Rail’s past and fu­ture

RICHARD FOSTER vis­its the Buck­ing­hamshire Rail­way Cen­tre at Quain­ton, where vol­un­teers are brac­ing them­selves for great changes with both HS2 and East West Rail due to carve a path through the site

Rail (UK) - - Contents - RAIL pho­tog­ra­phy: RICHARD FOSTER

With HS2 and East West Rail on the hori­zon, the Buck­ing­hamshire Rail­way Cen­tre is gear­ing up for big changes.

The June sun beats down on the green and pleas­ant hills and fields of Buck­ing­hamshire. The lane’s grey as­phalt gives off a slight heat haze. There’s a bus­tle from the hedgerows. Only the shriek of a cir­cling red kite and the oc­ca­sional pass­ing car dis­turbs the peace.

Over the next few years, this quin­tes­sen­tial English scene will be changed for­ever, as bull­doz­ers and earth­movers push Bri­tain’s new­est rail­way line north. It can cer­tainly make you em­pathise with those anti-HS2 pro­tes­tors, as you drive around the lanes and through the quaint vil­lages be­tween Ayles­bury and Buck­ing­ham. And yet there is one place in Buck­ing­hamshire that is pos­i­tively em­brac­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties that HS2 brings.

This part of Eng­land has al­ways been prime rail­way build­ing ter­ri­tory - HS2 is just an­other twist in a tale that dates back to the 1860s, when Sir Ed­ward Watkin had a vi­sion: bring­ing trains from France through a tun­nel un­der the English Chan­nel to the in­dus­trial North West via a high-speed rail­way. Sound fa­mil­iar? Watkin was chair­man of the Manch­ester, Sh­effield & Lin­colnshire Rail­way (MSLR) and pushed its main line south to Lon­don. The MSLR rechris­tened it­self the Great Cen­tral Rail­way, and its Lon­don Ex­ten­sion (via Not­ting­ham, Le­ices­ter and Rugby) opened to pas­sen­gers on March 15 1899.

North from the lit­tle vil­lage of Quain­ton, the Lon­don Ex­ten­sion was new, built to Berne load­ing gauge and with a rul­ing grade of 1-in-176 for high speed. Un­til the open­ing of the Chan­nel Tun­nel Rail Link (HS1) in 2007, it was the last main line to Lon­don to be built in the UK.

South from Quain­ton, things get in­ter­est­ing. The Ayles­bury & Buck­ing­ham Rail­way had opened be­tween Ayles­bury and Ver­ney Junc­tion (on the Ox­ford-Bletch­ley line) in 1868. The Metropoli­tan Rail­way even­tu­ally linked Ayles­bury with cen­tral Lon­don, and took over the A&BR. The tiny ham­let of Ver­ney Junc­tion now had a direct rail­way link to cen­tral Lon­don.

Watkin was also chair­man of the Metropoli­tan (and the South East­ern Rail­way, the other link in his An­glo-French rail­way chain). The GCR made an end-on con­nec­tion with the Metropoli­tan at Quain­ton Road, and had run­ning pow­ers to ac­cess its new Lon­don ter­mi­nus at Maryle­bone.

Met trains north of Quain­ton turned right to­wards Ver­ney Junc­tion; Great Cen­tral trains con­tin­ued straight on to Calvert and the North.

Quain­ton Road sta­tion ac­quired fur­ther rail­way sig­nif­i­cance with a rail­way to the west. The Brill Tramway was built by the Duke of Buck­ing­ham, and thanks to its con­nec­tion to the Met/GC Joint, it be­came part of Lon­don Trans­port in 1933.

It’s hard to con­ceive that the op­er­a­tor of a slick, un­der­ground elec­tric rail­way that moved mil­lions of peo­ple also had a ru­ral branch line, with track so light that the only lo­co­mo­tives suit­able to work it were Vic­to­rian 4-4-0Ts of 1860s vin­tage. In the event, Lon­don Trans­port’s own­er­ship was short-lived - it closed the Brill Tramway in 1935.

