The Man Who Pays His Way

A gentle, sub-GCSE question to start with: if Concorde takes three and a half hours to fly from London to New York, and British Airways plans one daily departure in each direction, how many supersonic jets will the airline need? If pushed, most people would say "one".

The transatlantic round trip involves seven hours' flying. Some charter aircraft can squeeze in three return flights in a day. Even allowing for air traffic-control delays, loading all those Louis Vuitton cases and replenishing the Dom Pérignon champagne and Beluga caviar, that single Concorde and its crew would not be overstretched.

Add, if you wish, time to get the passengers off the plane before refuelling starts, unlike the people who were still on board when fire broke out on a BA Boeing 777 being pumped with kerosene at Denver International Airport this week. Concorde Alpha Foxtrot can still expect to spend half her working life idling in the hangar. (She's the first supersonic jet to be modified after the Paris crash, and this week regained her Certificate of Airworthiness.) So question two should be easy: when will flight BA 1, the flagship flight from Heathrow to JFK, be departing?

The airline is unsure. October, perhaps? The uncertainty arises because BA insists that not one, not two, but three Concordes must be ready before services resume. After the bruising that the plane has had – including the highest Fatal Event Rate on the AirSafe.com league table of Western-built aircraft – the airline wants a back-up always available. A second plane can also cover while "heavy maintenance" takes place. But to insist on three planes, each of which will be in the air for an average of barely two hours a day, looks to me like a belt and two pairs of braces exercise.

* "We have to go up North for four weeks' location on some horrible railway station." The writer was Celia Johnson, star of David Lean's wartime classic Brief Encounter, in a letter to her husband. Nazi V1 and V2 rockets were thought likely to jeopardise filming at a London station, so cast and crew were obliged to create "Milford Junction" at Carnforth in Lancashire.

I know this thanks to the fine folk of the Friends of Carnforth Station, and friends of those Friends, some of whom got in touch after I wrote last week that the station was being knocked down. The large "DANGER! Demolition in progress" notice hanging from the fencing at Carnforth fooled me. The real story is "Rejuvenation under way".

"An unwelcome, cheap jibe at the railways," writes Kenneth Pearce, "at the expense of the people of Carnforth who are working hard to attract people to visit."

Happily, the main line junction that became first a film star, then a forlorn branch line station, is now being reborn. "After 25 years of neglect, under the ownership of British Rail and Railtrack, the Carnforth Station and Railway Trust have obtained more than £1m in grants and donations, and have embarked on the refurbishment of the entire station," writes Peter Hammond, the surveyor masterminding the project.

"The intention is to recreate the atmosphere and appearance of the station at the time of Brief Encounter. The station is in very poor condition, and much rotten timber and stonework has to be removed before the station can be restored to its former glory."

"Come and have a look at the progress," suggests Mr Pearce. "It's easy to get to from the South; just change at Lancaster."

Southerners with a Johnsonesque fear of the North could visit the website www.carnforth-station.co.uk, where you can find out much more – including the calculation that "about 10.63 per cent" of Brief Encounter was "definitely filmed" at Carnforth.

* You may notice a shift in position of the column this week from its previous place at the back of the travel section. But at least I know where I am, unlike some people working in the guidebook industry. On Wednesday, Lonely Planet marked 10 years of UK operations with a party in London. Some staff took the celebration so seriously that they were rapidly in no fit state to offer travel tips to anyone. At one point, a Planeteer attempted to wrestle the Australian Tourist Commission's giant koala to the ground. Later, a party-lagged writer fell asleep on the night bus and wound up in Walthamstow, from where he had to walk six miles home.

Worse still, a cartographer who was evidently one compass reading short of a bearing took a train from King's Cross in the fond but mistaken belief that it was bound for St Alban's. He compounded his error by dozing off soon after Finsbury Park, and woke with a start when it stopped in Peterborough, 75 miles north. Showing the shoestring spirit, he slept rough at the station before catching an early southbound train. He arrived at work with time to spare but without his spectacles, from which he had become parted at some point on his epic voyage.

I think we should be told which guide book he was drawing for that day.

Simon.Calder@independent.co.uk

Comments