Ruislip Lido Railway

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Ruislip Lido Railway
Mad Bess arrives at Woody Bay Station.jpg
'Mad Bess' is seen at Willow Lawn station (then called Ruislip Lido station) with a train ready to depart.
Locale Ruislip, London Borough of Hillingdon
Track gauge 12 in (305 mm)
Length 1.02 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) 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 cafeteria near the lido's car park. 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. Haste Hill became a temporary terminus of the line again in early 2013 owing to major works at Willow Lawn station. The Woody Bay to Wellington Junction section of the railway features a double track, with passing loops at Eleanor's Loop and 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
Willow Lawn
Haste Hill
Eleanor's Loop
Wellington Junction
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 Albert. 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]

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

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]


'Lady of the Lakes' at Ruislip Lido station

Source: Ruislip Lido Railway Society[6]

Name Built Livery Locomotive type Wheel
Builder In Traffic?
3 Robert 1973 Dark blue Diesel-hydraulic 4w-4 Severn Lamb Ltd Yes (Select Days)
5 Lady of the Lakes 1986 Red Diesel-mechanical 4w-4w Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway Yes (P-Way)
6 Mad Bess 1986-98 Green Steam 2-4-0T Ruislip Lido Railway Yes
7 Graham Alexander 1990 Blue Diesel-mechanical 4w-4w Severn Lamb Ltd Yes
8 Bayhurst 2003 Green Diesel-mechanical 4w-4w Severn Lamb Ltd Yes
9 John Rennie 2004 Dark red Diesel-mechanical 4w-4w Severn Lamb Ltd Yes

Mad Bess, a 2–4–0 saddle tank tender locomotive, was built at the Lido by the Society between 1986 and 1998. The locomotive is based on Blanche, which is preserved at the Ffestiniog Railway in Wales. Mad Bess is oil-fired to avoid the risk of fire in the woods.[2]


Woody Bay station platform

When there is more than one train out on the line, one of the railway's qualified controllers will operate the control office at Woody Bay. Trains are given permission to enter different sections of the line via radio from the controller, who records train movements on a graph. No two trains can be in the same section at one time, unless one is assisting another.

The railway also has its own team of permanent way staff who maintain the track to a high standard.

The railway is run entirely by volunteers with many young rail enthusiasts involved with its operation.[7]


  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. 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. 

External links[edit]

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