Thursday, 9 August 2018

Into the Woods

(All pics 5.8.2018 copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

I managed my annual visit to a heritage railway on Sunday, visiting the Dean Forest Railway for the first time, despite it being less than an hour away.

The weather was hot and sunny, which proved to be the only downside of the day! I was immediately impressed by the facilities at Norchard, huge car park, excellent restaurant with an incredible range of vegetarian and vegan food. Lovely shop and a real bonus carriage full of nice, low priced, secondhand books.

The weather meant that steam was limited to the Norchard to Lydney Junction section, with a DMU service up to Parkend. Norchard has a strange layout with both low level and high level platforms, which made this operation straightforward.

We'd booked a cream tea trip along the line, the ticket was a rover ticket so before the 3 o'clock trip (which we assumed was going up to Parkend) we took a trip down to Lydney Junction. This is the more urban section of the route which threads through Lydney town itself with three level crossings, one manually operated. There's an intermediate station at Lydney Town, plus an abandoned station nearby. Lydney Junction is spacious and just 200 metres from the main line station.

Back at Norchard we discovered that the cream tea train wasn't going to Parkend as expected, but was going back down to the Junction! And our reserved seat was on the sunny side. We made it, just, but the heat won and we didn't take the train up to Parkend because of this.

Still a great day out, with a definite return to do the Parkend stretch on the cards and, hopefully by 2021, the new route beyond up to Cinderford.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Padstow - what were they thinking?

(All pics copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

Padstow was once the furthest point you could reach on the Southern Railway/Region from London - 259 and a quarter miles. You can still see the milepost if you know where to look in Padstow, but not at its original location.

Padstow had two lines, one from Bodmin Road on the GWR Cornwall Main Line and the other via Okehampton and Halwill Junction on the North Cornwall line. Both lines were closed in 1967, just before the summer season. I have read that Padstow couldn't wait to lose its railway, but I suspect this is apocryphal!

Today Padstow is a huge tourist draw, we were down there for a week in June, The location is fantastic and as someone used to the crowds in the various Disney parks around the world I didn't find the crowds too daunting!

But today you can't reach Padstow by train. It is ridiculous. A railway to Padstow would take many cars and lorries off the road and would be an attraction in itself. It will also make both Padstow and Wadebridge resilient to transport problems as the energy crisis deepens. The sad thing is that much of the route is still there, tantalisingly close, ending in a field somewhere to the east of Wadebridge. The Bodmin and Wenford Railway run heritage trains on the line, and it's a very nice set up.

Wadebridge is the other issue. A large town for Cornwall with no modern transport link. It needs one. The line would run from Bodmin Road through Bodmin and Wadebridge to Padstow. Ideally it would offer a cheap transport option for passengers and freight, with premium rate heritage trains in the summer. Incredibly street running has already been proposed for the section through Wadebridge, which would link the line to the east to the existing and fully preserved for future rail use stretch to the west of Wadebridge which currently serves as a cycleway.

It seems odd that Padstow lost its trains while other smaller, or similar sized, resorts kept theirs. St Ives, Newquay, Falmouth and Looe now have thriving branch lines. I suspect the reason was regional rivalry plus the odd operating set up on the lines at Bodmin with two termini rather than a single through station. It could be that Bodmin needs a new through station to make the journey quicker.

The whole issue underlying this is that many lines were closed in haste, and would never close now. In the 60s we thought road traffic would last for ever, we are a lot wiser now! All year railways are needed in many parts of the UK, some routes are already partially or even completely restored by heritage groups. Swanage is now operating both  heritage and Network trains, the line has become 'real' again and Swanage is thriving because of it. Elsewhere some Network lines have heritage aspects to them, the Looe line for example. 

Padstow is a honeypot just waiting to be reopened. What are we waiting for?

