Wednesday 8th May 2019
I spent last weekend’s Bank Holiday break on beautiful Alderney, one of the Channel Islands.
Alderney’s not renowned for its public transport – there are no buses – they’re not really needed on an island that measures just three miles long and 1.5 miles wide with a population of 2,000. It doesn’t take long to walk most places.
But there is a railway; Alderney Railway. Except it only runs on certain days during the summer, mostly Wednesdays and weekends between June and September as well as Sundays in April and May.
Train departures are at 1430 and 1530 from Braye Road Station which is adjacent to Braye Beach on the north side of the island and about a ten minute walk from the Island’s commercial centre, such as it is, of St Anne.
This is no ordinary railway. As you can see it’s run with two former London Underground train carriages powered by a lovely seventy year old diesel engine called Elizabeth.
The carriages are former Northern Line stock dating from 1959 and have been preserved to a lovely condition, complete with original internal cove line diagrams.
The railway line runs for two miles eastwards from Braye Road to Mannez Quarry where sheds have been erected that accommodates the rolling stock.
The railway opened on 14th July 1847 to bring sandstone from the quarry to the harbour area at Braye rather than passengers, although Queen Victoria and Prince Albert took a railcar along the line in 1854 on a visit to the island. At one time it extended westward beyond Braye Road to the next bay, but these tracks have now been abandoned although can still be easily seen.
During the Second World War the occupying Germans took up most of the track and sent it to Cherbourg building their own metre gauge railway to other gravel works from the harbour in its place. After the Liberation in 1945 that track was removed and the original standard gauge line to Mannez was relaid. Commercial quarrying never returned however and the line passed through various Governmental/State responsibilities and is now leased to the Alderney Railway Society – a group of dedicated volunteers and enthusiasts who run it as a tourist attraction.
The first public train ran in Spring 1980 with Wickham carriages but these were replaced initially by 1938 Underground stock but the salt air damaged their steel bodies so a pair of 1959 aluminium bodied cars were purchased and delivered courtesy of the Royal Logistics Corp using a landing craft to deliver them as a military logistics exercise as well as taking away the old 1938 cars.
The Society owns two diesel engines dating from 1949 (called Elizabeth) and 1958 (Molly). Elizabeth is an 0-4-0 diesel mechanical powered by a six cylinder Gardiner engine; the locomotive is a Drewry design and was built at the Vulcan Foundry in Newton Le Willows.
Molly is a Ruston Hornsby and doesn’t haul the former Underground carriages as she features US style couplings and has a restricted compressed air charging system.
The ride from Braye Road to Mannez Quarry takes around 15 minutes and where the train lays over for about 15 minutes before returning to Braye Road ready for the next journey at 1530. The volunteers are so friendly and show you around the sheds at Mannez. The fare is £6 return. Some people take a ride and walk back or vice versa.
It’s a fascinating railway and totally bizarre to see a Northern Line Underground train heading along a single line track offering magnificent views of the coastline around a wonderful island as well as a clear view of the French coastline on the south side of the island.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement enjoy Britain’s splendid scenic delights travelling by bus and train, and commenting along the way.