Wisbech and March Bramley Line

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Coordinates: 52°36′47″N 0°09′07″E / 52.613°N 0.152°E / 52.613; 0.152

Bramley Line
Bramley Line Logo.png
Locale England
Terminus Wisbech
Commercial operations
Name Wisbech and March Bramleyline
Built by Great Eastern Railway
Original gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Preserved operations
Operated by None
Stations 0
Length 7.8 miles
Preserved gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Commercial history
Opened 1862
Closed 1968 passengers
Preservation history
2003 Formation of preservation company

The Wisbech and March Bramley Line is a railway line between March and Wisbech in Cambridgeshire, England. A number of proposals are currently being investigated relating to the possible restoration of passenger services along the route.

Historical background[edit]

The passing of the Wisbech, St. Ives and Cambridge Junction Railway Act 1846 (c.ccclvi) authorised the construction of two lines from March railway station: a 7.8-mile line to Wisbech which was reached by an almost straight north-easterly route across The Fens and a line south to the market town of St Ives. The double-track line to Wisbech was the first to open on 3 May 1847 followed by the St Ives line nine months later. The Wisbech line was taken over before completion by the Eastern Counties Railway and then by the Great Eastern Railway in 1862. Coldham was the only intermediate station between March and Wisbech, the latter being served by a new station constructed in the town centre and named "Wisbeach". It was to last until 1863 when it was resited south and later renamed Wisbech East upon nationalisation of the railways to distinguish it from the Midland and Great Northern's Wisbech North station. The railway development in the area was completed in March 1848 with the opening of a single-track 9.5 mile extension from Wisbeach to Watlington Junction.

Although not recommended for closure in the Beeching Report of 1963, the series of lines around Wisbech were gradually closed from the 1960s onwards. Coldham station was the first to be closed in 1966, followed by the March to Watlington via Wisbech branch in September 1968. The line between March and Wisbech remained, however, open to freight traffic - namely steel coil for the Metal Box factory and occasional parcels, coal and pet food trains from Nestle Purina until Summer 2000. The line was singled in March 1972 with the lifting of the down rails.

Campaigning group Railfuture have made an uncosted proposal that that line should be restored as a commuter route, providing an hourly service to Cambridge, with a maximum suggested journey time of 35 minutes. They compare their case for restoring the service to the completed Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine rail link.[1]

Early preservation attempts[edit]

Plans to open the line as a passenger service have been discussed for many years. In 1974, "WAMRAC" (the Wisbech And March Railway Action Committee) was formed with the intention of reopening the Wisbech line to passenger traffic. The committee never achieved this goal, although on 1 July 1984 and the Railway Development Society (RDS, which now campaigns as Railfuture), the WAMRAC organised the last ever passenger train from Wisbech. This was a special train consisting of a Class 47 loco and ten British Rail Mk2 coaches, which ran from Wisbech to York and Scarborough.

State of the route[edit]

Track south of Wisbech, June 2009

Wisbech East Station was lost to redevelopment following closure in 1968 and the station site is obliterated by a housing development dating from 2001.

The track now ends at Weasenham Lane crossing following the tarmacing over of the rails from the level crossing in 2005. Beyond this point, the old Wisbech East Goods Yard (acquired by Nestle Purina from Railtrack in 1995) was last used in 2000. Three years after the last pet food train from Wisbech, the remaining three sidings were lifted. Most of the yard area now forms the factory and car park extension.

As for the single track, owned by Network Rail, it is still connected to the National Rail network via Whitemoor Junction near March, but locked off. It was officially closed to traffic by Network Rail in 2002 due to the poor state of the infrastructure.[original research?] New signalling was installed at the junction during late 2007 for the benefit of outward bound engineering trains from the re-opened Whitemoor Yard, once the second biggest freight yard in Europe during World War II and now a stabling point for engineering trains.

Proposals to re-open the line by ATOC[edit]

In June 2009, the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) petitioned in its report Connecting Communities: Expanding Access to the Rail Network for the line to be restored as part of the national rail network as part of plans for 14 extra lines and about 40 new stations.[2] This £12m proposal would see hourly trains running on the existing single line between Wisbech, March and Peterborough and could be linked with Cross Country's proposed extension of Birmingham - Leicester service to Peterborough. It would serve a population of Wisbech of 26 500 and a wider station catchment area of 50 000 including villages and towns such as Long Sutton in the area between the Spalding-Peterborough line and the King's Lynn lines. A new station at Wisbech and a possible additional park and ride adjacent to the A47 would be built.[3] The ATOC report was based on a detailed, professional, market study for reinstated railways with the aim of improving economic regeneration. The ATOC report has the active support of the Liberal Democrats, Railfuture and is being followed up by the local Conservative council.

Having reviewed the ATOC proposals the Wisbech to March Bramley Line published its position statement,[4] with its main points being:-

  1. The service proposed by ATOC is between Wisbech and Peterborough via March for which they believe an adequate express bus services already exist.
  2. The capital costs to reinstate a full national rail service are at least £12m and probably more, with, for example, the Stirling to Alloa line re-instatement costing over £65m.
  3. The report in respect of the March – Wisbech line contains only an option for review not a proposal for the restoration of a service.
  4. Network Rail has confirmed to the Bramley Line that the establishment of a community heritage service would not be a barrier to network services returning to the line in the future.
  5. Community heritage railways require significantly less capital costs to re-establish services and lower operating costs.

