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Hitchhiking by Freight Train
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Hitchhiking by Freight Train - tales of a mis-spent youth

For many years, myself and my sister spent Sunday afternoons in front of the telly watching black and white Westerns. I can see it now; the cowboys hijacking the trains by riding alongside them on horseback and jumping into the open freight carriages. Well anyhow, this always struck me as being daring and romantic - so it was that my dream was born.

Ten years later I was a 16-year-old student at Hereford Sixth Form College. Feeling the rules of adulthood closing in on me, I felt rebellion was the only way out (this was around the time when I and my friends scaled Hereford Cathedral Tower late at night and held a party up there), so my idea of illegally riding on freight trains seemed to be an ideal way in which to voice my contempt for society.

Everyday, on my way up Aylestone Hill towards college, I'd have to pass over the railway bridge situated right beside Hereford Station.

At that time of day there'd often be a very long train pulling into the station, with carriage upon carriage holding a huge roll of steel. I saw that this could be an ideal opportunity and began my research - if my plan was to be a success it was vital to case the joint beforehand.

Borrowing my brother's old Parker jacket (with it's attractive orange lining), I adopted the role of trainspotter, taking many black and white photos of these trains from all angles. The bridge provided a good vantage point as I could see down into the open-top skips that held the metalic swiss rolls: it was in one of these that I'd have to ride.

Of course, I needed to know where these trains were going. It would have really sucked if I'd daringly boarded one only to find that it moved on a couple of miles and stopped! I needed insider information, and so removing the Parker jacket I donned my school uniform and sent the following letter to the manager of all of stations in the local area:

 

 

 

Joe Tame
Wimblodore Road
Hereford
England

HR8 9PH

24th January 1995

 

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am in the fifth year at school, and I am carrying out research for a business studies project entitled 'The transportation of freight in Hereford and Worcestershire'.

I would be very grateful if you could spare a couple of minutes of your time to fill in the attatched questionnaire. I enclose an S.A.E.

Many thanks.

Yours Sincerely, 

Joe Tame.


QUESTIONNAIRE

(1) Does [Hereford] have a rail freight station?

(2) Which areas of the country does most freight that passes through [Hereford] come from / go to?

(3) Approximately how many freight trains pass through / use [Hereford] per day (or week)?

(4) At what time of day is most freight moved by rail?

6am-12pm / 12pm-6pm / 6pm-12am / 12am-6am

(5) What is most frequently carried by the freight trains?

            Minerals/Metals/Other

(6) Is rail freight on the increase or decrease in Hereford and Worcestershire?


 
 

Despite having sent six letters out, I only had one reply. However, that was enough. The manager of Abergavenny station had kindly provided me with all the information that I needed to carry out my plan.

It was a cold night in late February 1995 when I led a group of ten college kids through a tiny hole in the steel mesh fence that surrounded Hereford Railway Station. I vividly remember us all huddled out of site under a bridge, waiting, waiting, waiting for the train that never came. I can still feel the dissapointment and pangs of guilt as we returned to Darren's bedsit, my friends all mumbling about what a crazy plan it had been in any case.

Two hours later, I could stand it no more - the thought of all that preperation going to waste was too much to bear - and so it was that 3am saw me back under the bridge, this time only having to wait thirty minutes before the train arrived. I watched the driver step out of his cab for a cup of tea in the station office, before jumping up and racing across the tracks. I headed for an empty open-topped skip and somehow managed to climb into it, falling a metre or two to the bottom where I lay huddled waiting for the train to depart.

It was then that the strangest thing happened. The train had been at Hereford a lot longer than I'd expected when I started to hear a noise that sounded like someone putting a step-ladder up against the trucks, it seemed that one by one they were being checked.

Well, I thought my adventure would be over before it had started as the driver wouldn't fail to see me - and I swear that he did when he checked my skip - but he moved on without saying a word. Shortly afterwards the train pulled off, and so began my long journey north.

The overwelming feelings that I had were of excitement, fear and coldness! I slept for a few hours and awoke as the train finally stopped in what I thought was Liverpool, my destination (as I'd been told via the questionnaire). It had taken five hours to get there including a few stops, and I was bursting for the toilet.

I poked my head out of the top of my skip, only to discover (to my horror) that we'd only reached Shrewsbury! The train pulled off just as I was about jump - my fear of being spotted grew as the sun rose.

Bloody hell it's cold!!!

It was another three hours before the train came to a final standstill in Liverpool. As my legs were completely numb, I virtually fell out of my skip onto the tracks. Looking around, I swore copiously as I found myself in the middle of a huge field of railway lines which were deserted except for four locomotives which were shunting a few carriages around. I could see that this yard was surrounded by a three-metre-high barbed-wire fence, so the only way out had to be near the solitary building that stood half a mile away.

I ran. I ran as fast as I could whilst the drivers looked on in disbelief. Approaching the building, I swore even more copiously as I saw the signs reading, "British Steel. Identity badges must be worn at all times", and then the security guards at the entrance barrier. With no way out, I reluctantly accepted that I'd have to try to talk my way out of it with the police, as "Trespassers will be prosecuted" notices were now plastered on every wall.

Entering the building however, I was immediately informed by the receptionist that coffee from the machine was free today, and would I mind waiting a few moments until I was called. Somewhat bemused, I played along and did as I was told. There were a few other nervous-looking chaps there, one of whom spotted that I was in a bit of a daze.

"Where's your security pass?" he asked.

Sensing that he was not "one of them" I told him how I'd ended up there, to which he replied,

"Shit! We've got to get you out of here or you'll be arrested! They think you're here for an interview like the rest of us!

...Ok, the only way out is through that security gate. I'll distract the guards whilst you sneak out behind them."

And that's just what happened. I have no idea who that man was who helped me, but I thank him for saving me from further trouble! To this day I do not know what that place was, all I do know is that it was run by British Steel and that security was unusually high.

By midday I'd found my way into central Liverpool. Mum and Dad were a little surprised and concerned when I phoned and told them where I was - I decided to follow their advice and promptly bought a ticket so that I could travel home in comfort - on a passenger train!

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