Mid-Norfolk Railway

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Mid-Norfolk Railway
Steam-hauled train on Danemoor Bank, 2011
Locale England
Terminus Dereham
Connections Network Rail (at Wymondham South Junction)
Commercial operations
Name London and North Eastern Railway
Built by Samuel Morton Peto
Original gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Preserved operations
Operated by Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust
Stations 5
Length 17 12 mi (28.2 km)
11 12 mi (18.5 km) operational
Preserved gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Commercial history
Opened 1845
Closed 1969 (to passengers),
1989 (to goods)
Preservation history
1974 Wymondham, Dereham and Fakenham Rail Action Committee formed
1978 Fakenham & Dereham Society formed
1995 Dereham Rash's Green to Yaxham re-opens to passengers
1997 Dereham railway station re-opens to passengers
1998 Dereham to Wymondham section re-opens to goods
1999 Dereham to Wymondham section re-opens to passengers
2013 First passenger train north of Dereham

The Mid-Norfolk Railway or MNR is a heritage railway in the English county of Norfolk. Re-opening as a tourist line in the mid-1990s, it is often referred to as a "New Generation" heritage railway, especially since the start of preservation in 1974.

The 11 12-mile (18.5 km) line runs through the centre of Norfolk between the market towns of Wymondham and Dereham via Yaxham, Thuxton and Kimberley Park, operating steam and diesel services. The line is periodically used for commercial freight operations and staff instruction for mainline railway companies.

It is the southern section of the former Wymondham, Dereham, Fakenham and Wells-next-the-Sea line, opened by the Norfolk Railway in 1847 and closed to passengers in stages from 1964 to 1969 as part of the Beeching cuts. The final section of the line closed to goods traffic in 1989. The northern section of this line has been operated by the Wells and Walsingham Light Railway since 1982.

The MNR is owned and operated by the Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust (a charitable trust), and is mostly operated and staffed by volunteers. The company owns a further 6 miles (9.7 km) of line, as far as County School railway station, which will make it the third longest heritage railway in England once restoration is complete. The Mid-Norfolk Railway has long-term ambition to restore the railway as far as Fakenham.

The line is the fifth longest preserved standard gauge railway in Great Britain.


Route history[edit]

A GER Class T26, a type often used on passenger trains to Wells before the Grouping, after which most such trains were operated by Claud Hamilton 4-4-0s.[1]

The Wymondham to Wells branch was opened in stages between 15 February 1847 and 1857,[2] after Parliamentary consent was given in 1845.[3] The entire line became part of the Great Eastern Railway in 1862.[4] The line between Wymondham and Dereham was provided with double track in 1882,[5] the line north of there remaining single track.

As part of the Great Eastern Railway, the branch became part of the Southern Area of the London and North Eastern Railway at The Grouping in 1923.[6] The line was heavily used during World War I and World War II, with extra Air Ministry sidings provided at Dereham in 1943.[7] In the early days of the war, Dereham was used as a reception centre for the construction materials used to build the local airfields.

The 1947 Transport Act nationalised the "Big Four" railway companies, and the branch line became part of the Eastern Region of British Railways on 1 January 1948. The branch line between County School and Wroxham closed to passengers on 15 September 1952, with the section between Foulsham and Reepham closing to goods as well. A stub of the western section, between County School and Foulsham remained open for goods until 31 October 1964,[8] being busiest in the sugar beet season.[9]

Bridge 1692, partially rebuilt for double track, showing 1965 to present day singled line.

The passenger service between Dereham and Wells ended on 5 October 1964.[10] Dereham became an intermediate station for Norwich to King's Lynn services. In June 1965, the Wymondham to Dereham section was reduced to single track with a passing loop at Hardingham. The passenger service from King's Lynn ended on 9 September 1968,[11] with the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway Society operating the 'East Anglian Branch Line Farewell' DMU special on the final Saturday.[12] The withdrawal of the remaining passenger services, between Wymondham and Dereham, followed in October 1969.[13]

Goods traffic continued after the passenger closure. The 1973 oil crisis led to a meeting being held at Dereham in 1974 by the Railway Development Society in order to petition for the restoration of passenger services between Wymondham and Fakenham. British Rail gave a price of £247,000 for such a restoration, but this proposal was rejected by Norfolk County Council. This meeting resulted in the formation of the Wymondham, Dereham and Fakenham Railway Action Committee.[14]

In 1977 the Wymondham, Dereham and Fakenham Railway Action Committee presented the Norfolk County Chief Planning Officer with a report putting the case for restoring rail passenger services between Norwich, Dereham and Fakenham East.[15][full citation needed] Complete closure of the line took place in June 1989.[16]


Fakenham and Dereham Railway Society[edit]

Heritage operations at County School, 1993

1978 saw the formation of the Fakenham and Dereham Railway Society, a forerunner of the MNR, hoping to preserve the line between these two towns. In 1983, after the failure of a 1980 attempt to preserve the Ryburgh to Fakenham section of line, the Fakenham & Dereham Railway Society leased Hardingham station and opened a small heritage centre. Track was laid in the former goods yard and a Ruston 0-4-0 diesel locomotive was delivered to the site. Income failed to cover the rent and rates, and the Society was forced to move out when the site was auctioned in 1986 - moving to a temporary location at Yaxham station.[14]

In 1987 the station at County School was purchased by Breckland District Council, and the F&DRS were granted a 999 year lease, invited to lay track and relocate to the site.[17] The intention was to relay track to meet up with the British Rail railhead at North Elmham to connect with charter trains operating over the branch. This plan was abandoned when complete closure of the line from June 1989 was announced.[14]

Mid Norfolk Railway Society and Great Eastern Railway (1989) Ltd.[edit]

Derelict remains of Dereham station in 1990.
The first MNR train to Yaxham, December 1994
County School in 1996, before restoration by the MNRPT.

