Sunday, 24 July 2016

Myanmar, Railways and Jan

In the post Myanmar, Serendipity and Jan I talked about how Myanmar became important to me and listed the aims I have during my visits as follows:-
1. To see more of the country and learn more about its people.
2. To visit educational initiatives supported by the 'RTM Social Contribution' charity.
3. To visit the Bagan Medical Clinic supported by the 'RTM Social Contribution' charity.
4. To study Myanmar's railway system. (Huh?)
Let me explain the last of these aims.

Anybody browsing my website quickly becomes aware of my interest in railways. As far back as I can remember, I was interested in railways and engineering. That probably partly derives from my grandfather, who was an engineer and liked nothing better than explaining how things worked with an enthusiasm which was infectious.

My interest in railways was fairly general until I had a few opportunities to visit signal boxes which kindled a more serious study of railway signalling. This period is described in the post Visiting Signalboxes which includes links to posts describing specific English signal boxes.

Exeter West signal box, now preserved at Crewe Heritage Centre.

Modernisation of British Railways first produced an interesting but short-lived series of modern steam locomotives before the widespread introduction of main line diesel and electric traction. In addition, Power Signal Boxes and Colour Light Signalling abolished many of the traditional manual signal boxes and semaphore signals which had fascinated me. These changes are briefly outlined in the post The Modernisation of British Railways.

The withdrawal of steam and the destruction of manual signal boxes 'broke my heart' and I turned my back on railways, still travelling by rail but the railway was no longer as I remembered it and something of the spirit which had excited me had been lost. However, after I started a small business, we started to provide telecommunications equipment for the railways, first in Britain and later overseas. This period is described here so that re-kindled my interest.

However, it was not until I was in my 40s that I became actively involved in railway preservation and took a more serious interest in railway locomotives, as I explain in the post Lion. As a result, many of the posts in this blog describe aspects of railway preservation, railway history and modern railways both in this country and abroad. These posts can be found under the label Railways. Railway signalling remains a particular interest - signalling posts can be found here (although they're also included in the Railways label).

On my first visit to Myanmar in 2008, an unexpected rush of a sense of adventure induced me to take a journey unaccompanied on the 'Circle Line' in Yangon (this trip is described here). This was probably on the basis of "I may not pass this way again", but I underestimated the fascination of Myanmar and its people - I've recently completed my 10th trip to the country! In three hours, I learned more about the life of people in Yangon and accumulated more technical questions about the railway system than I could reasonably have anticipated. I'm still trying to learn about the people of Myanmar and still trying to answer those railway questions. In Myanmar, there always seem to be more questions than answers.

Kyee Myin Daing South signal cabin, still in service in 2016.

Whereas there is a plethora of information on railways in Britain and a fair bit on other world railways, I could find little on Burma (with isolated exceptions). My friend Dieter's book 'Railways of Myanmar' is now nearing publication and is anxiously awaited.

I realised that modernisation of the railways in Myanmar had only recently started to gather pace, giving me an opportunity to try to document some aspects of the 'traditional' railway before it is swept away. My investigations are patchy because of limited opportunity and my observations even more likely to be flawed than normal but I intend to continue to do what I can to record this fascinating, British-inspired, railway system.