The Marston Vale Line - A review

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DarloRich

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This is a trip report with a difference. This is a write up of a line I use every day: The Marston Vale line. This is the line that runs through Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire between Bletchley and Bedford servicing the communities along the way.

The line is old being built as the Bedford & London & Birmingham Railway in 1846 with an impeccable railway engineering history via George and Robert Stephenson and Thomas Brassey. It is worth thinking about that for a moment: Within 21 years of the first railways in this country even small communities in rural Buckinghamshire had a railway station; such was the pace of advancement and development of the railways during this period. During the construction of the line the London & Birmingham Railway became the London & North Western Railway who took over the running of the line and it has remained an LNW line since then.

The intermediate stations along the line have always been very simple with most best described as “halts”. There were six when the line opened: Bletchley, Fenny Stratford, Ridgmont, Lidlington, Millbrook and Bedford. In 1905 further stations opened of which Bow Brickhill, Aspley Guise, Stewartby and Kempston Hardwick survive. For most of its life the line terminated at Bedford St Johns, which was not convenient for the main station or onward connections. It was not until 1984 that a passenger link was established to Bedford Midland station. This meant that St Johns had to move location and transform itself into the grotty dump it is today.

Fenny Stratford by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

When they opened several of the stations were staffed and had imposing station houses built to house a station master. These buildings are in the half-timbered Gothic Revival style insisted upon by the 7th Duke of Bedford for stations close to his Woburn Estate. The buildings are Grade II listed and all apart from Kempston Hardwick survive. This one was demolished by a run away brick wagon in the 1960s. However, the station building at Fenny Stratford is, unlike the rest along the line, in poor condition and looks very tatty.
Until relatively recently the line had a distinctive character that would not have been out of place on a preserved railway, slow speed, rural, stations close together, tiny wayside halts, staffed level crossings, mechanical signalling and any number of signal boxes. In 2004 this was all swept away when the line was closed for modernisation. Gone were the semaphores and boxes, crossing gates were replaced with lifting barriers, the platforms at Stewartby, Lidlington and Aspley Guise were moved to stagger the level crossings to ease road traffic flows and the Marston Vale Signalling Centre built at Ridgmont to control the line.

Ridgmont by DarloRich2009, on Flickr
The line has been subject to repeated closure attempts: In 1959 the locals fought off an application by British Railways to withdraw passenger services. BR tried again in 1963 publishing closure plans for the entire Varsity line as faster routes between Oxford & Cambridge via London became available meaning the line was uncompetitive and closure looked certain. The lines between Oxford and Bletchley and Bedford and Cambridge closed in December 1967; somehow, against the odds, the section between Bletchley and Bedford remained open! All the stations became unstaffed and goods services were withdrawn and the line run down.

BR came back in 1972 with another closure notice citing improved road links and better buses (the arguments that had defeated the 1963 assault) and it looked like time was up for the line. Local residents mounted a strong rearguard action and BR blinked.

How, you may ask, did this line survive? Well, there are 2 reasons to my mind: bricks & rubbish. Stewartby was the home to the vast London Brick Company works bisected by the line. At their peak in the mid 70’s these works turned out, via the worlds biggest kiln, 738 million bricks a year! Many of these bricks went out by train to feed the London building market and Bletchley kept a number of Class 25’s and 31’s on hand for this work. These trains could weigh over 1000t and must have been hard work at times for the types twos allocated to haul them. The London trains ended in 1984 and shortly thereafter the trains to Merseyside also stopped bringing to an end the brickliner. Sadly in 2008 the brick works closed as Hanson decided to concentrate brick production on sites near Peterborough.

Oxford to Cambridge Line, train leaving Stewartby brick works photographed from Forders Siding signal box, December 1982 by Chris Hutchinson, on Flickr

NOT MY PICTURE

As the brick trade fell away a new type of freight came into view: Rubbish, lots of rubbish! In 1974 a 20-year contract was signed between the Greater London Council and the London Brick Company for the disposal of the waste form the London Boroughs of Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Waltham Forest. The contract was big enough that BR felt the line had a future and the threat of closure receded. Daily trains began to operate between Cricklewood and Stewartby bringing up to 1000t of waste a day to the former clay pits for disposal. This traffic came to an end around 2006 and the site is now being redeveloped.