With the announcement of the closure of the entire branch between Wymondham, Dereham and North Elmham, a new company called the Great Eastern Railway (1989) Limited was formed to save the line. The F&DRS elected to back this scheme, and the lease of County School station was signed over to the GER (1989) Ltd. The F&DRS, changing its name to become the Mid Norfolk Railway Society in 1990,[18] continued to provide financial backing and manpower for the development of the County School site. The running line was extended over 12 mile (0.80 km) towards North Elmham, and a collection of rolling stock was built up. The first passenger train, a Mk2 brake coach converted to work as a DBSO with an industrial diesel locomotive, operated at the County School site on 2 November 1991.[19]

In 1991 the managing director of the GER (1989) Ltd., Trevor Cleaver, stated that he had raised much of the required finance and that the company intended to provide a regular passenger train service over the line by 1993. About 400 commuters a day were expected to use the service. Plans were also announced for special excursions such as shopping trips to London and summer seaside services. The plans included providing a hotel and conference centre at Dereham, along with a public house and shopping arcade.[20]

During the early 1990s the GER(1989), contrary to the earlier announcements relating to the future of the line, announced plans to lift the railway between Dereham and Wymondham. The MNRS withdrew their support for the GER(1989) and made their own bid for the line.[21][22]

In 1994 the British Railways Property Board granted the MNRS access to the railway line between Wymondham and North Elmham on a temporary 'care and maintenance' basis. This was in response to increasing levels of vandalism occurring at the site, a problem which had worsened after the Great Eastern company had lifted the track between Norwich Road level crossing and a point just north of the Automatic Open Level Crossings. The first working party was held at Dereham station on Saturday 23 July 1994.[23]

In December 1994 Class 20 diesels 20069 and 20206 were moved by road from County School to the truncated railhead at Dereham. On Christmas Eve, with permission from British Rail, both locomotives made their way along the line to Yaxham station. They were driven by Chris Pearson, a main line driver who had been relief driver on the final train into Dereham in April 1989.[24]

1995 saw Yorkshire Bank call in the receivers to solve concerns with the Great Eastern Railway (1989) Ltd. In June 1995 Breckland Council informed the receivers that they wished for the GER (1989) Ltd. to give up the lease for County School station so that they could review their operations in respect of the site. The GER (1989) Ltd., who stated that they were attracting 12,000 visitors a year to the site, announced that they would contest this decision.[25]

In July 1995, police were called in to investigate the sudden and unauthorised road transfer of two Mid Norfolk Railway Society Mk 2 coaches to a breaker's yard at nearby Lenwade. In July 1996 Breckland District Council issued a threat to stop trains running at County School station, as it was found that someone other than the leaseholder was operating trains at the site; the lease being non-transferable.[26] In November 1996 Breckland District Council brought in 24-hour security guards at the County School site in order to prevent the stripping of the property after having served an eviction order on the GER(1989) in mid-October.[27]

County School station was boarded up and GER (1989) Ltd rolling stock was concentrated in the isolated yard prior to disposal or scrapping. All track north of the station platforms was then lifted, and, as shown in the photograph, the site was left to become derelict.[28]

Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust[edit]

Stock being delivered through a derelict and trackless Dereham station, 1995.
Windhoff Multi-Purpose Vehicle DR98910/60 at Dereham (2008)
LNER K4 locomotive in the yard at Dereham, 2014.

The Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust was established in 1995 to buy and restore the disused line between North Elmham and Wymondham.[29] It was formed through the merger of the campaign groups and organisations that had been trying to restore passenger services over the route since 1974. The aims of the charity are "to preserve and to renovate reconstruct and operate for the benefit of the people of the County of Norfolk and of the nation at large, whatever of the historical, architectural and constructional heritage that may exist of the permanent way, track, buildings (including any building as defined in Section 336(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990), bridges, operating equipment and rolling stock once forming part of or connected with or adjacent to the Great Eastern Railway line running between County School at North Elmham in the County of Norfolk and Wymondham in the County of Norfolk."[30]

In July 1995 two Mk2 coaches coaches were transferred by road from County School railway station to the truncated railhead at Dereham, where they were placed between the already present Class 20 locomotives. These coaches were then hauled to the MNR's temporary base at Yaxham. A further three coaches were delivered on 17 August.[31]

On 29 November 1995 the section of railway between Yaxham station and a temporary halt built beside a footpath crossing on the Rash's Green industrial estate in Dereham was inspected by Chris Hall, H.M. Principal Inspecting Officer of Railways. Permission to operate passenger trains over this section was granted from Saturday 23 December 1995. 63 trains, each composed of the five Mk2 coaches topped and tailed by the Class 20s, were operated between this date and 14 January 1996.[32] In October 1995 Breckland District Council established a rail working party to consider purchasing the line from British Rail, then leasing it out to a rail group - of which the Mid-Norfolk Railway was the preferred lessee.[33]