Buck­ing­hamshire Rail­way Cen­tre (BRC) is the only place that can tell this story

From our vis­i­tor feed­back and from our mem­ber­ship feed­back, just hav­ing the three demon­stra­tion lines is be­ing per­ceived as not be­ing suf­fi­cient for us to be seen to be taken se­ri­ously. Ben Jack­son, Chair­man, Quain­ton Rail­way So­ci­ety

prop­erly, and this is why it’s em­brac­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties that HS2 - and East West Rail - bring. In fact, both projects could fi­nally pro­vide the key to unlocking a dream that’s been 50 years in the mak­ing.

HS2 will change BRC for­ever. It will cut across a field a few hun­dred yards away, a field that the cen­tre uses as an over­flow car park. But rather than tak­ing a NIMBY-es­que at­ti­tude, Quain­ton Rail­way So­ci­ety Chair­man Ben Jack­son sees HS2 as a way to pro­vide a rail­way at­trac­tion like no other.

“We have to meet head-on the op­por­tu­ni­ties pre­sented by hav­ing East West Rail com­ing through the mid­dle and HS2 round the side,” he says.

“My be­lief is that this will make us the only lo­ca­tion in the UK where you can see 21st cen­tury electrics, 21st cen­tury diesels and Vic­to­rian steam side by side.”

Be­ing able to see HS2 trains from a Vic­to­rian sta­tion will en­able BRC to tell the full story of rail­way de­vel­op­ment - not only in this part of the coun­try, but also na­tion­wide, in a way that nowhere else can, even at the Na­tional Rail­way Mu­seum. It will be unique. But that unique­ness comes at a price. The Lon­don Ex­ten­sion closed as a through route on Septem­ber 3 1966, and the ma­jor­ity of sta­tions were de­mol­ished af­ter the tracks had been re­moved. Quain­ton Road re­ceived a stay of ex­e­cu­tion be­cause BR re­tained the line be­tween Ayles­bury and Calvert as a di­ver­sion­ary route, thanks to a con­nec­tion with the Ox­ford-Bletch­ley line.

The lat­ter would even­tu­ally be moth­balled, but the trans­for­ma­tion of the huge clay pits at Calvert into a rub­bish tip means that the line through Quain­ton Road con­tin­ues to ac­com­mo­date heavy freight trains.

Quain­ton Rail­way So­ci­ety (QRS) was formed in 1969 to cre­ate a work­ing mu­seum on the sta­tion site. It later ab­sorbed the Lon­don branch of the Rail­way Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety, which had his­toric lo­co­mo­tives and coaches squir­reled away in Bishop’s Stort­ford and Lu­ton. From both or­gan­i­sa­tions, Buck­ing­hamshire Rail­way Cen­tre (BRC) was born.

‘Rail­way Cen­tre’ was a term that orig­i­nated from the early days of rail­way preser­va­tion. It was an al­ter­na­tive to a mu­seum with­out the cost and ex­pense of form­ing a fully fledged rail­way. Steam lo­co­mo­tives could run on short demon­stra­tion lines in be­tween op­er­at­ing main line rail­tours.

Quain­ton Road was an ideal lo­ca­tion. There were ex­ten­sive goods yards, and the re­dun­dant Brill Tramway plat­form made an ideal sta­tion. It was also ex­pected that BRC would (in due course) be able to con­nect to the re­mains of the Met/GC Joint.

How­ever, that dream never ma­te­ri­alised, and the lo­co­mo­tives re­stored on-site can only pot­ter up and down the short demon­stra­tion lines. And, frus­trat­ingly, the Up and Down yards are com­pletely iso­lated from each other - to move a lo­co­mo­tive across the site re­quires hir­ing in a low-loader, even though the two yards are just yards apart.

