Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Bristol's secret heritage line


Henbury from across the water.




Street running.






The Ruston (called The Bug on the railway).


Double slip.


Retro.



Portbury on shed, repositioned for work!


Tracks and cranes.

(All pics copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing 6.8.2014)


It was my birthday today (again). Normally we go on a rail trip but the weather forecast for today was so awful we went to see the first showing of the new Inbetweeners film instead, followed by a trip into Bristol for a meal and many cocktails at Las Iguanas. The weather was actually fantastic, the forecast rain coming through overnight rather than in the morning and as we came out of the restaurant we decided to go for a walk along the harbourside.

Soon I thought I heard a diesel horn but put it down to the cocktails. Then across the water we saw activity on Bristol's secret heritage line, and it was indeed a diesel shunter. The two steam locos, Henbury and Portbury, were out too. I'd never seen the harbour line operating other than on occasional weekends. Problem was it was the other side of the water. Luckily, being an honorary Bristolian now, I knew there was a ferry up by the SS Great Britain that would get us across. Amazingly there was a ferry waiting and we quickly made the short trip across the water. We followed the railway along the street section and I just caught the Ruston diesel pass and then vanish up towards the Create Centre.

We chatted to a couple of the blokes working on the line to get the story. Henbury was just out of ticket and they'd been cleaning her boiler out. Same with Portbury who will now be pulling the trains for a while. The locos also needed repositioning so that Portbury would be at the front of the loco shed, with Henbury behind. Luckily we also got to see the two steam locos in the shed and I got to take a few photos.

The Bristol Harbour Railway is a real gem, but seems little known outside of Bristol. It links three major tourist attractions (one of national importance) - the SS Great Britain, The M Shed (free Museum of Bristol) and the fantastic Create Centre, which looks at sustainability, climate change, peak oil etc, all the stuff that's so important now. It's not a long line but it has a lot of variety including a fair stretch of street running, a harbouside stretch, a 'country' stretch, a run along a river and some urban bits as well. Highly recommended! Passengers also get to sit in open wagons ...

For those of you interested in disused lines there are plenty of them on both sides of the harbour and at each end of the Harbour Railway. The current terminus of the railway at Create is only about 300 metres from the (soon to be reopened to passengers) line to Portishead. You won't be stuck for things to do and see if you visit!

More info



The Bristol Harbour Railway is a preserved railway in Bristol, England operated by Bristol Museums Galleries & Archives. It runs for about a mile along the south side of Bristol Harbour, starting at M Shed (the former Bristol Industrial Museum(51.4483°N 2.5969°W)), stopping at the SS Great Britain, and ending at B Bond Warehouse (home of the Create Centre), one of the large tobacco warehouses beside Cumberland Basin (51.4466°N 2.6213°W).

The original Bristol Harbour Railway was a joint venture by the GWR and sister company the Bristol and Exeter Railway, opened in 1872 between Temple Meads and the Floating Harbour. Its route included a tunnel under St Mary Redcliffe church and a steam-powered bascule bridge over the entrance locks at Bathurst Basin. In 1876 the railway was extended by 12 mile (0.80 km) to Wapping Wharf.
By Act of Parliament of 1897, the GWR was authorised to make an eastwards connection between the BHR and the Portishead Railway, and then create the West Loop at Ashton Gate which would face south towards Tauntonand Exeter Central. This connection would allow a doubling of BHR rail access capacity to the Great Western main line. In 1906 this authorised extension was constructed, with new branches from the south via the Ashton Swing Bridge were built to: Canons Marsh on the north side of the Floating Harbour; and to Wapping via a line alongside the New Cut.
The Temple Meads connection was closed and the track lifted in 1964 (the bascule bridge engine survives in Bristol Museums). The Canons Marsh branch closed the following year, with the Canons Marsh goods shed is now the home of Explore At-Bristol, a hands-on science centre. The Western Fuel Company continued to use the branch from the Portishead line and Wapping marshalling yard for commercial coal traffic until 1987.
In 1978, the preserved railway was established as an element of Bristol Industrial Museum using locomotives built in Bristol and formerly used at Avonmouth Docks. At first, it connected the museum with the SS Great Britain, but when commercial rail traffic ceased in 1987 the museum railway expanded to use the branch alongside the New Cut. When the Portishead Railway was relaid the connection at Ashton Junction was severed.
Today the railway operates on selected weekends on standard gauge track over 1.5 miles (2.4 km). The railway is currently in use as far as B Bond Warehouse (home to the Create Centre and Bristol Record Office), a mile from the museum. On the south side of the harbour the railway crosses Spike Island, the narrow strip of land between the harbour and the River Avon, and clings to the side of the river as far as the junction with the northern branch at the Cumberland Basin. The former route east over the Swing Bridge is now the Pill Pathway rail trail andcycleway.
In 2006, Bristol Industrial Museum was closed and the site redeveloped into M Shed Museum of Bristol. The railway continues to operate between SS Great Britain Halt and the Create Centre, and in 2011 the railway became part of M Shed's working exhibits.



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