South Staffordshire line
The South Staffordshire line is a partly used and partly disused railway line that once connected Burton-upon-Trent to Lichfield in Staffordshire and then to the West Midlands towns of Walsall, Dudley and Stourbridge. However, Dudley and Stourbridge were already joined to the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway's (OW&WR) line just north of Dudley Station. It in essence, continued to Stourbridge (Dudley and Stourbridge were later to become part of the West Midlands conurbation). The sections from Burton-Upon-Trent to Lichfield City remains open as well as the section from Ryecroft Junction to Bescot. The track from Walsall to Lichfield City is now both a footpath and disused while the section from Walsall to Dudley is mothballed.
South Staffordshire line
The original line and route
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 which ran through Dudley itself from 1860. It went on to serve other stations at the south-western extremity of the Black Country at Stourbridge Junction.
Just before Stourbridge, the OW&WR 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
The line was opened on 1 May 1850. 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, which was 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. During 1992, British Rail finally announced that the line between Brierley Hill and Walsall would soon close. This was despite the recent announcement of plans to utilise part of the line as part of the Midland Metro light rail network, as well as earlier plans in the mid 1980s for heavy rail passenger services to be reintroduced along the whole section of the line to Stourbridge.
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.
Current use by heavy rail
The section from Walsall to Bescot remains open for freight and passenger services to and from Birmingham, Rugeley Trent Valley, Liverpool Lime Street and Wolverhampton.
The section from Lichfield to Burton-Upon-Trent remains open for freight traffic.
Conversion to light rail (Wednesbury-Dudley-Brierley Hill) 1993-2016
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. 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 a route from Stourbridge to Walsall, was handed to Network Rail, with work planned to start by 2014, subject to approval and securement of funding. 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. A decision from Network Rail was expected in the late summer but as of September 2011, a decision had not been made and the project stalled. Centro were later quoted as saying that the project could be completed in stages with Wednesbury to Dudley first, then secondly on to Brierley Hill with Stourbridge being completed last. This would mean less initial outlay as Centro were having trouble raising the £268 million to fund the project. This would allow building to take place when funds became available.
In January 2012, plans surfaced to run a passenger service between Stourbridge Junction and Brierley Hill, with stations being re-opened along the OWWR, 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.
In October 2016, a Dudley Council chief confirmed the plan to re-open the line between Wednesbury and Brierley Hill had received government backing, and work is set to begin in 2017.
Although the scheme has been awarded backing by the government and the councils at Sandwell and Dudley. the scheme has also had another issue that is currently been discussed as the line remains from Stourbridge Junction to Walsall in the ownership of Network Rail although it was mothballed by them with the last trains running in 1990s.
TfWM (Transport for West Midlands) and Midland Metro Alliance began negotiations with Network Rail regarding the sharing of the line from the former level crossing at Potters Lane which is where the disused Wednesbury Town station was to Harts Hill where the goods trains would serve both the Round Oak Steel Terminal and connect to the mainline at Stourbridge Junction.
Currently, the negotiations are ongoing[when?] but there are hopes to open a Light Railway Test Centre on the site of the former Dudley Freightliner Terminal. This would utilise the trackbed from the site of Dudley to Blowers Green which would include Dudley Railway Tunnel. Network Rail have so far agreed but have the right to break a clause to allow freight to re-use the line but there is a chance the line can be shared as the trams will run at street level from the former trackbed.
In September 2017, the new franchise operators, West Midlands Trains, plans to restore disused railway lines including the South Staffordshire Line which would be an extension of the existing Birmingham to Stourbridge Junction service which it plans to extend to Brierley Hill in the future.
The Midland Metro had made many attempts to try and gain rights to run trams on the section from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill via Dudley Port and Dudley but had constantly failed until they made a breakthrough in 2017 with the government who agreed to fund the scheme of the line from the current line at Wednesbury to a new site at Brierley Hill using sections of the old line.
A number of fences have been placed along closed sections of the Walsall-Dudley sections of the line in a bid to clamp down on anti-social behavior which had been occurring in the past.
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 started by the time the last trains used the line. Later in the 1990s, 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 an industrial development north of Wednesbury town centre.
Walsall-Brownhills-Lichfield section (Present Day)
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The section of trackbed from Ryecroft Junction to Pelsall via Rushall is now part of National Cycle Route 5 and is maintained by Sustrans. The trackbed north of the former Pelsall station site is partially overgrown and in use as an unmarked path to Brownhills. The site of Brownhills station was until 2018 heavily overgrown and a dumping ground for litter and waste until a group cleared the site and opened it for the public to use to and from Brownhills as a leisure greenway. The route from Walsall to Lichfield is now officially the 'McClean Way' named after John Robinson McClean who built the line.
Immediately north of Brownhills is a single track which remains in situ but out of use following closure of the line from Lichfield City to Newtown, Brownhills to Charringtons Oil Terminal which closed in 2001. The track also remains in situ at Hammerwich and the former Fosseway signal box near Lichfield.
The line remains in awkward shared ownership of Walsall Council, Lichfield District Council, Sustrans, Railway Paths but all the former infrastructure remains in ownership of Network Rail who have preserved the line for future use for either railway or a full greenway and railway shared line. The line is mostly intact except for two obstructions on the line which are new housing near Rushall which has partially encroached on the former trackbed and the Lichfield Bypass which has blocked a section of the trackbed but these are likely to not cause any problems of reopening the Walsall-Lichfield section of the line.
The Connecting Communities: Expanding Access to the Rail Network suggested reopening of the Walsall-Lichfield section for passenger services with new stations at Pelsall and Brownhills which identified the line as viable for reopening but nothing has become of the scheme so far.
- Workman, John (26 September 2013). "Underneath the arches....vital repairs begin on a Victorian viaduct masterpiece". Black Country Bugle. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
- "Disused Stations: Dudley station". www.disused-stations.org.uk. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
- "Stourbridge to Walsall train-tram plan is on the right lines". Stourbridge News. 23 March 2011. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
- "Tram-train line work could launch in 2014 « Express & Star". www.expressandstar.com. 21 March 2011. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 9 April 2012. Retrieved 24 March 2012.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- Bickerdyke, Paul (March 2013). "Phased opening plan for second Midland line". The Railway Magazine. Horncastle: Mortons Media Group. 159 (1, 343): 95. ISSN 0033-8923.
- "First glimpse at £5m light rail network « Express & Star". www.expressandstar.com. 9 January 2012. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
- Sharp, Dan (5 October 2016). "Midland Metro's Brierley Hill extension to start next year". Stourbridge News.
- Rail around Birmingham website
- South Staffordshire site
- Oxford, Worcester & Wolverhampton Railway on Railscot
- South Staffs Rail website