Friday, 1 February 2013

Bridport - West Bay (Bridport Railway)

Opened: 1884

Closed: 1930 (passengers), 1962 (goods)

The 19th Century saw the rise of the seaside resort, which pretty much occurred with the spread of railways. They had become fashionable with the rich initially, but the railways enabled the less well off to enjoy this new form of leisure, transporting them faster and more cheaply than had ever been managed before.

One of the most popular stretches of coastline lay between Bournemouth and Exeter on the south coast of England. There were many resorts dotted along the coast, and all but one was the sole domain of one company, The London and South Western Railway. Weymouth was the sole exception to this, being the domain of The Great Western Railway, although even then it was also served by The LSWR. Swanage, Lyme Regis, Seaton, Sidmouth, Budleigh Salterton and Exmouth were all eventually served by LSWR branch lines, and thriving resorts.

At the time the railway to West Bay was planned, the Bridport Railway was the nearest to a seaside line the GWR operated, aside from the Weymouth terminus. Opened as a nominally independent line in 1857, it branched off of the GWR Weymouth line at Maiden Newton, threading a sinuous path to the town. Bridport lay a mile and a half inland, having been a port due to the navigable estuary of the river Brit, but this had silted up centuries previous. This had led to the improvement of the Harbour at West Bay, which became known for shipbuilding. This was however in decline, and the two most prominent landowners in the area - Lieutenant-General Augustus Pitt-Rivers and Henry Edward Fox-Strangways, the 5th Earl of Ilchester had other plans, forming the West Bay Land & Building Company, with the intention of creating a resort to attract business to the area.

The railway arrived in West Bay in 1884, which followed the maxim that building a railway would generate traffic where previously there was little. Heading south from the original Bridport station, the railway crossed East Street via a level crossing, immediately south of which stood Bridport East Street station, somewhat closer to the town centre and most notable for the use of an already existing cottage as the station building for many years. The line then continued on to the terminus at West Bay, a small but neat and characteristically GWR designed station.

Edwardian postcard of West Bay station.

Stimulated by the railway, properties, an esplanade and a pavilion sprung up around the juvenile resort, but it appears that the line was in a catch 22 situation; until more holiday accommodation was built around West Bay, traffic would never be heavy, but as a late starter as a resort compared to its neighbours it lacked amenities, and speculators wishing to develop hotels and such would be more inclined to choose a better established resort in which to establish their business.

By 1901, the Bridport Railway had been absorbed into the GWR, but after the grouping of 1923, it became increasingly evident that the small resort was unlikely to expand further. After the summer season of 1930, on 22nd September, the line between Bridport and West Bay was closed to passenger traffic, with trains terminating at the original Bridport station once again.

As was often the case, some freight traffic continued after cessation of passenger services; these trains were finally withdrawn in 1962. The following year, The Beeching Report recommended closure of the remaining section of the Bridport Railway to Maiden Newton, but services lingered on until 1975, due to concerns about substitute buses being operated on the narrow lanes east of Bridport, making it one of the final Beeching sanctioned railway closures in the country.

Today, much of the northern section of the Bridport - West Bay railway has vanished completely under the eastern section of the Bridport bypass, with the level crossing on East Street replaced by a roundabout. The line first becomes recognisable near the junction of Burton Road and Marsh gate, where a dog-leg bridge over the line once carried road traffic, and it has been converted to a footpath running down to the coast. West Bay station has survived intact after spending many years as a boat yard, and the pretty little station building now functions as a tea room. Since the railway closed, West Bay has been further expanded, but it remains a small community, although Bridport has expanded far south enough to almost turn the village into a suburb.

West Bay website page on the railway

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Buckie and Portessie Branch (Highland Railway)

Opened: 1884

Closed: 1915

As the railway company with the most northerly operations in the UK, much of The Highland Railway served rather a sparse population. This made much of the network vulnerable to closure in the 20th Century; but the first branch closed served a reasonably large town rather than the villages many of the Highland's branches served.

Buckie was (and still is) one of the larger towns on the Moray Firth, and typical of the area had an economy based on fishing. Despite its importance, it took decades before railways reached the town. To the south, Keith was reached by the Great North of Scotland Railway in 1856, and to the east Portsoy had a terminus station from 1859, built by The Banff, Portsoy and Strathisla Railway. Four years later, this line was authorised to extend to Portgordon along the coast and via Buckie, but despite an 1866 extension this was allowed to lapse. Part of the problem appears to have been with Lord Saltoun of Cullen House, who refused to have the railway cross his land - a common problem for railway companies back then.

