The Next train on Platform Four May Blow Up
As I put the phone down I could feel myself breaking out in cold sweat and there was a horrible tingling sensation in the base of my spine. The conversation with Paddington Control had been quite short.
“Mr. Churcher, Scotland Yard have just called. There may be a bomb on the nine o’clock. Padd. It's probably a hoax but you'd bettor check it out".
“OK, I’ll call you back" was my mumbled reply.
What luck, this was my last day as Assistant Station Manager at the British Railways Reading Station. Tomorrow I would be heading west to take up a new position. My legs were beginning to turn to jelly. I sat down and tried to collect my confused thoughts. The nine o'clock was one of the faster trains that would cover the 35 miles from Paddington to Reading in about 30 minutes. It was 0910, I had twenty minutes.
My first call was to the Down Side Inspector.
"Ron, there may be a bomb on the nine o’clock Padd. We’ll keep her on four, get everybody out on the platform, then search the train. I'll be over in a minute."
There was a muffled oath followed by “OK boss.”
My next call was to the Inspector in the Reading Panel Signal Box, We agreed to keep the train on its booked platform (number four) but the signalman would clear the road so that we could get the train cut of the station in a hurry if necessary.
By 09.15 I had informed the railway police sergeant who took it very calmly.
"Just you leave everything to us. We’ll search the train"
The next call was to my boss, the Station Manager. He seemed worried, probably because his office was on platform four, Having instructed Maisie, the station announcer, I decided to go over to platform four. My watch said 0920. The travelling bomb would now be approaching Maidenhead at 90-95mph.
I burst in to the Station Manager’s Office to hear one end of a heated argument he was having with the Inspector in charge of the Signal Box.
“You have it your way but I still think we should stop it in the country. It might be more difficult to get passengers out but if it goes off here it will blow my station to pieces.”
Reading Station had eleven platforms but the station building was at least seventy years old and there had been schemes to rebuild it for the last forty years. It was in poor condition and I thought it might not be such a bad thing if the building were blown up! This suggestion didn’t go down too well. He slammed down the phone, had a good look around his office as if it might be for tha last time, stalked out and disappeared.
On platform four I found the Down Side Inspector. We decided to move the passengers around to a bay platform where they would be protected by some baggage cars. We looked across to platform five where Charlie, the Up Side Inspector was grinning at us “Rather you than me.”
0925. I called the Panel Box.
“Just through Twyford. She’ll be with you in a couple of minutee.”
Looking up the line we could see a small speck in the distance. In the other direction I saw the down main line signal Change from red to yellow, then quickly through double yellow to green. At least she would have a clear road out.
The blue and yellow Western Class diesel hydraulic locomotive was still doing 35 mph. at the platform end but the driver brought his locomotive to a smooth stop right where I was standing. He looked down at me and grinned.
“Twenty eight minutes. Not bad eh?”
“We've just been given the tip that you might have a bomb on board. If it had gone off you might have made it a bit quicker. Better get your mate to look through the engine and be ready to take off quickly.”
The grin quickly disappeared from his face. His fireman went back to search the locomotive while the driver sat tensely trying not to look worried.
Looking back down the train I could see the passengers scurrying out and round to the bay platform. One man from the Restaurant Car, a piece of toast in hand, was complaining bitterly:
“You might have let me finish my breakfast first.”
The police were doing a good job but it seemed an age before I could tell Maisie to get the passengers back on the train. Of course it turned out to be a hoax.
Ron gave the "Right Away" and we watched the train begin to pick up speed. In the Restaurant Car the angry passenger had been soothed somewhat by a second cup of tea. I watched the tail lamp disappear towards the west and went back to my office where the phone was ringing. It was Paddington Control asking whether our station was still in one piece.
"Yes, but I was nearly assaulted by an irate passenger brandishing a piece of toast".
His reply surprised me a little.
"Gee, all I do is sit in an office all day, you people have all the fun".
Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, January 1974