Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Brief Encounter

(All 23.11.2014 BTM copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

We'd been on a sten night on Saturday and took the train in to Bath for obvious reasons. We caught a fairly late train back to Bristol and got in a few minutes after midnight. Surprisingly on the opposite platform there was a long train in maroon.

I managed to talk the rest of the group into strolling to the end of the platform just in case!

Bristol Temple Meads is long and curved so from the middle of the platforms you can't see the end of the trains. 

Eventually when I'd walked far enough there it was - steam! And as I got closer I realised it wasn't just one loco but two!

Now when steam finished on the network we lost the ability to have chance encounters with steam. In steam days it was something I only ever saw once, somewhere in London - when completely by surprise a small loco passed on the adjacent line. I did see other steam on BR but I always knew it was going to be there.

So when steam gradually reappeared on the network there was always the very slight chance of a surprise encounter. It's happened to me twice now in Britain. The first was about ten years ago when I was bringing in the horses back in Frome. The field lay alongside the Frome bypass line and just as it was getting dark, deep in the winter, and the mist was down a steam loco with a single coach ran past on the embankment. My second event was of course on Sunday morning.

It's also happened to me once in Switzerland (of all places!) when a steam train appeared at Chamby station on the MOB.

(Chamby 6 BC 8.6.1987 Copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Littlehampton Miniature Railway

All copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing 17.6.1973

Thye miniature railway at Littlehampton has had a long and fascinating history. Opened in 1948 it runs from Norfolk Road to Mewsbrook Park - 760 metres of running line. It uses the very rare gauge of 12¼" and was steam worked well into the 1970s. It used a number of ex-Surrey Border and Camberley engines. It has also been extended around 50 metres towards the town centre in recent years, the trains run through the overgrown platforms of the original Norfolk Road station shortly after leaving the new one.

The line was in trouble a few years ago but under new ownership it has rebranded itself and is now more like a miniature heritage line with big plans for the future.

I was brought up in LA (as the locals call it) and this line was a big part of my life back in the 60s and 70s. These pictures from 1973 show the line when it was diverted during building works, needing a  new temporary route for a year or two. They may be the only pictures of this temporary route that have surfaced so far!

The new route veered sharply from the platform line at Mewsbrooks station, skirted the putting green then rejoined the original line close to the sea road. I seem to remember this new route included a bridge over a stream, I may have a photo of this bridge somewhere but it will need another trip up to the attic before I can find it!

The pictures show the line during this period. The original main line is overgrown and the second picture shows the diversion veering sharply from the platform road. Pictures 3 and 4 show the steam loco on the new line and the train skirting the putting green.

The Littlehampton Railway first opened in 1948, to the unusual gauge at the time, of 12 ¼ inches. Two 4-6-4 steam locomotives built by T.J.Thurston, a former employee of famous miniature locomotive builder H.Bullock. The line has gone through many changes, both stock wise and line wise, but is now a similar formation to that built. Trains run from Mewsbrook Park Station where there is a large engine shed, footbridge and turntable, through woodland and past a mini golf course, tennis courts and bowling green to reach Norfolk Road Station, a simple run round station with turntable. The line has recently been refurbished by TIR Ltd, and new stock introduced to the line, comprising of a heavy duty Bo-Bo diesel locomotive and two enclosed coaches.

Address: Hendon Avenue, Mewsbrook Park, Littlehampton, West Sussex, BN16 2LX
Telephone: 01460 221303
Operator: TIR Ltd
Line Length: 800 yards, End to End
First opened: 1948


Fares: Adults £3.00, Children £2.00, Under 3's Free.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

ashburton buzz

Above 3 Ashburton

Above 3 Buckfastleigh 1.9.1972 (copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

My first ever visit to a steam line was to what was then called the Dart Valley Railway, from Totnes to Buckfastleigh. This was 42 years ago - and I was lucky enough to take a few photos.

The line wasn't technically a heritage line but a business, reopened to make money from tourists. Back then you took a round trip from Buckfastleigh to just short of Totnes, where you couldn't alight. Since then trains have run into Totnes network station and later to a separate station at Totnes (Littlehempston), which is the current situation. This saves the line huge access charges with the downside of passengers having to take a short (but scenic) walk between the two Totnes stations. The lines are still physically connected.

The line is now a genuine heritage line, the business side of things now concentrated on the nearby Paignton-Kingswear line, which closed in 1972.

