Friday, 30 March 2012


Rail Thing has just acquired this superb atmosphere shot of the final few weeks of steam, location is Bare Lane in Morecambe. It doesn't matter to me that the loco is unidentified and can only just be seen  - the attraction is the sheer ordinariness of this shot with the cars dating it perfectly and capturing steam's last summer. It follows on perfectly from yesterday's musings above the frozen history of the heritage line, and the subsequent lack of atmosphere or relevance.

I've always been interested in the overall railway scene, rather than specific aspects of it, and admire the work of those photographers who tried to set the train and railway in its social context. I've rarely seen a better shot than this, which does it all for me, though not seemingly to anyone else as I won it unchallenged on eBay!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

the problem with heritage railways

(All 1.9.1972)

I'm glad we have a lot of heritage railways in the UK but I'll be a lot happier when they begin to morph into proper community railways as I reckon that will protect them from the ravages of Peak Oil and the hands of the government!

It's great that in 2012 we can still see rural steam trains running through beautiful countryside, and I can think of few better ways of spending a day than at a heritage line.

But one problem for me is that they freeze history. Look at  these shots, apart from a few details they  could have been taken last summer. Heritage railways don't really change with the times, and photos don't capture a true railway atmosphere for this reason.

I'd much rather have been down at Totnes photographing the Westerns etc that were travelling through, because I'd have caught a moment in time (and would have FAR more valuable negatives!) I could have returned to Buckfastleigh at any time and could have captured just about the same shot.

I'm not offering any cure for this problem, just making an observation!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

bern worb 1987

(All 17.6.1987)

Despite appearances this is a railway, not tramway. This is the Bern Worb Bahnen, with trains at their own dedicated station in Bern. There are two routes to Worb from Bern and both were (and are) very busy, providing an excellent, clean and sustainable commuter service into Switzerland's capital. The other line is far more railway like and starts from a smart underground station under the main SBB station in Bern. Both lines are metre guage, like most Swiss light railways.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

hythe 1986

This is the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch line at Hythe back in 1986.

I always liked this line which is pretty much unique in the  world. A miniature railway of 15" gauge that provides a proper passenger service.

It could do a lot more though. It needs main line connections, at Hythe, New Romney or Dungeness. There are standard gauge trackbeds and goods lines that could easily be converted to 15 inch gauge. At the moment everyone has to come in by car or bus, not a good recipe for future survival. It would be good to generate freight traffic as well. And perhaps the 15 inch gauge would be a very good cheap alternative for light to medium trafficed routes in the future - particularly for short branch lines (five miles or less) and some industrial lines. Fifteen inch gauge lines may well become very commonplace in the future - their development was rather stunted by the appearance of cheap oil, with the end of cheap oil the development of the gauge can proceed!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

shropshire and montgomeryshire railway

(All copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing 22.10.1986)

25 years ago there was still a short section of the erstwhile Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Railway that had track and occasional freight workings. This was a mile or so in Shrewsbury and ran to the site of the Shrewsbury Abbey station. This was an interesting line with a chequered history but it survived intact until the early 1960s being operated by the MOD and serving ammunition dumps in the area. It had been closed a couple of times in the past before complete closure.

I don't imagine that this short stretch survives now though I stand to be corrected!

Maesbrook 1962 - back when more of the line still existed! Photo copyright Rail Thing.

The Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Light Railway was a railway running from ShrewsburyEngland to LlanymynechWales, with a branch to Criggion. The line was taken over by the War Department in 1941, and extensively reconstructed to serve Central Ammunition Depot Nesscliffe. It was finally closed in 1960.


It opened in 1911, running the reconstructed Potteries, Shrewsbury and North Wales Railway which continunued to be owned by the Shropshire Railways Company, and was one of the Colonel Stephens Railways. It lost its passenger services in 1933, although some limited bank holiday services for tourists continued until 1937.


The terminus of the line was at Shrewsbury Abbey station not at Shrewsbury railway station. This was because the joint operators, Great Western Railway (GWR) and the London and North Western Railway (LNWR).[1] refused to let the smaller company have access to mainline services. After the main railway closed Shrewsbury Abbey was retained as an oil depot siding connected to a stub of the Severn Valley branch. The site finally closed in 1988. A new road in the area has been named "Old Potts Way" as a reminder of what was known as the Potts Railway.
A number of the stations shown in the diagram were added after the closure of the original Potteries, Shrewsbury & North Wales Railway.

CAD Nesscliffe

Main article: Nesscliffe
Central Ammunition Depot Nesscliffe was developed by the War Office/Ministry of Defence during World War II as an ammunition dump. To service the extensive property, the MoD took over the virtually defunct S&MR from 1941, and built extensive additional service tracks along the 8.75 miles (14.08 km) of railway line from Maesbrook to the former Ford and Crossgate railway station, south of the River Severn.
Like a typical ammunition depot, the site was laid out over an extensive area to avoid total destruction should an accidental explosion occur, or the site be attacked by enemy. The site was made up of four sub-sites: Kinnerley; Pentre; Ford; and Argoed. The four sites were capable of storing around 50,000 tonnes (55,000 tons) of shells.
There was also a sub-site at Loton Park, under the Alberbury medieval deer park, used for storage of both incendiary ammunition andchemical weapons shells from 1943. This was one of two CW depots operated in co-operation with and guarded by the United States Army Air Forces, the second being in Shepton MalletSomerset.
Locomotives and train drivers were provided by the Royal Engineers, who also maintained the extensive network. Their main servicing depot for rolling stock was on the stub-junction of the former branchline to Criggion.


