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The Wisbech and March Bramley Line is a proposed heritage railway based in the town of Marchmarker in Cambridgeshire, Englandmarker, that aims to reinstate services over the disused (but still extant) railway line linking the town with Wisbechmarker.

Historical background

The passing of the Wisbech, St. Ives and Cambridge Junction Railway Act 1846 (c.ccclvi) authorised the construction of two lines from March railway stationmarker: a 7.8 mile line to Wisbech which was reached by an almost straight north-easterly route across The Fensmarker and a line south to the market town of St Ivesmarker. The double-track line to Wisbech was the first to open on 3 May 1847 followed by the St Ives line nine months later. The Wisbech line was taken over before completion by the Eastern Counties Railway and then by the Great Eastern Railway in 1862. Coldhammarker was the only intermediate station between March and Wisbech, the latter being served by a new station constructed in the town centre and named "Wisbeach". It was to last until 1863 when it was resited south and later renamed Wisbech Eastmarker upon nationalisation of the railways to distinguish it from the Midland and Great Northern's Wisbech North stationmarker. The railway development in the area was completed in March 1848 with the opening of a single-track 9.5 mile extension from Wisbeach to Watlington Junctionmarker.

Although not recommended for closure in the Beeching Report of 1963, the series of lines around Wisbech were gradually closed from the 1960s onwards. Coldham station was the first to be closed in 1966, followed by the March to Watlington and March to Wisbech branches in September 1968. The line between March and Wisbech remained, however, open to freight traffic - namely steel coil for the Metal Box factory and occasional parcels, coal and pet food trains from Nestle Purina until Summer 2000. The line was singled in March 1972 with the lifting of the down rails.

Cambridgeshire County Council considered re-opening the line between March and Wisbech to passengers in 1990, however a quote from British Rail of £1.36 million for the upgrading of the then operational freight line, coupled to an annual £200,000 operating charge, meant that this proposal was dropped.

Early preservation attempts

Plans to open the line as a passenger service have been discussed for many years. In 1974, "WAMRAC" (the Wisbech And March Railway Action Committee) was formed with the intention of reopening the Wisbech line to passenger traffic. The committee never achieved this goal, although on 1 July 1984, along with RDS (Rail Development Society, campaigning as Railfuture), the WAMRAC organised the last ever passenger train from Wisbech. This was a special train consisting of a Class 47 loco and ten British Rail Mk2 coaches, which ran from Wisbech to Yorkmarker and Scarboroughmarker.

State of the route

Wisbech East Station was lost to redevelopment following closure in 1968 and the station site is obliterated by a housing development dating from 2001.

The track now ends at Weasenham Lane crossing following the tarmacing over of the rails from the level crossing in 2005. Beyond this point, the old Wisbech East Goods Yard (acquired by Nestle Purina from Railtrack in 1995) was last used in 2000. Three years after the last pet food train from Wisbech, the remaining three sidings were lifted. Most of the yard area now forms the factory and car park extension.

As for the single track, owned by Network Rail, it is still connected to the National Rail network via Whitemoor Junction near March, but locked off. It was offically closed to traffic by Network Rail in 2002 due to the poor state of the infrastructure. New signalling was installed at the junction during late 2007 for the benefit of outward bound engineering trains from the re-opened Whitemoor Yard, once the second biggest freight yard in Europe during World War II and now a stabling point for engineering trains.

Proposals to Re-open the line by ATOC

In June 2009 ATOC, the Association of Train Operating Companies, have petitioned in their Connecting Communities: Expanding Access to the Rail Network for the line to be restored as part of the national rail network as part of plans for 14 extra lines and about 40 new stations. This £12m proposal would see hourly trains running on the existing single line between Wisbech, March and Peterborough and could be linked with Cross Country's proposed extension of Birmingham - Leicester service to Peterborough. It would serve a population of Wisbech of 26 500 and a wider station catchment area of 50 000 including villages and towns such as Long Sutton in the area between the Spalding-Peterborough line and the Kings Lynn lines. A new station at Wisbech and a possible additional park and ride adjacent to the A47 would be built. The ATOC report was written by professionals and was based on a detailed market study for reinstated railways with the aim of improving economic regeneration. The ATOC report has the active support of the Liberal Democrats, Railfuture and is being followed up by the local council.

