Ruislip Lido Railway

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Ruislip Lido Railway
Mad Bess arrives at Ruislip Lido Station.jpg
'Mad Bess' is seen at Willow Lawn station (then called Ruislip Lido station) with a train ready to depart.
LocaleRuislip, London Borough of Hillingdon
Track gauge12 in (305 mm)
Length1.02 mi (1.64 km)

The Ruislip Lido Railway is a 12 in (305 mm) gauge miniature railway around Ruislip Lido in Ruislip, 14 miles (22.5 km) north-west of central London. Running from the main station at Woody Bay by the lido's beach, on a 1.02-mile (1.64 km) track around the reservoir, the railway passes through Ruislip Woods to Willow Lawn station and Tea Room near the lido's car parks.

Willow Lawn station was previously known (until summer 2013) as Ruislip Lido (Water's Edge) station. The line is the longest exact 12 in (305 mm) gauge railway in the United Kingdom.[1] There was formerly a terminus at Eleanor's Loop, and the site of this station (now disused) can still be seen. Another former terminus at Haste Hill is now a request stop station for trains heading to Willow Lawn only. Haste Hill became a temporary terminus of the line again in early 2013 owing to major works at Willow Lawn station associated with the Lido redevelopment programme. The Woody Bay to Eleanor's Junction (renamed from Eleanor's Loop in February 2017) section of the railway features a double track, with a passing loop at Haste Hill thereby allowing two-train operation. There is a level crossing between Haste Hill and Willow Lawn stations.

Originally built by the Grand Union Canal Company over a much shorter route, the line has been extended in recent years and now covers over two thirds of the perimeter of the reservoir. Following several years of decline under the ownership of the local council, the railway has been operated by a voluntary society since 1979.


Ruislip Lido Railway
Eleanor's Junction
Haste Hill
drop-off only
Wellington Junction
turnback loop
Willow Lawn
Woody Bay

The railway was built in 1945 by the Grand Union Canal Company as part of Ruislip Lido, with short trains hauled by the Atlantic-type steam locomotive, Prince Edward. Built along the south-east shore of the reservoir, where a beach had been created, control of the lido passed to Ruislip-Northwood Urban District Council (RNUDC) when the Grand Union was nationalised in 1948 to become part of British Waterways.[2]

One or two people normally staffed the line with major work contracted out. Prince Edward was replaced by a petrol-electric locomotive in 1959, although the antiquated 12 in (305 mm) gauge meant locomotives and rolling stock were not widely available and therefore expensive.[2]

The RNUDC became part of the London Borough of Hillingdon in 1965.[3] Subsequent neglect of the lido as well as its entrance fees reduced visitor numbers. In the mid-1970s the original locomotive broke down and a new one was purchased from manufacturer Severn Lamb. It did not run for long due to a 1978 accident, which injured several people. The railway was then shut and soon began to display signs of dereliction.[2]

In 1979, the Ruislip Lido Railway Society was established to take on the running of the railway and the line reopened ready for the summer of 1980. Keeping the line open became a struggle, with either too few passengers to pay for fuel or too many for the trains to accommodate comfortably. Despite this, work commenced on an extension around the lido to the main car park. Leaving the circuit near where the accident happened, the line carried on through woodland to Eleanor's Loop.[2]

A new locomotive was ordered from the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway (R&ER) in Cumbria, and named Lady of the Lakes. Previously 15 in (381 mm) gauge to allow trials to be carried out on the R&ER, the locomotive was converted to 12 in (305 mm) on arrival. Lady of the Lakes entered service just before the new station opened, equipped with newly designed carriages built in the railway's workshops. The line was extended again to Haste Hill, which involved the construction of cuttings, embankments, steep gradients and tight curves.[2]

In 1990, a new and more powerful locomotive was purchased from Severn Lamb and Haste Hill station opened. Ballast for maintenance began to be carried on the railway using appropriate rolling stock. A storage shed was built alongside the carriage shed and a workshop in the yard at Woody Bay. Woody Bay station received a ticket office, and a control room, and the platforms were extended. A water tower was also built in preparation for the arrival in 1998 of a new steam engine, Mad Bess. The third extension from Haste Hill to the lido entrance opened in the same year.[2]

