Stourbridge Town Branch Line
|Stourbridge Town Branch Line|
A Parry People Mover approaching Stourbridge Town station.
|Rolling stock||2 British Rail Class 139|
|Line length||0.8 miles (1.3 km)|
|No. of tracks||Single track throughout|
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge|
The Stourbridge Town Branch Line is a 0.8 miles (1.3 km) railway branch line, in Stourbridge, West Midlands, England. It is claimed to be the shortest branch line in Europe, and many miniature railways are certainly longer.
Now used solely for passenger traffic, it was originally constructed to allow transshipment with the Stourbridge Town Arm of the Stourbridge Canal.
The passenger service along the branch is operated by the Parry People Mover. Replacement buses ran from December 2008 until March 2009 due to the previous Class 153 being reallocated from December 2008, this being the date the Parry People Mover was originally intended to start working the service. However due to customer feedback, the Class 153 was re-introduced from 15 March until mid June, when the Parry People Mover finally entered full service. For the first time in many years, a Sunday service is operated.
History and usage
|Stourbridge Town Branch Line|
Opened in 1879, it has operated continually since, save for a short break for the First World War. The short and steeply-inclined branch originally carried both passenger traffic from nearby Stourbridge Junction to the terminus at Stourbridge Town and freight to Stourbridge Basin.
Although the branch line was originally double-tracked, after 1935 the two tracks were worked as two parallel single lines, with the non-passenger track used for freight workings beyond the station over a bridge across Foster Street (a bridge rebuilt in 1957 then subsequently demolished in 1967) towards the Stourbridge Basin. The station and branch were listed for closure under the Beeching Axe, but were later delisted in 1965.
The 1879 Stourbridge Town station survived mostly intact until February 1979 when it was demolished and the branch cut back by 70 yards, leaving room for a bus station.
The line was controlled by traditional semaphore signals until at least 1990, later than the adjacent main line. However, the line is currently worked by the 'One Train Working' system with a train staff as authority to occupy the line, and there are no working signals.
Rail traffic on the line
The line has been used several times as the test route for new types of small rail transport. The Great Western Railway used both autotrains and one of the early railcars on this route, and in December 2005 the route began being used to test the Parry People Mover, a highly energy-efficient railcar, to provide the Sunday service. The experiment has been sufficiently successful to the extent that the Sunday service in June 2006 was included in both the Network Rail printed timetables and Internet site, and now runs on a permanent basis.
The line has been operated by two Class 139 Parry People Movers since June 2009. It was previously operated by a single Class 153 car, and prior to that a Class 121, locally known as Daisy the DMU.
Although the line has been threatened with closure several times in the past, People Mover have suggested that should their railcar prove a success, their service could be further extended into Stourbridge town centre as a light rail system. The possible route for this is that it leaves the trackbed just north of Stourbridge Town and runs past Stourbridge Interchange, travelling along Foster Street before crossing St John's Road and running onto High Street with a stop opposite the Ryemarket Square. Then travelling further down High Street for a terminus at the public space in between High Street and Lower Street. Press reports in August 2010 marked the milestone of half a million passengers having been passed, and indicate substantial growth rates and reliability levels comparable to the Docklands Light Railway; a new depot could consolidate this early success.
The train operates six times per hour over the line, with a journey time of three minutes.
These are the passenger figures on the line from the year beginning April 2002 to the year beginning April 2010. Comparing the two years, Stourbridge Town has increased by 152% and Stourbridge Junction by 254%.
|The annual passenger usage is based on sales of tickets in stated financial years from Office of Rail Regulation statistics. The statistics are for passengers arriving and departing from each station and cover twelve month periods that start in April. Please note that methodology may vary year on year.|
The branch has become notorious for the steep downhill gradient leading from Junction station, and over the years there have been several incidents:
- 15 June 1897 – a train of empty cattle trucks and horse boxes was being reversed down the incline when the locomotive's vacuum brake failed. The locomotive and wagons ploughed into a line of stationary wagons, the office of a local coal merchant, and stables. One man was injured.
- 24 April 1905 – the driver lost control of a locomotive descending the branch, head-first, at the head of 32 wagons. The train demolished the stop block and smashed into and through the goods office at the end of the branch. Luckily the crew managed to jump clear before impact.
- 10 February 1948 – a heavily-laden freight train slipped away despite brakes being applied, with the result that wagons telescoped into each other.
- 2 April 1977 – the train suffered a brake failure while descending the branch from Stourbridge Junction and crashed through the buffers and the wall beyond, leaving the front part of the train overhanging the road below.
- 21 January 1989 – apparently caused by trespassers on the line distracting the driver, who consequently misjudged his braking, the single-car diesel unit (class 122) ran through the buffer stops at the end of the line and crashed through the wall beyond. The train was sent out of operation and required an overhaul. This unit is currently preserved at Ecclesbourne Valley Railway.
- 1 March 1990 – in a very similar incident to the 1989 crash, brake failure caused the train to crash through the rebuilt wall at the end of the line. The buffer stop destroyed in the 1989 crash had not been replaced.
- Back Track Magazine, Volume 19, August 2005, p508 (on-line index)
- Stourbridge News: Revolutionary Tram Notches Up 500,000 Passengers
- "Station Usage". Rail Statistics. Office of Rail Regulation. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
- Christiansen, Rex. Forgotten Railways volume 10: West Midlands. David & Charles. ISBN 0-946537-01-1.
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