But there is an elephant in the room here, and it's the last two miles of the branch between Buckfastleigh and Ashburton, which are currently lifted. Amazingly the line was truncated in the early 70s because a ROAD took part of the trackbed. But forty years on the world has changed completely, and now it's roads on the back foot and in terminal decline, whilst railways are getting busier and busier.

It's time to look at Ashburton again. Buckfastleigh is a problem on several levels. It is rather overdeveloped (in the same manner as Norden on the Swanage line and Bishop's Lydeard on the West Somerset), an intermediate station masquerading as a terminus. The South Devon Railway, as it is now known, has invested a great deal into Buckfastleigh. A shop, restaurant, loco sheds, picnic area, miniature railway and a museum. All will lose out when Ashburton becomes the terminus again. To their credit the SDR are supporting a return to Ashburton. Perhaps they've grasped that they can have the best of both worlds. With facilities remaining at Buckfastleigh the new Ashburton terminus can retain its small branch terminus atmosphere. If the timetable allows the pattern of services could include long stops at Buckfastleigh in one direction, to allow people to continue to use the facilities.

As for Ashburton they are on the cusp of a HUGE increase in tourist visitors when the line is fully reopened. And also stand to eventually gain a REAL public transport service connecting with the South Devon main line at Totnes in due course. As our road network continues to decline Ashburton can look to a future - perhaps 10 to 20 years hence - where once again the locals can catch a train and with one change be in Plymouth, London or Bristol. Local businesses will also have a way of sending out their products and bringing in their raw materials.

But I've said enough, and what I've said is pretty familiar to most of you! I'll let the people who are actually working towards the reopening tell the rest!

Preserve the chance to have a railway back in Ashburton

I write supporting a growing number of the younger element of the South Devon Railway and its supporters who are heavily involved in railway operations not too far from Ashburton.

At the time the A38 was built the Dart Valley Railway put more effort into acquiring the Paignton-Kingswear line. There was less will to retain Ashburton Station and railway.

Now the two railway lines are entirely separate, the loss of the top end of the branch is still a sore point. Increasingly - all be it late in the day - there is a desire among principally some of the South Devon Railway's most devoted volunteers to prevent decisions being made now which deny the railway returning to the town.

As part of my background, I have been working for the SDR since 1994 (full time as a paid fitter/ steam driver for 12 years and still drive steam) I now run a digital piano shop in Bristol. I have never known in all this time as much interest in Ashburton station.

I also am more aware than most of the enormous task facing any fledgling organisation when trying to work with big business and other organisations intent on making money and property developers etc. We mostly thought even 15 years ago that there was no chance of any railway resurgence to Ashburton. Many of us have grouped together, there are Facebook pages now devoted to Friends of Ashburton Station, pictures and well wishes are uploaded daily. National heritage railway press have published articles on the history and intended fate of the site.

Clearly there has been a lot of work done so far on this process of consultation for the site and many of the railway supporters have not been involved with any degree of conviction early enough in the process. While the South Devon Railway is successfully operating the very large concern that it is - any resurgence of railway to Ashburton has not yet reached out into involvement.

I can say this though - it has long been known to us at the SDR as a general rule that losing the only surviving Brunel branch line terminus station and losing the chance to try and preserve the station site, track bed and railway buildings, all of which could be restored to original design would be wrong.

Perhaps you know a great deal about heritage railways and the costs involved, perhaps you also know that they are dear to the hearts of well-wishers the country over. Even in 2014 railway heritage preservation is as strong as it was when the Dart Valley Railway was formed- see how other locations are getting their railway back.

I have always realised that any railway activity in Ashburton would not be universally welcome. Never the less the benefits to business in the town would be good.

Initially our supporters wish to see the railway land left un-developed in its entirety. The station, goods and engine sheds and the track bed secured to pear tree. Momentum for our cause could then progress towards a national fund raising campaign to recreate a heritage site, complete with running line as far as pear tree. Done well visitor numbers would certainly increase.

Now I could ramble for hours trying to impress a point of view. I could come across as yet another railway fan. I could equally be trying to support an idea that may not be the majority view of the town. Ask yourself this though- which places along the valley most look like they are glad that a little railway came, and are still glad that people with passion made it possible that the railway stayed and became loved, visited, enjoyed by the people young and old that work on it.

In this day and age where projects in this country of ours are weighed down by quite large obstacles it would be easy for the population of Ashburton to have dismissed as impossible the chance of any railway return to the town. How would they respond if they thought it was a probability?