Having reviewed the ATOC proposals the Wisbech to March Bramley Line published its position statement, with their main points being:-
  1. The service proposed by ATOC is between Wisbech and Peterborough via March for which they believe an adequate express bus services already exist.
  2. The capital costs to reinstate a full national rail service are at least £12m and probably more, with, for example, the Stirling to Alloa line re-instatement costing over £65m.
  3. The report in respect of the March – Wisbech line contains only an option for review not a proposal for the restoration of a service.
  4. Network Rail has confirmed to the Bramley Line that the establishment of a community heritage service would not be a barrier to network services returning to the line in the future.
  5. Community heritage railways require significantly less capital costs to re-establish services and lower operating costs


Wisbech and March Bramley Line

Genesis

The Wisbech March Railway Trust was formed on 22 October 2003 by Wisbech businessman Peter Downs following an initiative he had raised at meetings of the local Chamber of Commerce. In response to a question as to how more visitors could be attracted to The Fens and Wisbech in particular, he suggested reinstating the railway line, an idea which met with some amusement at the time and which remains unproven. Downs nevertheless began making enquiries within the railway industry as to the future plans for the disused line which had seen its last freight service in 2000. An article was published in the local press to drum up support and a meeting was held at which only five supporters attended and elected Downs as Chairman. The railway's name was chosen and formerly adopted at the meeting, after the large quantity of Bramley apples that used to be carried by rail from the area.

The project has only has verbal support of Fenland District Councilmarker which sees it as promoting tourism and economic regeneration. In December 2007 the Council refused the Bramleyline's application for £20,000 funding on the basis that the project had "no business basis" and "no practical outcome". The Council advised the group to prepare another business plan and offered to help it secure alternative funding.

Proposed route

Using the existing route as far as the Network Rail junction at Whitemoor, with a new temporary station named "March Elm Road" located as near as possible to Elm Road Crossing. On the other side of Elm Road Crossing, a run round loop would eventually be provided. To start with, a Single Platform would be provided at Coldham, then at a later stage, a passing loop would also be installed at Coldham station situated as close as is possible to the site of the former down (Wisbech) platform. A platform might also be built at Waldersea on the Wisbech side of the crossing. The Wisbech terminus station would be built as near as possible to Weasenham Lane Level Crossing, which is the current end of the line.

Volunteer Work taking place

The Bramley Line has a License from Network Rail which permits them to clear vegetation. They are not allowed to repair the actual track. The Track Clearance Team commenced at Coldham in July 2006 and have continued ever since, each Sunday, weather permitting. They are out there working back towards Wisbech despite limited volunteer help. Full track clearance of overgrown shrubs and vegetation is required so as to carry out a thorough inspection of the track infrastructure. This is necessary as the branch line was last maintained to a basic freight standard (15 ton only) in the early 1970s following the lifting of the Down main rails into Wisbech.

The team also get involved in a number of projects, such as replacing and then painting the fencing at various sites, including recently at Elm Road Crossing, March. Their 'Roadshow' also attends as many local fairs and fetes possible, as well as a number of Model Railway Exhibitions promoting their cause.

March Station's disused platforms have been partially cleaned up by a group of volunteers, but this is not linked to the Bramley Line project.

Rolling stock

In February 2005 the Bramley Line Group purchased five ex-InterCity Gatwick Express BR Mk2f class 488 coaches, comprising a rake of four Standard class and one Club Class vehicles and they were later stabled in the sidings next to March East signalbox. A public appeal raised £2,500 to move the coaches to March.Following vandalism to the coaches, it was Proposed in November 2007 that the coaches should be sold. They were later purchased by the New Zealandmarker-based Railway in May 2008.

Network Rail lease

The extant Up line from Wisbech is still owned by Network Rail. The Bramley Line are currently working hard to raise the money to pay Network Rail's Legal Fees, in order to get the lease of the line for the purposes of restoring it for tourist trains. Only when the lease for the branch has been obtained from Network Rail will the Bramley Line be legally permitted to carry out full track repair and renewal, including replacement of some 200 now rotten wooden sleepers, etc. The track renewal work will then have to be approved by HM Rail Inspectorate for passenger trains to be able to run again between Wisbech and March.

Appeals

At the 2009 AGM on 28th March, the 'Raise a Wagon Load of cash' was launched, in order to raise the balance of the finance needed to get the line.

External link



References

  1. [ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/15_06_09_atoc.pdf ATOC Connecting Communities]
  2. [ http://www.bramleyline.org.uk/files/atoc.pdf Bramley Line Position Statement]
  3. Official Bramley Line Supporters, "The Start".
  4. Fenland District Council, Minutes of Council Meeting, 20 December 2007.
  5. BBC News, "Community service train re-opens", 4 February 2005.



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