The news that we receive concerning abandoned railways is published first in our quarterly magazine, so that our members benefit first. However, after each publication, a selection of main news stories is then published here. Prior to 1st June 2020, we used to publish news on this website first; see below for the links. The first bulk publication of news cascaded from our magazine will appear here in October, after members have received their copies of the Autumn edition.
The extent to which old railways remain in the news may come as a surprise, but we think this reflects a national sense that past governments went overboard with railway closures. Nowadays, national government, local government and local communities are all interested in undoing the damage, whether by re-opening lost lines, or putting them to constructive new use. However, as observed elsewhere on this site, railway re-opening proposals face the difficulty that Victorian engineering standards fall far short of their modern counterparts, e.g. in the slopes permitted on the sides of embankments and cuttings. Even proposals for rail trails face the difficulty that most former railway land is now privately owned.
October 2020 – Sandsend, North Yorkshire
Camping coaches are back at Sandsend Station. On 21st October, a coach and a wagon were craned into position at the old station. A YouTube video shows them on lorries reversing a mile down the steep bank from Lythe to the old railway station at Sandsend before being lifted into place on the old platform. The Whitby Gazette reports that two camping coaches are once again to be installed at Sandsend, the first station going northwards from Whitby West Cliff on the Whitby, Redcar &Middlesbrough Union Railway which closed in 1958. Planning permission has been granted to the Mulgrave Estate, which owns the station house and the old line in this area. The trackbed is walkable to the southern portal of Sandsend Tunnel, as part of the Cleveland Way long-distance path. One coach, described as a Pullman-style former passenger coach, will have two bedrooms and a bathroom, while the other is to be used for storage of bikes, surfboards, luggage and garden furniture. These are to be sited on track fixed to sleepers which apparently will be actually on the end of the existing platform. The station also retains a cunningly concealed wartime pillbox which defended Sandsend Viaduct. The Yorkshire group was allowed access to this on their Yorkshire Coast walking week some years ago. (Jane Ellis)
Oct 2020 – Droxford, Hampshire
The fabulously restored Droxford Station on the Meon Valley line is advertised for sale in the Hampshire Chronicle for £1.6 million. The owner who is selling Droxford hasn’t been there that long, and did much to restore the railway feel of the place, including building a replica signal box (described in the Chronicle as ‘a tasteful one-bedroom annexe which has open plan living space with kitchenette and fireplace, a double bedroom and private bathroom’). Your average signal box, then. Droxford Station was designed by T.P.Figgis, also known for his work on the Northern Line in South London, and had its moment of fame when Prime Minister Winston Churchill used it as his base during preparations for the Normandy D-Day landings. Droxford Station is, in fact, located in the village of Soberton. (Gifford Cox)
Oct 2020 – Lowdham, Nottinghamshire.
Lowdham Signal Box, declared redundant by Network Rail, has been saved by Lowdham Railway Heritage (LRH), a charity set up to re-locate and restore the Victorian structure. It was craned from its working position by the level crossing to the old cattle dock, on the other side of the Grade II listed railway station building. Lowdham Station remains open on the line between Nottingham and Newark-on-Trent. The box dates from 1896 and LRH hope to open it as a working museum by the spring of 2022. LRH member David Moore said: ‘What you’ll be able to do is come in and pull the levers and ring the bells so it will look and feel like it might have done [inside] a railway signal box in the 1950s.’ (West Bridgford Wire)
Oct 2020 – Wendover – Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire
This perhaps does not meet the criteria for Vinter’s Gazetteer, but here is a trail with a difference: inspired by HS2 and running alongside a live railway. Greenways and Cycleroutes (G&C) have reported on a proposal to create the Misbourne Greenway, a path for walkers and cyclists alongside the Chiltern Line between Wendover and Great Missenden. Born of the struggle to prevent the new high-speed line from isolating communities, as well as the desire to encourage outdoor exercise, this project is being promoted by G&C, Sustrans and Buckinghamshire County Council. The standard of the path will be similar to that of the nearby Waddesdon Greenway, use spare railway land from Dunsmore Lane to Mapridge Green Lane, and – subject to agreement – incorporate the Grove Farm section works into those of HS2. Unlike news elsewhere in this issue, this item shows different railway bodies working well together to create a traffic-free path and cycleway. (Jeff Vinter)
Oct 2020 – Catesby, Northamptonshire
According to a report in Rail magazine, the 1.7 mile-long Catesby Tunnel on the ex-Great Central route is to be opened to cyclists on Sundays, after the completion of the testing facility. It is expected the tunnel could be opened up in this way by next spring. (David White)
Oct 2020. Alnwick, Northumberland
Colin Davidson, an Alnwick resident since 1969, is behind a project to create a trail on the old railway from the Greensfield area of the town (roughly where new development ceases) to Mossy Ford on the B6341, the Alnwick-Rothbury road. The total length on the trackbed would be just over two miles, and the route would offer links with several existing footpaths, thus facilitating a number of new circular walks. However, two overline bridges on this section of trackbed are threatened with infilling by the Historic Railways Estate (HRE). The HRE is willing to hand over the bridges to the local authority, but that body might not be keen to take them on because of tighter council budgets. Alnwick is still being expanded with new housing, so a Section 106 grant from the developers (now called a ‘Community Infrastructure Levy’ or CIL) might help with the funding. As before, these ‘grants’ (more accurately called levies) are to make developers contribute to works which will improve the local environment / facilities, thus offsetting the negative aspects of the development. Only two landowners are involved in this section, the Duke of Northumberland (who is sympathetic – his ancestors were keen on railways) and an organisation called the ‘Freemen of Alnwick’. (Jeff Vinter, Colin Davidson)
Sep 2020 – Gedling, Nottinghamshire.
The former railway mineral line from Netherfield to Gedling Colliery (now Gedling Country Park) has been designated as a potential cycle and walking route in the local council’s development plan. Tracing further back, the line was part of the Great Northern Railway extension from Derby which takes a circular route around the north of Nottingham. Initial work has been carried out to see if the two-mile route is feasible. The findings from the study suggest that there are many benefits for residents if the route was to be created. The route could improve residents’ health and help improve connectivity within the borough and the city, whilst reducing car traffic. The greenway would connect six existing parks and open spaces along the route to help create a green network. However, the plan would require support from Nottinghamshire County Council, Network Rail and Nottingham City Council. There is also mention of utilising it as a possible tram route. The Colliery closed in 1991. Reading responses to the reports on local media, the line has been fully fenced off for at least five years and is now significantly overgrown. There also seems scepticism that the route is too peripheral and doesn’t cover sufficiently populated areas for it to be considered viable, and therefore reach construction stage. (Alan Green)
Sep 2020 – Dudley, West Midlands.
An engineering innovation and test centre to develop the next generation of Very Light Rail coaches is to be built on the site of Dudley Station and, according to the Construction Enquirer, there will also be a 1½ mile test track ‘along a disused railway line’. The article does not specify which line this might be, but as the ex-LNWR line to Dudley Port is earmarked for the Midland Metro extension, and the ex-GWR line north towards Tipton is built over, that leaves the ex-GWR line south towards Netherton. This raises the intriguing possibility of the re-use of Dudley Tunnel. At Netherton station site, a building of possible railway provenance remains intact and bricked up on the road above the cutting. (Forgotten Relics)
Sep 2020 – Royds Park (nr. Liversedge) – Heckmondwike (station site), West Yorkshire.
Between grid references SE 201247–SE 217237, a path exists along a 1½-mile section of the former Leeds (New Line) and utilises the superb Heckmondwike Cutting, which is no ordinary cutting thanks to the five stone overbridges and short tunnel which take it through the town. Most of the path is on the trackbed and, at the Heckmondwike end, one can continue south-east for another half mile along what was clearly intended as a potential extension to Walkley Lane (unofficial) and then a footpath (SE 220229–SE 221227) to Heckmondwike Junction. Unfortunately, a plan to infill the cutting beyond the station site for up to 74 new houses was given the go-ahead in 2019, despite opposition from scores of local residents. (P. Earnshaw; J. Vinter)
Sep 2020 – Wye Valley Cycleway, Tidenham, Gloucestershire.
