Epping Ongar Railway
|Epping Ongar Railway|
|Ongar station, opened by the GER in 1865, was served by the London Underground between 1949 and 1994 despite being in rural Essex.|
|Services extend only as far as Coopersale, although it is planned to extend the line to a new station at Epping.|
|Original gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
|Owned by||Epping Ongar Railway Ltd.|
|Length||6 1⁄2 miles (10.5 km) Single track throughout except a passing loop at North Weald|
|Preserved gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
|2004||Re-opened and taken over for Preservation|
|Epping Ongar Railway|
The Epping Ongar Railway is a heritage railway run by a team of volunteers in south-west Essex, England. It was the final section of the Great Eastern Railway branch line, later the London Underground's Central line from Loughton via Epping to Ongar, with intermediate stations at North Weald and Blake Hall. The line was closed by London Underground in 1994 but reopened between 2004 and 2007 as a preserved railway offering a volunteer-run Class 117 DMU service between Ongar and Coopersale. A change of ownership in 2007 led to the line being closed for restoration to a heritage steam railway, which reopened on 25 May 2012.
- 1 Early workings
- 2 Cutbacks and closure
- 3 Purchase and reopening
- 4 Resumption of passenger services
- 5 Heritage railway operations
- 6 Current rolling stock
- 7 Plans of the EOR
- 8 References
- 9 External links
The line to Ongar was opened in 1865 by the Great Eastern Railway, as an extension to its line from Stratford to Loughton opened in 1856 by its predecessor, the Eastern Counties Railway. The extension was single-track, but whereas the Loughton to Epping section was doubled in the 1890s, the section between Epping and Ongar was always single, apart from a passing loop at North Weald on opening. The eastern end of the loop was severed in 1888, converting it into a siding. Approximately 14 trains each day went to Ongar, with the rest terminating at Loughton or Epping.
This remained the case until 1949, when the London Passenger Transport Board's New Works scheme extended the Central line to Epping using electric trains, taking over the railway from British Railways. The Epping-Ongar branch lost its through trains to London, and a shuttle service between Epping (to connect with trains to London) and Ongar was implemented; for eight years, there was the unusual sight of steam trains and London Underground electric multiple units side-by-side at Epping. The steam shuttle was hired by London Transport from British Railways, as it was felt there was no justification for electrification to Ongar unless patronage of the branch rose. Upon taking over the branch in 1949, London Transport re-converted the siding at North Weald into a passing loop and built a second platform to serve a new westbound track.
In the 1950s, there were attempts to improve the service on the branch, and electrification took place in 1957. The low-cost nature of the electrification meant that although the branch could support eight-car trains as far as North Weald, a maximum of four cars could run to Ongar. The voltage drop along the end-fed line was too great to support full-length trains, and the short platforms were not long enough to support eight-car trains. Hence the Epping to Ongar branch was normally operated as an isolated extension of the Central line, with a few through workings south to Loughton. However, for two days every year through trains were run from London, terminating at North Weald for the North Weald airshow, on the Saturday and Sunday of its opening at the aerodrome almost adjacent to the station. The normal Epping to Ongar shuttle dovetailed with this service, passing the terminating trains on the adjacent line during its westbound journey. The through trains were operated as extra trains on the normal weekend Central line timetables, only four cars long due to the restricted platform length at North Weald.
Cutbacks and closure
From the late 1960s, it became clear that the line's patronage was not growing as had been expected, mainly due to restriction of development in what was now designated Green Belt land. Even at its peak in 1971, the 650 passengers daily hardly made the line an economic proposition. London Underground tried to close the entire line in 1980; instead, a reduced service was implemented, along with Blake Hall tube station being closed on Sundays.
North Weald's platform one was closed in 1976, then the passing loop/westbound track was lifted in 1978. Until this time, the station was controlled from the original Eastern Counties Railway signal box, still sited on the southbound platform, now fully restored. North Weald was the last section of the London Underground to be signalled with mechanical semaphore signals.
Blake Hall was closed in 1981; it is said that it handled six customers a day. The station building still survives, without platform, as a private dwelling. Even after closure, it only required a kind word to the shuttle's driver for an unscheduled stop to be made. London Transport responded by removing the platform facings, rendering the unauthorised procedure impossible.
