Sunday, 24 November 2013

train travel 2050 style

We took the Cathedrals Express to Ludlow yesterday, picking it up at Bath.

We topped up with water at Magor.

REAL carriage interior!

Hereford stop.

Britannia at Bristol Temple Meads. 

Perhaps the most enduring image of the day ...
We took our first ever steam excursion yesterday, taking the Cathedrals Express from Bath to Ludlow. I wasn't sure what to expect. I have of course travelled by steam on the main line before, but don't have any memories of it! And apart from a few brief glimpses of steam in the sixties - at Waterloo, Ryde, Lyminster and a few other places that was it! Seen plenty on heritage lines, but that's a whole different experience.
All in all it was a great experience but what struck me really strongly was how much a look into the future it is. A busy train, real coaches with space to sit and windows to look out of, superb service and, of course, all pulled by a locomotive that can run on sustainable fuel. The most striking example of this future experience was when we ran alongside an allotment in south Wales, with rows of compost bins looking over vegetables and good soil with a steam train in the background!
On the return we got a taste of the past, or what will soon be the past - a diesel loco heading the train. Britannia stayed on to provide (rather ineffective!) steam heating, but the diesel was doing most of the work.
As always I urge people to get out and travel behind diesel and photograph them as much as possible - it won't be many years before they are replaced by electric and steam locos, and once they are gone they really will be gone forever.
But the highlight of the day, for me and many others standing on the station, was watching - and listening - to Britannia reversing through the main station and vanishing in the dark on its way to London.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

how the future will look

Switzerland is spot on with public transport. A superb national rail network links to dozens of private lines, many narrow gauge, as well as numerous funicular railways, cablecars and urban tramways. Where there isn't rail there is trolleybus or even old fashioned diesel buses. Basically you can get anywhere you want in the country, quickly, cleanly and cheaply. Nobody needs to own a car.
This is the Forchbahn, a suburban light railway which links several small towns and villages to Zurich. It's a single track line but has a very intensive service. The last mile or so is on Zurich city tram tracks, the trains get right into the city centre.
Yet back in the late 1950s this line was under threat of closure. Back then it was a rickety rural tramway, but the Swiss saw sense and rather than close the line modernised it. It's now an absolute showpiece and should become the model for rural and suburban transport throughout Europe,
When the oil runs out the Forchbahn will keep running. House prices will remain the same, people will still be able to get to work, to the shops and indeed anywhere else they need to be by changing to the rail network at Zurich.
This is a roadside route so the land footprint is tiny. The line is electrified using hydro power so is sustainable. The vehicles looked modern even back in 1987, they will almost certainly be running for many decades yet.
This is the future, 1987 style, and we should all be doing everything we can to bring this to the towns and villages of Britain.



Sunday, 3 November 2013

the road thing

Imagine you were standing at Templecombe station in 1952, on a summer Saturday. If I'd told you then that the busy line to Bath and Bournemouth, on which at that time there was a constant stream of passenger and freight trains, would be closed within 14 years and that the very busy station you were standing on, served by both the Somerset and Dorset Railway and the main line from Waterloo to the west of England, would also close on the same day, you'd have probably dismissed me as a nutter! Yet all this came to pass.

Now think about today, think about our busy road network and what is your reaction if I was to say that within 20 years it would nearly all have gone? Pretty much the same I would think!

But think about this. Our rail network wasn't destroyed because the fuel to run it no longer existed. In fact there is still plenty of coal underground in the UK and, more importantly, plenty of commercial forests. But we saw fit to destroy our country's resilience so we could IMPORT oil to run our trains and, of course, our cars, lorries and buses. It was a short term political decision masquerading as an economic one. True, diesels were easier to run and much more comfortable for the people running them. And cars, lorries and buses gave us greater flexibility. Up to a point  ...

But take a look at the picture above. This was our trip into Bristol Friday morning. Two miles, it took about half an hour. Should we have taken the bus? Not really, because look what is a few vehicles ahead of us!