It was not until 1884 that the Highland Railway opened its Buckie branch. Geography and the layout of their existing lines were both against the Highland - their line from Elgin to Keith initially headed east before turning almost 90 degrees to head south along the west side of the River Spey, and crossing it as far south as possible via another 90 degree turn and resuming its eastbound course to Keith. A second bridge over the Spey was ruled out as too expensive, and so the Buckie line was built from Keith. Whilst this meant it was convenient for traffic coming from the rival GNSR, any traffic from the Highland's own system would have had to travel south from Elgin, and then head back north from Keith. But as the line held a monopoly on traffic, this was not a great issue at this point.

However, on the same day the act was passed for the Highland line, the GNSR (who had absorbed the BPSR, or the Banffshire Railway as it was later known) also succeeded in having an act passed for a railway similar to the lapsed BPSR plan, but running beyond Portgordon, over a sizable viaduct at the mouth of the Spey and onto Elgin - Saltoun's land at Cullen having been bypassed by means of several large viaducts through the town. Opened as a through route in 1886, a junction was formed with the Highland who extended their line to Portessie, a mile east of Buckie.

However, this new line effectively doomed the Highland route. Westbound journeys were shorter via the GNSR, and although the route to Aberdeen was longer, the Moray Coast Railway had services that were faster, more frequent and more convenient, with through trains running from Elgin, along the coast and to Aberdeen. As a rather straggly branch line, the Highland route struggled to compete, and the population between Buckie and Keith was too sparse to provide much additional traffic.

The catalyst for closure came in the early days of The Great War. In 1915 as an emergency measure, the line was closed to all traffic and the track was lifted between Buckie and Aultmore to be used elsewhere for the war effort. Portessie - Buckie and Aultmore - Keith were kept open for freight traffic, and it would appear the intention was to reopen the line in full once the war had ended. Of course, the war lasted much longer than expected, leaving most British railway companies in poor shape financially, and by the 1923 grouping, the centre section of the line remained closed.

The Highland had become a constituent company of The London, Midland and Scottish Railway, and it was this company that decided to reopen the line to traffic as originally intended. The line was relaid, and work was carried out to the infrastructure, including the renaming of Drybridge Halt to Letterfourie; but after this work was complete, the LMS then decided that the line would most likely be unrenumerative, and dropped the plan.

Track was left in situ for a while, and freight services continued on the two stubs of the line. The Portessie - Buckie section was closed in 1944, having apparently operated in isolation from the rest of the LMS' system, but traffic continued on the Aultmore stub until 1966, due to the presence of a distillery in the village.

Today, much of the line remains recognisable. Most of the route between Portessie and Buckie has become a footpath, and the curve of Mill Crescent was dictated by the railway to the north and west, whilst off Hamilton Path lies the stationmasters house, and the goods shed. The trackbed becomes recognisable again east of Archibald Grove. From here, most of the formation is intact, including a very impressive overbridge at Drybridge, as seen in the Streetview below.

View Larger Map

At Aultmore the extended John Dewar distillery straddles the route, but the line becomes visible again further south, before ending at a small bridge by the Chivas Regal bonded warehouses, and just short of the Aberdeen - Inverness railway - once more see the streetview below.

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Railscot on the Buckie and Portessie Branch

Photo of Rathven railway station from National Museums Scotland.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Manchester And Milford Railway, Penpontbren Junction - Llangurig section

Opened: c1864

Closed: 1882(?)

The Manchester and Milford Railway had a name that suggested that it was intended to be a lengthy cross country route. But this was far from the case, and the railway was never intended to leave Welsh soil, or get particularly close to the port of Milford Haven for that matter.

The MMR was actually intended to form a link between two other railway companies - The Cardigan and Carmarthen in the south, and The Llanidloes and Newtown Railway in the north. The latter was isolated from the rest of the emerging railway network, having opened in 1859 - not until 1863 did it connect to another railway, The Oswestry and Newtown. The aim of the MMR was to attract traffic away from Liverpool, which held a monopoly on transatlantic traffic to and from the industrial northwest of England, and take it instead to Milford Haven in southwest Wales.

1866 map showing the line terminating at Llangurig

The act of Parliament for the line was passed in 1859, to run from Pencader via Devil's Bridge (where a branch would head off to Aberystwyth) and thence to Llanidloes but the following year, an act was passed for another line in the area, The Mid-Wales Railway. There were initally clashes between the two parties south of Llanidloes, but eventually sense prevailed, and a joint line was built between Newtown and Penpontbren Junction. Services via The Mid-Wales Railway  commenced on this section in 1864, with their trains initially running to Three Cocks Junction before being extended to Brecon.

