Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Bow 1977


(All 9.6.1977 copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

Five years after the Okehampton line closed to passengers I took these photos of Bow station.

I'd travelled on the route in the summer of 1972, just before closure to passengers. At that time the line was still double track and I'd managed to get the seat at the front of the DMU which gave me a view of the line ahead. It was impressively engineered and was clearly a former main line. The trains still stopped then at Bow, as well as the other intermediate stations at North Tawton and Sampford Courtenay. The whole trip up from Exeter had been steeped in Southern Railway heritage, despite the line being by then under the control of the Western Region. I was glad I got to travel on this lovely stretch of line as at the time it perhaps seemed that it was gone for good.

It isn't of course. Passenger trains run again - after a fashion - to Okehampton, at least in the summer. But the big development of course is the inevitability of the line's reopening through to Plymouth, inevitable because with sea level rise accelerating and storms getting worse the fantastic line through Dawlish is under a death sentence, although that may well be an extended one. The effect of storm damage to the coastal route is to effectively cut off much of Devon, including the resorts of Torquay and Paignton, together with Plymouth, plus the whole of Cornwall, from the rail network. This of course happened a couple of years ago, and the economic effects were dreadful. Each year the coastal route becomes more vulnerable and more expensive to keep open. A second route is absolutely essential and most of it of course is still there - the line to Meldon to the north of Dartmoor, and the line from Plymouth up to Bere Alston on the western flank, with reopening a further six miles to Tavistock in the pipeline. The stretch in between, only around 20 miles, is still there waiting for the tracks to be relaid.

Hopefully full use will be made of this asset in the future, with regular express and local services (plus freight of course) making full use of the brillinatly engineered ex-SR route between Plymouth and Exeter, feeding far more traffic on to the Exeter-Salisbury-Waterloo route. Capacity needs to be increased, but it's all possible with redoubling of the Exeter-Salisbury line now under way. And hopefully Bow station, and all the other intermediate stations along the route, also get their trains back. Let's do this properly!

Hatfield Peverel 1985


(All pics 11.6.1985 copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

It's Flaming June in 1985 and I've found myself at Hatfield Peverel station somewhere in the east of England.

Whilst it wasn't pleasant taking photos in these conditions as usual the rain brings out a very different feel to a place, giving the shots a bleakness that sunny shots would miss.

It was a busy station with quite a variety of stock coming through. This was the tail end of the BR blue era but a few carriages with Inter-City livery are starting to appear in the loco hauled rakes.

I also tried to capture a few atmosphere/existentialist shots, which I think managed to catch the everyday feel of the place. All in all a good hour or so well spent!

Friday, 12 August 2016


(All 7.8.2016 copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

As part of my long weekend 60th birthday celebrations we took a trip to the Isle of Wight on Sunday and rather than use the steam railway we preferred (as we had three non railfans) to take a trip on the electric line from Ryde Esplanade down to Shanklin. It's been almost 40 years since I last travelled on the Isle of Wight trains and it was nice to see that not too much had changed! Still the old underground stock, although newer than the last time I was there, surprised to see the pier was single track (with the second track still in place) and nice to see two new stations since my last visit (Smallbrook Junction and Lake). The trains we used were both full, which was good to see. Shanklin was a far more interesting destination than Wootton would have been, with the seaside busy and some nice pubs and restaurants along the front.

A real treat was the hovercraft that took us over to the island. This is a wonderful service, quick and busy. It kept the 'real heritage' experience going, the 60s feel of the hovercraft and the earlier feel of the trains providing an experience of real history still doing the job it's supposed to. A highly recommended day out. My next WILL include the steam railway!

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Wellingborough 1985


(All 17.6.1985 copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

On a dull 17 June 1985 I found myself at Wellingborough station, in Northamptonshire. There were plenty of photo opportunities, there was still a working signalbox, semaphore signals and some earlier signage.

Trains were either first generation DMUs and HSTs, but I did also capture a class 31 on what appeared to be a one parcels coach train.

By 1985 the station had lost some of its importance with the loss of the Market Harborough line (closed to passengers in 1964) and also the short branch to Higham Ferrers. Both these lines have preservation schemes based on them. In 1985 the station looked practically empty but, in common with just about everywhere on the rail network, passenger traffic has steadily increased in recent years with passenger numbers now approaching one million per annum.

These pictures reflect that brief hiatus in the 70s and 80s when the railways were underused and there was still surplus capacity in many places. There were still physical links to the steam era, and little attempt to make the environment friendly or attractive. And those empty platforms! Where can you find that these days?

Nowadays with both passenger and freight traffic growing steadily there are plans to reinstate one of the running lines and the currently closed platform 4 to allow greater capacity at the site.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Hunstanton - time to start stirring


(All pics sourced via the Internet)

The British seaside town was one of the biggest victims of the Beeching cuts, as many seaside resorts were served by branch lines rather than stations on main lines. There was a synergy between closing lines and a more affluent Britain falling in love with resorts overseas (or more precisely the weather of resorts overseas!) This all took place in the 1960s and 1970s, and there was wholesale destruction of lines to seaside resorts in this period. Even quite large resorts were not immune to this process despite retaining a reasonably healthy trade - Ilfracombe, Bude, Swanage, Minehead and many others all fell victim to this carnage. 

One victim was Hunstanton, but this wasn't a Beeching cut. Like the Swanage branch it was a step beyond Beeching, he'd recommended the branch remain. But a process of running down the route, coupled with the structural issues outlined above, left it stranded as a long siding, serving a town that could no longer compete with Benidorm or Majorca. Even the presence of the royal station at Wolferton wasn't enough to keep the line running. On 5 May 1969 the line closed completely, making Hunstanton just one more run down seaside resort lacking a vital amenity.

