South Staffordshire Line

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The South Staffordshire Line is a railway line that once connected Lichfield in Staffordshire, England with Dudley, formerly in Worcestershire. However, it joined the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway's line just north of Dudley Station, where it, in essence, continued to Stourbridge, in Worcestershire (Dudley and Stourbridge were later to become part of the West Midlands conurbation). The section south of Round Oak remains open for freight workings only, and is now officially referred to as the South Staffordshire Line. The line was built by the South Staffordshire Railway. On 12 July 2013, in a suspected terrorist attack, a bomb was believed to have been detonated on the disused section of the line in Tipton, at Binfield Street, near Sedgley Road.[1]

South Staffordshire Line
to Burton upon Trent
Barton and Walton
to Tamworth
Alrewas
for West Coast Main Line
Lichfield Trent Valley 1847–
Lichfield City 1849–
Sutton Coldfield-Lichfield Line
Hammerwich 1849–1965
Anglesea Sidings
Brownhills 1849–1965
Pelsall 1849–1965
Rushall 1849–1909
Sutton Park Line
to Water Orton
Chase Line
to Rugeley Trent Valley
Wolverhampton and Walsall Railway
to Wolverhampton
Walsall 1849–
Walsall Line
to Birmingham New Street
Walsall to Wolverhampton Line
to Wolverhampton
Wednesbury Town 1850–1964
Darlaston 1863–1887
Darlaston Loop
Wednesbury Great Western Street
Midland Metro
to Coseley
Great Bridge North 1850–1964
to Birmingham Snow Hill
Dudley Port Low Level 1850–1964
for Rugby-Birmingham-Stafford Line
to Wolverhampton Low Level
Dudley 1860–1964
Dudley Railway Tunnel
Blowers Green 1868–1964
Bumble Hole Line
to Old Hill
Harts Hill 1895–1916
Round Oak 1852–1962
Round Oak Steel Terminal
Brierley Hill 1858–1962
Wombourne Branch
Moor Lane Goods Yard
Brettell Lane 1852–1962
to Birmingham Snow Hill
Stourbridge Town
Stourbridge Junction 1852–
to Kidderminster
  • Between Walsall and Round Oak
    the track is still in situ, but out of use.
  • Wombourne Branch track is in situ but out of use.

The original line and route[edit]

The line officially began at Wychnor Junction, north of Lichfield, and ran through what is now Lichfield Trent Valley. Trains then continued through to Lichfield City itself. From there, a plethora of stations along the route were served. The line continued through to Walsall and a low-level station at Dudley Port. This was technically the terminus of the line but it was connected to the OW&WR's line and then ran through Dudley itself from 1860. It went on to serve other stations before eventually terminating at the south-western extremity of the Black Country at Stourbridge Junction.

Landmarks[edit]

Just before its termination at Stourbridge, it crossed (and continues to cross) the massive Stambermill Viaduct which is one of the local area's most significant landmarks. It also crossed Parkhead Viaduct just south of Dudley and for several hundred yards passed through Dudley Railway Tunnel.

History and passenger usage[edit]

The line was opened on 1 May 1850.[2] This was soon to become part of the London and North Western Railway as far as Dudley station, which, in 1860, was opened as a joint venture with the OW&WR itself later to become amalgamated into the Great Western Railway. This station was built ten years after the original connection, however, and trains on the South Staffordshire Line ran from Walsall to Stourbridge fairly early on. Dudley provided a useful change point for passengers from Walsall and Stourbridge to Wolverhampton, though this wasn't utilised to quite the effect the OW&WR had hoped, due to the similar connection at Dudley Port by the SSR with the Stour Valley Line - which today forms part of the West Midlands section of the West Coast Main Line.

To the north of Dudley Port, a link to the Birmingham Snow Hill- Wolverhampton Low Level route was added sometime between the inauguration of the line and the opening of Great Bridge South railway station in 1866. All three of the above - Dudley Port, Great Bridge and Wednesbury - were completed in 1850, and the line was then opened accordingly. All other stations on the route - from Lichfield to Walsall - were in operation from 1849.

Passenger travel existed on this route from then through until 1965 with the fall of the Beeching Axe. Only one station closed in the meantime- Rushall being closed in 1909. The OW&WR portion of the line was closed pre-Beeching, in 1962. The line was used as a through route from Walsall right up until the closure of the line on 19 March 1993, mainly being used for freight duties at the Dudley Freightliner Terminal, which closed - despite being far more profitable than Birmingham's terminal - on 26 September 1989.

Traffic on the line, which had been declining since the 1970s largely due to deindustrialisation of the Black Country, continued to slump after the terminal's closure, and decreased the line's viability.[3]

The section of railway north of Walsall had already been closed, with the last train using the route on 19 March 1984 and the track being lifted two years later.

The Brierley Hill to Walsall section of the line officially closed on 19 March 1993, nine years to the day that the Walsall-Lichfield line had closed. However, there were a handful of other movements on the line after its official closure, including a cable-laying train which covered the route on 1 July 1993, on its journey from Birmingham to Stafford.