Forder's Siding, Bedfordshire 2001 by wiltssignal, on Flickr

NOT MY PICTURE

Some of the sidings at Forders were used during the WCML rebuild to supply ballast to the work sites on the southern part of the main line which for a few years brought regular bulk ballast trains south from Toton to create a stockpile and loaded engineering trains were sent out via Bletchley. In 2014 trains, a few trains ran to Forders loaded with clay dug out from beneath London as part of the Crossrail excavations, ran to the site so the material could be used to seal the rubbish in place.

Fenny Stratford by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

The line was steam worked by the LNWR, LMS and BR until 1959 when DMU’s took over and they have been with us in one form or another since then except for a short period in the late 90’s when the service was run by a pair of top and tailed Fragonset Railways class 31’s sandwiching a couple of mkii’s!

Fragonset-31468-Hydra-BR_D5855-Bletchley-c1999iia by Michael Wadman, on Flickr

NOT MY PICTURE
So what is the line like today? Well, freight wise (once the saviour of the line) we have an empty stone train a couple of times a weak between Bletchley and Peak Forest. The loaded train runs south via the WCML with the empties going north via the Marston Vale line and the Midland. And that’s it. We get the odd diversion, stock transfer or test train but nothing regular.

Bow Brickhill by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

Passenger wise London Midland offers an hourly service along the line 6 days a week. There are no trains on Sunday. The timetable is delivered by either a 2 car class 150 or single car class 153 unit with the roughly 17 mile journey taking about 45 minutes. It is a slow, almost tortoise like, journey at times but with 12 stations along the line and an average gap of 1.4 miles between stops you can perhaps see why!

Leaving the dull, windswept and oddly soulless Bletchley station (Bletchley Park, home of the wartime code breaking centre “Station X” is adjacent to the station - How many of the code breakers journeyed from their universities via this line and what secrets made their way back after the war was won?) from either platform 5 or 6 One day there might be direct trains from the Vale to Milton Keynes but for now a change is required if you want to make the 5 minute journey north.

Bletchley by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

Above us is the 1959 flyover taking the line from Oxford over and around Bletchley station and the WCML. It links with the Marston Vale line just short of Fenny Stratford station. For so long this has been the whitest of white elephants but will be a crucial part in delivering a new railway line and expanded station at Bletchley once East – West rail comes to life.

Bletchley by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

We immediately pass the stone terminal on the right and the London Midland carriage sidings on the left.On the left is the former Bletchley depot now used as stabling for track machines and as a base for running in trials for new EMU’s, most recently the new units for Gatwick Express, In the past this was once the base of operations for the mainline emu’s and the diesel units in use on the line. Today the two units needed to work the line for the forthcoming week must travel down from Tyseley in Birmingham on a Sunday afternoon replacing the outgoing pair who return north for a service.

Bletchley by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

In no time we are slowing for the first station at Fenny Stratford just over a mile from Blethcley. This has one platform on a single line, a shelter and the PIS that has recently been installed at all stations along the route. Immediately after the station is the first of many level crossings on the line followed quickly by the bridge over the Grand Union Canal, which, while quiet now was once the high speed line of the past moving goods in bulk from the Midlands to London.

Fenny Stratford by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

Next up is the simple station at Bow Brickhill straddling a level crossing and rubbing shoulders with the neighbouring Red Bull F1 team HQ. I haven’t seen Daniel Ricciardo on the train yet but it can only be a matter of time as Sebatian Vettel was a regular passenger ( or maybe not!). Next up is Woburn Sands where the impressive station building is now a Costa outlet, followed by Aspley Guise where the smart gothic style station masters house is a private home. By now we are well out into the countryside and some of the villages served by the line seem very small.