Think of all these stationary vehicles, burning precious oil. Think of it happening all over the world. Oil is a finite resource and most commentators now accept that we have already used more than is left in the ground. And at the same time we are burning more than ever before, not just in road vehicles, but in diesel locomotives, ships, aeroplanes, making plastics and growing food. Our whole economy is built on it, yet within twenty years almost all of it will be gone. Yet to look around you'd think there was an unlimited and renewable supply!

So what exactly do planners and politicians imagine we WILL be using in twenty years' time? They waffle on about exotic things like biofuels (hopeless as they depend on huge fossil fuel INPUTS to grow, and compete with food growing anyway), hydrogen (an energy sink as it is only an energy carrier, not a fuel, so the energy would still need to be generated), electric cars - really, with the power companies already warning us that we face electricity blackouts into the future? Imagine all those electric cars charging up as well! The fact is there isn't a serious contender, and when the oil runs out (or more precisely becomes too expensive for most of us to afford) road transport will come to a stop. There's nothing we can do about this, it's inevitable.

So if we want to keep things moving we need to switch to rail. Some will say 'but doesn't that need energy as well?' Of course it does, but the inherent energy efficiency superiority of rail means that we can move far more freight and people with the same amount of energy. This will become the ONLY factor considered in future transport planning. Rail also has a huge advantage in that the energy can be transmitted to the locomotive, through wires, conductor rails, stubs, conduits etc. This simply can not be done with road vehicles (with the exception of trolleybuses, but they may as well be trams anyway!) - it means both flexibility of delivery system and also (very important in an energy-poor world) the traction units don't need to carry on board fuel.

So the roads may seem busy today, and perhaps look like they will always be there, but return to Templecombe in 1952 and you'll see looks can be deceptive. The roads will begin to empty, less and less money will be available to maintain them (asphalt needs oil for example), people will start demanding an alternative way to get around and all of them will look to rail.

As for Templecombe itself? The station reopened in 1982, the line, which was savagely singled in the 60s, is gradually being returned to double track, soon trains will go beyond Exeter via Okehampton to Plymouth, and even the Somerset and Dorset is gradually being rebuilt. We are already seeing the switch from road to rail happening in this little corner of the world, soon it will be happening everywhere.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

new camera

(All Bristol Parson Street 26.10.2013 copyright Rail Thing)
I treated myself to a new camera the other day and yesterday was the first chance I got to use it on the rails. My stepdaughter lives a minute away from Parson Street so I spent half an hour on the station. I've been here before and found it quite a hard place to photograph, the location is on a curve so there's no a lot of scope to snap the trains, and the bottom half of the platforms is out of bounds and overgrown. Previous shots just haven't worked for me.
The new camera is a Fujifilm Finepix HS50, a bridge camera, and it has an brilliant 42x manual telephoto lens. So I tried something different - actually using the telephoto to follow the trains in. This gave me far more scope to capture the trains and I'm quite pleased with the results.
My wife's keen for me to take up photography full time, which would be a great idea, but having run businesses for years I know just how difficult it can be to make a living from anything, let alone from something you love doing! We'll see ...

Friday, 13 September 2013

fragile link

I'm off to Plymouth on Monday for a couple of days, going by train of course. Storms are forecast for Sunday and Monday, a bit too early in the autumn for my taste.
It brings the fragility of what is currently the ONLY rail link to southern Devon and Cornwall. Of course it wasn't always this way and up to 1968 you have the choice of travelling via Newton Abbot or Okehampton. Until 1967 there was a third (but very rural and slow) link via the North Cornwall line. Perhaps by the logic of the times the North Cornwall should have been closed (but obviously the route preserved) but what madness affected bureaucrats back then then that allowed them to even consider closure of the Southern main line via Okehampton? Both ends (Plymouth-Bere Alston and Crediton-Okehampton) were retained anyway, and the line to Meldon Quarry, beyond Okehampton, had to stay open for freight. And the big town of Tavistock lost it's modern transport! You really couldn't make it up. Okay, Tavistock will be reopening soon but the entire route not only needs to be reopened soon, but proper through trains routed via it right from the start - Waterloo to Plymouth via Okehampton for example.
So I have to worry that getting to Plymouth on Monday may well be weather affected. The sea route, possibly the best in England, is a fragile thing indeed. The land round those parts has been sinking at the rate of around two inches a century since the end of the ice age. But far worse is the rise in sea levels now happening thanks to climate change, anything from 2 to 3mm a YEAR. With rising temperatures also giving storms more energy the outlook for the coastal line is bleak indeed.
It seems incredible to me that a large area of the UK could be cut off for days or even weeks if a serious storm hits the area. That diversionary route needs to be in place NOW, it may be too late in ten or twenty years time. As road traffic continues to fall despite cheap fuel the railway becomes more and more important. A small step towards tilting this balance will be the reopening - THROUGHOUT - of the Okehampton route.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