On 30 September 1994 the line was closed: it was making a loss of seven pounds for each passenger journey and was in need of some expensive maintenance work. At the time of closure the line was carrying a mere 80 passengers a day; local lore had it that the line was being kept open in case the Cabinet needed to be evacuated to the Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker at Doddinghurst.[dead link] The track was left intact along with the stations (albeit not maintained).
Purchase and reopening
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (June 2014)|
The line was purchased by Pilot Developments (later Epping Ongar Railway Ltd) in 1998. The Ongar Railway Preservation Society entered a £325,000 offer for the line, but Pilot Developments convinced London Underground to accept its slightly higher offer after the bidding deadline. Independent politician Martin Bell described the deal as "the most controversial land deal in the constituency for years", alleging a conflict of interest with local politicians. The line was reopened by the Epping Ongar Railway Volunteer Society on Sunday 10 October 2004, providing an hourly service between Ongar and North Weald. The line was shortly after extended to Coopersale, although no boarding or alighting facilities as yet exist there.
Between 22 January and 9 April 2006 the line was shut down for engineering works. This involved general station maintenance, rolling stock maintenance and track maintenance. Ongar station remained closed for engineering works and general maintenance and reopened on 28 May 2006, initially without the use of the station buildings.
On Easter weekend 2007, the railway had the most visitors on a single day since reopening, on the Sunday and Monday. The Teddy Bears' Picnic, Anniversary of Reopening and Halloween events are also popular.
At the end of 2007, as a result of the awarding of planning permission for the Ongar residential development, the railway was sold to a new private owner who was committed to bring steam back to the line.
Following the change of ownership in 2007, it was decided to suspend train operations and to concentrate on improving the track. This was done in order to undertake the major engineering works to secure its long-term future and facilitate the return of steam to the line, such as run-round loops, signalling, and coal and water facilities. Both Ongar and North Weald Stations have seen changes:
The Good Yards area (a wasteland for many years) has been purchased by David Wilson Homes, which has built a small collection of houses. The Cattle Dock remains, as does the main station building, which has been repainted in GER colours (1900–1930s). Ongar is the only operational GER station in GER colours.
The milk dock is being restored into a bay platform, which will be Platform 2. Shop facilities are in the main building. No refreshment facilities are available yet, but will soon be provided.
All the track has been lowered to accommodate B.R. mainline rolling stock, and a new signalbox has been installed on the end of platform 2, in the style of the original, and incorporating the original signal frame. Most of the points and signals are now connected to this.[when?]
North Weald has been repainted in LNER/BR (E) (1940s–1960s) colours, Brunswick green and cream.
The track height has been altered to accommodate UK standard stock and has been relaid through the loop and into the bay platform, making three operational platforms, which can all be used because of the signalling which allows bi-directional working and access to improved siding facilities and enabling safer shunting.
Resumption of passenger services
In March 2012 Epping Ongar Railway announced a resumption of services from 25 May 2012, coinciding with the 150th year since the Great Eastern Railway was formed. On the weekend starting 25 May the railway operated a special service. It now runs train services every weekend and bank holiday in the summer; during the Olympics in July–August 2012 at nearby Stratford, the line operated daily.
Heritage railway operations
During 2004-07 the line ran an hourly service on Sundays and Bank Holidays, on the hour from Ongar, arriving at North Weald at 13 minutes past the hour before departing for Coopersale, and returning to North Weald at 33 minutes past the hour, then leaving for Ongar. The first train left Ongar at 11:00, with the last returning at 15:50 (16:50 between April and September).
Since re-opening in 2012 there have been trains on Saturdays, Sundays, Bank Holidays and some school holiday weekdays. The summer timetable has trains until approximately 17:30, though from late October the last trains run at around 15:30.
Current rolling stock
The railway has the two driving cars from what was a three-car Class 117 DMU. There were 127 of this type of vehicle and they were delivered new in 1959 to Southall depot working services between Paddington and the suburbs. They continued to be based in the London area until withdrawal in the 1990s.
The fleet includes:
- Driving Motor Standard (DMS) number 51384 and
- Driving Motor Brake Standard (DMBS) number 51342
Each coach has two Leyland diesel engines underneath, which drive the wheels mechanically through a fluid flywheel. The driver's cab at each end of the unit means it can be driven from either end, making it ideal when running to Coopersale, and speeding up turn-around times. The windows in the ends mean passengers in the leading coach get an excellent view of the line ahead and also get to watch the driver in action.