By 1863, a short section of the MMR had been completed between Penpontbren Junction and LLangurig, but work on this section was halted as the company had had second thoughts on the route as planned, due to the extensive engineering work including long tunnels that would be required to drive it through the mountains south. An Act in 1864 to allow deviation of the line failed, but another attempt the following year was passed, which involved the Aberystwyth branch leaving the main line at Strata Florida instead of Devil's Bridge, and the main line was to be rerouted.

Despite this uncertainty, work progressed on the southern half of the line, which was built along the Teifi Valley, far less demanding terrain than that required to the north. Train services reached Lampeter from Pencader in January 1866, extending to Strata Florida in the August of that year. As for the northern section, the decision was made to build the less intensively engineered Aberystwyth branch first; this opened in August 1867.

Many sources say that the Llangurig branch only ever saw one freight train; others say goods traffic ran until 1882. Either is possible; Llangurig was (and still is) a small community, unlikely to have generated much traffic by itself.

The various machinations involving the scheme, the 1866 collapse of The Overend, Gurney and Company Bank and the money owed for the operation of the Llanidloes - Penpontbren Junction section (which of course was isolated from their main system) left the company in a poor state financially, and the MMR ended up bankrupt by 1875, before eventually being bought out by The Great Western Railway in 1905.

It would appear that the very rural location of the line has contributed to the survival of much of its course, over 130 years (at least!) since trains stopped running. Perhaps the most impressive surviving structure is a bridge spanning a minor road immediately south of Penpontbren Junction. Further south, part of the route has been used for a new alignment of the A44, but soon reappears, and the cutting where the line ran into Llangurig village is clearly visible alongside Tan-Y-Groes.

View Larger Map

It appears rails were laid no further west than Cae Capel, but bridge abutments remain for crossing a minor road and stream just to the west of Llangurig School (See above Google Steetview), and the course of the line is traceable until opposite the farm of Tynddol and the Wye Valley Garage, where it peters out. Some work was allegedly also carried out further west in the form of cuttings to approach the lengthy tunnel that would have to have been built, although 19th Century cartographers labelled them both as old quarries.

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales' images of the Llangurig line

Powys Local History Encyclopedia Railways page

Monday, 28 January 2013

South Eastern Railway, Ramsgate - Margate line and The Kent Coast Railway, Ramsgate Harbour line.

Opened: 1846 (SER), 1863 (KCR)

Closed: 1926

Out of the four companies formed in the grouping of 1923, The Southern Railway was by far the most enthusiastic about modernising and extending their network. As well as rebuilding stations and extensive electrification works, several new lines were constructed. Whilst some were on virgin territory for the railways, one in particular was built to address an infrastructure problem common throughout the UK: That which occurred when rival railway companies occupied an area and constructed competing lines that were designed to operate in splendid isolation from each other, in defiance of the existence of the other party.

This is the situation The Southern found on the Isle of Thanet after the grouping, when the company absorbed both companies that operated services in the area, The South Eastern Railway and The London, Chatham and Dover Railway. The South Eastern was the first railway to make it onto the isle in 1846, when a line was built from their main line at Ashford, running via Canterbury. Opening in the April of that year, in December a line was opened running north from Ramsgate to Margate, another emerging seaside resort. The arrangement at Ramsgate station was somewhat awkward; any trains running through to Margate had to reverse at Ramsgate, which was designed as a terminus rather than a through station.

The South Eastern had the area to themselves until October 1863, when The Kent Coast Railway extended their line from Herne Bay to another station at Ramsgate, running via Margate and Broadstairs. Although nominally an independent small company established in 1857, by 1862 The London, Chatham and Dover Railway was working the line, which at that point ran from Faversham to Herne Bay, and by 1871 had absorbed the smaller company completely.

The two lines only met briefly at Margate, where the Kent Coast line passed over the South Eastern's line. Margate  (KCR) and Margate (SER) stations were close by, and a spur was later laid allowing trains to run from Margate West to the South Eastern's route to Ramsgate. At Ramsgate, the situation was quite different; The South Eastern station was some distance inland and uphill, whilst the Kent Coast station was right on the coast, having passed through a mile long tunnel.

