Sunday, 29 June 2014

Church Stretton 1986

(All copyright Steve Sainsbury/The Rail Thing 8.5.1986)


My only visit to Church Stretton was on 8 May 1986. It was a surprisingly busy station on this scenic line with a fair amount of variety including a class 33 on a passenger working. This line is even busier today of course. The station is also carefully maintained by volunteers and is a real asset to the town.

Church Stretton railway station serves the town of Church Stretton in Shropshire, England. The station is situated on the Welsh Marches Line, 12 34 miles (20.5 km) south of Shrewsbury railway station, while trains on the Heart of Wales Line also serve the station. All trains serving the station are operated by Arriva Trains Wales, who also manage the station.
The station lies on the highest point of the line between Shrewsbury and Craven Arms, and is the highest station in Shropshire. There is on the northbound platform a small plinth noting the station's altitude: 613 ft (187 m) above sea level.


The site of the original (1852) station, north of Sandford Avenue

The station opened on 20 April 1852 as part of the newly created Shrewsbury and Hereford Railway along with the rest of the line and stations. It was originally situated to the north of (what is now known as) Sandford Avenue and the old station building still remains, but is no longer in railway use. Sandford Avenue had been for centuries called Lake Lane and became Station Road with the arrival of the railway in the town, before becoming Sandford Avenue in 1884. The original station building was designed by Thomas Mainwaring Penson.

In 1914 the station was relocated just to the south of the Sandford Avenue road bridge, where it continues to the present day. New station buildings were erected, but these were demolished in 1970, the station having become unstaffed in 1967. Today the only station structures in use are two passenger shelters on the platforms and a footbridge.

Today's station

The southbound passenger shelter on platform 2 (since replaced)

The station has two platforms, one for northbound services (platform 1) and the other for southbound services (platform 2), with a footbridge crossing the line connecting the two platforms. The platform shelters were replaced and electronic information displays were installed in the spring of 2011. CCTV was also installed at the time and together with the new shelters has resulted in anti-social behaviour becoming almost non-existent at the station. In 2013 a ticket machine was installed at the station, on platform 1.

There are two small areas for car parking/dropping off, on either side of the line – one can be accessed from Sandford Avenue (the B4371), the other from Crossways (which comes off the A49).


The plinth on platform 1

The station has been "adopted" by local volunteers and is regularly kept tidy by them, including the garden areas behind both platforms. In 2008 a group of volunteers undertook to transform the unattended station gardens and two years later were awarded the Station Gardens of the Year competition. In 2011 a tree sculpture depicting two owls was carved by David Bytheway. There is also the Church Stretton Rail Users' Association.


King Edward I steam charter train at Church Stretton, passing a regular DMU service.

For a town of its size, Church Stretton is comparatively well served by trains, although services are less frequent on Sundays. A number of passenger services operating on the Welsh Marches Line do not stop at Church Stretton, particularly on weekdays (Monday to Friday).

On weekdays, northbound trains run to Shrewsbury, and most continue to ultimate destinations such as Manchester Piccadilly, Holyhead etc. Southbound trains mostly run to Cardiff Central or beyond via the Welsh Marches Line, but four run to Swansea via the Heart of Wales Line.

Passenger use

The station has a large number of passengers using it considering the town has a population of just 3000; it is the 7th most-used station in Shropshire (the fifth for the Shropshire Council area). The high usage can be explained by two reasons: the town is a popular tourist destination and many of its inhabitants travel to Shrewsbury and Ludlow for employment, education and shopping.


Looking south, showing the now removed signal box, signal and crossover, as well as the three (extant) bridges crossing the railway in the town.

The track through the station is prone to flooding when heavy rain occurs as, although at the apex of the line, it is at the bottom of the valley which Church Stretton is found in. (Church Stretton effectively lies at a saddle point.) At one stage during the infamously wet autumn of 2000, the space between the two platforms resembled a canal and train services had to be cancelled along the line.

Following the serious flooding of the railway line in 2000, the signal box at Church Stretton (which was situated to the north of the Sandford Avenue bridge) was "switched out". The signal box at Church Stretton closed entirely in 2004 and the set of points at the station lay defunct for a number of years and were removed in 2009, together with the box (built 1872) and all signals. The control of the line here has been transferred to Marsh Brook signal box, which is to the south.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Deepest Surrey 1986


(All copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing Holmwood 30.4.1986)

An odd little line in Surrey is the line from Horsham to Dorking. Back in 1986 it was something of a backwater, except during the rush hours. The line was busier from Dorking northwards, the line south via Warnham, Ockley and Holmwood served a very rural area, with the non-peak trains running empty or almost empty. I haven't visited the line since 1986 so no idea what the situation is like today!

