Harry Knox

Harry Knox was a good railwayman. To those in the business, that understated, simple accolade says an awful lot in itself. But Harry was much more than a railwayman: he was artist, walker, cyclist, gourmet, wine connoisseur, chef, country dancer – and author. It was through his books that many thousands of people came to know him and the railway. He covered life on the footplate and, more than any other author, explored and explained the low life and high life of locomotive depots. The real work of cleaners, fitters, list clerks, and the bosses was depicted.
Blessed with a remarkable memory for the names and stories which lay behind mere engine numbers or shedplates, Harry brought the railway to life. Read his account of firing on an ore train from Crew Junction to Clyde Iron Works, disturbing the dozing, douce denizens of Edinburgh in the wee sma’ ’oors, to understand the day-to-day craftsmanship on the railway. His background was in the shale country to the west, which led him to produce the definitive academic work on the shale industry in the Lothians. Harry’s books were ever well researched. This pursuit of accurate information also meant that a tour of the city of Edinburgh under his guidance could be a revelation. It was a disappointment that Harry was not given time to complete another book, in which he had begun to tell tales of life off the footplate, recounting the people, personalities and tasks he encountered as he worked his way up the operations side of the railway. He knew that railway, the real railway, the 24/7 railway of dark nights, tough weather, and sometimes tragedy. As a young man, he was propelled by wise old managers into challenging jobs, largely on the old Caley side of Lanarkshire: jobs which gave him his assured touch in handling anything from out-of-gauge loads, to carriage cleaning, to engineering possessions, to accidents, the Account Current, and errant staff. His final job ‘outside’ was Area Manager, Bathgate, where he and his folk dealt with the car trains and shifting the shale bings of the Lothians to the motorways of the west. He was also responsible for the day-to-day operations of the east side of the E&G. But there was no passenger service to Bathgate. When that came, Harry’s knowledge of signalling and the area was there in the background, while an ingenious and unique cocktail of arrangements was devised to make the service affordable.
His move ‘inside’, to be the Rules and Signalling Officer for the Scottish Region of British Railways, brought him into robust discussions with some naïve but thrusting financial managers, whose ideas for pruning track layouts and signalling conflicted with safety and commonsense. This role meant also a heavy contribution at UK level in London with the innovative new Rule Book, and the setting of national signalling standards. Harry was much involved with getting into service the Radio Electronic Block system, which largely ensured the survival of the West Highland and Far North lines, and the Yoker Integrated Electronic Control Centre.
Harry then tackled the wider world, living for three years in Sydney and working with all the Australian railways and in New Zealand. He was no stranger in the Irish Republic either. Everywhere, people admired his range of knowledge and his forensic skills, concluding with uncompromising reports. His experience had taught him how to hold his corner, as ever the professional railwayman. A good railwayman, and more. One of the best. Jim Summers

Harry Knox was a regular contributor to the North British Railway Society Journal from which the above was obtained. There is a portrait of him siiting at the controls of  an LNER Pacific taken at Shil;don in 2017,