On 11 April 1998 the sale of the route between Wymondham and Dereham to the Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust was completed, with the £100,000 purchase price including Dereham station buildings and the 6.5 acres (26,000 m2) of goods yard area. In a related deal the British Rail Property Board also accepted an offer of £25,000 for the 4 12 miles (7.2 km) between Dereham and North Elmham.[34] On 17 March 1998 the MNRPT had signed a Tenancy at Will agreement with Breckland District Council to take over the station and trackbed at County School. This agreement was to allow the railway to take control of the station until it could afford to buy it outright, and followed on from the removal of the remaining rolling stock associated with the defunct Great Eastern Railway (1989) Ltd from the site.[35]

The original Dereham station re-opened to passengers on Saturday 26 July 1997, with the first services being operated by 1890-built Manning Wardle 0-6-0T 'Sir Berkeley', hired from the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway.[36] The ownership of the line between Wymondham and Dereham was passed from British Railways Board (Residuary) Limited to the Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust by Statutory Instrument 1997 No. 2262 on 23 September 1997.[37] The first preservation-era train to operate between Dereham and Wymondham ran on 8 February 1998, when a works train hauled by 20069 and Ruston & Hornsby 0-4-0 'County School ran as part of preparations for a March freight test train.[38] The first commercial freight train operated on 8 July 1998.[39]

Passenger services between Dereham and Wymondham commenced in 1999,[40] with the opening of Wymondham Abbey railway station. The first passenger train to use the new station, on 2 May 1999,[41] was operated by a Class 108 DMU. Thuxton station opened as a daylight hours only request halt at the same time, although Kimberley Park and Hardingham remained closed.[42]

Following the completion of infrastructure work, such as the replacement of the water tower at Dereham and the provision of an inspection pit, steam passenger services returned to the Dereham to Wymondham Abbey section on Sunday 30 April 2006. These were operated by Great Western Railway pannier tank number 9466 from the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre.[43] The ownership of the section of railway line between Dereham and North Elmham, part of that originally authorised by the Norfolk Railway Extensions, Dereham, Wells and Blakeney Branch Act 1846, was passed to the Mid-Norfolk Railway in October 2001.[44]

Part of the line from County School to Wroxham is now the narrow gauge Bure Valley Railway.[45] The formation between Wells and the religious centre of Walsingham now hosts the miniature Wells and Walsingham Light Railway.[46] Both schemes are independent of the MNR. Another independent scheme, the "Norfolk Orbital Railway" plans to link the MNR to the North Norfolk Railway and the coast at Sheringham.[47] In 2009 the Whitwell & Reepham Preservation Society announced an eventual intention to link up with either the North Norfolk Railway or Mid-Norfolk Railway.[48]

The Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust is authorised by the Department for Transport to operate the railway in two statutory instruments, The Mid-Norfolk Railway Order 1997[49] and The Mid-Norfolk Railway Order 2001.[50] The orders detail the length of track and level crossings over which the railway is permitted to operate trains (subject to safety inspections etc.) and refer to both the Norwich and Brandon Railway Act 1845 and the Norfolk Railway Extensions, Dereham, Wells and Blakeney Branch Act 1846.

Present day[edit]

Visual effect of original double track restored near Wymondham Abbey. Current Running line on the right, the line on the left will also become a running line under plans for a new station close to the junction with Network Rail.
LNER N7 No. 69621 at Dereham, 2009
GWR 9400 Class No. 9466 at Hoe, 2009

The 11 12 miles (18.5 km) section of line between Dereham and Wymondham is in regular use, with a further 2.5 miles (4 km) passed for operation, but only used for periodic charter and works trains. The Trust owns the further 3.5 miles (5.5 km) of disused railway to County School station near North Elmham,[51] although there is a break of around a mile between North Elmham and County School where the track is no longer in situ. This makes the Mid-Norfolk Railway one of the longest standard-gauge heritage railways in the United Kingdom. The track bed is mostly intact from County School to Fakenham, and is reserved by the council for railway use.[52] Although it is not yet in the Trust's ownership, the railway plans restoration of the line to this third market town.

The line features several preserved stations; Yaxham retaining period features such as the original signal box and shelters.[53] Trains run on most weekends from the end of February to December, and on Wednesdays and Thursdays in summer. There are special events throughout the year. The railway operates a dual traction policy, with equal value being given to trains being steam or diesel-operated,.[54]

Guest steam locomotives[edit]

Although predominantly diesel-operated, the MNR is not a diesel-only railway. The first train from Dereham after preservation, running between Dereham and Yaxham, was hauled by Manning Wardle 0-6-0 tank locomotive "Sir Berkeley", and the railway has always intended to operate both steam and diesel trains.

In 2000 the railway arranged the loan of Barclay 0-4-0 saddle tank 'Little Barford'.[55] Although the locomotive was too small to operate a scheduled service over the line it was used for a number of crew training runs, and, on Monday 12 June 2000, it became the first steam locomotive in preservation to operate over the entire route between Dereham and Wymondham.[56] Steam also visited the line, although not to operate services, in 2001 when LNER Thompson Class B1 61264 was routed via Dereham for repairs after failing on railtour at Norwich, 20 November.

The 2006 return of steam-hauled passenger services marked the completion of Dereham Station restoration and the installation of steam infrastructure[57] (such as the water tower).

