Saturday, 30 July 2016

Wellingborough 1985


(All 17.6.1985 copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

On a dull 17 June 1985 I found myself at Wellingborough station, in Northamptonshire. There were plenty of photo opportunities, there was still a working signalbox, semaphore signals and some earlier signage.

Trains were either first generation DMUs and HSTs, but I did also capture a class 31 on what appeared to be a one parcels coach train.

By 1985 the station had lost some of its importance with the loss of the Market Harborough line (closed to passengers in 1964) and also the short branch to Higham Ferrers. Both these lines have preservation schemes based on them. In 1985 the station looked practically empty but, in common with just about everywhere on the rail network, passenger traffic has steadily increased in recent years with passenger numbers now approaching one million per annum.

These pictures reflect that brief hiatus in the 70s and 80s when the railways were underused and there was still surplus capacity in many places. There were still physical links to the steam era, and little attempt to make the environment friendly or attractive. And those empty platforms! Where can you find that these days?

Nowadays with both passenger and freight traffic growing steadily there are plans to reinstate one of the running lines and the currently closed platform 4 to allow greater capacity at the site.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Hunstanton - time to start stirring


(All pics sourced via the Internet)

The British seaside town was one of the biggest victims of the Beeching cuts, as many seaside resorts were served by branch lines rather than stations on main lines. There was a synergy between closing lines and a more affluent Britain falling in love with resorts overseas (or more precisely the weather of resorts overseas!) This all took place in the 1960s and 1970s, and there was wholesale destruction of lines to seaside resorts in this period. Even quite large resorts were not immune to this process despite retaining a reasonably healthy trade - Ilfracombe, Bude, Swanage, Minehead and many others all fell victim to this carnage. 

One victim was Hunstanton, but this wasn't a Beeching cut. Like the Swanage branch it was a step beyond Beeching, he'd recommended the branch remain. But a process of running down the route, coupled with the structural issues outlined above, left it stranded as a long siding, serving a town that could no longer compete with Benidorm or Majorca. Even the presence of the royal station at Wolferton wasn't enough to keep the line running. On 5 May 1969 the line closed completely, making Hunstanton just one more run down seaside resort lacking a vital amenity.

The line originally opened in 1862, and Hunstanton station was built to handle the big crowds that soon flocked to the town, almost all being brought in by train.There were two very long island platforms to handle the traffic, at its peak (always on a Sunday) there were trains every ten minutes.
Passenger traffic reached its peak in the mid fifties, as Britain boomed after the war ended, and before most families had acquired a car. The line closed to freight traffic in 1964. Most through services to Liverpool Street ceased in 1959, leaving just a basic shuttle service on the line between King's Lynn and Hunstanton. A few through trains struggled on, in 1966 these had been reduced to one working on weekdays with two up and one down on summer Saturdays. The line was singled on 2 March 1967, this was the death knell for through trains as just about all sidings were also removed. With the line looking more run down and services less and less attractive ridership continued to fall. The line closed for the sake of just £40,000, the loss in its last year of operation, with no attempts made to increase traffic or utilise the line's resources.

Nearly 50 years on the world has changed. British seaside resorts are experiencing something of a revival, based around short stays rather than week or two week holidays. Seaside resorts with a train service have an automatic advantage over rail-less resorts - you can avoid the traffic jams commonplace near seaside resorts as everyone tries to get in at the same time on the same road. Add steam like at Swanage and Minehead and the attraction of a community/heritage line is plain for all to see. Community line first of course, as the purely heritage business model is likely to suffer in the future for many reasons!

There has always been some demand for the line to Hunstanton to return, and for all the usual reasons. So, thanks to a lot of demands, I've set up a Reversing Beeching group just for the line. This will allow interested parties to look at ways of getting the line back. Now a Reversing Beeching group is just that, a Facebook point of contact. It doesn't claim to be a preservation society or anything else. But that CAN grow out of a Facebook group, as Combe Rail has down in Ilfracombe. So if you want t help get things rolling at Hunstanton as a first step why not join and get involved? This is a line through flat country with few engineering works. The demand for the line is already there, even Beeching recognised this all those years ago!

