Saturday 29 April 2023

Somerset and Dorset Delight


It's always a pleasure getting the excellent S&D Telegraph, the house magazine of the Somerset and Dorset Railway Trust down in Midsomer Norton. It's a high quality magazine but the best thing about it is the content, which is superb. This current issue (number 62) contains articles on a walk along the whole route in 1976, the 9F that the group is purchasing for eventual use at Midsomer Norton, general articles on all aspects of the rebuilding and maintaining of the line and reports on volunteers.

The S&D revival, in my opinion, is the most important thing in UK rail preservation. There are stirrings of rebuilding at several points, from Midford in the north down to Spetisbury in the south. Midsomer Norton and Shillingstone are both proceeding with establishing working heritage railways.

I worked many years at Midsomer Norton and saw huge progress from a trackless station to an almost mile long route (including double track!) and a fully rebuilt signalbox and greenhouse. I had to give up due to health issues but I still follow developments closely, mainly through the Telegraph magazine.

So the station is restored, the line plans to extend both north and south and a big locomotive is coming. The group need to break out from the Misdomer Norton South site and start to build a premier league line where big locos like the 9F can really see some proper work.

I'd urge anyone with an interest in the S&D to join the group at Midsomer Norton and help make this happen, whether by volunteering, supporting financially or just spreading the word!

The group can be contacted via their website at and emailed at

Sunday 5 February 2023

50 Years Later - the Winchester to Alton railway

It's unusual for people to remember something that happened exactly 50 years ago, but sometimes as railway enthusiasts we do!

The Winchester-Alton 'Watercress Line' closed on 5 February 1973. I was there on the last day (the 4th) as it was a line quite close to me.

I first travelled on the line a few years earlier, in 1970, to actually visit another line. We were staying in Winchester were we had relatives, and me and my brother took the train from Winchester to Alton, changing there to continue to Bentley. From Bentley we planned to travel to Bordon by bus to visit the Longmoor Military Railway, which had closed the previous year. First problem was it was a bank holiday and the buses were running a Sunday service, which meant NO buses! So we had to walk to Bordon! We found the Longmoor Military Railway there but just an empty trackbed, they'd already lifted the line which was a shame.

This was BC, Before Camera, so no pictures and just vague memories unfortunately. My first photo was taken on 9.7.1971, about a year later.

I then made another trip on a rover ticket AC (after camera) and took a few very misty shots, but I think they captured the gloomy atmosphere of a soon to be closed line very well.

(Two above Alresford 4.1.1973 Copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

(Winchester Junction 4.1.1973 copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

                         (Medstead and Four Marks 4.1.1973 Copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

On the final day I only travelled to Itchen Abbas, to get some photos there. I felt a built guilty as I couldn't book a ticket directly from Littlehampton to Itchen Abbas, I had to rebook at Winchester but didn't have time to do that as I'd have missed the Alton train! I got some surprisingly good quality photos there on a cheap camera. The light must have been good.

                                         (All copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing 4.2.1973)

I visited Itchen Abbas a few years later, the station was intact but the line had been lifted. I was on a motorbike back then which was an easy way to visit railways after they'd closed.

                                                      (All copyright Steve Sainsbury 1976)

Medstead and Four Marks, further east, was a wreck with track lifted and junk everywhere. A sadder sight than Itchen Abbas in a way.

                        (Medstead and Four Marks 24.6.1976 Copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

I visited Alresford a few years later after it had become the site of a heritage railway, track down, steam locos and rolling stock in the platforms and yard. A sign that things were turning round at last. 

I travelled on to Ropley which with track down but no activity was more a haven for wildlife than railway fans!

                                 (All Ropley 24.6.1976 copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

Now of course the Alresford to Alton stretch is a busy heritage line, a premier league one at that. It's inevitably lost a lot of the atmosphere both the BR line and the deep closure line had, but it's doing a job now and providing a fair amount of employment locally.