The first locomotive to haul timetabled steam services over the Dereham to Wymondham section since 1955 was GWR 9400 Class 9466.[58][59] The same locomotive returned to operate the line's steam services in June and July 2007, although Battle of Britain class 34067 Tangmere also visited this year, operating some scheduled trains and hauling the first steam charter from Dereham (to London Liverpool Street), on 5 May.[60] Steam services have continued to operate during Summer months.

Commercial freight[edit]

Trainload of Scimitar light tanks on Warflat wagons nearing Kimberley
DRS Class 37 and Rail Head Treatment Train at Dereham (2008)

Mid-Norfolk Railway facilitates commercial freight trains, using its connection with the National Rail network at Wymondham. Dereham yard was used as a servicing depot by Direct Rail Services in late 2007 and 2008 and for storage of Network Rail track plant since 2008.[61][62]

The road vehicle loading ramp in Dereham yard is frequently used by mainline train operators to load damaged rolling stock onto road vehicles. Such rolling stock usually comes at night (via the connection with the mainline at Wymondham) at slow speed (sometimes on wheelskates) from Crown Point depot in Norwich (where no road-rail loading facilities are available) for onward road movement to specialist repair facilities around the country.

90010 at Dereham in May 2014 awaiting onward road transport to Crewe for repair.

The line has also been used to carry equipment for army units based at Robertson Barracks or undergoing training at the Stanford Battle Area, most recently in January 2009.[63][64] Operation of these trains involves both resident and mainline locomotives.[65]

Date Operator Motive Power Notes
17 June 1998 EWS 47241 'Halewood Silver Jubilee' First trial MOD train, including inspection saloon.
8 July 1998 EWS 37263 First MOD train, composed VGA wagons.
9 July 1998 EWS 47298 MOD train, composed Warwell and Warflat wagons.
17 July 1998 EWS 37707 MOD train, composed VGA, Warwell and Warflat wagons.
5 October 1998 EWS 47200 'Herbert Austin' MOD train, composed VGA wagons.
8 October 1998 EWS 47312 'Parsec of Europe' MOD train, composed Warwell and Warflat wagons.
15 October 1998 EWS 47316 MOD train, composed Warwell and Warflat wagons.
23 April 1999 EWS 37248 'Midland Railway Centre' + 37178 MOD train, composed VGA, Warwell and Warflat wagons.
20 January 2002 EWS 47786 'Roy Castle OBE' Transfer of fire damaged 86252 from Norwich.
26 September 2008 EWS 66105 Trial MOD train.
8 January 2009 DB Schenker 66157 MOD train, composed VGA, Warwell and Warflat wagons.
8 January 2009 DRS 37087 Collecting Network Rail stoneblower.
28 November 2009 DB Schenker 66201 MOD train, composed VGA, Warwell and Warflat wagons.[66]
Training and testing

The Mid-Norfolk Railway is also frequently used by mainline companies for crew training and the storage and testing of recommissioned and new on-track plant, including ballast tampers, ballast regulators, stoneblowers and Multi-Purpose Vehicles from companies including Network Rail and Balfour Beatty Rail Ltd. Since 2001 the line has been used annually for low adhesion training, or skidpan training, for crews from Anglia Railways, latterly for One Railway, where a specially fitted Class 153 treats the track with a slimy solution before the crew practices stopping in a virtual station.[67] The line has also been used for training exercises by East of England Ambulance Service, Norfolk Police and the Fire Brigade, including major incident training involving air ambulances.[68]

Charter trains[edit]

1979 charter DMU at Fakenham
2003 charter train at Dereham
2013 charter train at Hoe

Before the preservation of the line a number of special trains and demonstration services were operated over the line by the Wymondham & Dereham Rail Action Committee (WyDRAC) and the Railway Development Society (RDS) to help maintain pressure for the restoration of passenger services over the line. By the line's closure, twenty special trains had operated, carrying over 5,000 passengers.[69][70]

The junction with the main line at Wymondham has allowed the Mid-Norfolk Railway to continue to be used by a number of charter and excursion trains, which operate over the line as part of the wider rail network.[71][72]