selsey tramway


Chichester station.

Chichester station.

Chalder remains.


Selsey Town, one of Selsey's four stations.

Selsey engine shed.

Canal bridge at Hunston.

1910 floods at Sidlesham. 


The only piece of track currently on the line.

I discovered the Selsey Tramway reading through library books in about 1969. I remember seeing a picture of a derelict engine outside a derelict engine shed, and quickly found a map with the route on. Next step was a long cycle ride from Littlehampton with my brother, at the time I had no idea whether the line was still there or abandoned. Shattered we reached the line near Sidlesham and of course could hardly tell where it had run.

So I found out more about this eccentric line with its multitude of stations and big ideas which came to a shuddering halt in 1935, 34 years before I discovered it. It's funny to think that 44 years have since passed since I first found out about the line, yet back then it seemed like something out of ancient history! What does that say about me?

I made a few more trips over the years, usually taking the train to Chichester then walking south. There was the station platform at Hunston and the remains of the canal bridge, the two connected by a footpath along the route.

Many years later when I lived in Bosham I wrote a letter to the local paper after it had run an article on the terrible quality of the road from Selsey to Chichester, suggesting the line be rebuilt. Amazingly in the very same edition there was a totally separate piece on a meeting to discuss the very same thing! Obviously I went along and my reputation (thanks to the letter) had preceded me and I was (rather reluctantly on my part) elected to be vice chair!

The group flourished but unfortunately I had to move away from the area and I've not been able to find any references to it on the web, which suggests the group folded. It was way ahead of its time, we didn't even mention Peak Oil or Climate Change back then! The plan was a new build route using PPMs for passengers and heavier diesels for freight. Perhaps it was this plan that led much later to the germ of the idea for the New S&D.

Obviously a rebuilt Selsey Tramway would be very successful. There would be few engineering works, the line would help to quieten the road and would bring loads of visitors to the town who currently just avoid it (because of the road!) It would give Selsey and the villages in between a modern and resilient transport link, which could also extend to the Witterings. The only downside is the vulnerability to most of Selsey Bill (and most of the tramway route) to climate change induced sea level rise. But the biggest problem with the tramway? It was 150 years too early!

More info (from Wikipedia)

The West Sussex Railway opened in 1897 as the Hundred of Manhood and Selsey Tramway, running from Chichester to Selsey, in West Sussex. It was built to standard gauge, but as a tramway in order to avoid having to comply with regulations that covered railways. It later changed its name to the West Sussex Railway (Tramway Section). It was engineered by H. F. Stephens, later Colonel Stephens.
It suffered from the inundation of December 1910 near Pagham, and had to carry out work to raise the level of the railway in the area.
Successful in the era before the First World War, it gradually declined in the face of road competition; it responded by the most stringent economies, and it introduced petroleum fuelled rail cars to operate the service.
It finally closed in January 1935; little remains of the railway.


Selsey Tramway Station
The passing of the Light Railways Act in 1896 prompted local businessmen to consider whether a light railway connection to Selsey could be made. The town lies on the coast about 8 miles south of the City of Chichester. As they prepared their scheme, they found that it would be possible to get authorisation much more simply under the Railway Construction Facilities Act, 1864. By structuring the line as a tramway, the numerous public road level crossings would not require the special safety arrangements required for railway operation, and accordingly they formed the Hundred of Manhood and Selsey Tramway. The Company was incorporated on 29 April 1896.

