NEWS 2017
Above: One of the many abandoned engine houses on the east side of Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, with the trackbed of the Liskeard & Caradon Railway clearly visible in the foreground. This part of the moor a treasure trove for railway ramblers and industrial archaeologists: the engine houses run into double figures, and a high proportion of the trails all have their origin as railways or tramways. 26th October 2016. (Jeff Vinter)

March 2017. Waterford to Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, Ireland. Saturday 25th March sees the official opening of the 31 mile long Waterford Greenway, which re-uses the eastern section of the Great Southern & Western Railway's former line from Waterford to Mallow. The trail is open to walkers and cyclists, and includes three viaducts, Ballyvoyle Tunnel, countless fine views and some waterside sections between Durrow and Dungarvan. The route – promoted by its own website ( – has been constructed to a very high standard, and cycle hire facilities are already springing up. Further rail trails in Ireland can be expected in the coming years, so – if you're feeling glum about the dearth of funding for new routes in the UK – head west across the Irish Sea! Another positive factor is that this route could be re-used because Irish Rail did not sell off the trackbed in small sections to the highest bidder. (Tim Stannard)

March 2017. Bennerley Viaduct, Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire. Bennerley Viaduct is approaching a crucial stage in its regeneration, and a 'friends' group has been set up to assist. A huge amount has been achieved so far, and interested members of the public are invited to attend the first Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct at The Gate Inn, Main Street, Awsworth, Nottingham, NG16 2RN on Monday April 10th at 7:00 pm. (Kieran Lee)

March 2017. Langport West to Muchelney, Somerset. The popular mile-long railway path from Langport to Muchelney follows part of the fomer GWR branch line from Langport to Yeovil, but its days might be numbered. The route is owned by two private landowners who, under the terms of a licence, receive an annual fee from South Somerset District Council for allowing public access, though not as a right of way. The gradual reduction of funding from central to local government means that South Somerset DC can no longer afford to pay for the licences, the first of which will expire at the end of March 2018. Further details are available in this article from the 'Somerset Live' website. (Tim Chant)

March 2017. Hawkhurst to Paddock Wood, Kent. It's been a few years since we reported anything about this line (December 2011 and September 2012, to be precise), but we have just received news that something is happening with the proposed 'Hop Pickers Line', which sought to provide a multi user route along the old SECR branch. This is the text of a report published on the Tunbridge Wells website in January this year: 'New directional finger posts and a monolith mark the first stage of a way-marking and interpretation scheme which will eventually follow the route taken by the steam railway that used to bring hop pickers to the rural communities of Paddock Wood, Horsmonden, Goudhurst, Cranbrook and Hawkhurst. The scheme, which celebrates the heritage of hop picking in this area, has been developed by the Hop Pickers Line Heritage Group. Working in partnership with the Group, the Council [presumably Kent CC] secured funding for the project from Section 106 money which comes from contributions from developments including the solar farm at Paddock Wood, where the first posts and monolith have been installed. The first stage was formally opened at the beginning of December by Chair of Paddock Wood Town Council Elizabeth Thomas, who is also a borough councillor. The plan is for the specially designed directional finger posts, monoliths and information panels to be placed at points all along the route of the railway where public rights of way cross the line.' At the project's inception, it was intended that the Hop Pickers Line would follow the course of the old railway, and there is nothing here to suggest otherwise. If you want to read about local conservation of the railway infrastructure on the branch, there's enough in the links here for a PhD thesis! (Greg Beecroft)

March 2017. Yatton to Clevedon, Somerset. There are serious plans to extend the Cheddar-Yatton section of the railway-based Strawberry Line from Yatton to Clevedon. North Somerset Council owns the land from Yatton to where the railway passes under the M5 motorway, and has permission from the government's 'transport people' (presumably the Highways Agency) to use the sub-motorway tunnel as part of the trail. Beyond the M5, John Grimshaw, the founder of Sustrans, is in positive conversations with Clevedon Council about using the former railway land north of the tunnel. North Somerset Council has received money for the improvement of such trails, and the Strawberry Line Society is pursuing that. Writing to the Webmaster, our correspondent remarked, 'When it will be open is another matter, but I will try to keep you informed'. (Irene Threasher, Strawberry Line Society)

