The creator of the popular Rail Atlas of Great Britain and Ireland, Stuart Baker, died in early November following an illness.
First published in 1977, the atlas has chronicled the changes in Britain’s railway, covering main lines, metro and tram networks and heritage railways, as well as projects due for completion.
Born in Sheffield, Baker was educated in Bradford and graduated in chemistry from Lincoln College, Oxford. He joined the railway in 1977 and held roles within the industry and at the Department for Transport. He was Route Manager InterCity East Coast and Production Director at Regional Railways North East.
In 2001, he moved to the Strategic Rail Authority, where among his other achievements he was instrumental in the West Coast Route Modernisation programme, paving the way for the Very High Frequency timetable which helped to increase passenger numbers on Europe’s busiest mixed-traffic railway.
He transferred to the Department of Transport in 2005, and led projects including the InterCity Express Programme, Reading station and flyover, Northern Hub and the Trans-Pennine upgrade. He was a devoted family man, widely travelled and much respected throughout the industry.
Stuart took early retirement in 2018. He is survived by his wife Elizabeth and two children.
One of his colleagues, former Strategic Rail Authority Head of Franchise Planning Jim Collins, paid tribute to him:
I first met Stuart in September 1977, when we arrived at The Grove to start the BR Traffic Management Training Scheme together. He was a fresh-faced graduate from Oxford but had already experienced frontline work in the Travel Centre at Oxford in the run-up to our course starting.
The first edition of his Atlas had just been published - a labour of love for him, and for the rest of us an essential tool when exploring those parts of the network that were not home turf. Needless to say, we were quick to point out errors in his first edition! Being wise, he sent the draft pages of the second edition to those with an interest in maps, to check the latest status of lines on a rapidly changing (mainly declining) network.
Even in those early days it was obvious that Stuart was thoughtful, intelligent and full of ideas. Some of the defining characteristics of his future career were just starting to emerge - in particular his playful nature, and the amusement he had in those around him on the course who were sometimes a little naive in the ways of the railway.
Stuart made us all laugh - his mischievous stories were told throughout his career and in later days featured some very senior politicians and railway managers. He certainly got into many scrapes over the years.
Over the past decade, I was often his technical advisor and I had to explain what he really meant to those who just couldn’t cope with the speed at which Stuart could develop creative solutions to intractable problems on the network.
One of the first times I saw Stuart in a scrape was when we were doing our Rules and Regulations training at The Grove.
As part of this course, BR had staged a collision between passenger and freight trains on the disused Poplar branch in East London - vanfits were strewn everywhere. We were sent in as teams to investigate, interview the local staff, and prepare an accident report.
Being a disused line, it attracted dog walkers and others on a sunny day. Stuart led his team as the senior officer on site, and being highly observant, he noticed that some teenagers were on the track near the derailment.
As Stuart and his team approached the group of lads, they ran off. Thinking this was all part of BR’s simulation, he chased after them with his team in hot pursuit. Stuart’s team were not seen again until the minibus arrived to take us back to The Grove. He wasted most of the allotted time on this chase, and his team therefore ran out of time to complete the task.
We both worked together under Don Badley at Preston Area, and then again at York Area under Phil Benham. Later, at the SRA, I was nominally Stuart’s line manager for a brief period.
He was working on the West Coast Very High Frequency timetable and it was time for him to brief the senior team on current progress. It was a Stuart tour de force. He spoke for several hours without notes about every conceivable aspect of the plan, down to individual rolling stock and train crew diagrams from Euston to Scotland.
I sensed a little fatigue in the audience towards the end and I leaned across to Nicola Shaw, who was sitting next to me, and whispered: “I hope you are keeping a good record of Stuart’s plan.”
She looked at me somewhat concerned and asked why, to which I replied: “It will all be different in the morning as he will have an even better plan by then.”
The poor train planners at Network Rail were normally working on a timetable iteration or two behind Stuart’s specification - he always got to the problems before they did!
In 2004, my friend and colleague Bill Reeve organised an SRA strategic planning conference at The George Hotel in Stamford. One of the many attractions of the venue was a chance to visit Robert Humm’s bookshop at the station, before we set off home.
A group of us were busy selecting quality reading material for the journey when Stuart was overheard enquiring if Robert had a copy of the latest edition of Rail Atlas of Great Britain by Stuart Baker.
“I think we are out of stock, but can I ask who is asking so I can put one aside for you?” he was told.
“Stuart Baker,” came the reply, adding that he was just checking on the efficacy of distribution from the publisher. There was great laughter all round, but he was treated with great reverence as a real celebrity.
Stuart was a wonderful railwayman and treasured friend. I will miss him, as will our great industry.