Lift bridge at crossing of the Chichester Canal
H. F. Stephens was appointed as engineer to design the line and supervise construction; this was his second such role, after the Rye and Camber Tramway. His subsequent career pursued several very local lines often run on minimal finance; during war service he became (Lieutenant-) Colonel Stephens, by which he is better known.

Lift bridge over Chichester Canal, 1897
The land was acquired from co-operative landowners without the need for compulsory powers, although this forced a slightly indirect route. It started from a point a little to the south of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) station at Chichester; it left westwards and immediately turned south, running broadly southwards to Selsey itself, a distance of 7¼ miles (11.7 km). Just south of Chichester, the line crossed the Chichester Canal, which still had some small traffic volume passing, and a simple manually operated lifting bridge was provided there.
The contractor for the construction needed a locomotive for the work, and the locomotive was moved on the public road to get to the line south of the Chichester Canal. It was hauled by a traction engine, and it ran on rails placed on their sides in the roadway; workmen progressively moved the rails to the front of the engine as it made its slow movement. The locomotive was later named Chichester.

Whitechurch's 1897 photograph of the road transfer of the locomotive
Whitechurch describes the event; referring to the Chichester and Birdham Canal (i.e. the Chichester Canal), he says:
I am able to supply a unique photograph of an incident that happened during the construction of the line owing to this canal. The engine had been brought down to Chichester and was much wanted on the other side of the canal, but as the bridge was not completed for traffic it was impossible to cross. The little locomotive, therefore, had to perform a slow and circuitous journey by road of over three miles, being hauled by a traction engine on rails, simply placed down on the road in front of the railway engine and taken up from behind it alternately.
The line was built to standard gauge, 4 ft 8½ in (1,435 mm), with Vignoles (flat-bottom) rails spiked to light transverse sleepers, "the whole of the line being ballasted with gravel, and, if I mistake not, a goodly bulk of sea shingle mixed therewith".
The line opened to Selsey Town station on 27 August 1897 and it was extended to Selsey Beach in 1898. The construction and land purchase had cost £21,570 and rolling stock had cost £3,268.


Map of West Sussex Railway
The first passenger coaches were newly built bogie vehicles with open verandas at the end; one was built by Hurst Nelson, and three by Falcon of Loughborough. About 1900 another new coach of similar design was acquired from Hurst Nelson.[2]

Hunston station in 1897; note the boy on the engine-water tower, waiting to operate it
The stations on the line were:
  • Chichester; the station was a short distance south of the LB&SCR station
  • Hunston, where there was a level crossing and a short siding; there was also a brickworks with an independent loop siding north of the station for some years;
  • Hoe Farm [Halt]; this was a private halt for the farm owner;
  • Chalder ; this was the closest station to Sidlesham village; the access was over a private farm road, and the Company paid the landowner £2 per annum for the wayleave;
  • Mill Pond Halt; opened 15 October 1910 and closed May 1911; reopened 9 July 1928;
  • Sidlesham; the station name seems to have been spelt Siddlesham at first; this was an ancient spelling of the village name, although the 1880 Ordnance Survey Map uses the modern spelling; the station was some distance south of the village. Suffering from the 1910 inundation, the station was closed from 15 December 1910 until June 1911; the track level was raised by about four feet (1.2 m) at the station level crossing; there was a loop siding here;
  • Ferry; Butt names this Ferry Siding Halt; Cobb says Ferry Siding at first and renamed Ferry in 1911;
  • Golf Club Halt; this was private
  • Selsey Bridge ; the main road crossed the line here, the only road bridge on the line; there was a short siding and, some time after 1911 a brick works had a private siding;
  • Selsey Town; renamed Selsey from 1911; the engine shed was located here, with a goods siding and run-round loop;
  • Selsey Beach; opened 1 August 1898 and closed October 1904; the train service may have operated in summer only; there was a simple run-round loop and single platform.
In 1910 there were seven trains each way on weekdays (one extra on Mondays) and three on Sundays. Journey time for the 7¼ miles was 30 minutes.
Whitechurch gave a description of a trip on the line in 1897:
One car stood by the little platform, ready to start. ... This was a third class car. A first class stood in a siding. ... Another car of which I caught a glimpse at Selsey completes, I believe, the "passenger rolling stock" of the little railway. ... The Company own two engines, the "Selsey" and the "Chichester", the former for "passenger" and the latter, a "six-wheels coupled" for "goods" traffic. The "Selsey", a trim-looking little side-tank locomotive, is painted dark blue with a red lining ... The boiler is surmounted with a handsome brass dome on which are two spring balances [for the safety valves], while a neat copper ring is an adornment to the chimney.
Before we got away on the journey, a very remarkable operation in shunting had to be performed, albeit it was commenced two minutes after the time for starting. Two trucks were brought in from a siding, and so manipulated with engine and by hand, that finally one was attached in rear of the car, and the other in front of the locomotive!
[Later we came] to Hunston Station, a tiny iron building with a little platform, but a most important point of the line, in that it is the coaling and water depĂ´t, and supplies of both were taken in by the engine, the train backing to allow this to be done, so that our car stood right across the main road during the operation. ... Chalder, another little station was reached at 10.58. We left our rear truck in the siding here ... [At Siddlesham] we performed some marvellous shunting operations, which occupied six minutes, and which resulted in our entering on the last stage of our journey, with three trucks in front of the engine and two behind our carriage—the very best example of a mixed train it has ever been my fortune to behold! ... Just before reaching Selsey we passed through the only cutting and under the only road-bridge the line possesses, pausing a few minutes to get rid of our five trucks at a siding.
About midway on the journey home, I, who was seated in the front compartment of the car, saw a red flag being violently waved a few hundred yards ahead. ... as the train slowed down, the individual in question, a stalwart, gaitered farmer, removed the danger signal from his stick, and calmly came aboard the car, doubtless thanking his lucky stars for the little railway that ran within a few feet of the garden of his house.
There were no signals on the line; the train control system was train staff and ticket with two sections, broken at Sidlesham.