A statement made by Conservative councillor Simon King, Fenland District Council’s chairman of Overview and Scrutiny Committee, indicated that the Council "are very pleased ATOC has raised the idea of re-opening the line" and stated that, "anything Fenland District Council can do to support it we will do because it is really important for the development of the area”. In November 2009 Councillor King declared his interest as a Board member of the Bramleyline group in a Fenland District Council meeting.[5] The news of the ATOC proposal was also welcomed by Wisbech's Conservative Mayor, and Conservative Cllr Kit Owen, Fenland’s portfolio holder for Open for Business.[6]

Proposals to re-open the line by Cambridgeshire County Council[edit]

Cambridgeshire County Council considered re-opening the line between March and Wisbech to passengers in 1990, however a quote from British Rail of £1.36 million for the upgrading of the then operational freight line, coupled to an annual £200,000 operating charge, meant that this proposal was dropped.[7]

In 2012, Cambridgeshire County Council requested a three-phase study from Atkins into the reopening of the line for public transport. The first part, detailing "potential revenue and patronage that may arise from reintroducing passenger services on the line, with an assessment of the operational costs", was published in early 2013. It concluded that a light rail scheme could generate a £15.5m operating surplus between 2014 and 2029.[8]

The report considers restoring the line for heavy rail, light rail and heritage railway operation, but notes that “few if any heritage railways in the UK operate a commuter service throughout the year".[9]

Proposals to re-open the line by Bramley Line Heritage Railway Trust[edit]

The Wisbech March Railway Group was formed on 22 October 2003 by Wisbech businessman Peter Downs following an initiative he had raised at meetings of the local Chamber of Commerce. In response to a question as to how more visitors could be attracted to The Fens and Wisbech in particular, he suggested reinstating the railway line, an idea which met with some amusement at the time and which remains unproven. Downs nevertheless began making enquiries within the railway industry as to the future plans for the disused line which had seen its last freight service in 2000. An article was published in the local press to drum up support and a meeting was held, at which only five supporters attended, and elected Downs as Chairman. The railway's name was chosen and formerly adopted at the meeting, after the large quantity of Bramley apples that used to be carried by rail from the area.[10]

In December 2007 Fenland District Council refused the Bramleyline's application for £20,000 funding on the basis that the project had "no business basis" and "no practical outcome". The Council advised the group to prepare another business plan and offered to help it secure alternative funding.[11]

The railway group proposes using the existing route as far as the Network Rail junction at Whitemoor, with a new temporary station named "March Elm Road" being located as near as possible to Elm Road Crossing. On the other side of Elm Road Crossing, a run round loop would eventually be provided. A Single Platform would initially be provided at Coldham station then, at a later stage, a passing loop would also be installed as close as is possible to the site of the former down (Wisbech) platform. A platform might also be built at Waldersea, on the Wisbech side of the crossing. A Wisbech terminus station would be built as near as possible to Weasenham Lane Level Crossing, which is the current end of the line.

Volunteer work taking place[edit]

The Bramley Line has a license from Network Rail which permits them to clear vegetation. They are not allowed to repair the actual track. The Track Clearance Team commenced at Coldham in July 2006 and have continued since then, working back towards Wisbech.[12] Full track clearance of overgrown shrubs and vegetation is required so as to carry out a thorough inspection of the track infrastructure. This is necessary as the branch line was last maintained to a basic freight standard (15 ton only) in the early 1970s following the lifting of the Down main rails into Wisbech.

The team have also been replacing and painting the fencing at various sites, including Elm Road Crossing, March. The Bramley Line 'Roadshow' also attends as many local fairs and fetes possible, as well as a number of Model Railway Exhibitions promoting their cause.

March Station's disused platforms have been partially cleaned up by a group of volunteers independent of the Bramley Line project.

Waldersea station project[edit]

Waldersea formerly had some sidings and a Signal Box which controlled a set of gates. It has never had a station, but the heritage society propose that it would become their headquarters. Currently an isolated siding is being laid at this location and a site office has been provided.

Rolling stock[edit]

In February 2005 the Bramley Line Group purchased five ex-InterCity Gatwick Express BR Mk2f class 488 coaches, comprising a rake of four Standard class and one Club Class vehicles and they were later stabled in the sidings next to March East signalbox. A public appeal raised £2,500 to move the coaches to March.[13] Following vandalism to the coaches, it was proposed in November 2007 that the coaches should be sold. They were later purchased by a New Zealand-based railway in May 2008.

Network Rail lease[edit]

The extant Up line from Wisbech is still owned by Network Rail. The Bramley Line are currently working to raise the money to pay Network Rail's legal fees, in order to get the lease of the line for the purposes of restoring it for tourist trains. Only when the lease for the branch has been obtained from Network Rail will the Bramley Line be legally permitted to carry out full track repair and renewal, including replacement of some 200 wooden sleepers. The track renewal work will then have to be approved by HM Rail Inspectorate for passenger trains to be able to run again between Wisbech and March.

Appeals[edit]

At the 2009 AGM on 28 March, the 'Raise a Wagon Load of cash' was launched, in order to raise the balance of the finance needed to get the line. The AGM in 2010 agreed to reform the old group into the Bramley Line Heritage Raliway Trust with a new constitution. The Trust reached agreement with Network Rail over relaying the sidings at Waldersea to create a base. The Trust now has an office there. The Trust was accepted into membership of the HRA in May 2010.

References[edit]

External links[edit]