The Kent Coast Railway station at Ramsgate c. 1870

The London, Chatham and Dover Railway and The South Eastern Railway were for many years to one another; but relations mellowed to the extent that in 1899 a working union was formed between the two, and as The South Eastern and Chatham Railway they operated as a single system. The LCDR station at Margate was renamed Margate West, that of the SER became Margate Sands, their Ramsgate station became Ramsgate Town, and that of the LCDR was named Ramsgate Harbour, but the two lines carried on as separate systems.

Before the formation of the Southern Railway, plans had been considered to consolidate the two routes, but no action was taken until after the grouping. in July 1926, a line one and a half miles was opened, running from immediately north of the Kent Coast tunnel portal to a point half a mile or so northwest of the South Eastern terminus, where a new through station was established. They day this opened, both routes into the old Ramsgate stations were closed permanently, along with the ex-South Eastern line to Margate, although a mile or so was left at the Margate end, as part of the 1926 works involved building a new freight yard immediately south of the ex-LCDR line.

Most of the short section of line to Ramsgate Town was quickly taken up for an approach road to the new station, lined with housing, although a short stub of the line survives today to the west of Wilfred Road, to the south of the present station. Much of the southern end of the SER Margate line has also been lost under urban expansion, at least until the outskirts of Margate where some of the trackbed remains recognisable. For many years, the site of Margate Sands station was used as a car park, but was redeveloped with flats and an amusement arcade in the 1960s.

The station site at Ramsgate Harbour was levelled soon after closure, and the site became 'Merrie England', a zoo and fun fair. The tunnel, however, enjoyed a much more chequered career. The new Southern Railway station was some distance from the beach, and so the operators of Merrie England, Ramsgate Olympia, lobbied the Southern to reopen the tunnel line. The Southern chose not to do so, and so Ramsgate Olympia chose to reopen the line themselves, as a narrow gauge line. This service, which transported passengers from close to Dumpton Park station on the 1926 line to the seafront, with services commencing July 1936. Services were suspended during World War Two, as the tunnel was pressed into service as an air raid shelter, but after the war services resumed, ending in 1965.

1896 map of Margate's railways - KCR station on the left, SER in the middle and the short lived KCR terminus building and embankment to the right.

Mention should be made of another disused station at Margate, the terminus built by the Kent Coast Railway. Seeming built for local traffic between Margate And Ramsgate, it was opened a year after the Ramsgate line and left the line east of the main Margate KCR station, terminating on the seafront with the SER terminus immediately to the west. It seems to have been rather a folly, and the track was quickly removed. The main site became the grounds for Margate's Pleasure Gardens, whilst the station building became a dance hall and restaurant, The Hall By The Sea, both of which were part of what became the Dreamland complex, but the station building was replaced by the Dreamland Cinema in the 1930s.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Solway Junction Railway

Opened: 1869

Closed: 1921

The central section of the Solway Junction Railway was one of the last railways to close before the grouping of 1923, with the final train traversing the route in 1921. Intended as a means of moving iron ore from Cumbria to the foundries of central Scotland, the line opened in 1869. Previously, trains had to run via Carlisle, and the new line provided a far more direct route for the traffic.

Branching off from the Caledonian Railway main line from Carlisle to Glasgow at Kirtlebridge, the line headed south via a station at Annan Shawhill, crossing the Glasgow and South Western Railway main line before bridging the Solway Firth. The Solway viaduct was by far the most notable feature of the route, a remarkable piece of engineering over a mile long, when the bridges over the Forth and the Tay further north were still many years away. Taking over three years to build, the viaduct incorporated 193 iron spans, as well as causeways from both shores of the Solway Firth, and ran 34 feet above the water level. Entering England at Bowness, the line had a station at Whitrigg before Joining the Carlisle and Silloth Bay Railway for several miles. The Solway Junction then left this line at Abbey Junction, heading south through Bromfield station before ending with a junction with the Maryport and Carlisle Railway at Brayton.

The design of bridges of this length was still in its infancy however, and problems emerged due to ice in 1875, when water entered the hollow columns and subsequently froze, cracking the ironwork. Worse damage occurred six years later, when a buildup of ice on the Firth broke up during a thaw and was driven into the structure by a powerful ebb tide, destroying 45 piers. The damage was repaired, but the iron ore trade that the line had been built to exploit was in decline. By 1895, the Caledonian Railway took over the English section of the line, having aquired the Scottish section in 1873.

