"Fife's Railways Remembered" by Michael Mather is essentially a collection of photographs of trains and railways in Fife. As the author notes in his introduction, Fife got its first main line railway in 1847-50, and this was followed by a network of main, secondary and branch lines that were built during the remainder of that century. This left Fife well served by rail, a situation that lasted until the Beeching cuts of the 1960s: which left far fewer lines and stations in use than was formerly the case.
Many of the photographs in this book are from the 1950s and 1960s, the closing years of the golden age of Fife's railways, though some date back much further, and some are more recent. In effect the author takes his readers on a tour of Fife's railways, both closed and still operational, often providing a selection of views of each location. The photographs divide roughly evenly between colour and black & white, with the occasional old tinted postcard is included to add variety. Each photograph is accompanied by a detailed and informative caption that helps set it in context, and in many ways these captions are what really bring the book to life.
This book will of course be of great interest to railway enthusiasts, but it's geographical focus gives it a wider value. We were fascinated to look past the trains in many pictures to their settings, often places in Fife that have changed out of all recognition since: not least because many of the railways, and the collieries and docks served by some of those railways, no longer exist. The way the past is brought to life through these photographs gives the book a considerably wider value, helping shine a light on a part of Fife's past that feels like another world.
One striking feature of the selection of images is the number that show the different ways that things that can go wrong on railways, from the Wormit rail disaster in 1955 through to any number of derailments (two, twenty years apart, on the same stretch of track) and the tragic aftermath of a bridge that collapsed under the weight of a low-loader carrying a mechanical excavator in 1950. Rail is, of course a remarkably safe way to travel, but it's worth remembering that mishaps can happen, and did so rather more frequently in the past than they do today.