The station opened in 1867 in what was the far north of the parish of Capel along the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway line to Portsmouth. Why it was called Holmwood is mysterious, however Beare Green was a smaller settlement than the Holmwood area which was expanding with building at the time.

Holmwood for many years had until a revised timetable of 10 July 1967 two hourly services during the day in each direction:
  • to and from Waterloo and Horsham
  • to and from London Bridge (via Sutton and Tulse Hill) and Horsham.
In respect of the first route where on time the journey was completed in less than 55 minutes: no slack, allowing for lengthy boarding assuming identical track speed, was built into the timetables. Of relevance to Bognor Regis, a once an hour non-stop express Victoria service went through the station from the coastal resort.
Further, Holmwood was a terminus for various additional trains to and from Waterloo.

The Grade II listed signal box

Prior to 1963 the use of Holmwood as a terminus was implemented for much of the day. For example, a serious accident at Motspur Park on 6 Nov 1947 involved the 16:45 Southern Railway train from Holmwood to Waterloo. This service was withdrawn in 1963, the later 17:45 being the last of a series of hourly trains from Holmwood to Waterloo to be retained in the 1963 timetable. The accident in 1947 resulted from incorrect manual fog signalling when the driver of the Holmwood train was given permission to enter the junction at Motspur Park before the down Chessington train had cleared the junction, and before the signals and points were changed by the signal box. This is one of the few references one can find to the important role that Holmwood station played in the Sutton and Mole Valley Lines to Waterloo service initiated in the early 20th century by the Southern Railway. Before nationalisation in the 1940s, the Southern Railway built, owned its trains, running from today's two London termini as well as Waterloo following the formation of the Big Four.

Thus the earlier timetables for services on the line from London Victoria to Horsham in 1905 and 1917 show that services to London Waterloo and London Bridge adhering to the Victorian service pattern from Holmwood, Ockley and Warnham being to London Victoria only.

Some features of the unusual service pattern endure include its last evening weekday rush hour service from London Victoria at 7:20pm (apart from the 11:26pm weekday service added to the timetable in December 2004 following several years of pressure from a local campaigner) traceable to the Victorian/Edwardian origins.

From at least Victorian times (or quite probably from the opening of the line in 1867) until the middle of the 20th century the line also had four services to and from London Victoria in each direction on a Sunday compared to no Sunday service at all in current times. There were two services in each direction in the early morning and two more in the late afternoon/early evening (a total of eight trains in all on the Dorking to Horsham section of line during the day) making Sunday outings to the Capital and elsewhere possible in this still largely pre-motor car era. However it is not clear from easily available records precisely when Holmwood and the neighbouring two stations of Ockley and Warnham lost their Sunday railway services.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Black Forest in Devon

Huge thanks to Clive Schneidau who did all the research on this very obscure line and has kindly allowed me to use his material and pictures. 

The Black Forest or Mamhead Railway started at Starcross Junction. Built in 1918 as a military timber line it ran for the most part directly on the road surface. Little mentioned and leaving no traces it is now a forgotten ghost. Even the local museum has no records of it, just blank faces. It closed in 1919 and was lifted soon after. The locomotive that ran on it was finally sold to Exeter Gasworks in 1923. The Line was worked by Italian and German POWs and a camp was situated just below Black Forest Lodge.

The original 19th C. Starcross Signalbox was in need of updating when the government agreed to the new line, so the G.W.R. modestly updated it at their expense. Of a total £909 spent on the junction, £650 was spent on a new Box, the old one had enough spare levers.

Starcross Junction Plan.

The Pumping House Yard at Starcross. The 1918 line junction was just by the white building and led down onto the road surface. Looking towards Cockwood.

Route Plan.

Laid by the side of the road. When trains ran on the line, the roads were closed by using civil and military police.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Duffield 1986

(All pics 29.4.1986  Copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

Back in 1986 I made a couple of visits to Duffield in Derbyshire. This was a surprisngly busy station with a good deal of freight and variety of DMUs and HSTs on passenger trains. It wasn't a junction station back then but it is now with the fascinating Ecclesbourne Valley Railway running trains to Wirksworth, probably the first example of a successful community railway in the UK.

Duffield railway station is a railway station serving the village of Duffield in Derbyshire, England. The station is located on the Midland Main Line from Derby to Leeds. It is also a junction with the former branch line to Wirksworth, which has now been reopened as the Ecclesbourne Valley heritage railway.
The unmanned station is served by East Midlands Trains, who operate local services from Derby to Matlock via the Derwent Valley Line. For journeys beginning at Duffield, the full range of tickets for travel for any destination in the country are purchased from the guard on the train at no extra cost. It is a penalty fare station however, so for East Midlands Trains a permit to travel must be bought from the machine installed on the Derby-bound side of the platform before joining the train.