The unit ran in an unusual blue and white livery until 2007, when it was taken out of service for major refurbishment. The interior has been done, and the unit is receiving attention to the exterior bodywork. It is planned to have the unit ready for service at the beginning of 2016.
The railway has a 2-car 1957 "Hampshire" Class 205 DEMU 205205, commonly known as a "Thumper". These DEMUs were once common on many commuter lines and nicknamed "Thumpers" due to the characteristic noise they produce. The "Thumper" has been brought back to the South East from the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, and has now been restored and once again carries passengers. It is the usual motive power for the trains towards Epping.
"Thumper" is the only unit with a corridor connection, being experimentally converted and modernised. Because of this it was saved for preservation. The volunteer team at EOR has restored the unit, complete with its commuter-style interior and is now painted in former "Network SouthEast" livery. This ensures the preservation of this period of transport history, and is attractive to film and TV companies who require a train of that era.
Epping Ongar Railway has an affinity with electric multiple unit (EMU) preservation, as the branch used LT's electric stock from 1957 until 1994. There was talk of the line being electrified by the LNER with overhead electrification before the Second World War intervened. Some local lines were electrified quite early on, for example to Shenfield and Southend, and the next generations of EMUs continue to work services on the lines into Liverpool Street.
While the 3rd & 4th conductor rails were taken up many years ago, the line still hosts electric style units, though without the electrification they are hauled by a diesel locomotive. Due to the costs, safety issues and legislation, there are no plans to re-electrify the branch.
- 4CIG unit No 1498
This unit (latterly British Rail Class 421) is one of the "Phase 2" units, which entered service from the late 1960s. It used to be numbered 7423, then 1223, then 1888. Built at BREL York, it was delivered to the Southern Region at the end of 1971 as a four-car unit and entered BR service in the corporate blue livery.
The unit became famous as one of the last "slam door" EMUs in mainline service, seeing out its final days on the National Rail network as a three-car 3CIG, numbered 1498, on the Lymington Branch Line, gaining the nickname of "Lymmy Slammers".
In summer 2009 South West Trains announced plans to replace the heritage EMUs with more modern units. This change took place on 23 May 2010, with the final 3CIG service departing from Lymington Pier on 22 May 2010 at 22:14 and arriving at Brockenhurst at 22:24.
Since arriving at Epping Ongar Railway, 1498 briefly had an extra green carriage, Mk I TSO 4925, added to restore its 4CIG formation, but this has now been removed. It is out of service due to condition of passenger area and is up for sale.
Class 45 45132 was built as D22 in 1961 by BR Derby works. As a new engine, D22 was allocated to 55A Leeds Holbeck shed. In the 1970s, steam heating of trains was being phased out, and it was converted to electrical train supply, and renumbered 45132.
It spent most of its life allocated to Toton shed, from where destinations as far flung as St Pancras, Holyhead, Carlisle, Newcastle and Plymouth were reached, generally on Passenger workings.
45132 was withdrawn in 1987, and stored at March in Cambridgeshire.
Class 25 D7523 was built by British Railways at Derby in 1965 and started its career at Toton TMD before moving around various London Midland Region sheds such as Willesden, Longsight, and Crewe. It was renumbered 25173 in 1974. It had been based at the Crewe Heritage Centre and on the West Somerset Railway. It arrived at the railway on 7 September 2011 and will be used for engineering and ballast trains and for maintenance and testing of vacuum-braked coaches.
Class 31 31438 br blue. Built in 1959. Arrived on the Mid-Norfolk Railway on 24 November 2001, being delivered by road from Carlisle. On arrival at Dereham the original fault book from 31235 was found inside it, both locomotives having been stored at Upperby shed. The locomotive is one of a number fitted with electric train heating. It was delivered new to Ipswich shed as D5557, being transferred to Norwich between 1961 and 1965. It used to carry a unique livery of Brunswick Green with BR arrow symbols on all four cabsides and the numbers behind the doors. It was listed for sale in late August 2011, was sold to the Epping Ongar Railway by September, and left the MNR after their Autumn Gala.
