Liss LMR 6.7.1977 (Copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)
Back in 1970 and still a bit wet behind the ears I took a little excursion out to see what remained of the Longmoor Military Railway, closed just a year earlier. I was staying in Winchester so accessed it via Alresford and Alton (on the Watercress Line) then to Bentley, where I'd hoped to catch a bus. Unfortunately it was a bank holiday - no buses - so I had to walk! I did finally find the Bordon end of the line, track was still down but all I have is a few vague memories, as it wasn't until a year later that I started taking photographs.
Just a year earlier I could have travelled on the line on its last Open Day, behind steam, but life for a rail fan in the 60s and 70s was often a case of near misses!
A few years later I did get to stop at Liss and see the revival project's stock of steam locos and rolling stock, but yet again no camera! The preservation scheme was scuppered by peculiar locals who were convinced that a heritage steam line on their doorsteps would LOWER the value of their properties - idiots!
The LMR was an unusual railway, fairly recently built, it had a circular run, ungated level crossings, open days and heavy passenger and freight services. It was also immaculately maintained. It starred in a few films, probably the best was the Great St Trinian's Train Robbery, where it was really the star.
The railway was relaid to 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge in 1905–1907 and was initially known as the Woolmer Instructional Military Railway. It was renamed the Longmoor Military Railway in 1935. The Liss extension was opened in 1933. The stations and junctions included:
- Bordon – the northern terminal, adjacent to Bordon station and with access to British Railways via the LSWR owned Bentley and Bordon Light Railway.
- Oakhanger Halt - serving the village of Oakhanger, Hampshire. Bordon station was nearer to Oakhanger and Oakhanger station was nearer to Bordon.
- Whitehill Junction - serving the village of Whitehill, Hampshire.
- Two Range Halt
- Woolmer - serving the hamlet of Woolmer.
- Longmoor Downs – the original terminus, and largest station on the line, serving the military camp.
- Weaversdown Halt – originally a passing place at the hamlet of Weaversdown, a station was constructed which served the eastern side of Longmoor Military Camp.
- Liss Forest Road - serving the hamlet of Liss Forest.
- Liss Junction – with access to the exchange sidings, and onwards into Liss British Railways goods yard.
- Liss – the southern terminus, with a platform adjacent to those serving the Portsmouth Direct Line (still running).
As a training railway, it was often being constructed/deconstructed. The layout would often change, and at one time housed a machine which could lay 1,500 yards (1,400 m) of track a day. At its peak, the railway ran to over 70 miles (110 km) of operational laid track and sidings.
OperationsWorld War II, the collection also included captured enemy equipment, including a "Schienenwolf" or railroad plough: a German wagon which dragged behind it a huge hook, used to destroy sleepers and so render railway lines unusable to advancing enemy troops.
In addition to the various military items, there were old versions of standard passenger carriages. A passenger service was operated over the line at various times, nominally for personnel required on the railway, and others from the War Department/Ministry of Defence and their families.
There was only one fatal accident recorded on the line, which occurred in October 1956. With a declining military role for railways both in Britain and the rest of the world, it was inevitable that the significance of the facilities offered by the LMR would be reduced in later years. Even so, the LMR was still important enough for the tracks of the Bentley to Bordon branch to be left in place when passenger services were withdrawn on 16 September 1957. This line remained in place as, although there was a British Railways connection at Liss, the Bordon branch made it easier to accommodate the movements of military traffic at short notice. In 1966, the movement of goods over the Bordon branch was suspended, and the line was taken up in 1967.
In light of the reducing role of the military and the severely reduced British Empire, it was decided by the Ministry of Defence to close the railway. On hearing of its impending closure local locomotive preservation groups became interested in acquiring the small but complete rail system, and a bid was placed to purchase LMR along with the airstrip at Gypsy Hollow which would have enabled the production of a unique transport museum. The MOD rejected this proposal, which had been backed by the Association of Railway Preservation Societies and The Transport Trust. However the Army did offer the last 1½ miles of line from Liss Forest Road to Liss. The offer was accepted, a provisional lease was drawn up and planning permission was sought for developments at Liss.
Unfortunately the people of Liss did not share this enthusiasm and opposed the planning permission. Several residents raised £9,100 in a successful bid to buy this last piece of line. Longmoor Military Railway closed down with a ceremonial last day of operation on 31 October 1969, though for another two years some locomotives and stock remained on site, and there were occasional movements. Three items of rolling stock (a van, a brake van, and a bogie flat) still remain on the Longmoor site, as part of the FIBUA training village.