Alderney’s Northern Line

Wednesday 8th May 2019

IMG_6600.jpgI 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.

IMG_6591.jpgBut 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.

IMG_6605.jpgTrain 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.

IMG_6606.jpgThis 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.

IMG_6609.jpgThe carriages are former Northern Line stock dating from 1959 and have been preserved to a lovely condition, complete with original internal cove line diagrams.

IMG_6610.jpgThe railway line runs for two miles eastwards from Braye Road to Mannez Quarry where sheds have been erected that accommodates the rolling stock.

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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.

IMG_6590.jpgDuring 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.

IMG_6632.jpgThe 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.

IMG_6643.jpgThe 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.

IMG_6629.jpgMolly 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.

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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.

IMG_6625.jpgIMG_6608.jpgIt’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.

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Roger French

Farewell Norton Bridge

Friday 29th March 2019

IMG_3036.jpgThe rail replacement bus service which has been running between Stafford and Stone to serve the abandoned Norton Bridge station since May 2004 comes to an end tomorrow. I couldn’t resist taking a trip up there to check it out on its penultimate day.

Trains stopped calling at Norton Bridge fifteen years ago to allow for the rebuilding of the railway as part of the West Coast Route Modernisation project. The station platform was inconveniently in the way.

Norton Bridge first opened in 1837 and latterly only enjoyed an irregular frequency local train service between Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent until it ended in May 2004.Screen Shot 2019-03-29 at 19.35.17.pngA rail replacement bus service was introduced between Stafford and Stone via Norton Bridge which was included in the rail timetable system and journey planners with rail tickets continuing to be available and accepted on the buses which also served other bus stops along the route. Funding for this came indirectly from the DfT as the franchise holder, at that time, London Midland, included the cost of the bus in its successful bid.

With the new West Midlands franchise starting in October 2017 the DfT decided to finally bring, what was supposed to be a temporary arrangement, to an end and issued a consultation in late 2016 to formally close Norton Bridge station, even though trains hadn’t called there for twelve years.

It came as no surprise the formal closure was enacted in December 2017 but the bus service was given a further stay of execution with continued part funding through the new franchise until the end of March 2019 enabling Staffordshire County Council time to review other bus service levels in the area.IMG_3037.jpgBrexit Day may not be happening today, but sadly D&G Bus service 13 is ending tomorrow and the 600 residents of Norton Bridge who lost their irregular trains in 2004, saw their station formally close in 2017, will now lose their only bus service.

Here’s how today’s trip went…..

IMG_3024.jpgI arrived in Stafford over an hour before the 1235 departure was due to leave for Norton Bridge and Stone (earlier departures are at 0835 and 1035 with later ones at 1505, 1615 and 1715). I didn’t want to risk missing it. This enabled me to see the bus arriving from Stone from its previous journey at 1133 before it takes just over an hour’s break. It’s not a particularly arduous schedule having just half an hour running time end to end.IMG_3034.jpgI was pleased about that as there was absolutely no information about the route, its times or even its existence anywhere in Stafford station or outside on the bus shelters. It’s always tricky when you’re not sure where a bus route departs from so at least I now knew and wandered off to explore Stafford for an hour.IMG_3139.jpgArriving back I was pleasantly surprised to see three passengers boarding the bus for the trip to Stone.IMG_3035.jpgIt didn’t take long to realise they were regulars who come into Stafford for shopping. As you can imagine talk on the bus was all about being cut off after this weekend. Although one lady got off in Great Bridgeford (a village on the route just north of Stafford) which will continue to be served by another D&G Bus service, route 14, which ironically also serves the communities of Wedgwood and Barlaston on its route which also lost their stations in the West Coast Route Modernisation project but you can still buy tickets to them from any station and use them on the bus (a single from Wedgwood to Barlaston is just £1.90).

One passenger continued on the bus towards Stone and the third alighted with me in the small village of Norton Bridge. I asked him where the entrance to the station was and it turned out the bus had stopped right opposite. He told me all about the station house, the railway cottages and the sad day when the footbridge was taken away which meant access to the station was lost for ever.IMG_3131.jpgHe shrugged his shoulders when I asked him how he’d manage to get into Stafford next week with no bus, before admitting his wife had a car!IMG_3130.jpgThe station house and adjacent cottages (“where the rail workers used to live” he explained – it must have been a real hive of activity at some time) are indeed very pleasant and I made my way on to the ‘station forecourt’ and looking down on the fenced off tracks could easily make out the former platform, now isolated and uncared for, together with an abandoned signal boxIMG_3071.jpgBut the best bit of all was the ‘Helpful information’ poster still in situ at what was the entrance to the forecourt. IMG_3125.jpg

IMG_3045.jpgNorton Bridge station is alive and well; except there’s “no ticket office” and “no ticket machine”, and sadly “no step free access”. Oh, and no access to a crumbling platform and …. no trains either!

Not only that but the new franchisee, London Northwestern Railway from West Midlands Trains has taken the trouble to reprint the poster in their own corporate house style and someone has taken the trouble to go out to Norton Bridge and display it ….. yet the adjacent bus shelter contains no information at all about the bus replacement service. Nothing.

IMG_3134.jpgIf there’s anything that sums up our dysfunctional non-integrated transport system in this country perhaps that is it!IMG_3137.jpgI headed back to Stafford.

Roger French