Posts Tagged ‘GWR’

Two stations in Windsor

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Windsor Central Station Concourse

The main entrance to Windsor and Eton Central.
Photo WyrdLight

(Click to see original photograph and details of licensing.)

There are two railway stations in Windsor: Windsor and Eton Central, from which shuttle trains currently run to Slough on the Great Western Railway main line; and Windsor and Eton Riverside, which enjoys direct trains along the London and South Western Railway’s line via Staines and Twickenham to Waterloo Station in London.

These days, the once-magnificent GWR station is little more than a short truncated siding at the back of a Victorian-themed shopping centre, although the LSWR station is virtually complete. If only the relevant authorities had shown a little more imagination, the demise of the GWR station need not have been the case. A bold proposal from Madame Tussuad’s would have seen steam operated vintage trains run from Slough to Winsdor Central where a magnificent ‘Royalty and Railways’ exhibition celebrating Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee would still be thrilling local residents and tourists alike. But we are running ahead of ourselves!

In the mid 19th century, the GWR and the Windsor, Staines and South Western Railway – the latter working in cooperation with the London and South Western Railway – were engaged in a race to provide railway services to Queen Victoria and Windsor Castle. Both companies struggled with opposition from Eton College and the S&SWR – whose proposed route cut across Windsor Home Park – also faced opposition from Castle officials. Gradually the GWR crept closer to Windsor, building increasingly grand stations for the monarch’s convenience first at Langley, then at Slough and finally – in October 1848, via a short branch line from Slough – in Windsor itself. The competing station on the Staines route opened under the auspices of the London & South Western Railway in December 1849.

The original GWR platforms would seem – from the layout of the railway arches across the Goswell Road – to have been on South part of the current station site. In 1877, to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, the GWR built a much grander station with four platforms, a grand royal waiting room and covered awning under which the royal guards could shelter from the weather.

In November 1968, platforms 3 and 4 were taken out of use, and a year later platform 2 was also decommissioned. The station buildings became run down and British Railways hoped to demolish the station and to use most of the area for a modern shopping centre. Fortunately, these plans met strong opposition from local conservationists and came to naught.

in the 1980s Madame Tussauds produced a counter proposal – to restore the station, and to create an exhibition called Royalty and Railways which would be served by steam-hauled vintage trains from Slough. Sadly the steam train idea was still born, but the exhibition – soon renamed Royalty and Empire – became a popular tourist destination. The former GWR station was carefully restored complete with a ‘royal train’ – a full-size replica of the steam engine that hauled Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee train plus two areal Victorian royal train coach bodies, mounted on modern frames and bogies.

Regrettably, the exhibition closed in the late 1990s and the once authentically restored station was infilled with pseudo-Victorian boutiques and cafes. To make room for this desecration much of the operational track was covered over – in two separate moves – and prospective passengers now face a long walk from the High Street.

And the L&SWR station? The former booking hall has become a cafe and rock music venue. But the rest of the station: tracks, platforms and original wooden all over roof still remains intact and in use as a working example of Britain’s railway history.


The magnificent wood and glass train shed at Windsor and Eton Riverside Station
Photo Chris Wood

(Click to see original photograph and details of licensing.)


Birmingham spotlight – part 3

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

More shops, but no more trains…

The winning design for New Street Station,
© FCO Network Rail

Its obvious to all, but the most myopic civil servants and Ministers, that at many points in its network Network Rail is running out of capacity. Those of us who actually travel by train will remember the bargain basement sale of railway land to property developers, particularly in urban areas, and may wonder whether these two phenomena are in some way connected.

The concept of safeguarding railway land for future growth was until recently totally unknown in the Department for Transport and its predecessors. After all, the orthodox thinking was that they were managing a facility whose use was declining. Nowhere is the government’s (regardless of the actual political party in power) bias against railways more clear than when it comes to planning for the future. Whereas new roads are built in anticipation of future growth. Railway development occurs on an ad hoc basis in response to current congestion and grumbling commuters. Railway prices are maintained at the highest levels in Europe to deter the much faster growth growth which would otherwise occur.

Birmingham is a classic case study. In the good old days, Birmingham had two main line stations, and two railway lines from London, which shared the load between them. Birmingham Snow Hill on the former Great Western Railway, received trains from London Paddington, via High Wycombe, Banbury, Princess Risborough and Leamington Spa and then forwarded them on via Wolverhampton Low Level, to Wellington, Shrewsbury; and then to Chester and Holyhead; or via Welshpool to Aberystwyth, or Pwllheli. Birmingham New Street received trains from London Euston, via Rugby and Coventry and then sent them on via Wolverhampton High Level, to many destinations further north served by the former LMS railway. Meanwhile there was a third North to South railway (the former Great Central main line) which had a connection to the GWR route from London at a point between Banbury and Leamington Spa.

The two London-Birmingham-Wolverhampton railways worked splendidly together, particularly when things went wrong on one of the lines. The arrangement also helped to reduce overcrowding at peak hours, but it seemed terribly wasteful to the car-bound civil servants in London who determined that Birmingham did not need two principal railway stations. Snow Hill was closed at the end of the 1960s, its wonderful ‘winter garden’ glass roof demolished, and the site was turned into a car park. Subsequently, Snow Hill has been reopened as the eastern terminus of a Birmingham-Wolverhampton tramway, and the western terminus for the Chiltern Railways service running from London Marylebone, but it is only operating at a fraction of its previous capacity.

Arup’s proposed location for a ‘Grand Central station in Birmingham

Now Birmingham New Street is bursting at the seams and there has been some debate as to what to do. It doesn’t need an Einstein to open up a map of the city centre and to notice to that the former GWR and LMS main lines cross each other a little to the East of the City centre and that this is an area of derelict former railway and run down industrial land in need of development.

There is plenty of room here for a much larger station with a much greater capacity for serving trains than at New Street. Such a new station could be served, both by the ‘bursting its seams’ line from Euston, and the line from Marylebone or Paddington, which still has surplus capacity. In the future the railway line from Birmingham Snow Hill to Wolverhampton Low Level could be restored, relieving the pressure still further.

Now comes the stroke of genius! Much of the GWR line into Birmingham is four track or more – two fast tracks, two slow tracks and various goods loops and sidings. If HS2 is constructed, its ‘Birmingham branch’ will have to penetrate the Birmingham suburbs somehow. What better way, than alongside the old GWR route. Moreover, if HS2 is constructed along the route of the old Great Central main line, then this route actually had a branch which connected with the GWR line. So the new station would be in the right place and have the spare capacity to serve HS2’s Birmingham branch as well!

We would like to claim the credit for all this creative thinking, but although using the former GCR main line for HS2 has been one of our on-going campaigns, the proposals for a Grand Central station in Birmingham are the work of Arup.

And how has the Department for Transport and Network Rail responded to Arup’s visionary proposal? Why, they’ve come up with a £ 600m plan of their own to redevelop New Street at its existing location which will not add a single train to the station’s existing capacity, but will have plenty more room for shops in the concourse. At least it will give frustrated passengers something better to do than milling round aimlessly in the concourse when waiting for their delayed trains.

I suppose it’s no good thinking that Ruth Kelly’s successor might reconsider the decision?