The line originally opened in 1862, and Hunstanton station was built to handle the big crowds that soon flocked to the town, almost all being brought in by train.There were two very long island platforms to handle the traffic, at its peak (always on a Sunday) there were trains every ten minutes.
Passenger traffic reached its peak in the mid fifties, as Britain boomed after the war ended, and before most families had acquired a car. The line closed to freight traffic in 1964. Most through services to Liverpool Street ceased in 1959, leaving just a basic shuttle service on the line between King's Lynn and Hunstanton. A few through trains struggled on, in 1966 these had been reduced to one working on weekdays with two up and one down on summer Saturdays. The line was singled on 2 March 1967, this was the death knell for throiugh trains as just about all sidings were also removed. With the line looking more run down and services less and less attractive ridership continued to fall. The line closed for the sake of just £40,000, the loss in its last year of operation, with no attempts made to increase traffic or utilise the line's resources.

Nearly 50 years on the world has changed. British seaside resorts are experiencing something of a revival, based around short stays rather than week or two week holidays. Seaside resorts with a rain service have an automatic advantage over rail-less resorts - you can avoid the traffic jams commonplace near seaside resorts as everyone tries to get in at the same time on the same road. Add steam like at Swanage and Minehead and the attraction of a community/heritage line is plain for all to see. 

There has always been some demand for the line to Hunstanton to return, and for all the usual reasons. So, thanks to a lot of demands, I've set up a Reversing Beeching group just for the line. This will allow interested parties to look at ways of getting the line back. Now a Reversing Beeching group is just that, a Facebook point of contact. It doesn't claim to be a preservation society or anything else. But that CAN grow out of a Facebook group, as Combe Rail has down in Ilfracombe. So if you want t help get things rolling at Hunstanton as a first step why not join and get involved? This is a line through flat country with few engineering works. The demand for the line is already there, even Beeching recognised this. And it's an area with few if any community or heritage lines so a good volunteer base is waiting there!

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Through Great Yarmouth Streets

Yarmouth Quay 29.1.1985

Yarmouth Quay Coal in, 1960s with D11104

Yarmouth Quay South Quay 1955 Copyright Jack Harrison

Yarmouth Quay Steam Tram on the Quay

(All pics sourced via the Internet)

Back in about 1968 we went on a family holiday to Great Yarmouth. This was seriously unusual territory for us, almost abroad! I was just starting to develop an interest in railways then and the caravan park being right next to Vauxhall station was a real bonus! Lots of unusual trains and locomotives, I even saw a steam worked breakdown crane there.

Towards Lowestoft there was the mysterious  South Town station which at first sight looked disused but actually wasn't. I really regret now that I didn't travel on this line to Lowestoft as it closed the following year, but at 12 years old I didn't have a great deal of freedom!

A real surprise was not only the street running lines in town but the fact I even got to see a locomotive running along one of them. This was a remnant of the dock lines, which once connected Vauxhall and the other Great Yarmouth station, Yarmouth Beach, to the docks in town.

This extensive system grew from the Yarmouth Union Railway which aimed to link Yarmouth's three termini, which were completely isolated from each other. The YUR was incorporated on August 26 1880 to link the termini. The line originally was short, just over a mile long, starting at a junction just outside of Yarmouth Beach station, across Caister Road, then due south through the town on a route that followed the backs of houses in Alderson Road. From here it became street running by the White Swan Inn and then made a junction with the GER tramway route from Vauxhall station just east of the Bure river bridge. From here the line continued to the principal quays alongside the river Yare.

The quay lines were worked by steam tram engines, these being shedded in the engine shed at Vauxhall when not being used. These worked for many decades along streets and quays, bringing coal and salt in and fish out. The steam locos gave way to diesels from the 1950s.

All of the lines were abandoned by the 1970s (so I only just caught them in action) and most were lifted by 1985, though some short stretches still remain along the south quays.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Brighton tramways

(Pics sourced via Internet)

The Brighton Tramway network was run by Brighton Corporation, the first line opening on 25 November 1901 and the last route closing on 1 September 1939. The gauge of the network was 3 feet 6 inches. All lines were electrified from the start.

There were 8 routes at the network's peak. Routes had letters rather than the usual numbers.

Route B ran from the Aquarium to Beaconsfield Road with trams every 4 minutes. Route C ran from Seven Dials to Lower Rock Gardens every 5 minutes. Route D from Aquarium to Ditchling Road ran every 4 minutes. Route E ran from Aquarium to Race Hill every 10 minutes. Route L ran from Aquarium to Lewes Road every 4 minutes. Route N ran from Aquarium to Dyke Road every 5 minutes. Route Q ran from Aquarium to Queen's Park every 10 minutes and Route S ran from Aquzrium to Brighton Station every 5 minutes.

There was a tram depot at Lewes Road, just short of the tram terminus, this building is now used by Brighton and Hove buses as its central depot.

The last routes were replaced by either buses or trolleybuses.

The total route length at its greatest extent was 9.48 miles.

Some infrastructure survives from the tramways, including shelters at Ditchling Road (Florence Place), Queen's Park Road (Pepperpot) and Dyke Road (Reservoir). One found a new home on the Volk's Electric Railway. Three others survive elsewhere, two at the Amberley Museum and one at Stanmer Rural Museum.

One tramcar also survives, number 53, and a society exists to restore this.

A tramway also operated between Hove and Shoreham. This was always steam worked and operated between 1884 and 1913. This had no connection with the Brighton Tramway system.