Ammunition storage officially stopped in 1959 on site, and the ammunition depot closed in 1961, when the railway tracks were removed. Operational locomotives were moved to the Longmoor Military Railway, while non-operational were sold-off commercially.
Since this time, the 1,717 acres (695 ha) of flat pastureland have formed the British Army's Nesscliffe training area, capable of accommodation up to 530 personnel.



0-4-2T 'Gazelle' was used on the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Railway in its military days. Museum of Army Transport, Beverley 8 August 1995.
The Hawthorn Leslie locomotives were new in 1911 but all the others were second-hand. Both the Hawthorn Leslies left between 1914 and 1916. Thisbe and Pyramus were sold to the government in 1916 and seem initially to have gone to the Cannock Chase Military Railway. Thisbe went to the Woolmer Instructional Military Railway where she lasted until 1931 whilst Pryamus was sold for industrial use in 1921. They were replaced by two "Ilfracombe Goods" locomotives which took the same names.


Locomotive stock in 1941 consisted of: Gazelle, Hesperus and the three LNWR 0-6-0s. These were supplemented by various War Department locomotives, including ex-GWR 2301 Class 'Dean goods' 0-6-0s and Hunslet Austerity 0-6-0STs. From 1945, the Criggion branch was operated by a Sentinel steam locomotive (works no. 7026) owned by the British Quarrying Company.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012



Leysin Feyday



Leysin Grand Hotel



The line I know best in Switzerland is the CF Aigle-Leysin, locally known as the Cog. This runs from Aigle on the main line up to the skiing town of Leysin. I have spent many months in Leysin, including a whole winter. This is the easiest way to travel, the road is 15km whilst the railway is 5km, thanks to using the rack. Leysin has four stations, all at different levels. The line runs tramway style in Aigle to the Depot, where it reverses and immediately gains the rack. The first section runs through vineyards, many of which have their own monorail systems for gathering the grapes.

There's an excellent service, hourly in both directions from about 5am to midnight. Some of the older trains still run, there are also some very modern units. The line is metre gauge, there are two other metre gauge lines originating in Aigle, so it's narrow gauge heaven!

Monday, 12 March 2012


(All 20.5.1977  copyright Rail Thing)

Amberley's a nice little station on the Mid Sussex line between Arundel and Pulborough. It's good that this village has managed to hang on to its station, although the building itself was fire damaged some time after these pictures were taken. There are regular trains to both London and to the south coast. Right next door is the excellent Amberley Chalk Pits Museum which has a lot of railway interest. The Mid Sussex line is quite a gem, south of Amberley it follows a course close to the River Arun cutting through the Downs, with views not possible from any roads.

The line sometimes acts as a (long) diversionary route when there is trouble or engineering work on the Brighton Main Line, though this role will diminish when the Uckfield to Lewes line is reopened and electrified.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

toller interlude

(All copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing 25.2.1975)

Toller was a charming intermediate station on the Bridport branch, and was to close just a few months after these pictures. The Bridport branch was very rural throughout, but did serve the largish town of Bridport. It was perhaps surprising that a rural village like Toller could maintain a station in 1975, I can imagine how the loss of the railway has damaged house prices and will cause real problems in the future if the line is not reopened. But I'm now sure this will happen as being so rural it will be easy to rebuild and demand even now would be much higher than in 1975 which was just about the nadir of the railway system in the UK. Lines like this will be rebuilt in their hundreds as the oil starts to run out, using either flywheel electric transmission or new build ultra-modern steam. The golden age of railway braach lines is ahead, not behind, us!

The station building is now at Totnes (Littlehempston) station on the South Devon Railway, so is still in use.

More info (via Wikipedia)

Toller was a railway station on the Bridport Railway in the west of the English county of Dorset. The station served the village ofToller Porcorum. Opened on 31 March 1862, five years after the branch, it consisted of a single platform and modest wooden building.


Opened by the Bridport Railway, but operated from the outset by the Great Western Railway, it was placed in the Western Region when the railways were nationalised in 1948.
The branch was threatened with closure in the Beeching report, but narrow roads in the area, unsuitable for buses, kept it open until 5 May 1975. In its final years, trains were normally formed of a single carriage Class 121 diesel railcar.

The site today

The platform can still be seen from the overbridge although the building was moved to Littlehempston on the South Devon Railway, a heritage line.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Medstead and Four Marks 1976

(Both copyright Rail Thing 24.6.1976)

The Winchester-Alton line closed on 5.2.1973. This line had been under threat for many years but it was still a surprise to see it go as it provided an excellent alternative route for Waterloo to Southampton and beyond trains when the main line was blocked or there were engineering works. Surely it would have made more sense to electrify it? That way Alresford would have become a proper commuter town. Strange days indeed.

Although a preservation group was soon formed much of the line was still lifted. So in 1976 this delightful intermediate station was railless and resembled many other closed stations at the time.

The line has of course resurfaced as the Watercress Line, gradually being extended back towards Alton from Alresford, and now has a main line connection at Alton, where the electrified route to London begins. Today Medstead and Four Marks has rails again and sees plenty of trains, but sadly few if any of them are 'real' in the sense that they carry ordinary people just wanting to get somewhere, and there's no freight traffic. The section west from Alresford with the intermediate station at Itchen Abbas is still closed, listed and dead.

But surely in the future this strategic route will be rebuilt and through trains will run again, taking pressure off the main line via Basingstoke. It needs to be electrified and take its proper role as a transport artery.

Friday, 9 March 2012

woking 1986

(All copyright Rail Thing 18.8.1986)

Woking is a location I've only ever been to once. It has a very busy service with trains on the main line to Bournemouth and Weymouth as well as the Salisbury and Exeter route. In addition there are suburban trains and the main line electrics down to Portsmouth. I think all the above pictures were taken in about an hour back in 1986. Most in not all of the locos and units featured here no longer exist.