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

British Rail steam in 1978

(All pics 2.6.1978 copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

British Rail steam didn't end on 11 August 1968, as some people think. Almost ten years later it was still going strong on just one line, the narrow gauge route from Aberystwyth to Devil's Bridge. It was to continue until 1989, when the line was the first part of BR to be privatised. The line of course continues to this day, still steam worked.

Back in 1978 I was on holiday at a campsite right next to the line. These were some pictures I took on a warm and sunny afternoon in June, capturing BR steam and the tiny halt at Llanbadarn, then of course a fully fledged British Rail station.

In 1978 this was a real railway with paid staff. Like everywhere else on the Network rail blue predominated, and the VoR locos were the only steam locos ever to receive the BR double arrow symbol.

Friday, 27 April 2018

The Wolverton and Stony Stratford Tramway

(All pics sourced via Google)

The Wolverton and Stony Stratford Tramway opened in 1887 and was 2.7 miles (4.3 km) long, with an extension to Deanshanger (2 miles/3.2 km) opened the following year. The company was bankrupt by 1889!

The line was saved by a group of Bedfordshire businessmen and the original section was reopened in 1891. The section to Deanshanger never reopened, making this a very early tramway closure, the tracks remaining in place for many years after.

The line was taken over by the LNWR in the early 1920s, and became part of the LMS in 1923. This rare circumstance of a steam tramway becoming part of one of the Big Four only lasted 3 years, as the tramway closed completely in 1926. For nearly forty years the tramway operated the largest tramcars ever to run through the streets of a British town, particularly impressive as the line ran on 3'6" gauge tracks. The main traffic was rail workers travelling from their homes along the route to the huge railway works at Wolverton, and the trams were busy thanks to this traffic. The line ran through open countryside between the two towns.

On closure the line was the last street tramway worked by steam in Great Britain. 

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Next stop on the S&D - Chilcompton?


Painting by Wynne B Jones website

The S&D is unusual in that there are currently five active sites along the route restoring the line and/or stations, including the narrow gauge Gartell Railway, just south of Templecombe.

There are now stirrings at Chilcompton, the next station after Midsomer Norton on the route south.
At the New S&D we'd always hoped this was a process that would happen, spurred on by successes elsewhere on the route.

It's still early days of course, but the group's first move is to set up a Facebook group. We urge all S&D fans to join it, so the creators can see just how much support there is out there for the S&D.

The best thing about the Chilcompton site is that it is very close to the existing line at Midsomer Norton, on the almost-blockage-free Radstock to Shepton section.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Hong Kong Tramways

Joining the main route from the Happy Valley loop.

North Point route.

North Point.

North Point.

North Point.

(All pics March 2018 copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

Back from my first ever trip to Asia, a week in Hong Kong. Going eastwards means you get the jet lag ON the holiday, rather than when you get back, and it took a couple of days to regain normality!

There are of course many attractions in Hong Kong, not all rail based, and we visited Disneyland (tiny compared to Orlando) and made a few other touristy trips.

The tramway was just one block away from our hotel. The tramway runs on Hong Kong Island, across the water from Kowloon. It's 3 feet 6 inch gauge and the entire route survives. There's one long main route, double track throughout, together with a one way single track route via Happy Valley, a one block 'branch' to North Point, really a reversing loop, but through one of the more interesting streets in Hong Kong, and an even smaller reversing loop at Western Market.

The entire route is urban, with high rise buildings on either side. All the trams are double deckers, very British in appearance and atmosphere, and they rumble along old school style! It's not a quick way of getting around, but it's a lot less crowded than the Metro and any journey is just HK$2.3 (23p in March 2018!)

There are only three tram systems in the world that still use double deckers, the other two being Alexandria in Egypt and Blackpool.

The one development I'd like to see is a new route linking the Star Ferries terminal and the bottom station of the Peak Tramway. Hong Kong has invested heavily in a new light rail system in it's north west corner on the mainland, which carries nearly a million people daily, so it's not an impossibility.