Woburn Sands by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

Ridgmont, one of the busiest stations on the line, comes next and is home to the Marston Vale Signalling Centre. It is also adjacent to junction 13 of the M1 and a vast Amazon distribution centre which explains the passenger numbers. The former station house, having fallen in to disrepair, underwent a total refurbishment in 2014 by the Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity with funding from the Railway Heritage Trust. A tea room, gift shop, disabled access and toilets, additional car parking, three small 'start-up' offices and a meeting room have been created and a very good cup of tea served. The former Victorian booking office has been restored as a small heritage centre.

Ridgmont by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

The stop at Liddlington comes quickly and here the station straddles the level crossing. The old platform is clearly visible but was moved to help reduce road delays. We are entering the former brick fields now and Millbrook, which is the 7th station within 10 miles of starting at Bletchley, is our next port of call. In 1999, the low station platforms – the last of their type remaining on the line – were rebuilt to the standard height but not moved to straddle the crossing as elsewhere. Adjacent to the station is the Millbrook proving ground where 70km of varied road types are available to test new vehicles. It all seems very secret. Except when it is on Top Gear. On the other side of the line, stretching to the next station is the Marston Vale Millennium Country Park and what will one day be the Forest of Marston Vale. This park has been built around the clay pits dug out for bricks which have been turned into lakes and some of the former brick making sites.

Stewartby by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

The next station is Stewartby, once the centre of brick making in the area, where all that remains of the vast brickworks are a few tall chimneys, some cold brick kilns and a lot of cleared industrial wasteland. This station was also the last on the line to be converted to electric lighting, retaining oil lamps until 1981. After the station we pass Forders sidings and the former waste terminal on the left which is silent, over grown and in the process of being returned to nature as another country park. In no time we reach Kempston Hardwick, the quietest station on the line and yet more flooded former clay pits and demolished brick works. On the right, not far away is the Midland main line which is a signal that Bedford is not far away while on the left more distribution warehouses are springing up.

Stewartby by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

After diving under the busy A421, now a dual carriage way which offers journey times between Bedford and Milton Keynes as least twice as quick as the train we enter the outskirts of Bedford before squeaking round the curve into the very simple station at Bedford St Johns. Leaving St Johns we trundle over the Great Ouse and through the carriage sidings before rolling to halt in the short bay platform at Bedford Midland before the crew changes ends and the train heads back the way it came.

Bedford St Johns by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

Although quiet passenger figures on the line have gone up in the 5 years I have been using the line with the 153 now struggling to cope at peak times which are centred around the shift changes at the Amazon distribution warehouse at Ridgmont. Credit for that has to go to the Marston Vale Community Rail Partnership who work tirelessly to promote the line and improve journeys for passengers. London Midland have slowly but surely provided better connections at Bletchley and with housing set to increase rapidly along the line the future bodes well.

Bedford by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

Soon the line will change once again and I thought it might be an idea to capture something of the line before it became part of the modern, fast & electrified East – West “Varsity” line rather than the rural, quiet, out of the way back water it currently is.
 
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IanM

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Thanks for bringing back happy memories of my time working at good old Bletchley, and routine trips to Stewartby to talk rubbish.
 

DarloRich

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Thanks for bringing back happy memories of my time working at good old Bletchley, and routine trips to Stewartby to talk rubbish.

No problem - i thought i would write about the line as it has an interesting past and clearly only survived for bricks and rubbish! Unless some BR general manager has a maiden aunt living at Liddlington that is.
 

westcoaster

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In around 2007-8 forders became a VQ virtual quarry for a couple of years taking over the work of rugby. Not sure if those yellow ballast type machines are still there.
 

70014IronDuke

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This is a trip report with a difference. ....

For most of its life the line terminated at Bedford St Johns, which was not convenient for the main station or onward connections.

Well, it may actually be 'most of its life' at this point in time, but for a century or so, St Johns was not a terminus. As you state elsewhere, the line continued as a passenger route to Sandy and Cambridge until end 1967, and it still continued to be open to coal trains east of St Johns to Goldington power station until around 1982 or so?