Date Operator Motive Power Notes
8 May 1999 Hertfordshire Rail Tours 47747 'Res Publica' & 47772 King's Cross to Dereham excursion.
21 April 2001 NENTA 47746 'The Bobby' & 47776 'Respected' Dereham to York excursion.
20 April 2002 NENTA 47749 'Atlantic College' & 67008 Dereham to Portsmouth excursion.
31 August 2002 NENTA 67006 & 67021 Norwich - Dereham to Bristol excursion.
23 November 2002 Hertfordshire Rail Tours 47741 'Resilient' & 66086 King's Cross to Dereham excursion.
17 May 2003 NENTA 67006 & 67016 Dereham to York, Durham or Newcastle excursion.
2 August 2003 NENTA 47778 'Duke of Edinburgh's Award' & 67026 Dereham to Severn Valley Railway excursion.
22 November 2003 Hertfordshire Rail Tours 67008 & 67009 King's Cross to Dereham excursion.
21 August 2004 NENTA 47703 & 47832 Dereham to Chester excursion.
9 September 2006 NENTA 47703 & 47709 Dereham to Scarborough excursion.
5 May 2007 The Railway Touring Company 34067 'Tangmere' & 47812 Norwich to Dereham excursion.
11 August 2007 NENTA 47805 & 47853 Dereham to Weymouth excursion.
26 March 2011 Hastings Diesels Ltd 1001 Hastings via Tonbridge, East Croydon, Barnes, West Hampstead, Hitchin, Cambridge, Ely and Wymondham to Dereham.
14 May 2011 UK Railtours / East Midland Trains 43075/43082 'The Railway Children' London St. Pancras via the Leicester, Peterborough, Ely and Wymondham to Dereham.
18 May 2013 UK Railtours / East Midland Trains 43047/43055 London St. Pancras via Leicester, Peterborough, Ely and Wymondham to Dereham (and then north of Hoe Level Crossing).[73][74]
10 August 2013 Charity Railtours 60054/37605 & 37611 Eastleigh to the Port of Felixstowe via Wymondham Abbey. Train didn't go north of Wymondham Abbey.
8 March 2014 Pathfinder Railtours 37402, 37409 and 37218 Railtour from Crewe to Hoe via Wymondham and Dereham.[75]
21 June 2014 NENTA 47851 and 47580 County of Essex Dereham (MNR) - Norwich - Wymondham - Attleborough - Thetford - Brandon - Ely - March - Peterborough - Doncaster - York - Malton - Scarborough and return.
9 September 2014 The Royal Scotsman 47854 and 57313 Scarborough to Dereham (MNR)
10 September 2014 The Royal Scotsman 47854 and 57313 Dereham (MNR) to NVR

Television, film and theatre use[edit]

'Allo 'Allo at County School

After passenger closure, County School station was used as the set for Weavers Green station in the Anglia Television soap opera of the same name. The same station, heavily disguised, featured as "Gare de Nouvion" (Nouvion railway station) in the penultimate episode[76][77] of 'Allo 'Allo!, the comedy series set in occupied France (see picture).

An episode of Off the Rails made for Discovery Channel in 2001 featured some to the activities and volunteers on the railway.[78]

In February 2004 County School stood in for Thetford station in a documentary about the arrival of American troops in World War II, and in September 2005 the same location was used by Capriol Films for the film "Peter Warlock, Some Little Joy" about composer Philip Heseltine. [79] Dereham station, with the railway's Mark 2 coaches, featured in a minor film and the line has also appeared in documentaries for local and national television.[80]

In 2010 former Conservative cabinet minister turned broadcaster and writer Michael Portillo visited the railway to film material for an episode in the second series of the BBC series Great British Railway Journeys. The filming used the Mid-Norfolk's green liveried 1957-built two carriage Class 101 Diesel Multiple Unit.[81]

In 2012 Dereham railway station was used as a stage for productions of the musical The Railway Children.[82]

Community railway[edit]

The yard at Dereham
Staged incident at Dereham for Norfolk Fire and Rescue

The Mid-Norfolk Railway was established as a multi-functional line, with an intention to operate a community service[83] in addition to tourist and freight services.[84] The railway has also stated their belief that a commuter service between Dereham and Norwich remains a viable proposition, with the MNR either running the service themselves or working with an existing train operator.[85] One obstacle on the MNR to running such services is the requirement to operate five manual gated level crossings between Dereham and Wymondham, although level crossing automation is a possibility in the future. In June 2009 the Association of Train Operating Companies published a document (Connecting Communities: Expanding Access to the Rail Network) calling for the restoration of services on a variety of former branch lines, including the Dereham branch. This £30m proposal would see regular services restored between Dereham and Norwich, operated subject to agreement with the Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust.[86]

In another role within the community, the railway has become a focus point for vintage rallies and other special events. On 19 April 2007 a special reenactment of life in the World War II era was organised by the Mid-Norfolk Railway and hosted at County School station.[87] On 22 June 2009 over a hundred road vehicles from origins of the 70s and earlier were hosted by the railway for a special event.[88]


In January 2013 the railway was awarded the Heritage Railway Association's Modern Traction Award for "its continued excellence in specialising in the operation of 1970s stock in BR 1970s livery, culminating in a significant bringing together of Nine Class 47 locomotives, approximately 10% of the surviving fleet".[89]

In December 2013 the railway was awarded the Ian Allan Heritage Railway of the Year Award 2013.[90]


  • On 20 March 2011 a car collided with the level crossing gates at Kimberley Park station, demolishing the south gate.[91]
  • On Wednesday 7 September 2011 a loaded passenger train collided with a lorry on the Greens Lane un-gated level crossing in Dereham. Nobody was injured in the collision and the train was able to complete its journey after a 45 minute delay.[92]
  • On 30 June 2012 GWR steam locomotive 9466 collided with stabled Class 20 diesel D8069 causing damage that the MNR estimated at the time could have run to hundreds of thousands of pounds to repair. No persons were injured in the accident.[93][94]

Route details[edit]

The Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust owned trackbed starts in the Wensum valley, a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Candidate Special Area of Conservation,[95] taking a roughly southerly direction. The line soon climbs out of the valley and enters the town of Dereham, passing two of the town's former maltings, including the Grade II* listed Crisps Malting buildings.[96]

Leaving Dereham the route runs roughly southeast, passing over the River Tud, then descending to pass through the head of the Yare valley near the village of Thuxton. After passing Kimberley Park, the restored windmill[97] at Wicklewood can be seen to the west of the line, before the line drops into the Tiffey valley and most services terminate at a halt close to the Grade I listed Wymondham Abbey, a former Benedictine priory founded in 1107 and now serving as the Parish Church.[98] Although not open to regular services, the line continues a further mile before joining with the main line at Wymondham railway station.