                                    (Ropley 18.7.2015 Copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

The stretch beyond Alresford via Itchen Abbas to Winchester Junction is still lost and although a Winchester connection would tap into possible extra custom from the Southampton area coming up the main line, in reality, at least for now, most visitors come by car anyway, although the Network link at Alton is well used. And there would be the issue of shared track for a couple of kilometres at Winchester not to mention the need for extra capacity at Winchester station. It may well become a hot issue in future decades but for now that part of the line is in deep sleep.

Saturday 4 June 2022

Christ's Hospital

A fascinating white elephant in the Sussex countryside.

Pic - M.E. Fuggles, Christ's Hospital, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

My own memories.

In 1966 I was nine and just starting to get into railways, despite opposition from my dad who thought it was an odd interest! He was wrong of course.
Three memories, a trip from Littlehampton by train to a Longley's garden party in about 1963.
A day working in Egham with my dad (I know, I was nine).
Day trips to Bramber Castle from Littlehampton between 1964 and 1966.
The link? Christ's Hospital station. We went through on the garden party trip, when it was still in its heyday. I didn't see it, it was dark, but we did go through!
The Egham trip involved crossing over the railway at Slinfold. The line was closed by then, but the track was down and they were actually in the process of lifting it.
And Bramber? I remember three visits. The first. Seeing a DEMU in Bramber station, and dad gleefully announcing that the line would very shortly be closed. The second. Seeing the line and station all overgrown, from the road bridge that crossed over the line. The third. The line lifted and the station demolished.
So although somewhat tangential I'd seen all the aspects of Christ's Hospital, but years before I had the freedom to wander. Or a camera. The station itself, and the two lines whose closure led to its spectacular decline.

Setting the scene.

Christ's Hospital was one of three unusually large stations in very rural locations that the LBSCR built. Horsted Keynes is now a hub for the Bluebell Railway, and will become a junction station again when the Haywards Heath branch is reopened, giving the Bluebell Railway a second link to the Network. Singleton on the Chichester to Midhurst line was magnificent. a large multi platform station nestling in the South Downs, over supplied with everything ostensibly for traffic to Goodwood, high up on the Downs. This station closed to passengers in 1935, the line itself closing completely in 1951 after an accident north of Cocking when a culvert collapsed. And the third station was the subject of this blog. Christ's Hospital station is still there, and still sees trains, it is a tiny shadow of its former self. Now it's just a simple two platform station with few clues to its former status.
Christ's Hospital railway station is to the west of Horsham in West Sussex. It is 64.5 km down the line from London Bridge via Redhill. Opened in 1902 by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway it was intended primarily to serve Christ's Hospital, a large independent school which had moved to the area in that same year. It now also serves the rural area to the west of Horsham, after some development since opening.


The LBSCR was already considering building a new station at Stammerham to hopefully encourage residential development in the area, the new station to be called West Horsham, When the school decided to relocate the LBSCR was elated, expecing the area to experience a development boom, and lightheaded with all this constructed a lavish station building at the enormous cost of £30,000 (over 3 million in today's money!), which they managed to get the school to part finance. The station was built in a similar style to the school, utilising red bricks from the nearby Southwater Brickworks.
The site on the railway chosen for Christ's Hospital station had previously been used by the Aylesbury Dairy Company which had a small wooden platform on the Mid Sussex Railway for milk to be loaded and taken to London. The dairy company fell on hard times with the platform falling into disuse and this allowed the estate to be purchased in 1897 at a knock-down price by the school, which by then was seeking to move from London. It was expected that the school would attract large numbers of visitors which would need to be accommodated by the railway. 

Opening of the school

The school's foundation stone was laid by the Prince of Wales on 23 October 1897, the whole school came down by train to Horsham where a siding was laid for the occasion. This was of course before the actual station was opened.

The station itself

There were five through tracks serving seven platform faces, the station being 3.62km from Horsham station. The Cranleigh line diverged from the Mid Sussex line at the north end of the station, with the platforms curving away to the west. The rest of the station served the Mid Sussex and Steyning line trains. Platform 1 was mainly used at the start and end of school terms for the reception and despatch of pupils' trunks, and also for holiday specials. 


