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Berney’s back in business

Monday 24th February 2020

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The rail line between Reedham and Great Yarmouth, on what’s known as the Wherry Lines, closed back in October 2018 to allow for upgrade work on track, level crossings and signalling. Sixteen months later it’s good to see the line has reopened today and trains are once again calling at the splendidly isolated Berney Arms Station which has been without a service for all this time.

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I couldn’t resist heading over to East Anglia again today to take a ride especially as Berney Arms is one of the very few stations in Britain that has no road access; only being accessible on foot or by boat from the nearby River Yare.Screen Shot 2020-02-22 at 11.22.27.png

Two other famous National Rail non-road access stations are Dovey Junction in mid Wales and Smallbrook Junction on the Isle of Wight. Britain’s ‘least lowest station’, Corrour on the West Highland Line is also often referred to as being non-road accessible but it does have rough-track-Land-Rover-type-road-vehicle access so doesn’t really count nor does Altnabreac on the Far North Line which also has a rough track/cycle track access. It’s definitely two feet or nothing at Berney Arms. No 4×4 SUVs here.

Not surprsingly Berney Arms is a request stop and has always had a very limited train service, with most Norwich to Great Yarmouth trains routed direct via Acle instead of via Reedham (see map above). Today’s reinstated timetable has just two journeys on Mondays to Saturdays from Norwich arriving at Berney Arms at 08:01 and 12:03 with return times at 15:24 and 17:54 allowing time for walkers to have a nice wander and bird watchers to do their bird watching.

A fascinating fact I learned today is that the 17:54 journey only stops (by request) at Berney Arms in British Summer Time (highlighted in the timetable by dates) as Berney Arms is (possibly) the only National Rail station without electricity so has no lighting for train drivers to see where it is and if passengers are waiting.

On Sundays Berney Arms enjoys a better service with five journeys in both directions providing an approximate two-hourly service during the daytime – but again the last journey back to Norwich (at 16:24) only runs in British Summer Time.

Steve (aka @BusAndTrainPage) who was with me on this jaunt today, and I, were trying to think of any other National Rail station where such an arrangement applies, due to no electricity, but we couldn’t. Perhaps solar power or a wind turbine are the answer for Berney Arms!

My plan today was to catch the 11:36 from Norwich which is the second journey of the day arriving at Berney Arms at 12:03 and take a stroll along the River Yare, possibly as far as Great Yarmouth and wander back again to Berney Arms for the 15:24 departure back to Norwich. Google reckoned I’d just have enough time.

Another ‘first” for today is it being the first time Greater Anglia’s new Stadler built Class 755 trains would use this short stretch of line and call at Berney Arms since these splendid new trains have only been introduced since the line was closed sixteen months ago.

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I realised this wasn’t going to be the very first train reinstated to Berney Arms, and the very first 755 – that accolade fell to the 07:36 from Norwich (08:01 Berney Arms) this morning – but to be honest I’m not that fixated with ‘firsts’, despite any impression you might get from reading these blogs!

However, in the event the 07:36 couldn’t operate via Berney Arms this morning as a ‘proving train’ hadn’t yet run to the station to test everything out by then (not least the GPS only opening the front set of doors). The line was only cleared for passenger trains by about 09:30 this morning.

This meant I was joined by all the ‘first train fans’ (who’d had an aborted early start) on board the 11:36 including Andrew from BBC Norwich doing a feature for tonight’s Drive Time programme and who interviewed Sheila who was on board especially – she’d been born close to Berney Arms and has written fifteen books on the local area – and the helpful Lucy, the Media Officer for Greater Anglia.

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Others on board included fellow tweeters Steve and Tim Miller who volunteers as a Greater Anglia station adopter and does fine work around the region. The train also had a sizeable contingent of Greater Anglia staff on board who’d come along for the experience, so it was quite a jolly affair.

A shout out to Greater Anglia for their amazing advanced purchase fares at this point; I’d booked my first class ticket from Hassocks to Berney Arms about three weeks ago for just £18.80 (with a Railcard) which must be one of the best bargains around. Yes, that’s £18.80; first class; in the morning peak on the Brighton Main Line (perhaps I shouldn’t highlight this!).

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The only concern was the computer software had booked me on the 09:30 departure from Liverpool Street which arrives into Norwich 11:27 giving a nine minute connection with the 11:36 to Berney Arms and Great Yarmouth.

You might think nine minutes is plenty of tine to change trains in Norwich but experience has taught me to be wary of such tight connections when using the Great Eastern line especially with the unpredictability of freight train movements through Ipswich.

So I cautiously arrived at Liverpool Street in good time to catch the 09:00 departure instead and before boarding explained the dilemma to the guard who was most understanding and let me jump on. Even better, it was a Class 745; the first one that had entered passenger service a few weeks ago, 007, and still only one of two in service.

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My fears were well founded as we struggled through Ipswich having to wait for the normally northbound platform 3 to become vacant with a southbound train to London occupying it, as all other platforms were busy, and we pulled in 12 minutes late arriving at 10:18 instead of 10:06. I was impressed to hear our ever helpful guard reassuringly announce departures to Lowestoft at 10:17 and Cambridge at 10:20 were being held to maintain connections. Well done Greater Anglia.

We made a bit of time up between Ipswich and Norwich thanks to generous timings north of Diss (23 minutes allowed northbound but only 17 minutes heading south!) and arrived Norwich 11:01; ten minutes down but nicely in plenty of time for the 11:36 to Berney Arms.

