Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Southwold Railway

Halesworth engine shed after closure

No 1 at Halesworth

Blythburgh Station c1900

Southwold railway station postcard

Southwold station 1927 postcard

England wasn't a particularly fertile country for narrow gauge railways, but there were a few passenger carrying lines (as well as hundreds of industrial lines).

The only public railway of less than standard gauge in East Anglia was the Southwold Railway. This ran between Halesworth on the East Suffolk line to the seaside resort of Southwold. It had a ramshackle reputation which the rail company seemed to play on, and this could have been one reason why it was closed so early - in 1929. Looking at this line from today's perspective it seems incredible that it did close - a Network connected route to a popular seaside resort - would be pure gold today for both residents and visitors to the area. It would make commuting to London by rail a breeze ...

But the line is now stirring despite peculiar opposition from some current day residents who probably haven't quite grasped the transport challenges ahead of us and don't understand just how important a rail link will be in the future. The new company is based at Wenhaston and is establishing a rail presence there. It will be nice to see a certain amount of modern equipment being developed for the route offering a reasonably fast passenger and freight link to the main line, but for now most of the input is of a heritage nature. In a way the Southwold is the perfect model for future secondary transport in the UK  a narrow gauge link from the Network to a small town serving the communities on the way. The Southwold Railway WAS an anachronism, but not in the way many people think. It was well ahead of its time, and it becomes more obvious each day that its time lies a decade or so into the future. I will be watching this line with considerable interest over the coming years!

The Southwold Railway was a narrow gauge railway line between Halesworth and Southwold in the English county of Suffolk8 34 miles (14.1 km) long, it was 3 ft (914 mmnarrow gauge. It opened in 1879 and closed in 1929.
Intermediate stations were at WenhastonBlythburgh and Walberswick.

  • Route 

  • The route closely followed the 
    River Blyth, with Halesworth and Southwold both on the north side, but the longest section, including the intermediate stations, was on the south side. Although the line closed in 1929, its track was still marked and identified on a 1933 Ordnance Survey map, a navigable version of which is accessible in the external links section. The line was lifted and the equipment was scrapped in 1941 to help with war efforts. Some track can still be found on the harbour branch and a surviving van is at the East Anglian transport museum (Carlton Colville). There is also a surviving (but derelict) coal shed at Blythburgh.
Parts of the route from Southwold to Blythburgh are walkable, particularly through woodland known as the Heronry on the south shore of the Blyth estuary. The original footbridge at Southwold was blown up during the war but its pillars now support a footbridge.

Proposed re-establishment of the line[edit]

To further the memory of the Southwold Railway and to foster wider interest therein The Southwold Railway Society was formed in 1994 to:
  1. research, collate and add to the information about the Southwold Railway and to augment the existing collection of artifacts and memorabilia relating to the railway
  2. Publish and otherwise disseminate information, display at exhibitions and promote public events
  3. Investigate the possibility of re-establishing part of the line and to promote this if re-establishment was shown to be possible
  4. Initiate and promote other such activities as are determined
The Southwold Railway Trust was established in 2006 with the objective of promoting awareness of the heritage of the Southwold Railway, preserving any remaining artefacts and instigating re-instatement of the railway as a local community and public amenity connecting Southwold to the main line railway at Halesworth.
The trust submitted a planning application in June 2012 with a view to recreating a new station close to the original station site in Wenhaston. Plans include a new station building based on the design of the original, plus a workshop and visitor centre building. The proposals include the reopening of a 12 mile (0.80 km) section of the original railway towards Bythburgh. Lineside walks and picnic facilities, and the conservation and appreciation of local wildlife are also central to the plans. It is hoped that the trust will conserve a little piece of this historic and unique railway for current and future generations. To haul trains on the reopened line the trust is progressing with the construction of a replica Sharp Stewart steam locomotive, based on the designs of the locomotives that served the railway.

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