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Through Great Yarmouth Streets

Yarmouth Quay 29.1.1985

Yarmouth Quay Coal in, 1960s with D11104

Yarmouth Quay South Quay 1955 Copyright Jack Harrison

Yarmouth Quay Steam Tram on the Quay

(All pics sourced via the Internet)

Back in about 1968 we went on a family holiday to Great Yarmouth. This was seriously unusual territory for us, almost abroad! I was just starting to develop an interest in railways then and the caravan park being right next to Vauxhall station was a real bonus! Lots of unusual trains and locomotives, I even saw a steam worked breakdown crane there.

Towards Lowestoft there was the mysterious  South Town station which at first sight looked disused but actually wasn't. I really regret now that I didn't travel on this line to Lowestoft as it closed the following year, but at 12 years old I didn't have a great deal of freedom!

A real surprise was not only the street running lines in town but the fact I even got to see a locomotive running along one of them. This was a remnant of the dock lines, which once connected Vauxhall and the other Great Yarmouth station, Yarmouth Beach, to the docks in town.

This extensive system grew from the Yarmouth Union Railway which aimed to link Yarmouth's three termini, which were completely isolated from each other. The YUR was incorporated on August 26 1880 to link the termini. The line originally was short, just over a mile long, starting at a junction just outside of Yarmouth Beach station, across Caister Road, then due south through the town on a route that followed the backs of houses in Alderson Road. From here it became street running by the White Swan Inn and then made a junction with the GER tramway route from Vauxhall station just east of the Bure river bridge. From here the line continued to the principal quays alongside the river Yare.

The quay lines were worked by steam tram engines, these being shedded in the engine shed at Vauxhall when not being used. These worked for many decades along streets and quays, bringing coal and salt in and fish out. The steam locos gave way to diesels from the 1950s.

All of the lines were abandoned by the 1970s (so I only just caught them in action) and most were lifted by 1985, though some short stretches still remain along the south quays.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Brighton tramways

(Pics sourced via Internet)

The Brighton Tramway network was run by Brighton Corporation, the first line opening on 25 November 1901 and the last route closing on 1 September 1939. The gauge of the network was 3 feet 6 inches. All lines were electrified from the start.

There were 8 routes at the network's peak. Routes had letters rather than the usual numbers.

Route B ran from the Aquarium to Beaconsfield Road with trams every 4 minutes. Route C ran from Seven Dials to Lower Rock Gardens every 5 minutes. Route D from Aquarium to Ditchling Road ran every 4 minutes. Route E ran from Aquarium to Race Hill every 10 minutes. Route L ran from Aquarium to Lewes Road every 4 minutes. Route N ran from Aquarium to Dyke Road every 5 minutes. Route Q ran from Aquarium to Queen's Park every 10 minutes and Route S ran from Aquzrium to Brighton Station every 5 minutes.

There was a tram depot at Lewes Road, just short of the tram terminus, this building is now used by Brighton and Hove buses as its central depot.

The last routes were replaced by either buses or trolleybuses.

The total route length at its greatest extent was 9.48 miles.

Some infrastructure survives from the tramways, including shelters at Ditchling Road (Florence Place), Queen's Park Road (Pepperpot) and Dyke Road (Reservoir). One found a new home on the Volk's Electric Railway. Three others survive elsewhere, two at the Amberley Museum and one at Stanmer Rural Museum.

One tramcar also survives, number 53, and a society exists to restore this.

A tramway also operated between Hove and Shoreham. This was always steam worked and operated between 1884 and 1913. This had no connection with the Brighton Tramway system.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Tunbridge Wells Ghost


(All 31.8.1988 Copyright Steve Sainsbury/The Rail Thing)

For a station and line that closed in 6 July 1985 it was something of a surprise to find that, just over three years later, the tracks were still down and the station and other buildings still standing. I suspect that this will be my last ever brush with the gothic glory of a large railway station entering decay, because they just don't close railways any more!

This was just about the last real railway closure in the UK. A few other short stretches of lines have closed since, but they have all found a new rail use, usually as a tramway. Indeed this line also has as well, but as a heritage line linking a new station at Tunbridge Wells with the Network station at Eridge. But back in 1988 this was all in the future, and the line had fallen into total disuse.

Amazingly the line closed for the sake of £175,000(!!!), the quoted cost of incorporating Grove Junction into the newly electrified Tonbridge to Hastings line. This short section through a tunnel just to the east of the West station remains disused, but is protected for future rail use.

