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.

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