In a way decline set in almost from the beginning. The school traffic wasn't anything like was expected as the svhool was boarders only, so busy trains at beginning and end of term but little traffic otherwise!
And the expected residential development in the area never happened as the school bought up all the land for itself!
Whilst an excellent interchange point for the four lines it served the station didn't pull in many passengers from the area itself, so a big station served very few local people.
This left Christ's Hospital station too big and too costly and rationalisation started in the 1960s, with closure of the Guildford and Shoreham lines accelerating the process. With those lines gone Christ's Hospital became a minor station on a single through line, and soon became a characterless, bus stop style station with little traffic. But at least it escaped closure, which was threatened in the 1960s!

Travel Back in Time

There is one small way to revisit the station as it was and that is by watching the (otherwise dreadful) film ROTTEN TO THE CORE where, towards the end, the station becomes the star, with scenes of a class 33 hauling a passenger train and plenty of platform and exterior shots.


Thursday 30 December 2021

The Brixham Branch

The Brixham train at Churston 1958 (copyright Mike Morant)
Brixham station in 1958 (painting by Mike Jeffries) 

When you visit the Dartmouth Steam Railway if you look to your left heading towards Kingswear you should be able to see that Churston station was a junction. This was the starting point for the short branch line to Brixham. You'll probably also be surprised that such a well known and picturesque town as Brixham is not on the rail network! 

The branch opened in 1868 and was originally broad gauge. It suffered one major problem in that Brixham station was situated on a hill above the town, so getting down to the good stuff was a bit of a steep walk, getting back up was worse! 

The line carried a lot of fish from boats in Brixham's busy harbour, and carried a lot of passengers in the short summer season. The inconvenient placing of the station coupled with a seasonal traffic flow were always going to be an issue, as was the need to change trains at Churston (and in most cases Paignton) to get anywhere up country. 

There was a small engine shed at Brixham, a wooden station and brick gentlemen's toilet. 

The line was converted to standard gauge in 1892. 

Auto trains served the line from the early 20th century almost to the end. DMUs operated from 1961 to 1963. These competed with bus services which began to take away a lot of the passengers as they were more convenient and dropped people in the heart of the town, rather than on top of a hill! Train services were halved in 1951 thanks to a national coal shortage and were never reinstated in full. 

The line closed completely on 13 May 1963 and lifted in about 1964. The station was used shortly after closure in the film 'The System'. 

 There has been some speculation on reopening the line, though the station site would still be an issue and rather than just cut and paste I've provided the link below - 

The Disused Stations site has a fine array of pictures and maps etc at 

Friday 25 September 2020

Carnival of Trains - The Rise and Fall of Saltair, Utah

 I was watching a low budget horror film the other day, Carnival of Souls, made in 1962 on a budget of just $34,000. Part of it was filmed in Kansas but a key element of the film was an abandoned resort at the end of a causeway in Utah.

The intriguing thing was what seemed to be an abandoned railway or perhaps interurban that seemed to run to the resort. In 1962 the track was still in place.

A little bit of research on line revealed that this was Saltair on the Great Salk Lake in Utah, USA.

The abandoned amusement park that is reached by a causeway clearly inspired the filmmaker, Herk Harvey, and the film grew out of its strange atmosphere. The location is revisited several times by the main protaganist in the film. Already abandoned in 1962 the whole place burned down just eight years later. At one time Saltair was the location of the world's largest dancefloor.

The resort opened in 1893 and, being owned by pragmatic Mormons it was advertised as a wholesome alternative to the more earthy parks further east, like Coney Island in New York. One of the main attractions was that the water was warm and salty, and it was impossible to sink! The first Saltair burned down in 1925.

Pavilion c1930 postcard

A second pavilion was quickly built, although it too suffered fire damage in 1931. In 1933 the lake began to recede, leaving Saltair somewhat high and dry, reducing its appeal to bathers. To make up for the loss of patronage due to the low water levels, a roller coaster was constructed, as well as a short railroad from the pavilion to the water using gasoline-powered speeders to carry patrons across the brine flat. Other things that slowly reduced Saltair's popularity were the growth of cinema, cars and eventually television, drawing visitors away. The pavilion closed during world war two, being left to the heat, cold and salt.

