Monday 24th February 2020
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
Maybe the journey planning software needs adjusting for such journeys to book passengers on an earlier train.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I’ll make it back another day when it’s drier.