A new diesel locomotive arrived from Severn Lamb in 2003, followed by an identical one the following year.[2]

A special 2009 production for Halloween was held at the railway in association with the Argosy Players, a local dramatic group from the Compass Theatre in Ickenham. The "Mad Bess Express" purported to explain the origins of the name of the Mad Bess Wood and involved trains being met in the woods by actors dressed to resemble ghosts and ghouls.[4]

In 2010, the Woody Bay ticket office and the nearby children's playground were damaged by vandals driving a stolen tractor.[5]


The railway currently operates a fleet of six locomotives.[6]

Name Built Livery Locomotive type Wheel
Builder In Traffic? Image
3 Robert 1973 Dark blue Diesel-hydraulic 4w-4 Severn Lamb Ltd Yes
5 Lady of the Lakes 1986 Red Diesel-mechanical 4w-4w Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway Yes Lady of the Lakes at Ruislip Lido stn.JPG
6 Mad Bess 1986-98 Green Steam 2-4-0 ST + tender Ruislip Lido Railway Society

The locomotive is based on Blanche, which is preserved at the Ffestiniog Railway in Wales, and was converted to oil-firing to avoid the risk of fire in the woods.[2]
Yes Mad Bess arrives at Ruislip Lido Station cropped.jpg
7 Graham Alexander 1989 Longmoor Military Railway Blue Diesel-mechanical 4w-4w Severn Lamb Ltd Yes Ruislip Lido Railway 2019-05-12 17.06.29.jpg
8 Bayhurst 2003 Green Diesel-mechanical 4w-4w Severn Lamb Ltd Yes Ruislip Lido Railway locomotives 8 cropped.jpg
9 John Rennie 2004 'Metropolitan Railway' Dark red / Maroon Diesel-mechanical 4w-4w Severn Lamb Ltd Yes Ruislip Lido Railway 2019-05-12 17.16.18.jpg


Woody Bay station platform
'Graham Alexander' on the Ruislip Lido Station turntable with 'Lady of the Lakes' in the background with the maintenance train

The railway generally operates on a 'one engine in steam' principle on most days, operating throughout the year on weekends and daily during half terms and school holidays. From the first Sunday after New Year's Day until mid February, the railway closes for 6 weeks for the annual maintenance shutdown, allowing the opportunity for unhindered access to the railway to complete infrastructure projects and renewals that would not be possible with trains running.

On busy days when there is demand and sufficient volunteers available multiple trains can be run, using either a radio control system or a token working system. When operating multiple trains under radio control, one of the railway's qualified controllers will operate the control office at Woody Bay. Trains are given permission to enter different block sections via radio from the controller, who records train movements on a graph. No two trains can be in the same section at one time, except under caution for the purpose of one assisting the other.

The standard multiple train service is for two passenger trains, either both of 9 carriages or one 10 and one 8 carriage train; both use all 18 of the railway's carriages. Radio control can accommodate more than two trains if required, and also facilitate different / unusual movements where necessary. On two occasions during late 2016, two separate Permanent Way trains were run along with the standard passenger train, leading to three trains on the line with only Haste Hill for passing, leading to careful planning and coordination being required.

Special events are run throughout the year, with either a 'Teddy Bear Picnic' or 'Easter Eggspress' running around Easter time, a railway 'Open Day' traditionally held in May, and the popular 'Santa Specials' event held over 4 days in the lead up to Christmas.

The railway is run entirely by unpaid volunteers with young rail enthusiasts involved in its operation. The railway has various departments looking after specialist areas within the railway. Locomotives and rolling stock are maintained in the workshop at Woody Bay by dedicated teams of volunteers. The railway also has its own team of volunteer permanent way staff who maintain the track.[7]

Permanent Way[edit]

1 – Original track form

When the society became involved with the running of the railway in 1979, the track was (generally speaking) of poor quality. This contributed towards the derailment in May 1978 that led to the closure of the railway, and ultimately the creation of the society.