The route of the MNR includes the following stations, listed from north to south:

Under restoration
Location Status Opened Closed Notes Photograph
County School Visitor Centre 1886 5 October 1964 Restored to LNER World War Two condition with help from European funding, the station was presented as a museum memorial to the contribution of railways to modern warfare until it was repainted in a different colour scheme in 2010. The station has a car park, picnic area, toilets, and tea room. It serves as the focus for several footpaths in the Wensum Valley. The station's unspoilt isolation has seen it used as a film location on several occasions.

The station was presented with a Highly Commended certificate in the 1990 Ian Allan National Heritage Railway Awards.

County School station from the southern end of the platform June 2010
North Elmham Closed / Private 20 March 1849 5 October 1964 Building and platform are in private ownership.

Plans exist to relay the track and build a new platform to enable the restoration of passenger services. The current layout in the station and south of the level crossing will need to be removed and relaid as straight track, these changes will happen as funds and volunteer labour allow.

North Elmham
Location Status Opened Closed Notes Photograph
Dereham Open 15 February 1847 6 October 1969 The headquarters of the railway, and has been restored to 1950s condition with help from European and Government funding.[99] The station[100] has a large car park, and is situated close to the town centre.

The line continues northwards to North Elmham, but is very rarely in passenger use as no stations are open to passengers yet on this section of the railway. The lack of signalling systems in Dereham also restricts use of the line northwards until this is installed and commissioned.

Dereham station - main building and canopy
Yaxham Open 15 February 1847 6 October 1969 The station retains many of its buildings, including the signal box, in private ownership.[101] It is also the home of the Yaxham Light Railway[102] and a local boiler engineering company.
Yaxham station
Thuxton Open 15 February 1847 6 October 1969 Thuxton's waiting rooms are, as with all the intermediate stations, private. The waiting room has been restored as holiday accommodation.[103]

Work to complete a passing loop at this site, provide operational signalling and lengthen the up platform to accommodate longer and more frequent train services was completed in 2010. The signalling is currently operated from a Lever frame in a temporary shed next to the level crossing, this arrangement will continue until the new signal box is completed and commissioned. The foundations of the waiting room on the up platform were left in place and the waiting room is currently being reconstructed and will mirror the waiting room on the down platform in private ownership.

Thuxton station
Hardingham Closed / Private 15 February 1847 6 October 1969 Hardingham station is restored and is passed between Thuxton and Kimberley Park. However this station, apart from the platforms, is private and no scheduled trains stop there. There are no public rights of way from nearby roads to any part of the station. In 2001 the station was awarded the Ian Allan Heritage Award.

The station yard, also in private ownership and not connected to the main line, is equipped with two maintenance sheds. A variety of mainline and industrial rolling stock is maintained on site.[104] In recent years public trains have stopped specially at Hardingham on one day only to transport visitors to Hardingham Fete.[105]

Hardingham station
Kimberley Park Open 15 February 1847 6 October 1969 The station building is a private home, but the down platform has been restored for passenger use.
Kimberley Park station
Wymondham Abbey Open 2 May 1999 - The station is a basic platform built using scaffolding and boards close to Wymondham Abbey. MNR trains do not serve the main Wymondham railway station, which is served by trains on the Breckland Line of the National Rail network. Wymondham and Wymondham Abbey stations are separated by a one mile (1.6 km) walk through the town centre. During January 2013 some improvement works were made to the station including the replacement of the whole platform surface using pre-coated non-slip phenolic plywood, these boards failed to withstand the weather conditions and were replaced with non-slip GRP boards in late 2014.
Wymondham Abbey station

There have been plans to create additional stations at Hoe, Garvestone and Wymondham Junction railway station on the boundary between MNR and NR, allowing a short walk from branch to main line.

Engineering projects[edit]