HS2 will cut straight across the for­mer Brill Tramway trackbed, killing BRC’s long-held am­bi­tion to re­in­state part of the line.

This will be com­pounded by East West Rail. Every­one knows that EWR is work­ing to­wards re­open­ing the moth­balled (and very over­grown) Ox­ford-Bletch­ley line. But it’s of­ten for­got­ten that its plans also in­clude re­ju­ve­nat­ing the line to Ayles­bury through Quain­ton Road’s plat­forms.

So, on the eve of the QRS’s 50th an­niver­sary, it’s still stuck at Quain­ton Road!

How­ever, that’s not to say that the BRC hasn’t done any­thing in the last half-cen­tury. Far from it. It took over the for­mer food de­pot and cre­ated a su­perb mu­seum within the wartime build­ings, to tell the story of the area’s fas­ci­nat­ing rail­way his­tory. It has gained the mu­seum ac­cred­i­ta­tion that goes with it. It’s also re-cre­ated the coun­try sta­tion so beloved of Sir John Bet­je­man - not only by con­serv­ing and restor­ing the Grade 2-listed build­ing, but also by restor­ing the cat­tle dock, com­plete with cat­tle van (and replica cow).

Its work­shops have re­stored ev­ery­thing from Vic­to­rian wooden-bod­ied four-wheel coaches to mighty GWR 4-6-0s. And both the Lon­don Trans­port Mu­seum and the Na­tional Rail­way Mu­seum have loaned BRC two price­less ex­hibits - the 1872 Avel­ing & Porter 4wTG that orig­i­nally worked the Brill Tramway and LNWR 2-2-2 3020 Corn­wall re­spec­tively.

But the BRC’s great­est coup was the ac­qui­si­tion and restora­tion of the for­mer Ox­ford Rew­ley Road sta­tion build­ing. This im­pres­sive train­shed was the Ox­ford ter­mi­nus of the line from Bletch­ley, and it was moved and re-erected in 1999-2000 to pro­vide not only a dis­play area for re­stored rolling stock, but also an im­pres­sive fea­ture that wel­comes vis­i­tors onto the site.

How­ever, even this doesn’t seem to be enough, as Jack­son ex­plains: “From our vis­i­tor feed­back and from our mem­ber­ship feed­back, just hav­ing the three demon­stra­tion lines is be­ing per­ceived as not be­ing suf­fi­cient for us to be seen to be taken se­ri­ously, even though we have mu­seum ac­cred­i­ta­tion.”

To be taken more se­ri­ously, it ap­pears, BRC needs to run trains over a longer dis­tance. But both HS2 and EWR mean that ex­ten­sions north, south and west are out of the ques­tion… which leaves north-east.

“We are ef­fec­tively left with the po­ten­tial op­tion of down the old Ayles­bury & Buck­ing­ham Rail­way,” says Jack­son. “It’s very easy to look as though we have lots of grand plans, but I do be­lieve that we are get­ting to the point where we can make some in­roads and progress.”

The im­mi­nent ar­rival of both HS2 and EWR means that the tim­ing re­ally is right for BRC to form what Jack­son calls an “es­cape com­mit­tee”. And there’s an­other rea­son why re­open­ing part of the A&BR is a favourable one: BRC owns the trackbed from the Quain­ton Road north for about one mile.

“We are in early-stage con­ver­sa­tions with Net­work Rail about be­ing al­lowed to run from the bridge into the site. Quite how that track lay­out goes and where it will en­ter the site is all part of those con­ver­sa­tions,” says Jack­son.

“We have a team here who are very keen to get on with clear­ing the trackbed, and I’m hav­ing to rein them in be­cause ob­vi­ously it runs par­al­lel to and is not fenced off from the live Net­work Rail line.

“Un­til such point as we have some kind of pa­per­work and all the pro­cesses in place with NR, we can’t give them the green light - even to go hack­ing back the veg­e­ta­tion.