The line from Stourbridge Junction to Round Oak Steel Terminal is all that remains of the South Staffordshire Railway and its line, though virtually all of the track on the closed section towards Walsall is in place.

The line today[edit]

Very little of the South Staffordshire line is used today, although Lichfield City and the connection to Lichfield Trent Valley high-level remain as part of London Midland's Cross-City Service to Redditch via Birmingham New Street. Freight usage on the OW&WR portion of the route has once again become more common thanks to the Round Oak Steel Terminal.

The closed old railway lines that once ran between Dudley port and Dudley's freight liner depot in 2001.
A picture of Round Oak steel terminal in 2005.

In terms of infrastructure, nearly all of the trackbed still remains, and indeed so does much of the track. The closed section South Staffordshire line has gradually fallen into disrepair over the last decade or so, with much of the trackbed heavily overgrown – in some areas almost totally concealed by vegetation. Most of the track between the Blowers Green Road and Highgate Road overbridges was removed in 1999 upon the construction of the Dudley Southern By-pass overbridge, leading up to the buffers at Harts Hill which mark the beginning of the line's closed section. A few yards of track just north of the Dudley Freightliner site have been completely removed, along with part of the track at Golds Hill crossing; this is believed[by whom?] to have been the work of vandals.

A number of fences have been placed along closed sections of the line in a bid to clamp down on anti-social behaviour which had been occurring. These fences are fitted at locations including the canal underbridge near Conygree Road, the entrances to Dudley Tunnel and the northern side of the level crossing near Wednesbury town centre. Mature trees can be found at many locations on the line.

Approximately three years before the line's closure, the signal box in Dudley was destroyed by arsonists, as was the signal box at Golds Hill crossing after the line closed. Another signal box on the active line (near Brettell Lane) was burnt down much more recently.[when?][citation needed]

Three bridges have also been built over the line since its closure. In 1995, a four-span viaduct was completed over Golds Hill crossing to carry the new Black Country Spine Road; construction of this road had actually started while the line was still in use. 1999 saw the opening of a new overbridge to carry the Midland Metro near Potters Lane in Wednesbury and another to carry the Dudley Southern By-Pass. The bridge carrying Tipton Road over the line was rebuilt in 2005, and a new overbridge was built in 2006 to carry the line over a new road on a commercial development north of Wednesbury town centre.

Currently,[when?] resignalling work is being carried out on the stretch of track approaching Walsall from Bescot Junction and the M6, due to be completed in 2013. This section of the line is being re-opened to be used by Rugeley Power Station, in order to avoid using Bescot TMD. [4] By November 2012, the Walsall end of the line has been completely cleared of vegetation - subsequently the line was relayed as far as the former Bescot Curve Junction to provide a run-round facility. On 18 November 2012, an engineering train ran on the Walsall end of the line, the first train to run on any of the closed section of the line for some 19 years.[5] Although re-signalled in August 2013 with the abolition of Walsall PSB remedial work meant it was not brought into use until the following year, with the first coal trains believed to have utilized it in October 2014.

The Future[edit]

Future re-opening of the line has been suggested several times in many different forms.

In the 2000s the plan for Line 2 of the Midland Metro, which would diverge at Wednesbury and follow the route of the South Staffordshire Line was put forward. It was planned this would be a single line venture. Any stops on the route (which would occur around the points of the old railway stations) are likely to be doubled as passing places. The Midland Metro plan was actually formulated back in 1992, a year before the line's closure. There were also plans afoot to reinstate the line to Walsall as a single freight line (frequency of trains along this route would never warrant a double line) to allow a quicker route to Bescot TMD, which is currently only traversable by means of a lengthy run through Cradley Heath, diverging at Galton Junction and then later at Soho East. One plan put forward was that of Railtrack in 1997 - which suggested passenger services may be laid on once more. This was part of a plan to give the Merry Hill Shopping Centre its own heavy rail link.[citation needed] These plans never came to fruition and are unlikely to - although it is clear[who?] that a heavy rail link would make the centre far more attractive to those from far afield. The line was first designated as a possible Midland Metro route as long ago as the late 1980s, when the whole line was still open but around the time that closure plans were first considered, with a view of having trams running by the mid 1990s.

In March 2011, the business plan for the re-opening of the line from Stourbridge to Walsall, was handed to Network Rail, with work planned to start by 2014, subject to approval and securement of funding.[6][7] The new plan is for tram-trains to share the line with freight trains, cutting overall construction costs. A quarter of the projects £268 million has already been found, with the owners of Merry Hill Shopping Centre, Westfield, pledging £36.5 million.[8] A decision from Network Rail was expected in the late summer but as of September 2011, a decision is yet to be made.

In January 2012, plans surfaced to run a passenger service between Stourbridge Junction and Brierley Hill, with stations being re-opened along the route, including Brierley Hill. The service would be operated by railcars built by Parry People Movers, who built the Class 139 units which run the Stourbridge Town service.[9]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]