Mid-Norfolk Railway
Towards Fakenham
Yarrow Level Crossing
County School signal box
County School station (Visitor centre only)
County School Level Crossing
Bridge 1707
Line currently missing
Bridge 1706 (Church Lane)
Buffer stop
Bridge 1705
North Elmham ground frame cabin (footings)
North Elmham station (Closed)
16 Milepost
North Elmham Level Crossing
North Elmham signal box (footings)
Bridge 1704 Whitewater Bridge
Worthing Level Crossing
15 Milepost
Bridge 1703
Bridge 1702 Secret Valley
Bridge 1701
Current northern limit of operation
14 Milepost
Bridge 1700
Hoe Level Crossing
Bridge 1699 Wensum Way Footpath
Bridge 1698 Hoe Road
13 Milepost
Bridge 1697
Bridge 1695 Northall Green Bridge
12 Milepost
Swanton Road Level Crossing
Neatherd Road Level Crossing
Norwich Road Level Crossing
Dereham North signal box
Car Park and Rolling stock Loading ramp
Dereham station
Dereham Central signal box
Rolling stock inspection pit
New tracks for proposed shed
Proposed shed headshunt
Dereham South signal box (site of)
11 milepost
Hall Lane Level Crossing
A47 bridge over the
A1075 Yaxham Road Level Crossing
Rash's Green Footpath Crossing
Bridge 1692 Westfield Lane
Bridge 1691 Watering Farm
10 Milepost
Yaxham Level Crossing
Yaxham station & signal box
Bridge 1690 B1135
9 Milepost
Bridge 1689
Toller's Lane Footpath Crossing
Bridge 1687 Trout Farm
8 Milepost
Footpath Crossing
Garvestone Level Crossing
Footpath Crossing
Bridge 1686
7 Milepost
Thuxton station
Thuxton Level Crossing
Thuxton signal box
Bridge 1685
6 Milepost
Bridge 1684 Blackwater River
Bridge 1683 (Mill Road)
Hardingham station and signal box
(No public access)
Hardingham yard (private sidings)
Possible future connection
Bridge 1682 B1135 Danemoor Bridge
5 Milepost
Bridge 1681
4 Milepost
Kimberley Level Crossing
Kimberley Park station & signal box(footings)
Bridge 1679 Wicklewood Bridge
3 Milepost
Bridge 1678
Bridge 1677 B1135 Crownthorpe Bridge
Bridge 1676 Whitehall Farm
2 Milepost
Bridge 1675 Sewage Works
Bridge 1674 B1135 Chapel Lane
Bridge 1673 River Tiffey
Tiffey valley footpath crossing
1 Milepost
Wymondham Abbey station
(1.3km via Town Centre to Wymondham Station)
Cavick Level Crossing (Becketswell Road)
Wymondham Abbey signal box
Wymondham Abbey Run-round loop
Church Lane signal box (footings)
Bridge 1672 Lady's Lane
Bridge 1671 London Rd B1172 (Old A11)
Bridge 1670
Cemetery Lane Footpath Crossing
Mid-Norfolk Railway
Infrastructure boundary
Network Rail
(1.3km walk to Wymondham Abbey station)
Wymondham South Junction signal box
Thetford to Norwich via Wymondham
on the Breckland Line
Re-laying track at Dereham
The under-restoration section of the Mid-Norfolk Railway, near the proposed Hoe station

Large projects have been completed with help from European and Government funding, including restoration of Dereham station building, construction of a locomotive pit and provisions for steam working.[106]

Present projects include improving facilities and siding space in Dereham Yard, reconstruction of Dereham North signal box (ex-Laundry Lane, Lowestoft)[107] restoring the ex-Halesworth signal box at County School. Almost all the work, including maintaining the track and locomotives, running the trains and working the crossings, is by unpaid volunteers.

In June 2013 a planning application was approved by Breckland District Council for the construction of a footbridge at Dereham Station to link platforms 1 and 2. This will involve the restoration and assembly of the original footbridge from Whittlesford station.[108]

In July 2013 the railway purchased a 18m x 55m steel frame building with the intention of erecting it in Dereham Yard to create a shed for the restoration, maintenance and storage of locomotives and other rolling stock. The railway is still looking for funding and donations to complete the project.[109]

Other future projects include the installation of additional signalling at Thuxton and interlinking it with Garvestone level crossing, it is hoped that Thuxton signal box can be commissioned during 2015.[110]

Route extension[edit]

This project entails reopening the line north of Dereham to County School in stages, initially to Hoe (a hamlet near Gressenhall). The option to build a platform at Hoe using components from the former St Ives branch was considered but it has been decided to focus efforts on restoring the track to North Elmham where better access is available for visitors, although it will still be possible to add a platform at Hoe in the future if it is considered to be of benefit to the railway. The level crossing at Hoe has been rebuilt to accommodate widening of the road. Gradual sleeper replacement, drainage repair and vegetation clearance is currently ongoing towards North Elmham.[111] A railway inspector authorised by the Office of Rail Regulation inspected the section between Dereham and Hoe prior to the first passenger train using the track, the inspector set out rules governing the frequency of use and the necessary inspection regime that should be used on this section as well as the maximum speed permitted. The inspector limited the use of the line north of Dereham to 12 days per year for passenger trains due to the current lack of operational signalling equipment in the Dereham station area and the absence of a Facing Point Lock on the points immediately north of Norwich Road level crossing, this legally means they must be clipped and locked manually prior to use by passenger trains. The speed limit north of Dereham is currently 15 mph due to the condition of the track, the speed limit could be increased by adding additional ballast.

A new Railway Order would need to be issued by the Secretary of State under the Transport and Works Act 1992 to operate a railway north beyond the buffers north of North Elmham station where the (derelict) track currently ends. The current limit is set in The Mid-Norfolk Railway Order 2001.[112]

North Elmham

The first full passenger train to operate over the section of line between Dereham and Hoe did so on 18 May 2013, being a main line InterCity 125 charter from London St Pancras station.