Inundation of 1910

Bridge over channel at Ferry
A fierce and prolonged storm took place in December 1910, culminating in a breach of the sea wall during the night of 15 December. 2000 acres (800 ha) of land were flooded, including the railway line north of Ferry. Part of the line was said to be under 12 feet of water.
During the inundation, trains ran from each end of the line, and a horse bus operated in the gap, from Mill Pond Halt to Ferry station. At this time the Company was relatively prosperous, and had the resources to raise the line by up to ten feet (3 m) over a considerable length.

After 1919

Picture postcard depicting the train
Following the end of the First World War, independent operators of road lorries, and, gradually, road passenger vehicles, became numerous, and the inconvenience of using the tramway became prominent: agricultural produce and supplies needed to be carted to and from the tramway station, and the thinly distributed population were more easily serviced by a road vehicle, especially when that could run to the centre of Chichester or direct to the LB&SCR station there.. Traffic declined seriously in the 1920s.
In 1924 the company changed its name to West Sussex Railway (Tramway Section) in 1924. Mitchell and Smith suggest that this was a preliminary to securing a takeover by the Southern Railway, the successor to the LB&SCR. The Southern Railway considered the matter but declined to proceed. Southdown Motor Services had been formed in 1915 and was running timetabled bus services locally, and increasingly passengers preferred to take the bus—at a higher fare—and passenger receipts declined further.
During this period freight traffic remained relatively steady at about £2,000 a year.

Coaching stock

The initial coaching stock fleet consisted of three bogie saloon coaches from Falcons, acquired in 1897. A similar coach was purchased from Hurst Nelson about 1900.
In 1910 three four-wheel coaches were acquired from the Lambourn Valley Railway.
In 1916 a further four four-wheelers were obtained second hand from the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LC&DR).
Finally, in 1931 two six-wheel coaches were acquired from the Southern Railway, probably for summer Saturdays when the railcars would be inadequate; they had been built for the LC&DR.


Picture postcard depicting the train
In 1921, Stephens was seeking means of reducing operating expenses, and a trial was made of a Wolseley-Siddeley petrol railcar on the line; this did not immediately lead to adoption, but in 1924, acquired two railcars built on Ford Model T chassis, with bodies by Edmunds of Thetford. They operated together, back-to-back with a truck for luggage and parcels between them; they had rails on the roof to contain additional parcels stowed there.
Two more railcars were acquired from the Shefflex Motor Company of Tinsley in 1928; they too operated as a unit with a truck between. The railcars were provided with a crude timber buffer beam in front of the radiator, as protection.