March 2017. Stalbridge to Poole, Dorset. The latest newsletter from the North Dorset Trailway, which aims to recover and re-use the Dorset part of the famous Somerset & Dorset Railway as a multi-use trail, will be found here. It discusses all of the 'missing links', but readers will quickly appreciate the scale of the problem that faces the Dorset local authorities and their supporters when they see the size of the figures. As with similar projects around the country, the underlying cause is the government's continuing austerity agenda, and especially former Chancellor Osborne's 85% cut in funding for walking and cycling schemes, which came into effect almost a year ago. The 2015 figures for walking and cycling accidents are not yet available, but the 2014 figures made for sombre reading, and there is no reason to expect that another year will have changed anything. The calculations which put a price on each fatality now take into account the lost economic output of the deceased, which means that a young person's death is usually costed at over £1 million. So, on the one hand, we've got a big cost associated with building safe routes, but on the other we've got a big cost arising from not having safe routes. There is a connection here. (Jeff Vinter)

Above: Radstock West Engine Shed. The Somerset & Avon Railway has long gone, and now Radstock's best hope for re-connection with the national rail network is via the North Somerset Railway, which hopes to bring back trains to the former Frome-Radstock line. (The NSR will have its work cut out because the permanent way has suffered settlement, while the rails and sleepers are in poor condition.) The different colours in the stonework suggest that the engine shed was built initially as a three-bay structure, with two additional bays (in darker stone) being added later at the far end. 11th March 2017. (Jeff Vinter)

March 2017. Radstock to Frome, Somerset. On a club walk from Radstock to Frome on 11th March, it was found that the Radstock-Frome leg of Colliers Way (NCN24) no longer starts in the town's backstreets, off Meadow View, but from the site of the former Radstock West station, which is being re-developed. The new start point is the roundabout at grid reference ST 690548; walkers and cyclists making for Frome should head south from here along Nelson Ward Drive. At ST 693544, the new section of trail passes Radstock West's former engine shed, which volunteers are restoring; they told club members that its new use will be as a café, but it is such a large building that a lot more could be accommodated there. (Jeff Vinter)

March 2017. Leaderfoot Viaduct, Borders. The permissive path over Leaderfoot Viaduct (grid reference NT 574347) is now closed. The viaduct was repaired at considerable expense in the early 1990s, but appears to have passed into the hands of the Highways Agency's Historical Railways Estate – which is extremely averse to risks. (Richard Bain)

March 2017. Midhurst to Petersfield, West Sussex/Hampshire. Some years ago, West Sussex County Council announced an aspirational plan for a trail along the former railway lines that ran east and west of Midhurst, to Pulborough and Petersfield respectively. Nothing came of this, but interest in the potential of the old railways around Midhurst as traffic-free trails has increased with the arrival of the South Downs National Park Authority, which is extending the railway-based Centurion Way that comes up from Chichester to the south. When that trail reaches Midhurst, maybe something will be done with the other lines that served the town. On that subject, the Historic Railways Estate of Highways England, which owns a skew bridge on the Midhurst-Petersfield line, has applied recently to Chichester District Council to 'underpack' it and effectively render it useless for any future trail. CDC has rejected the application, but now HRE has taken its case to appeal. (Jeff Vinter)

March 2017. Dunster to Blue Anchor, Somerset. Further to our report in November 2016, the 'Steam Trailway' between Dunster and Blue Anchor (actually the first part of a longer intended trailway from Williton to Minehead) has run into trouble. The trail is now in place from Dunster Beach to within three-quarters of a mile of the promenade at Blue Anchor, but there local chalet owners – insisting that the public footpath across their land has been mis-signed for years – have blocked it, forcing an inconvenient detour via the steeply banked shingle beach. This is extremely difficult for anyone on a bicycle, and virtually impossible for a mother pushing a child in a buggy. Members of the local Ramblers' Association are on the case, with support from the RA's head office, but it looks as if a resolution may be a long time coming. (Jeff Vinter)

