Friday, 13 June 2014

Hayling Island

Back in 1970 I was just 14 and starting on my first adventures out on the railway network. A runabout rover ticket got me to a lot of places that were still served by trains but on one of the days I took the train to Havant then walked the remains of the Hayling Island branch. It was a nice walk alongside the water for much of its length, and there were plenty of remains as the line had only been closed for seven years (to the day by coincidence).

It did seem a strange closure even back in those gloomy days, a short branch to a busy seaside resort that would have been really useful. 

The station at Hayling Island was still there in a state of disrepair, I even found an old ticket to the station in the rubble!

There are of course now growing voices for the line to return, it would be most useful all the year round, but particularly in the busy summer months. Many people are put off visiting the island at all because of the state of the road, and would rather visit the easier to access towns to the east and west.

There is of course a railway still operating on Hayling, the superb Hayling Seaside Railway, and they do have designs on morphing their route into a 'real' line, carrying passengers all the way to the Portsmouth ferry on the west side of the island. And perhaps once complete they may take the next obvious step of looking to the mainland and restoring the link to Havant, possibly standard gauge or even 2 foot, either would work. They could use street running across the existing road bridge perhaps using traffic lights to control the (inevitably diminishing) road traffic. Expect rail developments on the island in the future.

Lines in the area.

Further Information from Wikipedia

The line was opened by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR) for goods on 19 January 1865, and for passengers on 16 July 1867. It ran from Havant to Hayling Island station. There were two intermediate stations at Langston (sic) and North Hayling. Neither were ever "halts", in spite of their small size.

The line itself was mainly used during the summer months as people from the South Coast would travel down to the beach on Hayling Island. The coaches would often be overflowing during these months, however would be virtually empty during the winter, which would become a problem.

The LBSCR quickly ran into difficulty during the construction of the railway, as they had attempted to save on the cost of buying land on Hayling Island for the line by constructing an embankment on the mud flats in the sheltered waters of Langstone Harbour—This was an ambitious plan, which also involved the construction of wet and dry docks at Sinah Lake. Though they were given a grant to the mudlands by William Padwick, who was himself behind the plan, and the promoters offered to build the embankment and Railway at a cost of £80,000, the area was not sheltered as had been hoped: the bank was severely eroded before the railway could be completed.

The board of trade inspector was invited to certify the line as being fit for passenger traffic, but he initially refused to do so as he found that many of the sleepers had begun to rot in the original section of the railway, and there was also an unauthorised level crossing at Langstone. The former problem was quickly fixed but the level crossing remained until the closure of the line.

The line was taken over by the Southern Railway in 1923 and by British Railways in 1948. Because of the weight restriction on the bridge it was worked, from late Victorian times to closure in 1963 by small LB&SCR A1/A1X Class locomotives.


Over the winter of 1962 it was decided to close the branch, the reason being that the timber swing bridge which crossed Langstone Harbour needed to be replaced. The line was operating at a small profit at this time but despite protests British Railways took the view that the cost of a new bridge was an unreasonably large investment. The final normal service train ran on the evening of 2 November 1963. Goods services continued until the final day but goods trains were not run separately. Instead goods were conveyed in mixed trains (passenger coaches, goods wagons and vans, and a brake van) and these were a feature of the Branch until the end. To clear the remaining goods stock away, the final train from Hayling Island on Saturday 2 November 1963 was a mixed train hauled by A1X no. 32650. The day after closure a special was run, hauled by A1X nos. 32636 and 32670 and this was the last ever train on the Branch. All three of these locomotives survive in preservation.

After closure and the line today

After closure, an attempt was made to re-open the line, using a former Blackpool Marton Vambac single deck tram, no. 11. The tram was stored in the goods yard at Havant, and later, on Hayling Island itself. With no support from the local authorities forthcoming, the re-opening venture came to nothing and the tram never ran on the line. Unlike the line, however, the tram survived, and is currently preserved, in running order, at the East Anglia Transport Museum. The attempted re-opening delayed the lifting of the track. This finally took place in the Spring of 1966, and included the demolition of most of the structure of the railway bridge at Langston. A significant amount of the bridge remains, including the base of the swinging section, and what seem to be bridge piers. The bridge piers are, in fact, the lower parts of the wooden bridge structure which were enclosed in rectangular columns of concrete by the Southern Railway in the late 1920s, early 1930s. The columns stand on the bridge foundations, which were specially strengthened to deal with the tidal scour at this location.

Today, the area where the tracks once stood on the Havant side of the line is a Local Nature Reserve and footpath. This enables people to walk from Havant station all the way to where the bridge and the level crossing was located, by Langston station, serving the village of Langstone.

If one were to continue walking south from Langston station (the railway never spelled it with the final "e"), across the road bridge, they would join the Hayling Island side of the line. This section of the line passes down the west side of the island, passing through where North Hayling station used to stand, and terminates at West Town, the main area of population in the south of the island.

This section is now a combined footpath, bridleway and cycleway. It has recently become part of route 2 of the National Cycle Network, sponsored by Sustrans, a charity for sustainable transport.

1 comment: