Recent News

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The club's magazine, 'Railway Ramblings

The club’s magazine, ‘Railway Ramblings’, is published quarterly, usually in March, June, September and December. (Cover photograph by Jane Ellis)

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.

Aug 2020 – Tidenham, Gloucestershire

Railway Paths Ltd (RPL) have signed an agreement which will enable Defra to release a £63K grant to John Grimshaw’s ‘Greenways and Cycle Routes’ organisation to deal with the route of the trail near Tidenham where, some years ago, land slipped down the valley side and still blocks the old railway. John has developed a speciality for making previously intractable ex-railway routes happen, and currently all the signs for a new trail from Tintern to Chepstow are very positive. He has certainly got beyond historic wrangles over walkers and cyclists using Tidenham Tunnel. (James Winstanley)

Aug 2020 – Bennerley Viaduct, Notts/Derbyshire

Broxtowe Council has now transferred its promised £100,000 grant to the Bennerley Viaduct project, and the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct remain very active with other funding bids. Restoration work has resumed following the lockdown period, and a recent trial-dig to assess the stability of the ground where the new access ramp will be built found no problems. RPL is putting the ramp works out to tender and has finished the design for the decking, which will be the next job to go to tender. (James Winstanley)

Aug 2020 – Appleby – Warcop, Cumbria

At long last, the new route for the A66 in this area has been finalised and a final round of consultations is due to start. The route of the road will avoid the trackbed of the old railway, which the DfT must regard as some kind of asset, despite the ‘final solution’ inclinations of the Historic Railways Estate. Sustrans has developed a great scheme for a combined Appleby – Warcop cycle trail and preserved railway, which all parties are enthusiastic about, so we could be looking at a super new facility for the area, plus the heritage line, the Eden Valley Railway. (James Winstanley)

Aug 2020 – Winchester, Hampshire

Recently our correspondent just managed to find a space in Garnier Road Car Park next to the old GWR trackbed just south of Winchester. This is because last September a new refreshments establishment, called The Handlebar Café, was built on the trackbed – increasing footfall considerably, but not necessarily onto the old line. (Richard Lewis)

Aug 2020 – Weymouth, Dorset

Dorset Council have announced plans to remove the famous Weymouth Harbour branch line, starting in October 2020. Opened to goods traffic on 16/10/1865 and to passengers on 4/8/1889, the line was last used in September 1987 and closed 2/5/99 although track remains in situ along Commercial Road and Custom House Quay. Almost the whole length of this line can be walked although it is in the roadway which can be difficult with traffic. Anyone interested should visit before October to view the remains before they are removed. The Council has said it is looking at preserving ‘some historic elements’ of the line, which may possibly involve leaving a section of track in situ. (Tim Chant)

Jul 2020 – Athlone, Republic of Ireland

A 25-mile rail trail has been created between Athlone and Mullingar in the Republic of Ireland. A route map with access points may be found on the Westmeath County Council website. The trail, which was opened in October 2015, uses a converted stretch of the Midlands Great Western Railway and is intended eventually to form part of the proposed Galway to Dublin Cycleway. The line closed as recently as 1987 and a single track remains in situ alongside at least part of the trail. A new bridge is planned to cross the River Shannon in Athlone, which would bring the trail into the centre of the town. (Phillip Earnshaw)

Jul 2020 – Keswick, Cumbria

Covid notwithstanding, the £8 million project to rebuild the Keswick – Threlkeld railway path in Cumbria continues apace, and remains on target for completion by the end of the year. Contractors have been carrying out work to stabilise river banks washed away by Storm Desmond in 2015. Two bowstring rail-over-river bridges designed by Sir Thomas Bouch have also been reinstated and there are some excellent videos of this work on YouTube. Low Pearson’s and Brundholme Bridges have been replaced, while an abutment of a third – Rawsome’s – has been repaired. Such was the damage of the river banks at the Brundholme site that the new bridge is 20 metres longer than the old one. The greatest achievement however is the opening-up of the two short tunnels on the route: Big or Bobbin Tunnel, a 92-yard structure that today burrows under the A 66, was infilled when the railway closed in 1972. A few thousand tons of material have been removed and it will soon form a welcome addition to the revamped cycleway and path; Wescoe Tunnel was completely blocked by mud and debris from Storm Desmond and has now been cleared (see picture on back cover of magazine No. 167). (Jeff Vinter; Bob Prigg; Forgotten Relics)

Jul 2020 – Upton & North Elmsall, West Yorkshire

A local group want to reinstate Upton and North Elmsall Station near Wakefield, which was once a stop on the Hull and Barnsley Railway and closed in 1959. The line, which was built to transport coal to Hull’s docks, ran through what is now Upton Country Park, and the group plan to lay a single track across the original route. They intend to apply for a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant to bring the project to fruition. A replica of the station would be built on the site of the demolished railway buildings, with part of it used as an information centre and café. There would also be displays about Upton Colliery, which was served by the line. The two-and-a-half-mile railway would continue past the old colliery site and through Barnsdale Tunnel, which remains in good condition despite having been disused since 1959. It would terminate just before the A1 at Barnsdale Bar. Members also plan to lay a footpath and cycleway alongside the rails. (Forgotten Relics)

Jul 2020 – Fawley, Hampshire

Last month a ‘fact-finding’ passenger train traversed the Fawley branch – also known as the Waterside line – carrying, among others, Network Rail Chairman, Sir Peter Hendy, and Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, as plans for a large new residential development at Fawley have revived hopes of restoring the rail link. The line could also give a boost to the still operational, but threatened, Hythe – Southampton ferry. South Western Railways are keen to reopen the 6-mile line to passengers and say the necessary upgrading work could be completed in four years at a cost of around £45 million. The line does see occasional freight workings to Marchwood Military Port, while the last train to Fawley oil refinery used the line in 2017. In June, Hampshire County Council won government funding to develop the business case for the reopening scheme. (BBC News; Alan Johnston; Gas Hill)

Jul 2020 – Shepton Mallet, Somerset

The ‘Strawberry Line’ is a traffic-free route between Yatton and Cheddar in Somerset that utilises as much of the ex-GWR trackbed as possible. Its eventual aim is to link Shepton Mallet and Clevedon-on-sea, and a short section in the first of those two towns is currently a prime candidate for conversion, where plans to link new estates in the north of the town with the main shopping area are well advanced. The route is on Council-owned land, the Council is supportive of the project, and it would avoid a dangerous road crossing by using a former railway bridge…yet Historical Railway Estate of Highways England – who are responsible for the bridge – are blocking the proposal. As Mike Fletcher, writing in West Country Bylines, puts it: ‘Instead of seeing the bridges, embankments and cuttings left when railways closed as potential assets, these structures – often magnificent works of Victorian engineering – are simply seen as a burden.’ HRE claims it might be costly to ensure the bridge is safe to pass under, even though it is clearly safe enough for hundreds of cars and lorries to cross over it daily. The real reason is that HRE wants shot of responsibility for the bridge. If the government is serious about promoting cycling and walking, it could start by getting its quangos in order. (RR)

Jun 2020 – Preston, Lancashire

Further to the report in RR 166 on the Longridge path extension to Deepdale, there is also a private promoter plan, reported optimistically for over a decade now, for a new tram on the old formation from the city via the Deepdale area to a Park & Ride in the area of the former Courtaulds works, adjacent to the M6 motorway. This project is claimed to be able to share the trackbed with pedestrian and cycle use, and most recently a start date for construction of March 2018 was predicted, but raising of the necessary finance and any work on the site keeps slipping. (Gas Hill)

Jun 2020 – Upper Wensleydale, North Yorkshire

The Upper Wensleydale Railway project is a plan to reopen the section of line from Garsdale on the West Coast Mainline, to the market town of Hawes. It is hoped that a reinstated junction with the existing Leeds – Settle – Carlisle railway line at Garsdale will allow ‘through’ trains to run from Hawes via Garsdale Junction to Settle, then onwards through Hellifield and Clitheroe into Lancashire for Preston and Greater Manchester. Investigations and consultation with local landowners, Local Authorities and other key stakeholders have begun and were boosted by the line’s surprise inclusion in a list of fifty projects for government consideration in the second round of its Restoring Railways Fund programme. The Wensleydale Railway heritage line currently operates at the other end of the dale, from Leeming Bar to Redmire, with a physical though rarely used connection to the ECML at Northallerton, and long-term pretensions to reach Hawes and Gardale to the west. (Peter Billington)

Jun 2020 – St. Margaret’s Loop, East Grinstead, East Sussex

East Grinstead Town Council is to acquire the trackbed of this abandoned railway from Railway Paths Ltd in order to implement its plan to develop a walkway and cycle trail over the route. It is too early to say when this will happen, especially in the current circumstances, but Sussex-based members might like to keep an eye on the local press and alert us when an announcement is made. The new trail will provide a feeder route to the Worth Way, just west of East Grinstead Station. St. Margaret’s Loop is just over half a mile long and once provided a London-facing connection between the two railway lines that crossed at East Grinstead, i.e. Three Bridges-East Grinstead-Tunbridge Wells and London-East Grinstead-Lewes-Brighton. (James Winstanley)

May 2020 – Merthyr Tydfil, Mid Glamorgan

An online survey regarding Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Councils’ joint proposals to reopen Merthyr (aka Abernant) Tunnel to walkers and cyclists has received almost 800 responses. The tunnel would form part of a 4-mile traffic free route linking Merthyr and Aberdare. Merthyr councillor Geraint Thomas said ‘The consensus appears to be very much in favour of reopening, but there are many factors to take into account, including initial and ongoing costs. As soon as we have a clearer idea of workable plans, we’ll be reporting back.’ (Chris Parker)

May 2020 – Bennerley Viaduct, Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire

The restoration of Bennerley Viaduct on the Notts/Derbs border was suspended on 24th March, just as the coronavirus lockdown was introduced.  However, Bill Tomson, who oversees this project on behalf of the charity Railway Paths Ltd., has informed the club that the contractors re-started their work on Monday 18th May.  The intention is to develop the viaduct as an aerial walkway across the Erewash Valley, linking the canal towpaths on either side to create new walking opportunities in the area. (Bill Tomson)

May 2020 – Newquay to Perranporth, Cornwall

The former Newquay to Chacewater railway between Newquay and Perranporth is due for a new lease of life as a rail trail thanks to a Cornwall Council project to create four new walking and cycling routes under the name ‘The Saints Trails’.   Outline details and a high quality map can be found at the first link below. Surprisingly, most of the funding will come from Highways England. (Peter Murnaghan)  Update: According to Cornwall Council’s website (see second link below), work on the Newquay Perrranporth trail started in January 2020 in the Goonhavern area.   The route was due to be completed by March 2021, but obviously this date will be missed by several months due to the pandemic.  (Jeff Vinter)

  1. Newquay-Perranporth Map: www.cornwall.gov.uk/media/39572748/10-intro-route.pdf
  2. Saints Trails Latest News: www.cornwall.gov.uk/transport-and-streets/sustainable-transport/active-travel-walking-and-cycling/saints-trails/latest-news/

May 2020 – Weymouth to Portland, Dorset

Work continues in Rodwell, Weymouth, at the Buxton Road overbridge (grid reference SY 675779) on eponymous The Rodwell Trail, which re-uses the northern part of the former joint LSWR and GWR branch line from Melcombe Regis to Easton.  The work, which should be finished in June, is an ‘inspection on steroids’, in which any faults are being remedied by the local council’s contractors.  (Tim Chant)

May 2020 – Moretonhampstead, Devon

Further to our report in January this year, it transpires that the local resident who informed our walk leader that the town’s old station was to be re-developed, with the historic railway remains being lost … was right about the development but wrong about the rest.  Historic England reports that the goods shed (to be converted for residential use) and platform (which may be ‘lost’ or buried) both fall within the developer’s plans, but the engine shed is outside the development area and will survive because it is listed. HE also tells us that the line of the platform will be retained in the development, while back in January we reported that the developer was sympathetic to creating access to the new Wray Valley Way directly from the station area; currently, walkers and cyclists wishing to follow this railway path south to Lustleigh and Bovey Tracey must take a long diversion via the town centre.  (Brian George and Jeff Vinter)

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