1317 at Groombridge 4.7.1977
Tunbridge Wells West 31.8.1988
(All pics copyright Steve Sainsbury/The Rail Thing)
By the mid 1980s railway closures were a fading memory, but in a last burst of misplaced nostalgia there was one final closure down south, when the useful (but not as useful as it will be!) route from Tunbridge Wells to Eridge was closed. The excuse was the expense of remodelling the junction at Tunbridge Wells when the main Hastings line was electrified ... and so another part of the network of lines in this area had to close.
The line was quickly resurrected as the Spa Valley Railway, but a few tourist trains hardly compensates for the loss of a seven day a week service. And that important link at Tunbridge Wells is STILL devoid of track.
I got to travel on this line a few times and it was a nice rural route. I must admit that by the 70s a lot of the line's purpose had gone. Once it had provided a gateway to lines to Brighton, Lewes, Eastbourne, East Grinstead and Three Bridges, offering a huge range of trips and keeping a good bit of traffic off the roads. It also made commuting an easy proposition in a whole swathe of this region. By 1985 it really just provided a link between Tunbridge Wells and Uckfield (Lewes no longer being an option) and also allowed people in the West of Tunbridge Wells to access the Network (and London) via the large and gothic station at Tunbridge Wells West.
So the line was closed, the last real closure of any substance in southern England and possibly the whole country. A final fling for Beeching and his empty headed accountant hordes.
But things are stirring. As mentioned above a good stretch of the line is now a tourist railway, but the Lewes-Uckfield line is on the cusp of reopening, there are murmurs about the useful 'Cuckoo' line to Eastbourne and the East Grinstead line now has a group working with banks and others in the area to reopen this useful link (at least for a few more decades) to Gatwick Airport and, more importantly, the Brighton main line. East Grinstead of course has had it's other line (to Sheffield Park) reopened last year, and the Bluebell have a 25 year plan to return to Lewes. The whole area will be transformed for rail.
Still in deep sleep the useful route from Eridge via East Grinstead to Three Bridges is beginning to stir again.