February 2017. Yatton to Clevedon, Somerset. At the Annual General Meeting of the Strawberry Line Society, a committee member (of the SLS) mentioned to the Webmaster that North Somerset Council has agreed to build a railway path from Yatton to Clevedon, broadly along the old trackbed, which will tunnel beneath the M5 motorway en route. This will extend the existing Cheddar-Yatton railway path right up to the Somerset coast. (Jeff Vinter)

February 2017. Ashton Gate to opposite Sea Mills, Bristol. With the branch line to Portishead set to re-open throughout by 2020 (thus rendering even the westernmost section from Portbury Dock Junction to Portishead an absolute non-starter for a railway path), readers might like to know that the River Avon Trail runs parallel to the line from grid reference ST 566722 at Ashton Gate to ST 548755 opposite Sea Mills (on the other side of the river), a distance of 3¼ miles. Along the way, the trail passes beneath the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge, which was a highlight of a rail trip down the branch enjoyed by the Webmaster in 1974 when freight services were still running. (Regular passenger trains were withdrawn on 7th September 1964.) West of ST 548755, the trail leaves the railway for a long loop around the river, but returns to it above Pill Tunnel, whence it follows the railway less precisely to Portbury, variously as the River Avon Trail, NCN41 and NCN26. Recent project maps show definite new/replacement stations on the branch at both Portishead and Pill, plus a 'possible new station (subject to business case)' at Ashton Gate. Portbury is going to be unlucky in that no new station is planned there, although Portishead station will be moving closer, i.e. eastwards up the branch, due to the need to eliminate a level crossing or expensive new bridge in the town. The former halts at Clifton Bridge and Ham Green are also 'goners'. (Keith Holliday and Jeff Vinter)

February 2017. Donyatt, Somerset. We are pleased to report that the timber halt at Donyatt, on the Taunton to Chard Junction in Somerset, is to be restored following its destruction by arsonists on 25th November 2015. (Keith Holliday)

February 2017. Catesby, Northamptonshire. After many years as a waterlogged lost cause, Catesby Tunnel on the former Great Central main line to London is to be used for vehicle testing. If this happens, it might be possible to visit occasionally if the owners are amenable, as happens with Pinnock Tunnel (owned by Imerys) on the Par to Fowey line in Cornwall. (Keith Holliday)

February 2017. Glasgow Central, Strathclyde. Earlier this month, the BBC published a brief report on Glasgow's 'ghost station', which turns out to be an underground platform beneath Glasgow Central. There are plans to restore the platform to how it looked in its heyday, no doubt as a result of thousands of people having visited in recent years on official tours. If you wish to join them, you can book yourself on to a tour by following the link here; they run from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily, and it is good to see that Network Rail is one of the promoters – clearly making constructive use of some old railway infrastructure. If British Rail had done the same, what might we still have today? (Keith Holliday and Jeff Vinter)

February 2017. Stourbridge Junction to Lichfield, West Midlands/Staffordshire. The largely disused railway from Stourbridge Junction to Lichfield via Brierley Hill, Dudley Castle Hill, Sandwell, Walsall and Brownhills is the subject of a re-opening proposal, partly to encourage people away from local roads and partly to ease rail congestion at Birmingham New Street. S.K. Baker's Rail Atlas (13th edition) shows this route as a combination of freight and disused lines, although some re-construction would be necessary in the Brownhills area; the overall objective is to provide a through route from Worcester to Derby. The Conservatives' West Midlands Mayoral candidate for Dudley, Andy Street, explained: 'I want passenger trains back on this line. If up and running it would connect the east and the west of the Black Country without the need for trains to pass through Birmingham New Street station. The problem with the train network in the West Midlands is the congestion at New Street; it does not have the capacity to take more local trains. We are in talks with Network Rail and West Midlands Combined Authority about the prospect of reopening this line, [which] is exactly the type of project that as mayor the the West Midlands I will be trying to get funding [for]", The overgrown tracks between Brierley Hill and Wednesbury (Great Western Street) are already being cleared of plants and trees so that structural and environmental surveys can be carried out. This section is likely to return to use first, as an extension to the Midland Metro network. It certainly makes a change for a disused line to become a railway rather than a trailway! (Tim Chant)

February 2017. Nationwide. On Saturday 11th February, The Times published an interesting article under the rather wordy title, 'No-frills mini trains offer route to reopening lines that Beeching shut'. The story began thus:

'A new generation of “no-frills” trains is being manufactured under plans to open up little-used branch lines closed by Dr Beeching in the 1960s. Ultra-cheap trains powered by truck engines, built using lightweight materials and running at low speeds, may be introduced within the next two years as part of a £4 million trial. The trains, which could be shorter than a conventional bus, will be manufactured at half the cost of an existing carriage and cause less damage to tracks. Rail chiefs insisted that reducing overheads would make it easier to maintain loss-making branch lines on which passenger numbers were low.'