The railway was laid in 1945 with 14 lb per yard rail, a significant amount of which survives as fencing around the railway, as well as making up the track within the workshop. Photos of the railway before Society operation are rare, and clear photos with views of the track even rarer.

From the evidence available, the rail was secured using dog spikes to wooden sleepers of a small but long profile, although none survive to this day. The Society still possesses three original 1945 metal sleepers, and a small quantity of 14 lb rail, with one pair of fishplates.

Small metal sleepers were also used, using small nuts and bolts holding a very small plate to the foot of the rail. Rough shingle ballast was used as dictated by the available supplies. As well as the permanent way, the line was equipped with 'props' by way of signals, a level crossing, water tower, coaling stage, and other items to create a railway-like atmosphere.

It is recorded that the entire line was 're-laid with new rail' upon the arrival of the Hunt locomotive in 1959/1960, but this is unfortunately not recorded in any more detail. Based on this information, particular sections being re railed in new 14 lb rail seems most likely.

Before reopening to passenger traffic in 1979, remedial works were carried out on the track to bring it up to a standard safe to operate trains on, but far from perfect. It is noted by the recollections of an RLRS founder member that the top loop curve (where the derailment took place) was in an 'awful' condition, with every joint kinked like a 50p piece. This particular curve was re-laid in 20 lb rail before services resumed.

2 – Initial relaying 1980 – 1984

As part of the agreement for handing over total control of the railway on Good Friday 1980, the London Borough of Hillingdon stipulated that the whole of the original dog bone circuit was to be re-laid by the society within the next 5 years. The society did it in 4.

The track was completely renewed with new larger softwood sleepers, and 20 lb rail (most of it new, generally in 18 ft lengths) secured with dog spikes. Although monetary constraints prevented any kind of proper base being laid below the sleepers, fresh limestone ballast was also laid.

The lack of any base below the bottom of the sleepers was to cause issues in the future and is still an issue that we have to deal with to this day. Money and labour were in extremely short supply in the early years of the society, so understandably there was little that could have been done differently!

Generally, the sleepers were laid straight onto the existing ground of London clay, far from ideal for supporting a railway. The passage of trains has and still does cause the track to very gradually sink due to the clay. The problem sections have been gradually removed & improved. The double-track section between the loops at either end of the line was also slewed during this period to allow for multiple train operation in the future, although this was not a possibility until February 1986 with the arrival of a second locomotive in the form of ‘Lady of the Lakes’.

3 – Eleanor's Loop & Haste Hill extensions

After stabilising the existing Permanent Way following the relaying of the original circuit, attention then turned to extending the railway around the head of the lake, firstly to Eleanor's Loop (1986) and later Haste Hill (1990).

The extensions saw another progression onto using a slightly larger type of softwood sleeper with the 20 lb rail (in 30 ft lengths). Initially, dog spikes were used for the Eleanor's extension. A trial of using new coach screws and plates to fix the rails to the sleepers was undertaken in September 1988 at Woody Bay, attempting to solve issues with gauge creep and rail joint movement. The trial proved the benefits of this system, with the Haste Hill extension, laid entirely with coach screws on pre-assembled track panels.

A programme of replacing dog spikes with coach screws was then started, with problem areas receiving attention as required. Not only did this improve the security of the rails onto the sleepers resulting in better ride quality, but also provided an obvious safety improvement too. By 2000, approximately 1/3rd of the dog spikes from Woody Bay through to Eleanor's had been replaced.

Until March 2017, 100 ft of the original sleepers survived on the mainline in the platform road at Haste Hill, this particular section being the only part of the railway to escape the relaying programme in the early 2000s (as described later). This section escaped relaying until 2017 due to the excellent condition of the sleepers, the low speed through the area and the fact that during the low season, the platform road was usually unused with trains routed through the loop road instead.

4 – Willow Lawn extension

Discussions in February 1992 on the specification of ‘stage 3’ of the railway extension to (what is now) Willow Lawn proposed using heavier 30 lb per yard rail with a different type of plate and fixing. The existing track form was slightly on the ‘lighter’ side for the longer and heavier trains, with the introduction of larger, heavier locomotives still to come.