The lines between Oxford and Bletchley and Bedford and Cambridge closed in December 1967; somehow, against the odds, the section between Bletchley and Bedford remained open!

Against the odds, yes, but the reason was simple enough: United Counties bus company could not guarantee a replacement service. And so the line stayed.

The line was steam worked by the LNWR, LMS and BR until 1959 when DMU’s took over and they have been with us in one form or another since then ...

Actually, not 100% correct. DMUs took over most services in 1959, but the first train out of Cambridge (dep c 07.30) was an 31A steam turn with 3 coaches until around 1962 or 63. Usually a B1, but sometimes a Cl 31 diesel.

The loco worked back on an afternoon parcels leaving Bletchley at around 14.45. The passenger stock worked back at around 21.00, I believe, but I don't know what traction was provided.

From around 1963 to the end, it was worked by Bletchley locomotives, usually a Black 5, Standard 5 or 4, or sometimes a Cl 24. The stock was worked back in the late evening to Cambridge, with the loco stabling at Cambridge.

On rare occasions, the 3-carriage set would be used with a loco in the case of a DMU failure during the day.

Bletchley closed to steam around late 65 IIRC, so then it became a Cl 24 turn.

Soon the line will change once again and I thought it might be an idea to capture something of the line before it became part of the modern, fast & electrified East – West “Varsity” line rather than the rural, quiet, out of the way back water it currently is.

Just to note that the terms "Marston Vale" and "Varsity Line" are relatively modern inventions. If you had mentioned these names in 1965, nobody would have known what you were talking about. My guess is that they came into use around 1990.

My quibbles are not meant to disparage a interesting and informative report.
 
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DarloRich

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Well, it may actually be 'most of its life' at this point in time, but for a century or so, St Johns was not a terminus. As you state elsewhere, the line continued as a passenger route to Sandy and Cambridge until end 1967, and it still continued to be open to coal trains east of St Johns to Goldington power station until around 1982 or so?

Indeed - I should have tried harder to avoid discussing the section of line to Cambridge as I could never have used it. I was referring to Bedford - Beltchley rather than the longer route to Cambridge.

Against the odds, yes, but the reason was simple enough: United Counties bus company could not guarantee a replacement service. And so the line stayed.

Apparently so, although I am told the bus exclusion clause only really stopped one of the closures. Again relying on third hand memories and published sources

Actually, not 100% correct. DMUs took over most services in 1959, but the first train out of Cambridge (dep c 07.30) was an 31A steam turn with 3 coaches until around 1962 or 63. Usually a B1, but sometimes a Cl 31 diesel.

The loco worked back on an afternoon parcels leaving Bletchley at around 14.45. The passenger stock worked back at around 21.00, I believe, but I don't know what traction was provided.

From around 1963 to the end, it was worked by Bletchley locomotives, usually a Black 5, Standard 5 or 4, or sometimes a Cl 24. The stock was worked back in the late evening to Cambridge, with the loco stabling at Cambridge.

On rare occasions, the 3-carriage set would be used with a loco in the case of a DMU failure during the day.

Bletchley closed to steam around late 65 IIRC, so then it became a Cl 24 turn.

That I did not know and is very interesting. None of the aged staff or published sources have mentioned it so thanks for the detailed local knowledge.

Just to note that the terms "Marston Vale" and "Varsity Line" are relatively modern inventions. If you had mentioned these names in 1965, nobody would have known what you were talking about. My guess is that they came into use around 1990.

Agreed, however I didn't really know how else to describe them in terms people might be able to associate with today! I have no idea about the title "Varsity Line" but am fairly sure "Marston Vale" was an NSE idea dating from the late 1980's/early 1990's. Did they not brand up this & other lines and give each one a symbol and "identify"?

My quibbles are not meant to disparage a interesting and informative report.

Thanks for the additional detail and no offence taken. I don't have any real local knowledge having only been here for 5 or so years and have based the report on staff memories and published sources along with my own views on the current arrangements.
 