The report identified a number of lines on which these vehicles might appear, namely Thornton-Leven, Ashington-Newcastle, Burton-Leicester, Wisbech-March, Bristol-Portishead, Bere Alston-Tavistock and Aberystwyth-Carmarthen. .Given that the the article was written by Graham Paton, the newspaper's Transport Correspondent, it did beg a few questions. For example, how would these routes be re-acquired for rail use, and what would happen to properties built on former trackbeds? Also, given that the authorities have consistently under-estimated the demand for reinstated rail services, most recently in the case of the Borders Railway, who says that passenger numbers are going to be low – especially on trains out of Portishead and Tavistock? One might think that Mr Paton had never heard of the time-devouring and patience-busting road commute either from Portishead to Bristol, or from Tavistock to Plymouth. (Michael Sherman)

February 2017. Radstock to Frome, Somerset. Regular visitors to this site will know that Frome's Missing Links (FML) is the local community-based group working to extend the Radstock-Great Elm leg of Colliers Way (NCN24) into Frome - not via roads, as at present, but via a new, purpose-built traffic-free and level route to Frome's town centre and railway station. On 10th February, FML published the news that it had become an independent charity; the principal reasons were to apply for grants in its own right, and accept donations (hopefully with gift aid). The group also announced that it had just been awarded a little over £48,000 by the Heart of Wessex Local Action Group, which will be used to erect fencing and carry out groundwork improvements for Phase 2 of the 'missing link'. Recently, it extended its appeals from just money and volunteer labour to include materials: CPM Ltd of Mells responded magnificently by donating pipes which will be used to construct a drain through an embankment, while Graham Lock of Murtry Hill Farm transported the pipes to the site. What FML needs now is supporters, and to this end has re-designed its website and is inviting members of the public to join the campaign. Membership is free, but it is important that FML obtains 'critical mass' to demonstrate widespread support. You can become a member at We thoroughly commend this vibrant and effective community group. Frome is a wonderfully idiosyncratic town – a significant part of the centre is mediaeval (pay it a visit) – and its residents are a determined bunch. (Jeff Vinter)

Above: This photograph of the deck of Network Rail's new crossing of the Bristol main line at Bath, Bellott's Road, shows why February is not the nation's favourite month; although the photographer and Webmaster live 95 miles apart, their respective views in Bath and Chichester were equally cheerless. It is much to NR's credit that the new bridge incorporates parts of the former viaduct, and looks like it thanks to the use of blue engineering bricks – not that they look very blue here, just drab! 3rd February 2017. (Matt Skidmore)

February 2017. Bath to Midford, Somerset. Further to our progress report in January, Network Rail have now completed work on the former S&D viaduct over the Bristol main line at Bath, Bellotts Road, and re-opened it to walkers and cyclists using the popular Two Tunnels Trail. During the works, NR converted the former three-span viaduct into a single-span bridge. (Matt Skidmore)

January 2017. Craven Arms to Llanelli (Shropshire/Powys/Dyfed). Anyone familiar with the railways of Wales will recognise this as the Central Wales line (i.e. definitely not a railway path), whose escape from closure during the 1960s and 1970s verged on the miraculous. For many years, ramblers have used the trains to undertake scenic walks from one station to another, and this traffic is now so well established that the local train operator, Arriva, offers bona fide walk leaders free tickets. On Monday 16th January, BBC Wales ran a story about a feasibility study that has been carried out to create a long distance path between Craven Arms and Llanelli. The route has been trialled and will link up with other paths such as the South Wales Coastal Path and the Offa's Dyke Path. Further details are available from the BBC Wales website, and apparently funding is now being sought for signage, etc. (Brian Stone and Chris Parker)