The project to take the Wye Valley Cycleway through Tidenham Tunnel is gathering pace after months of uncertainty (concerning bats!) which ended when planning permission was finally granted. Workcamp No 2 was established with wigwam accommodation, track-lifting commenced both north and south of the tunnel, as did clearance work along the line. The tunnel works had to be complete by the end of September (those bats again), including blacktop, lights control box and 132 light fittings. A trench for the cables was excavated in the tunnel and then the various sections were laid. Each of the eight cables required 17 people to carry it into the tunnel and the distance increased every time as the team worked their way towards the far end. Other work included making alcoves for bat shelters and a shield under the air vent to catch any falling stones. David Judd, one of the project volunteers, writes: ‘It was truly magical when the lights were switched on and the tunnel revealed in all its splendour.’
It is both fascinating and heart-warming to see what goes into the reopening of a disused railway line for leisure use. Project Leader John Grimshaw, of Greenways and Cycleroutes, stresses the importance of volunteer input, which both saves on cost and gives local people a sense of ownership – which should see them continue to look after the line after its completion. Andrew Combes, one of the volunteers, commented on the work team: ‘It’s a family of lunatics, but a family, nonetheless!’ It is also an example of how walkers, cyclists and bats can be accommodated in the same space: a way forward in other locations too? The short clip about the recent workcamp is well worth watching: https://youtu.be/u7lB-79LG6E (Wye Valley Cycleway; Forgotten Relics)
Sep 2020 – West Dean – Cocking Hill, West Sussex
A planning application by the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) has been made for a 3½ mile extension to Centurion Way from West Dean to Cocking Hill. The proposed works to create a shared path for pedestrians and cyclists include replacement bridge parapets, an earth ramp on Drovers Estate, a bridge deck at Littlewood Farm, a new ramp to Cocking Cutting, hard surfacing and associated drainage, earthworks, new hedgerows and a woodland copse. The former railway line includes three tunnels on this section, West Dean, Singleton and Cocking. Singleton and Cocking Tunnels are designated as a Special Area for Conservation (SAC) and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), while West Dean Tunnel is designated as a Local Wildlife Site. The path will make detours around all three tunnels, and that at West Dean will necessitate a half-mile diversion alongside the A286 to link the two sections of the Centurion Way, which sounds less than ideal. The goods shed at Singleton has been Grade II Listed for some time, but since the planning application, other buildings have been given the same status: the ‘ruinous but imposing water tower’ (to quote the SDNPA), the booking hall and the unusually large toilet block ‘constructed for the convenience of race-goers during Goodwood meetings.’ The SDNPA seems surprisingly keen to retain as many features of the old station as possible, and – quite separate from this application – has recently given consent for the refurbishment of the station house. (Tim Chant)
Sep 2020 – Camden – Kings Cross, London
An international competition has been announced to convert a 0.7 mile stretch of abandoned railway into a £35 million raised linear park connecting Camden Town with King’s Cross. The Camden Highline project, planned to open in phases from 2024, will create a new London park and linear walking featuring seating areas, cafés and spaces for charitable activities. According to the brief: ‘The Camden Highline will occupy 1.1km of disused railway viaduct running from Camden Town to King’s Cross and the vacant platforms at Camden Road Station, with a number of access points along its route to connect it to road level.’ The Camden Highline project will regenerate a stretch of disused track, formerly part of the North London Railway, between Kentish Town Road in Camden Town and Camley Street in King’s Cross, bypassing busy roads using eight existing bridges. (Forgotten Relics)
Sep 2020 – Christ’s Hospital, West Sussex
A low-key photo shoot was held in September to mark the opening of the ‘missing mile’ of the Downs Link in Christ’s Hospital, which runs between Mill Lane and Christ’s Hospital Station. The works included repairing two bridges, vegetation clearance, surfacing, drainage and platform repairs. A traffic-free route is now open right through to the mainline station. (Forgotten Relics)
Sep 2020 – Devon and Cornwall
The MP for North Cornwall, Scott Mann, is looking into a project which could link the Camel Trial (Bodmin to Padstow, via Wadebridge) with the Granite Way (Lydford to Okehampton), and on to the Tarka Trail in North Devon (which can be picked up in Okehampton). The obvious means by which to link the Camel Trail and the Granite Way would be to finish developing the Ruby Trail between Meldon Junction and Halwill Junction (already about three-quarters complete) and then go down the North Cornwall line through Delabole. Under two miles of that are open so far – just a short section starting at Halwill Junction. Mr Mann says such a trail could create jobs in places like Wadebridge, St Kew, Delabole and Launceston, yet it would be a massive undertaking. The missing link is about 40 miles long! (Stephen Hills)