Gathursty

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A really interesting read. I made use of the area when travelling to Brighton. I recall Woburn being particularly pretty and quite a contrast with MK. There are probably a couple too many stations for the area at present BUT if housing is going to be built along the line and in Wixams, halts like Kempston Hardwick will become more useful and not be used as a place to get some decent uninterrupted sleep for certain unorthodox forum members. ;)
 

Kite159

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Ah yes, Kempston Hardwick, or how I spent 30 minutes there waiting for the 150 to come back from Bedford on a cold December evening, the shelter is only on the Bedford side of the station, and the level crossings come down a good couple minutes before the trains are due.

Hardly anything around there IIRC, apart from a busy unlit road
 

DarloRich

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Ah yes, Kempston Hardwick, or how I spent 30 minutes there waiting for the 150 to come back from Bedford on a cold December evening, the shelter is only on the Bedford side of the station, and the level crossings come down a good couple minutes before the trains are due.

Hardly anything around there IIRC, apart from a busy unlit road

why on earth did you do that?
 

45135

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A fascinating read about your current local route, which brought back memories of doing top and tail 31s to Woburn Sands in 1999, when the branch of Costa Coffee wasn't even a twinkle in an accountant's eye. It's inspired me to dig out the photos of my railway doorstep from the albums in the loft, at some point... :)
 

DarloRich

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As I needed to visit the shack (cos I'm mad) ;)

yes mad! There is nothing there at all. It really is in the middle of nowhere although that might change if the houses that are planned in the area get built. When i went thier to take pictures I sat and read my book in the shelter. It was a long wait!

You might find this article from the Guardian in 2003 interesting:

The Guardian:

Platform soul - Kempston Hardwick, a station in Bedfordshire has emerged as one of the quietest in England, with only 38 passengers a month. Laura Barton spent a day waiting for any of them to turn up

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/may/21/transport.uk
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
A fascinating read about your current local route, which brought back memories of doing top and tail 31s to Woburn Sands in 1999, when the branch of Costa Coffee wasn't even a twinkle in an accountant's eye. It's inspired me to dig out the photos of my railway doorstep from the albums in the loft, at some point... :)

Sadly the 31's were before I moved down here so I missed the fun. I keep suggesting a repeat to LM ;)
 

70014IronDuke

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...

Apparently so, although I am told the bus exclusion clause only really stopped one of the closures. Again relying on third hand memories and published sources

Agreed, I should add that I only 'know' about the lack of bus service provision from reading later, although I suppose I knew at the time. not really sure.

That I did not know and is very interesting. None of the aged staff or published sources have mentioned it so thanks for the detailed local knowledge.

Interesting how these small details, once common knowledge for anyone associated with the line, get forgotten.

I assume the first train ex-Cambridge was only LHS because they would have needed an extra DMU, which they could not justify as it would be out of use most of the day.

This train was mostly needed for commuting into Bedford. One week, in a vague attempt to collect data in case anyone needed it to justify saving the line, I counted the number of passengers leaving the train at St Johns. This was probably summer 1967, still in the school term. It was typically 34-35 souls. (I was never able to use this invaluable data for its intended purpose!)

I think only about 4-5-6 typically caught it onwards - there were probably no more than 20 passengers on the train, which continued to Bletchley as a 'semi-fast', stopping only at the staffed stations.

Incidentally, it produced some 'exotica' at times. I should say that it was not strictly a 31A turn from about mid-61? Cambridge lost its allocation, and it was a 31B March loco (although crew were surely from Cambridge).

so it was that sometimes it was a 'named' B1, eg 61005 - Bongo (!) or sometimes we had the glory of the experimental liveried Brush 2s - D5578 (blue) and D5579 (orange). Today, with all the flashy liveries of the TOCs, these would not seem particularly special, but in the early 60s, when all carriages were maroon and the best bit of colour over most of the system was a Brunswick green passenger loco (nice though they were) - these two diesels seemed like something from Mars.

