The decline and fall of the Westerham Railway: A Prelude to Beeching

By Ron Strutt (hardback, Crecy, 208pp, £24.95, ISBN 978 1 90932 847 1).

Here is a railway book that in so many ways is unlike anything that has gone before.

It is now nearly 70 years since the Westerham branch in West Kent closed, and enthusiasts banded together to try to save it, firstly as a commuter line using GWR railcars and then as an out-and-out heritage railway with classic steam.

The closure of the branch in October 1961 happened at a seminal moment in the histories of both the UK network and the preservation movement.

Yes, there had already been many such branch closures since the UK network had been nationalised on January 1, 1948, many against the wishes of local residents, but here regular users staged a real fight to keep what should have been a commuter line for London open in the face of mounting losses and criticism of British Railways that steps were not being taken to help make the line pay.

Along came an army of enthusiasts and local people alike in the form of the Westerham Valley Railway Association, who aimed to save the line in one shape or another, but found themselves groping in the dark against a wall of official bureaucracy and downright opposition in the corridors of power.

Yes, at the time the Talyllyn and Ffestiniog railways revivals had shown that volunteers could run moribund lines, but neither had been part of the BR portfolio. A couple of years before, the Bluebell Railway had begun operations over what seems now to be a very modest section of the East Grinstead to Lewes route, but its example could not then offer a definitive pattern as to how ordinary people could run a whole branch line.

Read more on this review and other reviews in Issue 246 of HR – on sale now!

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