“But they are des­per­ately keen to get on with it. They are all lo­cal, all from the vil­lage [Quain­ton], which is great be­cause it means that the vil­lage is go­ing to have buy-in [with the project]. And we are also hope­ful that they can do some pos­i­tive PR work with other land own­ers to help us go fur­ther.” How far? “At this point, our as­pi­ra­tions are not to go as far as Ver­ney Junc­tion. I have to be hon­est about that. A cou­ple of miles - even a mile - would be se­ri­ously bet­ter than what we have at the mo­ment. I have very lit­tle doubt in my mind that the team of peo­ple we start this with are not go­ing to be the peo­ple who see the end of it. Who­ever comes af­ter us might say ‘well, maybe we could get an­other half-mile’, and sud­denly you find you are at Ver­ney Junc­tion. But that isn’t the as­pi­ra­tion at the mo­ment.”

Ex­pan­sion might bring many ben­e­fits, but Jack­son is also mind­ful that any­thing more will place a strain on the cen­tre’s re­sources.

“We then have to look at how do we op­er­ate [an ex­ten­sion]. Do we op­er­ate it on a ‘one en­gine in steam’ ba­sis? Where do we find the rolling stock for it? Do we op­er­ate that and our demon­stra­tion lines as well?

“One of the things I like, and I know a lot of the fam­ily vis­i­tors we get like, about here is that our ride is quite short. It’s about 15 to 20 min­utes, which if you have small chil­dren is plenty long enough. And we don’t limit them to just one ride, whereas that [ex­ten­sion] might have to limit them to one ride.”

Then there are the two key fac­tors that

The re­mains of Ver­ney Junc­tion sta­tion. East West Rail will run trains through here but Buck­ing­hamshire Rail­way Cen­tre has no plans to do so in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture.

al­ways af­fect any rail­way preser­va­tion project: find­ing the vol­un­teer labour, and find­ing money.

Says Jack­son: “I seem to re­mem­ber read­ing that even pre­served lines are cost­ing new track at about £1 mil­lion per mile, so if we’re talk­ing about a mile, a mile and a half, we’re look­ing at £1.5m to £ 2m, al­low­ing for a bit for in­fla­tion.

“And se­cur­ing sec­ond-hand re­us­able sleep­ers and rail is be­com­ing more and more dif­fi­cult, par­tic­u­larly with Net­work Rail hav­ing the sort of man­date that ev­ery­thing re­us­able should be reused. But, again, it’s look­ing at what it can do to help us.”

It’s slightly ironic, given the furore that sur­rounds HS2 and its im­pact on the land­scape, that East West Rail is ar­guably go­ing to have a greater vis­ual ef­fect on Quain­ton Road.

Al­though the track through the plat­forms has been sin­gled, the sta­tion looks much as it has done since it opened in 1898, thanks to some sym­pa­thetic restora­tion. But East West Rail means that fences will have to be erected along the plat­forms.

Jack­son ex­plains: “This lo­ca­tion has been iden­ti­fied as a high sui­cide risk in the pre­plan­ning, and so bridges and plat­form edges are go­ing to be al­tered. We are go­ing to lose that quin­tes­sen­tial coun­try sta­tion look.

“EWR seems to grasp the his­toric na­ture of the site. Again, they’re aware that it’s Grade 2-listed. We’re hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions about the style of the fenc­ing on the plat­forms and the colour.”

South Western Rail­way’s Satur­days-only ser­vice to Corfe Cas­tle on the Swan­age Rail­way and Great Western Rail­way’s Sun­days-only ser­vice to Oke­hamp­ton sug­gests that there is a de­sire to forge closer

links be­tween main line train op­er­at­ing com­pa­nies and pre­served rail­ways. Does Jack­son fore­see East West Rail trains bring­ing tourists to Buck­ing­hamshire Rail­way Cen­tre’s door?

“Not at this point,” he says. “I’m hope­ful that there will be an un­der­stand­ing within the de­sign of what East West Rail does to be ad­van­ta­geous, to have the op­por­tu­nity for ex­cur­sions to call here.