January 2017. Sutton Scotney, Hampshire. Further to our report in July 2016, we have just learned that the re-development of the station site at Sutton Scotney (on the former Didcot, Newbury & Southampton Railway) will see the old goods shed swept away. When one looks at what the people of Tetbury have achieved with their abandoned goods shed, it makes one wish that the developers in Hampshire had more imagination. The removal of this sizeable building helps to explain how they will cram 28 new homes into the site. (Marcus Heap)

January 2017. Bettisfield to Fenn's Bank, Wrexham County Borough (Clwyd). A 3½ mile railway path exists along much of the trackbed between these two stations on the Cambrian Railways' former line from Whitchurch to Ellesmere and Oswestry. As an aside, Ordnance Survey's online mapping gives the postal address of both Bettisfield and Fenn's Bank as Shropshire after the nearest postal town (Whitchurch), but historically this area was a detached part of Flintshire. (Bill Bryson, who has written to comic effect about the idiosyncrasies of the UK's local government arrangements, would love all this.) At the Bettisfield end, access is from SJ 461358 (off the main lane through the village); at the Fenn's Bank end, industrial premises occupy the trackbed, so the sensible course is to leave the trackbed via the footpath at SJ 504387. The old railway forms part of the Fenn's, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses National Nature Reserve, which had a lot of waymarked paths installed back in 2001. What is especially convenient about this trail is that the Llangollen Canal also links Bettisfield and Fenn's Bank, so the railway and canal can be used to provide a circular walk of a little under 8 miles. As a bonus, the stations at both Bettisfield and Fenn's Bank survive as private homes. For further details, click here. (Keith Holliday)

Above: Network Rail are making good progress on re-modelling the former Somerset & Dorset Railway's three-arched viaduct over the GWR main line at Bellotts Road, Bath. As can be seen, the nearest and furthest arches have been infilled and bricked up, while the central span has been raised to allow overhead power lines to go through in the near future. The shape of the S&D brickwork has been retained, as can be seen from the foreground, but the parapets have been raised – which would be necessary if the interior deck had been raised as well, which we think likely. 7th January 2017. (Bob Spalding)

January 2017. Bath to Midford, Somerset. Contributor: 'Today I walked along the S&D trail from Midford to the outskirts of Bath and got as far as the bridge carrying the S&D over the GWR maiin line. They are making good progress and I took some pictures to bring RR up to date. I am no expert on these things and don’t know the story behind the choices made about the bridge, but it seemed to be heavily over-engineered for what it carries, a pedestrian and cycle trail. What would your thoughts be?' Webmaster: 'Heavily over-engineered? What, by Network Rail? I don't know what you mean. Surely you're exaggerating? Seriously, I know exactly what you mean. As railway enthusiasts, we can be grateful that they are making such a sympathetic job of the work, but I think that the original S&D viaduct/bridge was not listed (it was no thing of beauty), so one must wonder about the necessity of such an expensive solution. One can argue that the new bridge will last a very long time, and that time will make the cost seem less extravagant. Possibly, the planning conditions required NR to replace like with like.' (Bob Spalding and Jeff Vinter)

January 2017. Usk, Monmouthshire. Usk featured in these pages in both 2015 and 2016 in connection with a proposed rail trail from near the town to Little Mill Junction, following closure of the freight line from the Royal Ordnance Factory at Glascoed, This time, Usk is in the news for its 256 yard tunnel, which Gwyn Smith, Sustrans’ area manager for South East Wales, has shortlisted as a priority for opening to pedestrians and cyclists partly because it would give direct access to Usk Primary School, avoiding the A472. The Usk Trail Access Group (UTAG) has been working to improve walking and cycling routes in the area for several years now, and its Chairman – Matthew Hamer – remarked that 'It would be great to see funding go into making a proper route for the tunnel, as it’ll link with what we are doing [between Little Mill and Glascoed].' (Tim Chant)