A third pavilion was built in 1981, but continued to be plagued by the familiar problems of flooding and receding waters. Nowadays it is used exclusively as a venue for rock concerts.

If you're still with me this is where the railway part comes in!

Even before the resort opened a railway company was incorporated on 6 September 1891 to tap the tourist market at Saltair Beach Resort. The Saltair Railway quickly changed its name to Salt Lake and Los Angeles Railroad in April 1892, then renamed the Salt Lake, Garfield and Western Railway. Passengers were carried to Saltair and freight to the mines around Garfield and the salt industry run by Morton Salt. The Saltair Resort was opened on 8 June 1893 and for many years this was the main source of passenger revenue. Electrification of the line commenced in 1916 and was completed in 1919.

At its peak the Saltair route carried 12-16 passenger car trains every 45 minutes.

                                                          Source via Flickr

Electric train at Saltair

                                 Surviving car 2007 Source Doug Anderson,

The resort finally closed permanently in 1959, at which point the Salt Lake, Garfield & Western ceased passenger operations. The first diesel locomotive on the line was purchased in 1951, and was a GE 44-tonner. In July 1954 the railroad leased a GE centercab diesel from U.S. Steel, and this marked the end of all electric operations on the Salt Lake, Garfield & Western. The SLGW continues to haul freight to this day along its 16 miles of track with additional sidings for railcar storage, transloading, railcar cleaning rail served warehousing and other rail-related services.

The line was unusual in that its main purpose was to serve a single, man made attraction. So the railway was vulnerable for this reason, its fortunes mirroring those of the attraction it was built to serve. The only similar set up I can think of, though I'm sure there are many more worldwide, was the line from Brighton to Devil's Dyke, in Sussex.

                                                1975 Source via Flickr 1975

A final note, perhaps in keeping with the whole bittersweet story. In 1963 the SLGW decided to run a final, open air train down the Saltair line, a way for locals and railfans to say goodbye to the line. In extreme contrast to the glory days between the wars, only about a dozen people showed up ...

To finish, on a brighter note!

          (Copyright James Belmont source -

A Salt Lake Garfield & Western passenger special rambles slowly through the salt grass near the Salt Lake International Airport. The SLGW ran passenger specials every fall when model train shows were held at the Utah State Fairpark. The SLGW is a family owned operation, and the owner Don Hogle was happy to let folks ride on the pilot of their 44 ton GE. It appears the kids are having a terrific time riding the D.S.5.


Photo references

Tuesday 14 July 2020

First Generation DMUs

Maiden Newton 7.8.1973

Many of us grew up with these diesel units that were ubiquitous all over the UK. I grew up in the heart of Southern Electric territory (Littlehampton) so these were quite exotic to me! Heading west on a rover ticket I'd run into diesels at Hilsea, as the line west to Southampton wasn't electrified at that time. These were the then common 'Thumpers', which to me just looked like electric units with a big grill on the side! They also ran in threes which was a change from the twos and fours further east. Further west I'd hit Weymouth where the Western Region DMUs would mix with our Class 33 headed trains, splitting off in Dorchester to take the scenic route through Maiden Newton and Yeovil and on up to Castle Cary and Bristol.

Eastleigh 13.5.1973.

I gradually got to travel all over the UK and met these units in their various forms all over the place. We didn't really appreciate them at the time, but with their front windows (in most cases) it was a real treat to get a forward view. I particularly remember the Dawlish sea wall stretch, the Tamar Bridge and the run from Exeter to Okehampton with the forward view.

Leyland, 24.5.1985.

Doncaster 7.7.1986.

B405 Oxford 2.7.1986.

These units of course no longer run on the Network. many second generation ones have also vanished. The new units are smart and look good, but I've not travelled on any yet, I rarely travel on trains these days sadly, though hopefully that will change in the future.

So to celebrate the first generation units that were such a huge part of my early railway life I've started a Facebook group just for them. Please come and join us and, if you have pictures, memories etc, please share!