Class 37 37029 or D6729 is resident on Epping Ongar. Following its recent withdrawal from main-line freight workings, it has been restored and repainted into the original 1950-1960s livery it carried when it was based at nearby Stratford shed (30A). The locomotive is popular with many as it has its original bodywork, complete with "split headcode" nose, and is one of only a few in the country.
Class 03 shunter 03170 was delivered to British Railways as D2170 in late 1960. It was withdrawn in 1989. This class of locomotive that has a long history of working in East Anglia, the class being allocated to Stratford, Colchester, Ipswich and Norwich depots up until the late 1980s. This locomotive has dual (air and vacuum) braking. Its claim to fame is that it was the last 03 converted and overhauled at Swindon works before they closed.
Class 03 shunter 03119 is an unusual locomotive as it was modified with a "cut down" cab to enable it to work the Burry Port & Gwendraeth Valley branch, which had lower bridges. Built at BR Swindon Works and introduced in September 1959 as D2119, it was allocated to Danygraig depot. 03119 was moved to the West Somerset Railway in March 1996, where it has been kept in good working order by the Diesel and Electric Preservation Group at Williton. It now resides on the EOR as one of the shunting locomotives.
- Ruston Shunters
There are two Ruston 88s on the line, one operational, which performs engineering duties.
RH 512572 of 1965 has been restored to working order, repainted and returned to traffic, after being restored by a team of volunteers. It was built at Vulcan Works, Lincoln in 1965. It is the smallest of the railway's locomotives, with 88 hp from a 4-cylinder diesel engine, complete with an air-operated starter. It has its own charm, and is a reminder of the small shunting engines that used to toil away in rail-connected yards around East Anglia and the London Docks. It had been used in a BR track maintenance department in the Midlands and has been restored to the early BR identity of 2957, which was a sister Ruston shunting engine based at nearby Stratford works.
RH 398616 of 1956 is out of service. All salvageable parts have been removed and the unit is on static display on a plinth by the main road at Ongar.
- Isabel is a 0-6-0ST by Hawthorn Leslie (works number 3437/1919). These locomotives were mostly used for industrial purposes, and Isabel is an extremely powerful engine, entirely suitable for the steep gradients on the EOR and quite capable of hauling 2-3 coach trains on low-season days. It has an enlarged cab, and so is ideal for training crews and for undertaking "driver experience" courses. Isabel is undergoing overhaul. 
- 4953 Pitchford Hall is a 4-6-0 4900 Class Hall locomotive, designed by Charles Collett. Built at Swindon Works in August 1929 at a cost of £4,375, it was allocated to Bristol, Bath Road shed. It carries GWR ‘Transitional’ (1945–48) livery, and is more than capable of handling the gradients of the line. Its boiler ticket expired in 2013 and it is now undergoing an overhaul.
- 4141 is a GWR 5101 Class locomotive, known as a Large Prairie built in 1946. It is a medium-sized tank engine with a 2-6-2T wheel arrangement and was designed for suburban and local passenger trains, often seen with GWR and BR suburban coaches. At time of purchase it was nearing the need for an overhaul, which would see it run ten years of steam, securing the position of steam once the two other residents' boiler tickets have expired. It arrived on the Epping Ongar Railway in time for the "Santa Specials" in December 2012.
- The line has a mixture of Mark 1 and Mark 2 coaching stock, most of which is undergoing restoration. A mix of air- and vacuum-braked coaches are available to run with the lines fleet of engines. Alongside these, there are some additions:
- LNER Gresley Buffet carriage is stored on the line, while it awaits full restoration. A donation from its previous owner, this carriage will, when complete, be used on special event days, and be available for private hire.
- BR Compartment Suburban coaches have been acquired from the North Norfolk Railway, where they were surplus to requirements. They require some extensive interior restoration, but they are a long-term project. They are perfect for recreating a typical suburban branch line set.
- 'Vanwide' B783563 built by BR Wolverhampton 1962
- British Railways Standard Goods Brake Van B955096 built Ashford 1962
Once a common sight at the end of every goods train, this van ended its life being used by London Transport when transferring its Heritage fleet around the Underground network. It is on loan from the London Transport Museum, and has been restored into its original BR (unfitted) light grey livery, complete with many original fittings.