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I checked how my originally booked 09:30 from Liverpool Street was doing and noted my hunch had been correct. It too got delayed and didn’t arrive into Norwich until 11:39. My Berney Arms foray would have been lost and I’d have spent that whole journey from London fretting about whether we’d make it in time.

Screen Shot 2020-02-24 at 19.25.33.pngMaybe the journey planning software needs adjusting for such journeys to book passengers on an earlier train.

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Back on the 11:36 and its jolly atmosphere on board with Sheila regaling us with fascinating snippets of local historical interest and Andrew doing his vox-pop interviews while I noticed out of the window the ground was distinctly wet and although I’d worn wellington boots for my intended walk, I was having second thoughts about whether this was going to be a good plan. I’d left my waders at home!

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We passed through Brundall and I noticed the sad demise of the manual level crossing which used to be a feature of this lovely station as part of the upgrade work, but that’s progress.

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I was intrigued to find out why the stretch of track through Berney Arms had been out of action for so long, as although the lines to Great Yarmouth (via Acle) and Lowestoft have closed just recently for a short time and had short blockades at other times, trains had generally kept running between the coastal towns and Norwich.

I was impressed that Andrew, from the BBC, had obviously picked up his briefing from Greater Anglia very well as he was able to explain it all to me, including the removal of the signal box at Reedham Junction and the implications for signalling the junction for the track via Berney Arms until the whole project had been concluded and passed fit for service last week.

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Greater Anglia’s Lucy was getting increasingly concerned for my welfare as the Berney Arms windmill came into view and the station approached and the water logged ground showed no sign of easing.

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Even Sheila, with her intimate local knowledge, advised it was not a good idea to attempt my proposed walk in the prevailing conditions.

As I stepped out on to the platform at Berney Arms it was raining …. so I did a quick Risk Assessment (thinking do I really want to spend 3 hours and 14 minutes in this rather wet and exposed spot) and back came the answer: No.

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So Plan B was to take a few photos of all the on board Greater Anglia staff and other ‘first time back via Berney Arms’ celebrants on board enjoying their brief Berney Arms experience (Tim and Sheila reboarding captured below) and then back on board for me too to Great Yarmouth!

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I’ll make it back another day when it’s drier.

Roger French

 

BusAndTrainUser View All

I used to run a bus company but in retirement am a full time passenger travelling all over Britain enjoying its splendid scenic delights by bus and train.

10 thoughts on “Berney’s back in business Leave a comment

  1. Nothing to do with Berney Arms, but I notice that the Cross-London Transfer symbol, which in the fares manuals has always been a Maltese cross and on APTIS-era tickets was a simple + sign, is now being rendered as a dagger.

    I wonder why they’re no longer using the + and haven’t chosen to use the correct symbol? I have a vague memory that the dagger had its own meaning in the fares manuals, although I’m too lazy to dredge a manual out of storage to check!

    I suspect it’s probably down to whoever changed it not even being aware that there was ever such a thing as a National Fares Manual, let alone that symbols have meanings to ticket examining staff! But then what would I know? I was only a lowly RPI back in the day…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The path that goes to Berney arms is a bridleway and I suppose therefore is a public road as is the public footpath by the hamlet itself . there’s a pub there but it appears to have shut down or was when I was there about 2 years ago.dont think that there is a public road to longcross station between Reading and Ascot although I have never been off there but the OS map doesn’t show one.scottish ones are trickier due to the rights of way situation but courror has no public road and I have set foot on that one.newtondale halt on the North Yorkshire Moors railway also has no motor road just a footpath, bridleway and restricted byway.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Afternoon Roger,

    Sorry I couldn’t join you to go the Berney Arms this morning due to minor crisis at County Hall in Norwich. I bumped into Tim and Martin going to Norwich to catch this train. It was good the the GA team came out and I know Sheila from way back wherry I set up the Wherry Lines back in 2000 for the County Council.
    I note your comment re no electricity and I think Denton in Great Manchester has no power either as the lamp light heads have been removed! We did look at solar power packs but the TOC did not want them due to difficult maintenance issues – it is the only station in England with no road access but two cycle racks due to an old SRA issue – they asked for cycle racks at all Anglia Railways stations and gave no exemption! Berney also has the bad reputation of having no shelter- which as Vice Chair of the Wherry Lines I am trying to fix, difficult in such a remote location! The last lot of ORR patronage figures shows the station holding up well since the pub closed, with only an 11% drop but enough to take it below 1,000 pa.in 2017/8. Your ticket purchase should push the figures higher this year 🙂 Thx, Ian

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The road track to Berney Arms starts close to the Yarmouth line junction and has “level crossings” of both lines before the long track to the pub. It’s provisions came in that way.
    I believe we hold the record for max pax on the platform – 61! See the station’s friends website.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I recall visiting Thornford Bridge Halt and Chetnole on the Somerset and Weymoth line in the early 70s. They had no electricity so the last daylight train carried a supply of hurricane lamps which were left on the platforms and picked up by the guard of the final train. I know that some GW halts had a pulley system to hoist the lamps up higher but I can’t remember if that was the case with those two. The stations are still open but now have electricity!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Re: the connection time at Norwich – it is possible to tweak the journey planners so they offer you more than the standard “minimum” connection time at interchange stations, but you have to know: a) that you can actually do this in the first place; and b) how to do it!

    I suspect that it is a little-used facility, as if you miss your connection you are allowed to use the next train and for most people that means waiting an hour or less – often only a few minutes. Its main purpose is to allow TOC customer assistance staff to arrange longer connection times for people with restricted mobility. But anyone can do it and it is useful in a situation like yours, where the connection is so infrequent or the arrival time is crucial.

    Liked by 1 person

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