The degree to which railways built the towns they served is so important that even in 2014 people want them back, not just as transport links ( but increasingly so ) , not just as heritage sites, ( but the tourist interest is still very high ) , not just because a few nutters want to play trains ( but because men, and women, of all ages support, work on and get real enjoyment from spending time at the railway. )

While your deliberations on planning are progressing please be assured that a new organisation affiliated to the South Devon Railway with a growing number of supporters is fearing the permanent loss of the heritage of a part of the branch that was discarded wrongly in 1971.

New younger railway pioneers with the same spirit that saved countless miles of discarded railways from obliteration are rising up to be noticed in Ashburton. Among us are people with various skills not yet moulded into a coherent body skilled to engineer our aims- but we could be, with support, a more pleasing asset to Ashburton than more car parking , more supermarkets and other normal stuff more suited to towns that don't have a genuine branch line terminus largely intact.

Membership of the South Devon Railway will, I suspect, also be in favour of protecting the former railway land for a return to Ashburton. Studies have been carried out in years gone by as to the viability of re-instating the railway to the town. One thing though is very clear, when it's gone, it's gone. Once some flats or a supermarket or a car park are built there......

Of course- what's better for Ashburton, surely not a railway heritage visitor centre with a more long term aim of reconnecting to Buckfastleigh? Heritage bus links are the obvious interim measure allowing holiday makers visitations to the town.

I am of the age now where I see a clear reality to the task ahead of persuading any organisation as big as the national park and the whole of the town that the railway would be of benefit. Put simply, it would be of more benefit than car parking, supermarkets and housing- all of which can be built elsewhere and should never be built on former railway land.

If my email aims one thing it would be this:

Please note that railway supporters, given an indication that their views have been heard, could rally to produce an asset to Ashburton more pleasing and in keeping with the benefits that heritage steam railway already brings to the rest of the entire Dart Valley. This of course made possible by ordinary passionate people with a vision.

Collectively we suggest the town refrains from further developing the historical station site and expresses an interest in allowing further development of the fledgling group currently moving to retain and reinstate to railway use, for the much wider benefit than other lesser alternatives appear to offer.

A number of people interested are attending the meeting Thursday.

The group Friends of Ashburton Station exists on Facebook with a number of supportive photos and comments. You may like to see the heritage buses parked on the terminus forecourt!

Please be under no illusion- given the chance railways can return where they belong. There are many examples and all of them seemed unlikely when in their early stages. It would be a pity for the town to think that there was no will.

Having been involved with the SDR for over 25 years now I can say that never has the thought of the old station being lost for ever been so strong and never have such a band of younger supporters felt the need to stand up. If I have added any credence to the idea to assist in the aim then I'm glad.

This email can be used in support of the best option for the retention of railway land for the purpose of purchase and maybe one day the eventual reinstatement to our fabulous railway along the Dart. We know this is a late entry bid, we also know that once lost, there is no chance of extending the South Devon Railway if there is no aim to return right to the heart of the original terminus.

Hark at me..... Started his own business, suddenly things seem achievable after all.

Let us hope.

Mark Ireland
Mark Ireland Pianos, Bristol 
0117 9717116, 
07906 431918.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

a trip down the mountain

Foggy Leysin Village station.

Past vineyards on the outskirts of Aigle.

Starting on the street track past Aigle Depot station.

Aigle Place du Marche halt.

Tight squeeze!

Station approach.

Entering the station forecourt area.

All pics copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing 14.9.2011

You never really get used to it, and I must have done this trip 40 times! The Aigle-Leysin line starts from a brand new station adjacent to the main SBB station in Aigle and immediately runs on street to Aigle Depot station, just over a mile, before reversing and taking the rack up the mountainside to eventually reach, via a couple of wayside halts, the four stations in Leysin.

The street running includes a stretch along a narrow one way street which always delights! Whether from the train or from the pavement it's always entertaining.

The line is busier than ever and replacement of the street running section is not even on the radar so you can safely wait a little longer before visiting. The line itself is absolutely essential, taking just 20 minutes to link Aigle and Leysin, a much longer journey both in miles and time if you're unfortunate enough to have to drive!

There are two other metre gauge lines at Aigle, the long Aigle-Ollon-Monthey, Champery line which has lost its street running stretch in Aigle - it was a simple job to lay a new line along the SBB route and regain the original route just outside town. There is however street track remaining on this line in Collombey, plus a decent amount of roadside running. The other line is the Aigle-Sepey-Diablerets route which still uses street running to exit Aigle, and also has a very rural roadside stretch (traversed twice on every journey) into Le Sepey.