Services are approximately hourly on weekdays & Saturdays and two-hourly on Sundays. Journey time to Derby is 6 minutes and Matlock 30 minutes. Most southbound services continue through to Long Eaton and Nottingham.

East Midlands Trains Mainline services from Leeds, Sheffield and London run through at high speed, but do not stop. Interchange with Mainline services can be made at Derby.

Services are formed using diesel multiple units of Classes 153, 156 or 158. The Ecclesbourne Valley Railway operates from platform 3 using trains of various vintage.


From Derby, the railway proceeds along the broad flood plain of the River Derwent, passing Little Eaton Junction, where the Midland Railway later built a branch near one of the oldest lines in the country, the Little Eaton Gangway.

The first station at Duffield was built in 1841, a year after the line opened, by the North Midland Railway a few yards further north from its present position.

From 1840 there had been a number of proposals for a line from Manchester down the Churnet Valley to meet either the Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway or the Midland Counties Railway, to go on to London. An amendment was put forward in 1844 bringing the line to the North Midland at Duffield, presumably via Ashbourne and the Ecclesbourne Valley. However, the line never materialised.

The Midland Railway, however, was looking for a path into Manchester, as an alternative to the former Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway from Ambergate to Rowsley which it leased jointly with the LNWR. It built a junction at Duffield which opened as far as Wirksworth in 1867. Gaining sole control of the Ambergate line in 1871, the extension proved unnecessary. However, the Wirksworth branch (nowadays known as the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway) remained a busy line, with a regular passenger service and freight in the form of limestone from Wirksworth and milk from the farms along the line.

Accordingly in 1867 a large new station was built in the vee of the junction, with platforms on each side of the double track. A signal box was provided to the east of the main line, replaced by Duffield Junction box around 1890 at the south end of Platform One. By this time the population of Duffield had increased with railway workers and management, as had traffic on the main line. In 1897 a goods line was laid in the up (southbound) direction, and a fourth, down goods, laid in 1904.

There were two platforms with a footbridge, the second being an island between the two passenger lines, and another for the branch. The two subsidiary platforms each had a waiting room, while the main platform building contained the waiting room, ticket and luggage offices. Next to the footbridge was a separate W.H.Smith bookstall. The station master's house was separate, being beside the track to the north, and there was small luggage store just outside the gate. The Wirksworth line having severed the main road, which had been diverted, a footbridge gave access across the line. To the north of the station, there was wide level crossing which, besides allowing luggage trolleys to cross, gave access for the farmer who owned the adjacent land. Next to this was a footbridge from the front of the station to the field behind, and between them two signal posts, with, until 1910 a Duffield Station signal box, supplementing Duffield Junction.

The line saw several historic moments, with new or experimental vehicles from Derby being tested on the line, such as "Number 10000", the first mainline LMS diesel-electric locomotive, which was tested on the line in late 1947. Subsequently the Wirksworth branch saw Derby's first experiments with diesel railcars. The main line saw some initial test runs of the Advanced Passenger Train and, towards Derby, a length of experimental slip-paved concrete track was installed in the 70's. This can still be seen in the up line cess.

The station changed little over the years. In 1947 the signal posts were replaced with a fabricated steel gantry and upper-quadrant signals Some time later the passenger footbridge was rebuilt in brick, using the existing walkway. This is the only remaining part of the station after the buildings were removed in 1969, except for the station master's house, now a private residence, and the small luggage store which was just outside the gate. However these latter have now gone, the station master's house replaced by a modern construction, and the luggage store destroyed by the developer who has also built on the former right of way between the branch and main line platforms.

North of Duffield the main line passes under 'The Chevin' (aka Firestone Hill) through the Milford Tunnel.

In July 2005 the station was adopted by WyvernRail plc under a scheme promoted by the Friends of the Derwent Valley Line. WyvernRail undertook to provide care and maintenance of Duffield railway station on behalf of Central Trains who operated the station at that time (and continue to under East Midlands Trains).

In the year 1 April 2009 to 31 March 2010 journeys from the station had increased by 48.55%.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Parson Street 18.6.2014

I am trying to get out at least once a week to take railway photographs. Today was just a quick trip to Parson Street, in South Bristol. Until Whitchurch reopens on the Radstock line it's my closest station. We do use it to travel to places like Weston and Bath.

I was there for just about an hour today but there was plenty of activity. The station itself is a pretty soulless place at the moment, but no doubt it will be spruced up when the Portishead trains start running again in 2019!

Trains are basically Weston and Taunton locals plus a few non-stopping trains to Exeter and beyond. There is freight off the Portishead branch but I wasn't there at the right time today.

Expect more from this location over the coming years!