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!


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I agree that the line should be restored, but there are a lot of heritage lines in the county considering the population, so volunteers could well be an issue. Far better to see it put back as a proper line.

    1. Exactly, I don't think anyone's proposing a heritage line. This needs to be a Network route with a proper year round rail service at standard tariffs and through ticketing.

  3. I`m old enough to remember travelling on the line when it was still open (which makes me feel very old) It would be great to travel on it again when it reopens.

  4. When singled a good deal of investment was made to make a 'basic railway' of the route and reduce operational costs, where many of the manned gated level crossings were replaced by an early form automatic open crossings.

    Operational costs were cut further by closing local booking offices and introducing conductor guard operation (the guards issuing single tickets to/from stations between Kings Lynn & Hunstanton only). Creation of a long single line section meant that signal boxes could be closed also.

    But no effort appeared to be made to increase usage or make the stations or services more attractive to use

  5. I rode the line in 1966 when we were holidaying at Heacham. It was the same week we won the World Cup.

  6. Negativity is something we British are particularly good at as evidenced by some of the comments on here. So called 'staycations' are a relatively new phenomenon fueled by the fall of the pound and more recently international terrorism. Add into that the unknown effects of Brexit and it's likely that increasing numbers of British holiday makers will opt for more breaks in the UK.

    Reinstatating the line to Hunstanton has the advantage that more road improvements are likely to be environmentally damaging and negatively impact on the area's natural beauty. Indeed, even if the road network was substantially improved where will all the cars that would bring to Hunstanton go?

    Reinstating the line to Hunstanton will alleviate a lot of the problems currently seen in both Hunstanton and the towns and villages between it & Kings Lynn. If we want to preserve Norfolk as a pleasant place to work & live whilst encouraging tourism we have to move some of thecars off the road and rail is undoubtedly one of the most effective ways of doing that.