The Mid-Norfolk Railway has long-term aims to restore the railway as far as Fakenham, and has held talks with North Norfolk District Council and Fakenham Town Council about restoring the route to a proposed new station close to the town centre. This would result in a 23-mile (37 km)-long route through the centre of Norfolk.[113] The former railway route has been protected from development that would be prejudicial to the creation of railway transport links by North Norfolk District Council and Norfolk County Council.[114]

Norfolk Orbital Railway[edit]

The Norfolk Orbital Line is a long term proposed railway of which the Mid-Norfolk Railway would form a significant part. It is an ambitious plan to form a line between Sheringham and Wymondham for regular passenger services, joining up with the Network Rail system at either end. These ambitions were aided on 2 January 2008 when Network Rail announced it was giving consideration to allowing construction of a limited use level crossing between the North Norfolk Railway and the Bittern branch line.[115]

Thuxton loop and signalling works[edit]

Class 37s passing at Thuxton, Autumn Gala 2010

The Mid-Norfolk Railway's 2001 Bearer Bond issue proposals included £60,000 for the provision of a passing loop at Hardingham. With this station being in private hands this proposal was abandoned in favour of a loop at Thuxton.[116]

During 2008, the Trust began construction of the passing loop at Thuxton station to allow hourly departures from Dereham and Wymondham. Preparatory works were carried out late in 2008 and the first phase of work; installing the southern turn out commenced during January 2009, this was completed on schedule during February of the same year.[117] Panels of track for the loop were laid, levelled and ballasted and the both turn outs installed by the end of 2009.[118] The final major task on the track work will see the level crossing widened to accommodate the double track.

The loop was declared operational in September 2010, although with limited signalling working from a covered ground frame and part of the restored up platform remaining out of use. The first scheduled passenger trains to pass at Thuxton did so during the 2010 Autumn Diesel Gala, which saw the most intensive service levels ever operated by the Mid-Norfolk Railway.

Full signalling will be included as part of the final project including five semaphore and two colour light signals along with two point motors to operate the turnouts. These will be controlled from a new signal box on site sourced from East Winch on the former King's Lynn line. This project has also made the commissioning of the currently dormant Dereham Central signal box a priority for the Trust. As of 29 January 2009, over £25,000 has been raised towards the new works taking the appeal over half way.[119] Since becoming operational in September 2010, work has continued on the signalling, it is hoped that the signal box will be become operational during 2015 allowing the temporary ground frame and shed to be removed. Trap points will be fitted to the siding south of Thuxton station, as well as many additional signals including signals allowing bi-directional movements in the down platform and a ground frame at Garvestone crossing with associated gate locks and distant signals interlocked with Thuxton signal box.[120]

Rolling stock[edit]

The Mid-Norfolk Railway owns a large collection of heritage rolling stock.

Funding and associated bodies[edit]

The Class 50 Locomotive Association's 50019 on a ballast working at Danemoor, June 2009.

The Mid-Norfolk Railway is owned and operated by Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust, a registered charity, with finance for the development of the line coming through the commercial operation of the railway and specific funding appeals. The opening of the line was partly funded by a loan from Breckland District Council of £50,000, repayable over 20 years commencing April 2003 and a loan of £25,000, repayable over 18 years commencing June 2001, from South Norfolk District Council. A grant of £50,000 was made by Norfolk County Council, £25,000 from Breckland D.C. and £12,500 from South Norfolk D.C.

In 2001 the railway launched a Bearer Bond issue of up to £300,010, offering annual interest at 4% per annum as well as capital repayment after ten years. The nominal value of the Bonds will be payable on 31 October 2011. The capital projects proposed for this scheme were:

1. Part restoration of the Victorian station buildings, goods shed and stables at Dereham, along with the provision of sidings and maintenance facilities. Dereham was also to be provided with watering, coaling and disposal facilities for steam services. (£150,000)

2. A runround facility was to be provided at Wymondham Abbey. (£20,000)

3. A passing loop was to be provided at Hardingham. (£60,000)

4. Essential preparatory work on track restoration on the Northern Section, towards North Elmham. (£25,000)

5. Additional passenger rolling stock was to be purchased. (£25,000)[121]

The MNR also has several supporting bodies based on the line. The majority are locomotive or rolling stock groups. Private owners have based their stock or locomotives at the line.

The Class 37 Locomotive Group formed in 1984. The group maintains and operates 37003, which arrived at Dereham in February 2009, and are custodians of 37175, which is owned by one of their long-standing members and kept at the Bo'ness & Kinneil Railway.[122]

The Class 50 Locomotive Association bought 50019 Ramillies in September 1991. Originally on the Spa Valley Railway, it moved to the Mid-Norfolk Railway in May 1999.[123]

The Stratford 47 Group formed in 2001 to save a Class 47 diesel formerly at Stratford depot in East London. It now owns three locomotives, with 47367 Kenny Cockbird and 47596 Aldeburgh Festival operational on the Mid-Norfolk Railway.[124]

The Class 73 Locomotive Preservation Company, formed in 2004, manages electro-diesel locomotive 73210 at the Mid-Norfolk Railway.

The Southern Preservation Group purchased 1497 'Freshwater' from South West Trains in August 2010, bringing it to the Mid-Norfolk Railway in September 2010 for use with 73210.[125]

Norfolk Heritage Steam Railway Ltd, formed 2009, own Hunslet 0-6-0 saddle tank, works number 3193, now being restored at a private site at Yaxham for use on the Mid-Norfolk Railway.[126]

In December 2011 the B17 Steam Locomotive Trust announced that they would locate themselves and their project to build two replica LNER Class B17 locomotives on the line. One locomotive will be completed to full main line specifications whilst the other will be for exhibition and display for fund raising purposes.

See also[edit]

Other Railway Preservation Society in Norfolk:


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External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°37′02″N 1°00′48″E / 52.6173°N 1.0134°E / 52.6173; 1.0134