When the line still had a Sunday service - which I'd guess ceased in 1961 - the first train out of Cambridge (prob about 09.00) was an ER 2-car DMU in the E790xx series - again, a bit exotic as they were 'yellow diamond' connections. I forget if they were the Derby build or the Met-Cams.

The main DMUs in the early years were M50938-47 + M56221-29. I don't know what class these units became. I think they moved away when the line was truncated. EDIT, on second thoughts, I've seen shots of the Derby lightweights (M7xxxx) units at the end of the full service, so they must have arrived earlier.

Agreed, however I didn't really know how else to describe them in terms people might be able to associate with today! I have no idea about the title "Varsity Line" but am fairly sure "Marston Vale" was an NSE idea dating from the late 1980's/early 1990's. Did they not brand up this & other lines and give each one a symbol and "identify"?

Sure. However, in truth, even if somebody had thought of the moniker, it was barely describable as "The Varsity" line until perhaps the last few years. I forget exactly when, but until around 1963, I think there was only one through train Cambridge-Oxford a day. So the line really operated as two (or three) services:

a) Oxford-Bletchley
b) Bletchley-Bedford all stations (the former 'motor train' in steam days)
c) Bletchley-Cambridge - semi-fast Bletchely-Bedford, then all stations to Cambridge.

Then, c 1963, BR made an effort to attract passengers, and did put on a few more through trains - though at most I'd guess this was only 3 trains each way per day. ISTR one train in the afternoon was actually formed of 2 x 2-cars, at least Bedford-Bletchley.

Thanks for the additional detail and no offence taken. I don't have any real local knowledge having only been here for 5 or so years and have based the report on staff memories and published sources along with my own views on the current arrangements.

you're welcome. I'll add a few more details when I get time.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
...

Sadly the 31's were before I moved down here so I missed the fun. I keep suggesting a repeat to LM ;)

A THOUGHT: I suppose it is quite possible that the 31s allocated to the line in 1999 had actually worked over it in 1960-62, when based at March. :D
 
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87015

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I'll try and dig out links to the phots of vice DMU workings over the weekend. One famous occasion with a goyle dragging a 310, on arrival at Bedford they took the oppurtunity to run the unit round the engine rather than v/v!!
 

fishquinn

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A very rich history for one of the little railway lines! Thanks for putting that together - it was a very fun read.
 

DarloRich

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Thanks for adding these details.

Interesting how these small details, once common knowledge for anyone associated with the line, get forgotten.

I assume the first train ex-Cambridge was only LHS because they would have needed an extra DMU, which they could not justify as it would be out of use most of the day.

This train was mostly needed for commuting into Bedford. One week, in a vague attempt to collect data in case anyone needed it to justify saving the line, I counted the number of passengers leaving the train at St Johns. This was probably summer 1967, still in the school term. It was typically 34-35 souls. (I was never able to use this invaluable data for its intended purpose!)

I think only about 4-5-6 typically caught it onwards - there were probably no more than 20 passengers on the train, which continued to Bletchley as a 'semi-fast', stopping only at the staffed stations.

Incidentally, it produced some 'exotica' at times. I should say that it was not strictly a 31A turn from about mid-61? Cambridge lost its allocation, and it was a 31B March loco (although crew were surely from Cambridge).

so it was that sometimes it was a 'named' B1, eg 61005 - Bongo (!) or sometimes we had the glory of the experimental liveried Brush 2s - D5578 (blue) and D5579 (orange). Today, with all the flashy liveries of the TOCs, these would not seem particularly special, but in the early 60s, when all carriages were maroon and the best bit of colour over most of the system was a Brunswick green passenger loco (nice though they were) - these two diesels seemed like something from Mars.

When the line still had a Sunday service - which I'd guess ceased in 1961 - the first train out of Cambridge (prob about 09.00) was an ER 2-car DMU in the E790xx series - again, a bit exotic as they were 'yellow diamond' connections. I forget if they were the Derby build or the Met-Cams.