Before the First World War, concerns over the condition of the viaduct led to restrictions in the size of engine that could be used, but the war brought an increase in goods traffic - although passenger services were withdrawn on January 1st 1917, a date when many little used passenger services across Great Britain were suspended. They resumed on the line in 1920, but the following year the viaduct was condemned, and all traffic ceased over it. Passenger and freight trains ran on the Scottish section as far as Annan until 1931; the English section lost passenger services when the viaduct closed, but freight between Abbey Junction and Brayton lingered on until 1933, and half a mile between Annan station and a spur on the Glasgow and South Western line lasted until the 1950s.

Most of the viaduct was removed in 1937; however, stumps of the piers remained, and caused damage to boats in the firth until they were completely removed. Today, much of the route is tracable on the Scottish side, even though the town of Annan has expanded round the route. The survival of this trackbed is down to the Chapelcross Nuclear Power Station, as between there and the firth a pipe carrying waste water has been laid along the old route, and past Annan Shawhill station, which survives as a private house.

At the northern extremity of the English section at the and of the causeway, one complete iron pier and some stumps survive in situ, rusted through in places but still defiantly standing nearly a century since they carried their last train. The station buildings at Bowness and Bromfield still survive (the latter much altered), but much of this half of the line has been absorbed back into fields.

Solway Junction Railway at Cumbria Railways

The viaduct today at Visit Cumbria

Annan Shawhill Station at Disused Stations

Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Newmarket & Chesterford Railway

The most notable closure in the early years of the railway age took place in 1851, three years after the line in question opened to traffic. There had been sections of lines closed to passenger traffic on the embryonic system prior to this, most notably at the two termini of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. But the closure of the Newmarket and Chesterford Railway involved a 17 mile stretch of railway rather than a short, obsolete stub, incorporating two stations. Even more unusual was that the line closed outright, in an era where freight services were rarely withdrawn along with passenger services.

Like many railways in the 19th Century, the Newmarket and Chesterford was conceived as a self-contained local line rather than part of an expanding network. The Eastern Counties Railway had reached Cambridge in 1847, and the Newmarket line formed a junction with the larger company at the settlement of Great Chesterford, south of Cambridge. The line headed northeast through rural country, passing through stations at Bourne Bridge, Balsham Road, Six Miles Bottom and Dullington before reaching the terminus. The line was double track, indicating the confidence felt in the new line, and it soon found itself courted by two larger companies - the Eastern Counties, and the Norfolk Railway. The latter was soon absorbed by the former however, and by October 1848 the Eastern Counties was running the Newmarket line.

This came at a heavy price to the Newmarket and Chesterford - quite literally as the fees charged by the Eastern Counties for operating the line eclipsed the revenue raised, and the line closed for the first time in 1850, leaving a branch line from Newmarket to Cambridge unfinished, with no money to complete the work. The obvious solution would have been to sell the line to the ECR, which was presumably the outcome the larger company hoped for, but instead the decision was made to single the Chesterford line, and use the lifted rails to provide the permanent way for the new branch.

The line from Newmarket to Cambridge was opened in October 1851, and on the same day services ceased on the original line south of Six Mile Bottom, where the two routes diverged. This made great economic sense - the new line gave both the people of Newmarket and the railway company a direct line into Cambridge, which increased revenue, and still allowed for a fairly direct route for travellers heading south. The communities in the vicinity of the stations at Bourne Bridge and Balsham Road were the biggest losers, as these were both located on the closed section of line, but a decade later a station called Abington, later known as Pampisford was opened close to the site of Bourne Bridge station, easing the situation somewhat.

Despite the sacrifice of the Chesterford route, the railway did not stay independent for long, being absorbed into the Eastern Counties in 1852, who extended the line north of Newmarket in 1854. The Cambridge - Newmarket line remains open today, forming part of the route from Cambridge - Ipswich.

Today, much of the route of the Chesterford section is readily traceable from the air, which is perhaps surpising considering how long the route has been abandoned for. The junction point of the two routes is clearly evident west of the point where the railway is crossed by the A11 road, and the disused trackbed can be seen curving down to run parallel to the north of the road all the way until close to the junction with the London line, although at points ploughing and road alterations have obliterated the old route. The site of the station at Balsham Road has long been returned to agricultural use, whilst it is believed the Bourne Bridge station building was incorporated into the Railway Inn, which operated for many years before the site was buried under a road junction on the upgraded A11.

The saddest loss on this route was the original station at Newmarket. Bypassed when the railway was extended north, it was kept in use with a new platform on the through lines, but superseded by a new station to the south in 1902. It did remain in railway use until 1967, but was unexpectedly demolished in 1980.

Disused Stations website on Newmarket first station