The existing track was extremely maintenance-heavy, consuming a great deal of time and effort on basic fettling and alignment works to keep the track in a good condition. The desire was to lay the extension to a standard whereby it would be considerably more hardwearing, therefore requiring less maintenance in general. The use of large hardwood jarrah sleepers along with the 30 lb rail, large lipped plates and large coach screws gave a very chunky track form and has generally performed well over the years.

The jarrah sleepers have not performed well by any stretch of the imagination, however, with spot re-sleepering starting barely 10 years after the extension had been completed. Quite a contrast to the assured 50 year life! Spot re-sleepering of jarrah on stage 3 has been the biggest day-to-day maintenance task on the railway for quite some time and will continue to be for several years yet. Over 150 were changed in 2016 alone! They are being replaced by standard Douglas Fir softwood sleepers.

5 – Woody Bay – Haste Hill relaying

In early 2000, attention turned back to the permanent way from Woody Bay – Haste Hill. A plan of major track renewals was formulated, to gradually upgrade the entire RLR permanent way to the modern standard seen on stage 3.

Some sections of track were now over 20 years old with other sections following close behind in the coming years. Renewals focused on specific sections at a time, working logically based upon when sections were first laid / last re-laid, whilst also taking into account the current condition of sections.

Despite past aspirations to relay the entire line with 30 lb rail, the existing 20 lb rail was re used in the renewals. The now standard large softwood sleepers were used throughout along with high quality coach screws, plates and hundreds of tonnes of new granite ballast. The track height was significantly raised in places to give a reasonable depth of ballast under the sleepers, with the sub formation improved and even completely rebuilt in some locations.

By the end of the 2010 winter shutdown, the entire railway from Woody Bay through to Haste Hill had been entirely re-laid. The relaying included new points on all of the mainline loops and junctions.

6 – Wellington Junction – Eleanor's Loop double tracking

The latest piece of major track work known as ‘stage 4’ double tracked the previously single line section from Wellington Junction – Eleanor's Loop, to improve operational flexibility and eliminate the loop at Eleanor's, now too short to pass trains safely. It saw the use of 14 kg per metre rail, very similar to the 30 lb rail used on stage 3. The rails are in 40 ft lengths, the longest the railway has ever used.

The standard Douglas Fir softwood sleepers were used, along with large coach screws and lipped plates. The lipped plates ensure a high accuracy of gauge, and give a secure fixing to the sleeper too, with the front lip fitting snugly onto the foot of the rail, and the back lip digging into the sleeper slightly.

The sleepers were pre drilled using templates, again ensuring accuracy of gauge.

Special transition rails were fabricated in the workshop to join the 14 kg per metre rail to the existing 20 lb per yard rail, to alleviate a difficult and uncomfortable joint between the two. With the completion of the project in April 2017, there is now just under 2.5 miles of track in total, with the main line double track for over half its length.[8]


  1. ^ Cracknell, James (28 February 2012). "Trains that will take the strain". Uxbridge Gazette. Retrieved 15 March 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "History". Ruislip Lido Railway Society. Retrieved 25 April 2011.
  3. ^ Bowlt, Eileen. M (1994). Ruislip Past. London: Historical Publications. p. 96. ISBN 0-948667-29-X.
  4. ^ "Mad Bess Express". Argosy Players. Archived from the original on 4 September 2011. Retrieved 25 April 2011.
  5. ^ Cracknell, James (28 April 2010). "Late night tractor rampage causes havoc at Ruislip Lido". Uxbridge Gazette. Retrieved 25 April 2011.
  6. ^ "Locomotives & Rolling Stock". Ruislip Lido Railway Society. Retrieved 25 April 2011.
  7. ^ "Membership". Ruislip Lido Railway Society. 2010. Retrieved 25 April 2011.
  8. ^ Written by RLRS Volunteers (RLRS Archivist and Historian) based on personal research & 26 years experience at the railway. Content published to the public and on display at railway 'Open Day' events.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°35′30″N 0°25′49″W / 51.5917625°N 0.4302049°W / 51.5917625; -0.4302049