The half mile of track from Selsey Town to Selsey Beach was out of use by the end of 1908. (Butt says October 1904.)
The line was closed in January 1935.

Steam locomotives

The following steam locomotives were used on the line:
Selsey2Peckett and Sons18972-4-2T2 ft 9in10" x 15"140 psiNew
Sidlesham3 or 2Manning Wardle18610-6-0ST3 ft 2in11" x 17"120 psiEx-industrial
Hesperus4 or 2Neilson and Company1871 or 18720-4-2ST3 ft 1in10" x 18"90 psiEx-PDSWJR
Ringing Rock5 or 2Manning Wardle18830-6-0ST3 ft 2in12" x 17"120 psiEx-industrial
Chichester (first)1 or 3Dodds of Rotherham
 c 1865
0-4-2ST3 ft 6in11" x 18"120 psiBuilt as 0-6-0ST
Chichester (second)6 or 4Hudswell Clarke19030-6-0ST3 ft 1in12" x 18"120 psiEx-industrial
Morous7 or 4Manning Wardle18660-6-0ST3 ft 2in11" x 17"120 psiEx-SMR
Sources for the above table include Kidner, Woodcock and Mitchell and Smith. 
Hesperus had come from the Plymouth, Devonport and South Western Junction Railway and was originally 3 ft 6 in gauge.
The first Chichester arrived with the name Wembley having worked there previously, and the engine continued to be known by that name for some time.
Ringing Rock was so named because Stephens transferred the name plate from a locomotive on the Kent and East Sussex Railway that had previously worked on the Narberth Road and Maenclochog Railway; Ringing Rock is the English translation of Maenclochog.


The remains of where the railway crossed the Chichester canal
For the modern railway explorer this is one of the least rewarding lines to trace as the formation was almost completely at ground level, and almost nothing remains except a half mile section alongside Pagham harbour where the track was raised following the inundation of 1910. A section of about a quarter of a mile, now a farm track between Pagham Harbour and the Selsey Golf Club and a quarter of a mile section (now a public footpath) west of Hunston Village can be traced. The northern end of the latter ends at the abutments of the now defunct Tramway bridge across the Chichester Canal. A short section of trackbed is now a footpath from north of the Chichester Canal to Stockbridge Road, Chichester. The platforms of Hunston and Chalder station can also still be located in fields although badly overgrown.

Failed proposals

In 1913 the directors proposed a light railway extension from Hunston to West Itchenor and East Wittering. However the First World War put paid to the idea.
This line was surveyed by the builders of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway in the early 1920s when they were looking for somewhere to build their miniature line which now runs in Kent. Apparently, despite being otherwise ideal for their purposes, the line was discounted because of the number of road crossings which would have been prohibitively expensive to either gate or bridge. The Southern Railway also surveyed it for takeover and improvement in the early 1930s but decided against both.

Local colour

It was known locally as the Selsey Tram. It was also sometimes called "The Siddlesham Snail" after one of the villages having a station of that name. Sidlesham station's nameboard originally perpetuated the old spelling "Siddlesham". A song was written criticising the line which verse went
"The Siddlesham snail,
the Siddlesham snail,
the boilers burst,
she's off the rail,
the Siddlesham snail!"
Between the World Wars a number of life-expired main line railway coaches were acquired by private individuals for the purpose of converting them to dwellings on the shore at Selsey. In many cases these vehicles made their final railway journey over the West Sussex Railway to Selsey.


On 3 September 1923, the 8:15am train to Chichester derailed near Golf Club Halt, killing the fireman, H. Barnes, and injuring the driver, C. C. Stewart. None of the few passengers were injured. The locomotive, Wembley and the three coaches left the track. The inquest returned a verdict of accidental death, but the jury expressed the opinion that the Chief Engineer of the Company was indirectly to blame, as there was evidence of neglect in the upkeep of the track.