- British Railways VDA, "Ferry Van" 200780, Built Ashford 1976
These wagons were designed for the freight to and from the continent as BR updated its rolling stock. The design was introduced in 1975 and they had a number of uses and liveries, being very useful with both sliding and opening doors, enabling direct access to all parts of the vehicle. This van was used by the army, and still carries the identity "WGB 4311".
- GWR 'Macaw B' 60 ft Flatbed Wagon
Built for the Great Western Railway and designed to carry rails for the track engineers, a purpose for which it is still very useful.
- 'Rectank' B909074, Built Swindon 1960
Built for carrying Army tanks (hence the telegraphic name) and latterly used by the engineers' departments for carrying heavy plant and equipment. This vehicle is very useful with its 38.5t capacity, and a team has completely restored it, repainting the frames and replacing all the wooden decking, finishing off with its lettering.
- 'Shark' Ballast Plough & Brake Van BXXXXX of 1959
Used to spread track ballast after it has been laid as well as a guards van on engineers' trains. The Shark has undergone extensive restoration, having had a new roof covering applied. During the time without proper covering rain penetrated into some of the timbers, which have now been replaced and the vehicle has been repainted in an authentic BR colour. It is now fully operational
- 'Dogfish' 20T ballast hopper
With doors able to spread ballast to all parts of the track (either side and down the middle), this is a useful ballast-carrying vehicle.
- Plasser Ballast Hopper - "Twin Bin 100"
Donated by the Docklands Light Railway, this is a more modern (and perhaps unique) version of the 'Dogfish'. Rebuilt from ballast hopper of regulator 77307 c. 1995 (and possibly hopper from 77334 too) This has now been sold, and is no longer at the railway.
- Taylor & Hubbard RCE Light Duty Diesel Mechanical Crane 81027
Once used for light engineering works and in BR yellow livery, it has its runner and match trucks. The vehicle can be moved, but the crane is no longer operational.
Engineering and permanent way stock
- Plasser & Theurer 07-16 Universal Tamper-Liner (previously 73241)
Used for track maintenance, removing dips in the track and minor alignment changes to ensure a smooth ride.
- Permaquid PM002 Maintenance Unit - 'Badger'
Built to help with the movement of point motors, Badger is now used on minor track inspection and renewals duties, its low flat-bed making it ideal for carrying materials such as sleepers, fishplates and tools to work sites to allow teams to keep the track in good condition. It is awaiting repairs.
- Bance Alumi Cart Mark 2 two-seater Nicknamed 'Mouse'
Acquired from Bance in 1995 by BRIS and based at Yeovil. Later owned by AMEC Rail, then Balfour Beatty Rail Plant. Disposed of from Eastleigh OTP Depot late 2004. This small inspection cart and trailer is used for track inspections. It has been heavily modified by the railway's engineering team to make it more useful on the line, including a novel modification to allow it to be "turned" by a single person.
Plans of the EOR
- Epping Glade: It is intended to extend trains to a new platform called Epping Glade near the London Underground's Epping tube station. This will require significant investment and discussions on this project are currently ongoing.
- Coopersale Halt: The possibility of building a halt at Coopersale village is under consideration, subject to securing sufficient investment from outside sources and consultation with residents.
- North Weald: As part of the infrastructure works the railway is restoring the former goods yard, giving much-needed siding space, and putting back full signalling with both semaphore and colour-light signals. This enables loco-hauled trains and gives operational flexibility, enabling increased service frequency. The former Woodford GER latticework footbridge will also be completed, replacing the condemned LU concrete structure, which has been demolished and removed. It is hoped to have the footbridge open by the start of next year.
- Ongar: With the track now relaid, works are progressing to restore the station and install signalling. Focus has turned to helping increase flexibility and service frequency, restoring the former cattle and milk platforms, all as part of the works towards running passenger trains to Epping.
- Steam: The EOR is likely to be home for the new-build F5 for some time after completion, being a prototypical engine of the former Great Eastern branch. Guest locomotives, both steam and diesel, have appeared (with the re-opening of the EOR in May 2012) from time to time.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Epping Ongar Railway.|
- Epping Ongar Railway official website
- Epping Ongar Railways Official Youtube Channel EORtv1
- Epping and Ongar Railway History[dead link]
- London's Abandoned Tube Stations - Photographs of the Epping-Ongar line between 1977 and 1981
- The Tube map in 1990, in which the EOR was still present
- Epping station in 1952
- Epping station in 1953