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Friday, 16 February 2018

Last Call for the Dining Car!

Who can read about the glory days of train travel without thinking of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express?

In the course of researching for my next Inspector de Silva Mystery, where a critical scene takes place on the Kandy-Colombo train, I've loved reading up about those days. I still remember what a treat it was as a teenager when I was allowed to go on the morning train from the country up to London with my late father

The British rail breakfast was legendary. What could be more delightful than enjoying a good meal on the train while England's green and pleasant land flashed past the window? Dining cars were always beautifully appointed, the snowy tablecloths crisply starched, the service silver and the crockery and cutlery marked with the badge of the line you were travelling on.

Training for the smartly uniformed stewards who served passengers was rigorous. It included having to walk repeatedly along a white line painted down the middle of a carriage while the train was in motion to make sure no customer's soup was served into  their lap.



The first dining car came into service in 1879. The cooking was done over hot coals at the back of the train. At first, there were problems with the food getting covered in soot when the train went through a tunnel, but these were soon overcome, and meals on the train became very popular.


Sadly, though, after the railways were privatised dining cars started to die out. The last one ran on the 19.33 from King's Cross to Leeds in May 2011. Passengers were served a valedictory meal of smoked haddock "Arnold Bennett" crepe, rib-eye steak, leg of lamb, or fillets of trout, with blue cheese, apple and walnut strudel or ginger and rhubarb pavlova to follow. Glasses were raised for the last time from a wine list that included fine clarets. This final journey was particularly significant because railway dining had begun on the very same route more than a hundred years previously.

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