The line saw diesel units for a while after closure, these were stabled at the depot there until new arrangements could be made. This meant the infrastructure stayed in place a little longer.

The Spa Valley Railway has gradually reopened the stretch back to Eridge where cross platform interchange is made with Network trains running up from Uckfield and down from Oxted and beyond. This gives the heritage line useful resilience and also the potential for future community traffic.

Looking further ahead it's likely that many other lines long disused in this area will reopen as the oil runs out and more and more traffic goes to the railways. This includes the iconic Cuckoo line which runs south from Eridge to Polegate near Eastbourne, the useful route from Eridge via East Grinstead to Three Bridges and, of course, the soon to be reopened Lewes-Uckfield line. Bearing all this in mind, plus the progress already made at the Spa Valley, these pics really do show the low point of Tunbridge Wells West's fortunes. I have mixed feelings - gratitude that I got to see this but perhaps regret that I didn't see it in its glory days - and will probably miss seeing the whole network reopen.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Sand Hutton Light Railway

Bossall station

Claxton brickworks

Engine shed

Contemporary postcard

(All pics sourced via the Internet)

The Sand Hutton Light Railway was an 18" gauge estate railway built on the principles developed by Sir Arthur Heywood. It replaced an earlier 15" gauge miniature railway. It connected the estate's main house with Warthill station on the LNER, and the village of Bossall.

The planned full length of the line was 7¾ miles (12.5km), the original miniature line being replaced and extended between 1920 and 1923 using materials obtained from the line at the Deptford Meat Depot in London, which has a standard gauge link and an 18" internal network.

The line ran from Warthill station to Kissthorn's Siding near the main hall, with a substantial branch serving a brickworks at Claxton. In 1923 the main line was extended to Bossall, with a further branch to Barnby being added around the same time.

The original light railway order included a half mile extension to Scrayingham but this was not built, promarily because it would have involved the construction of a large and expensive bridge across the river Derwent. This brought the total length of the built line to 5¼ miles (8.4km).

Principal traffic on the line was agricultural produce from farms on the estate together with coal to the brickworks and bricks from them. Almost all of this traffic was carried through the transfer sidings at Warthill station.

The line also carried passenger traffic between 1924 and 1930, for personnel and visitors to the estate.
The Claxton brickworks closed in 1929, the line's promoter and benefactor Sir Robert Walker died in 1930, the line closed completely in June 1932 and was dismantled by 1933.

The line employed four Hunslet steam locomotives, numbers 4 (Esme), 10, 11 and 12. These all came from the meat depot at Deptford, and all were scrapped shortly after the line closed. 75 wagons were acquired from the meat depot, all built in May 1915, together with 1 (possibly) two brakevans. At least one survived until the 1960s though its fate is unclear.

There was also one passenger coach, built new for the line in 1924 by Robert Hudson of Leeds. This seated 30 people and was very long for so narrow a gauge (31 feet 3 inches). This coach still exists, though not without some risky adventures in the past, having been a cricket pavilion at one time and also being stored outside for many years on the Lincolnshire Coast Railway (earlier incarnation), it now survives at that line's new base near Skegness.

Dorchester West 1973


(All pics 7.8.1973 copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

I'd caught tantalising glimpses of Dorchester West on car trips to the west country in the 60s and had always assumed it to be closed! It was boarded up and run down and I never saw a train there.

Years later I got to visit the station, walking from Dorchester South to catch a train to Maiden Newton and changing for Bridport. It was still boarded up but definitely open!

This has always been a delightful route, similar to the S&D in many ways. Whilst the Bridport branch is no longer (currently!) open the main line onwards to Yeovil and Castle Cary is, and busier than it's been for many years. Back in 1973 there were first generation DMUs and (as the pictures show) some class 47 hauled trains as well. I've never seen freight on this line.

All in all a recommended route, though more for scenery than trains!

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Liphook 1977


(All 6.7.1977 copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

This intermediate station on the Portsmouth Direct main line was opened on 1 January 1859 and is today served by one stopping train in each direction.

Back in 1977 the station was still in nice condition with buildings intact, services provided by slam door stock. In the 30 minutes or so I was there I managed to get pics of trains in both direction but I think these were non-stoppers. I particularly like the photo of the station exterior, nicely dated (like many of my exteriors are) by a selection of contemporary cars gracing the forecourt.