“If, in five years’ time, EWR wants to in­tro­duce a stop­ping ser­vice, then the fence needs to be re­versible. But fenc­ing is re­versible.”

East West Rail has also put paid to any BRC am­bi­tions for ei­ther a main line con­nec­tion or a phys­i­cal rail link be­tween both its Up and Down yards.

Any­one who has ever had any build­ing work done at home knows how dis­rup­tive it can be. But Buck­ing­hamshire Rail­way Cen­tre is fac­ing two lots of ex­ten­sive build­ing work. It could lose its car park any­time within “the next 18 months to two years”, Jack­son says.

East West Rail is “a bit of a shift­ing sand”, and Jack­son be­lieves that work through Quain­ton won’t start un­til the restora­tion of Bices­ter to Bletch­ley is com­plete.

“That isn’t likely to start in earnest un­til spring next year. We’re prob­a­bly look­ing three to four years down the line, pos­si­bly 2023-24. But then we don’t know how that’s go­ing to in­ter­face with HS2. Worst-case sce­nario is that they’re both here at the same time!”

HS2 brings an­other chal­lenge. Sta­tion Road, which crosses the rail­way just north of the sta­tion, is to be sev­ered and the road di­verted via a new bridge, tak­ing away pass­ing traf­fic.

“We have to look at how we over­come that chal­lenge,” Jack­son con­cludes. “That’s pos­si­bly en­hanced sig­nage, and cer­tainly tra­di­tional and on­line mar­ket­ing. Most of all, we have to make sure that we have the stuff here that gives an all-round vis­i­tor ex­pe­ri­ence.”

The Quain­ton Road site look­ing to­wards Ayles­bury, with the Grade 2-listed sta­tion flank­ing the sin­gle line to Calvert. The re­stored Ox­ford Rew­ley Road train­shed dom­i­nates the scene. The track be­tween the plat­forms will be re­stored as part of East West Rail’s branch to Ayles­bury.


‘Black Five’ 44920 speeds through Quain­ton Road sta­tion with a north­bound train on the Great Cen­tral’s Lon­don Ex­ten­sion, dur­ing the sum­mer of 1966. Al­though the Lon­don Ex­ten­sion closed as a through route on Septem­ber 3, the goods yard still looks to gen­er­ate a de­cent amount of traf­fic.

A Her­itage Lot­tery Fund grant en­abled Buck­ing­hamshire Rail­way Cen­tre to buy the for­mer Min­istry of Food Buf­fer De­pot ad­ja­cent to Quain­ton Road in 1997. It now houses the cen­tre’s ex­ten­sive mu­seum and rolling stock restora­tion fa­cil­i­ties. HS2 will change this view for ever - al­though vis­i­tors will be able to com­pare 21st cen­tury trains with Vic­to­rian ones.

The for­mer GC Lon­don Ex­ten­sion look­ing north. It is hoped that pre­served trains will share this for­ma­tion with EWR trains for a short dis­tance, al­though how this ar­range­ment may look is still in the early stages of dis­cus­sion.

The down­side to East West Rail: the 1930s at­mos­phere at Quain­ton Road will be spoilt by new fenc­ing, to pre­vent sui­cides on East West Rail. The for­mer Brill plat­form build­ing could be sym­pa­thet­i­cally mod­i­fied to still en­able full ac­cess af­ter the fence is erected.


Par­al­lel steam at Buck­ing­hamshire Rail­way Cen­tre: Hun­slet 0-6-0ST 2387/43 Brookes No.1 and WR ‘94XX’ 0-6-0PT 9466 work Down yard demon­stra­tion line as Sen­tinel 4wVBT 9366/45 is in charge of trains on the Up yard line. Imag­ine the scene in a few years’ time: East West Rail units on the cen­tre track and HS2 trains to the far right. STEAMRAILWAY.

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