The main DMUs in the early years were M50938-47 + M56221-29. I don't know what class these units became. I think they moved away when the line was truncated. EDIT, on second thoughts, I've seen shots of the Derby lightweights (M7xxxx) units at the end of the full service, so they must have arrived earlier.

I think the signal men would have been the best source of info but all the ones I know are from a slightly later period. I will ask about this anyway.



Sure. However, in truth, even if somebody had thought of the moniker, it was barely describable as "The Varsity" line until perhaps the last few years. I forget exactly when, but until around 1963, I think there was only one through train Cambridge-Oxford a day. So the line really operated as two (or three) services:

a) Oxford-Bletchley
b) Bletchley-Bedford all stations (the former 'motor train' in steam days)
c) Bletchley-Cambridge - semi-fast Bletchely-Bedford, then all stations to Cambridge.

Then, c 1963, BR made an effort to attract passengers, and did put on a few more through trains - though at most I'd guess this was only 3 trains each way per day. ISTR one train in the afternoon was actually formed of 2 x 2-cars, at least Bedford-Bletchley.

Sorry i meant the Marston Vale title - I assume "Varisty" to be a fairly recent media invention to try to capture some PR exposure around reopening.

It is actually interesting (to me) how Bletchely was used for a long time as an interchange point for the Oxford - Cambridge services - I guess without the flyover crossing the WCML must have been a right pain and it was easier to run two services. Of course the station & track layout was very different then.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
I'll try and dig out links to the phots of vice DMU workings over the weekend. One famous occasion with a goyle dragging a 310, on arrival at Bedford they took the oppurtunity to run the unit round the engine rather than v/v!!

sounds fun - much better than a bus!

A very rich history for one of the little railway lines! Thanks for putting that together - it was a very fun read.

glad you liked it. I might do some more lines then!
 

westcoaster

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lots of pictures on some facebook groups of units, locos and other trains to use the line (not sure if these are for public viewing)
 

Haywain

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I'll try and dig out links to the phots of vice DMU workings over the weekend. One famous occasion with a goyle dragging a 310, on arrival at Bedford they took the oppurtunity to run the unit round the engine rather than v/v!!
I'm curious to know how that would have been achieved in the bay platform at Bedford. The 31's ran top & tail, so running round wasn't necessary, and I doubt there would normally be capacity to use the through platforms.
 

Haywain

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i don't think there was always a bay platform plus you can access platform 1 & 2 from the branch
The bay platform has been at Bedford as long as the branch service has been going there, to the best of my knowledge, and it was certainly there when the 31s were operating the service. And whilst platforms 1 & 2 can be accessed, it would be fairly unlikely that the capacity would be available for two of them to be occupied for a branch service to terminate in one and use the other for the run-round manoeuvre.
 

70014IronDuke

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Sorry i meant the Marston Vale title - I assume "Varisty" to be a fairly recent media invention to try to capture some PR exposure around reopening.

Yes, I understand - but both are new fangled terms for the line(s) from my perspective.

It is actually interesting (to me) how Bletchley was used for a long time as an interchange point for the Oxford - Cambridge services - I guess without the flyover crossing the WCML must have been a right pain and it was easier to run two services. Of course the station & track layout was very different then.

Well, the WCML up to 1967 was simply nothing like it is today. For example, not too much stopped at Bletchley pre-electrification (and even after) - but I remember they had time to draw up the Lakes Express (I think it was) because it used to load to 14 or 15 carriages. It was just too long. That must have eaten up at least 10 minutes in terms of pathing time. So, obviously, it was nothing like as critical as today.

Yes, it would have been an issue to path Cambridge-Oxford trains across all four lines, but it was doable. I just get the impression that the operators didn't see much through traffic potential.

The flyover was built for a super pre-M25 round London freight route which simply did not materialise.

More anecdotes from the 60s.

There was not much freight on the line between Bletchley and Bedford. ISTR there was a mixed goods that would leave Bletchley c 13.45, arr c 14.30 in the early 60s. I remember seeing 44447 on it once. I think I've seen some pics of Duck 8s (LNWR 0-8-0s, 49xxx series) on this train, but I never saw them working the line, even though the lasted at Bletchley until at least 1962.

