The one that got away

by

31530 H Class push-pull fitted 0-4-4T
at Westerham station in the 1960s

(Click for original hi-res picture and caption on Pixdaus)

Only a small number of British railway enthusiasts have heard of the The Westerham Valley Railway. Yet, the line very nearly became Britain’s second preserved standard gauge railway. Also interesting is that the original conditions put forward by British Railways would have required the preservationists to run a commuter service!

The line closed in 1961, in spite of a vigorous campaign by local residents to keep it open. A preservation society called the Westerham Valley Railway Society were formed shortly after closure and, in 1962, the society merged with Westerham Branch Railway Passengers’ Association, the local campaigning group. The new Westerham Valley Railway Association planned to operate, both steam hauled heritage trains, and a diesel railcar commuter service. If their proposals had succeeded then the WVR would have established a completely different precedent for British preserved lines. Instead of being tourist carrying ‘Bluebell Railways’ running from nowhere to nowhere, preserved lines could have operated a mixture of community commuter and steam hauled heritage trains linking into the main line railway network. But this was not to be, for the Ministry of Transport, and its successors the Department of Transport and Department for Transport, have carefully conspired to ensure that UK preserved lines, while offering the world’s best heritage railway experience, do not, as a rule, run public transport services.

Recently, it seemed that the concept of independent local railways, owned and operated by their local communities, had come into favour with the ministry mandarins, but behind their sham enthusiasm the concept has become considerably diluted. Instead of acquiring and operating their local railways, community rail partnerships have been guided into repainting their local stations, planting flowers and seeking better integration with local bus services

And the Westerham Valley Railway? In 1963, British Railways were told, by Kent County Council that the railway land was needed, for a new road. They were also told that if the land was not sold to the County Council then it would be seized by compulsory purchase. You can read the whole sad story here on Wikipedia. But remember to read between the lines and that as far as trunk roads and motorways are concerned County Councils act as agents for the transport ministry (under whatever name) in London.

1930s 1 inch to the mile Ordnance Survey
showing the Westerham branch line with a
Google Maps map of the area superimposed

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4 Responses to “The one that got away”

  1. gary stevens Says:

    Dear Readers,
    Did you know that members from the Westerham Museum Group, formed the Wight Locomotive Society which purchased the last class 02 Calbourne to form the start of the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, so all was not in vain. In the end Kent’s loss was the Isle of Wight’s gain.

  2. Robert Hall Says:

    Tragic, IMO, that things as regards saving lines in Britain from closure, did not go as per the envisaged Westerham scenario, described in the post; but the way they in fact did, with it all being basically about entertainment / nostalgia. Fine though the achievements of the better ones among Britain’s preserved railways are; I’d a million times rather have a scene where it was possible for lines thus saved, to continue to perform a genuine transport role — with the heritage steam “bit”, as the icing on the cake.

  3. John Ball Says:

    Belatedly, due to my not being very good at finding things on web sites, can I back Rob Hall’s post? When I was a lad in the 1960s, my vision of preservation schemes was that they would result in public transport facilities being restored. Steam is nice, but as Rob says, the icing on the cake.

    I’d love to see a regular year round service of dmus on lines like Severn Valley, Keighley and Worth Valley or Bodmin – having a junction station with the main line makes it possible, and it may yet happen.

    Going to a Polish connection, the great thing about Smigiel is for me not the occasional steam so much as still having a genuine freight service and diesel railcars that still provide public transport. May this last.

  4. Robert Hall Says:

    John, you and I are certainly “on the same page” here.

    I seem to recall that a couple of decades ago, the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway did actually plan to run, with their ex-BR railbuses, a service aimed at being a genuine public transport service for people” needing to travel from A to B. It would appear that those plans came to nothing, for whatever reason; but such services on those preserved lines where it would make sense, are indeed something to applaud and hope for.

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