Since then, I've taken a back seat due to other commitments preventing me from having enough spare time to run a railtour - not an easy task within todays fragmented systems but I still look forward to travelling on our railtours and I again stepped up to the plate as train mananger on our first ever main line steam charter in May 2012, our fifteenth anniversary! For more information on our tours as well as reviews and photographs of previous tours, click on the Mercia logo.

More recently, I have also become part of the D2578 Locomotive Group, a small group of Herefordshire enthusiasts who have bought and preserved two ex BR shunting locomotives (03145 & D2578) in full working order. We were keen to see D2578 remain in Herefordshire after its sale by Bulmers, its home of almost 40 years and we were very lucky to be offered a home at the nearby Moreton Business Park where we have our own full size "train set"! Moreton Park is a private site as opposed to a preserved railway so public access is limited to an occasional organised event but we're kept busy with site maintenance and restoration of the loco's. 2011 saw the arrival of a third locomotive when D2302 was purchased privately by one of our members. Two of us have created Flickr albums for displaying our group photos and these can be accessed via the links below:-

Neil's Flickr album

Paul's Flickr album

For more info on the D2578 Locomotive Group, please click on the photograph below.

I've been busy replacing my old Fotopics collections after setting up an account with Flickr and they can be found here. It's very much a work in progress and I've got thousands of digital rail pictures to sort through and index as well as scanning my old prints and negatives so there will be regular updates to the albums.

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© Neil Aitken 07/06/2007