“It will never happen in my lifetime.” Now where have I heard that sentence before, in the lifetime of this magazine? The rebuilding of the Welsh Highland Railway… the completion of A1 Pacific
No. 60163 Tornado… the repatriation of two A4s from North America….
British railway preservation, however, has proved itself time and time again to have mastered the art of the possible, and now we have two Mission Impossible sequels underway.
After decades of postulation, the physical building of the missing bridge over the Midland Main Line to connect the two heritage-era Great Central railways has started.
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Coupled with the new national-standard railway museum to be built at Leicester North and the lines’ position near the centre of the motorway network, the bridge will be the key ingredient into making
the unique inter-city heritage railway not only a major visitor destination but potentially a hub for the whole sector.
In this issue, there is an even more astonishing news item: not only have two other heritage lines which also once formed part of the same route – the Kent & East Sussex and the Rother Valley railways – been given the green light by planners to reinstate the missing link between the two – yes, including that level crossing over the A21 Robertsbridge bypass – but we are told that there is the necessary funding in place to make it happen.
I eagerly await the day when I can board a train at Peterborough and travel all the way by train to Tenterden, just as I don’t have to take the car to reach the Bluebell Railway.
By all accounts, this project will now happen sooner rather than later, and undoubtedly, as with the reconnected Great Central Railway, bring a major boost for the local tourist economy, if only for the potential for incoming charters to places such as the atmospheric 14th century Bodiam Castle.
It is a beautiful part of the world, and best seen from the elevated heights of a carriage window. If Colonel Stephens is looking down on us, he would be delighted beyond measure.
Who, when the Swanage Railway operated over a few hundred feet of track back in 1979, would ever have dreamed that once day public trains would again run from the resort to Wareham, with the restoration of the entire branch?
However, enough people did dream, and in June, their vision will become reality, when DMU services will offer ‘real’ as opposed to tourist or enthusiast services between the towns, with the potential for steam to follow on later.
I recall the sceptics who often said that Tornado would never run anywhere, let alone on the main line… and yet now 90mph tests are planned for the near future. Not only that, but its builders are making steady progress with the construction of a new Gresley P2 2-8-2, No. 2007 Prince of Wales, a type which nobody ever expected to see again.
Now a bold and ambitious plan for a new standard gauge heritage line crossing the Manchester Ship Canal, drawn up by an enterpreneur who has a track record of making things happen, has been unveiled by none other than Michael Portillo.
Spring is here, the heritage railway movement is in full blossom again, and not only am I longing to taste the first fruits of summer, but what is now happening – yes, in my lifetime – makes me feel truly proud to be part of it all.
However, it’s not just the preservation sector that has excelled against the odds.
Network Rail must be congraultated for the pioneering work on rebuilding the section of the Settle and Carlisle line that was hit by a landslip, the opening of which on March 31saw no less than Flying Scotsman rostered, helping to elevate this magnificent feat of enginering to the attention of the world’s media.
Robin Jones, Editor
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