January 2017. Carmarthen to Llandeilo, Dyfed (Carmarthenshire). Carmarthenshire County Council intends to re-open parts of the trackbed of the former LNWR Carmarthen to Llandeilo branch as a multi-use trail. A start has been made already between Fronun and Bwlch Bach, near Abergwili, but this section is alongside a road; the rest is intended to be on the old railway, and traffic-free. The next phase will see a path created between White Mill and Nantgaredig at the western end of the line, The 16 mile route will follow the River Tywi linking major tourist attractions; it is expected to generate between £860,000 and £2 million for the local economy every year, while providing locals with healthy and sustainable travel options. Councillor Hazel Evans, the council's Executive Board Member for the Environment, said: 'I am delighted that we have been able to start work on the Tywi Valley Path which will cost between £5 and £8 million and will be developed in phases, depending on funding.' So far, the costs are being met from a Local Transport Fund grant of £581,600 which was given to improve walking and cycling links in the county. Unfortunately, local farmers oppose the scheme. Their spokesman appears to be one William Richard Lloyd Davies, who cites flooding of the trail as a risk and says it should go alongside the A40, or use NCN47 – which is actually the B4300. (Tim Chant)

January 2017. Porth Penrhyn, Bangor, to Bethesda and Llyn Ogwen, Gwynedd. Following on from our report in July 2016, BBC Wales announced on New Year's Day that the 275 metre Tregarth Tunnel is now 'shovel ready', and Lôn Las Ogwen should be diverted through it – and open to walkers and cyclists – by April 2017. A spokesman for Gwynedd County Council described the tunnel as offering a 'level and direct alternative to a steep climb and a road'. He remarked that what the council learns from this scheme, and how it is run over the next couple of years, will have a big impact on projects to open larger tunnels elsewhere in Wales. (Graeme Bickerdike and Keith Holliday)

Update: On 27th February, the club was informed that work had started on converting Tregarth Tunnel for its new role, so the planned opening by April looks distinctly achievable. (Keith Holliday)

Above: The former Tetbury goods shed in the course of conversion into a modern community centre; note the glazed gable end, which now permits natural light to flood into the building. This picture appeared initially on the Geograph website, and the photographer's superb caption is worth quoting in full: 'The classic GWR standard goods shed, built in their hundreds all over the system. This fine example at Tetbury, dating from 1889, was in use until 1st July 1965, when the line finally closed for goods as far as the terminus. The passenger service had ended on 4th April 1964. For many years after closure it was the base of a coal distributors. You will read elsewhere that "no trace of the station remains", but if you have a treasured copy of Paul Karau's Great Western Branch Line Termini of 1977 as I do, you can trace the outlines of all of the buildings. You can even go so far as to make accurate scale models of all of them, using the author's superb scale drawings. As I write, the large cattle dock which adjoins the shed is being rebuilt behind the fence on the left, using reclaimed materials.' 4th February 2016. (Paul Pankhurst used under the terms of this Creative Commons Licence)

January 2017. Tetbury, Gloucestershire. HRH Price Charles visited Tetbury on Friday 23rd December to open the restored Tetbury Goods Shed, which the following day – Christmas Eve – hosted the town's packed-out annual carol concert. Residents who had attended previous concerts in the then unrestored building were delighted by the brightly-lit, and heated, new community centre which it has become. Prince Charles, who lives at nearby Highgrove House, was part of an early discussion group in the 1990s which met around the fire of the local Royal Oak pub to consider what might be done with the old building, which is now Tetbury's principal link to its railway past. The other link, of course, is the town's rail trail, which was doubled in length late last year. (Tim Chant)

January 2017. Aylsham to Norwich via Reepham, Norfolk. On 29th December, the Eastern Daily Press published an article about a new mobile phone 'app' which will give visitors an 'augmented reality history' of Marriotts Way; it has been made possible thanks to a £455,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The route was chosen because it is Norfolk's best-used long distance trail. Martin Wilby, chairman of Norfolk County Council's Environment, Development and Transport Committee, explained: 'It’s a race against time to preserve memories of the historic route, so the project will be recording and preserving the first-hand accounts of people who used to work and travel on, and live nearby, the old railway line. Overall our aim is to help people to better understand the industrial past of the trail and encourage them to appreciate and explore the haven for nature and recreation on their doorsteps that it is today.' (Keith Holliday)