I think this worked back after the 16.15 ex Bedford to Bletchley working. It became a Black 5 in the mid60s.

In 1960, you could still see some interesting GER locos on goods traffic at the Bedford end - there used to be an evening goods train, probably for bricks - which could produce a J15 or J17, and once ISTR an 0-6-0 coupled with a K3. By about 61, these had become Brush 2 workings.

In, maybe 1963 or 64, the odd train of dead ER locos would be dragged westwards (I don't know where to) for scrap. I remember seeing, I think, a B1 dragging a K3 and a GE 0-6-0 one day at Sandy.

Indeed, the line eventually produced every region's locos bar ex GWR (I suspect they were not cleared for the route). From about 1965 or so, there would be the odd train of condemned SR locos being dragged eastwards to Norwich for scrap. These were mostly Ns or Us, perhaps a Q or Q1 - I think the largest loco I saw was an S15. (Never heard of a large SR passenger engine being dragged over the line. )

There were also ER electric units dragged to and from Wolverton works for overhaul. I think these used to work straight to Willesden in the early days, but they were diverted over the branch due to electrification work on the WCML from about 1965. used to be a regular Tuesday (I think) train, usually two x 3-car units dragged by a Brush 2.

Quite some variety over the years!
 
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DarloRich

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Yes, I understand - but both are new fangled terms for the line(s) from my perspective.



Well, the WCML up to 1967 was simply nothing like it is today. For example, not too much stopped at Bletchley pre-electrification (and even after) - but I remember they had time to draw up the Lakes Express (I think it was) because it used to load to 14 or 15 carriages. It was just too long. That must have eaten up at least 10 minutes in terms of pathing time. So, obviously, it was nothing like as critical as today.

Yes, it would have been an issue to path Cambridge-Oxford trains across all four lines, but it was doable. I just get the impression that the operators didn't see much through traffic potential.

The flyover was built for a super pre-M25 round London freight route which simply did not materialise.

More anecdotes from the 60s.

There was not much freight on the line between Bletchley and Bedford. ISTR there was a mixed goods that would leave Bletchley c 13.45, arr c 14.30 in the early 60s. I remember seeing 44447 on it once. I think I've seen some pics of Duck 8s (LNWR 0-8-0s, 49xxx series) on this train, but I never saw them working the line, even though the lasted at Bletchley until at least 1962.

I think this worked back after the 16.15 ex Bedford to Bletchley working. It became a Black 5 in the mid60s.

In 1960, you could still see some interesting GER locos on goods traffic at the Bedford end - there used to be an evening goods train, probably for bricks - which could produce a J15 or J17, and once ISTR an 0-6-0 coupled with a K3. By about 61, these had become Brush 2 workings.

In, maybe 1963 or 64, the odd train of dead ER locos would be dragged westwards (I don't know where to) for scrap. I remember seeing, I think, a B1 dragging a K3 and a GE 0-6-0 one day at Sandy.

Indeed, the line eventually produced every region's locos bar ex GWR (I suspect they were not cleared for the route). From about 1965 or so, there would be the odd train of condemned SR locos being dragged eastwards to Norwich for scrap. These were mostly Ns or Us, perhaps a Q or Q1 - I think the largest loco I saw was an S15. (Never heard of a large SR passenger engine being dragged over the line. )

There were also ER electric units dragged to and from Wolverton works for overhaul. I think these used to work straight to Willesden in the early days, but they were diverted over the branch due to electrification work on the WCML from about 1965. used to be a regular Tuesday (I think) train, usually two x 3-car units dragged by a Brush 2.

Quite some variety over the years!

thanks some interesting information there. It would be interesting to travel backwards in time and see how things have changed over the years and make some journeys

Great little write up Darlo.

thanks - hopefully no to many mistakes a local would spot ;)
 

richieb1971

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28 Jan 2013
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Spoke to a gentleman at Kempston Hardwick yesterday who stated the following -

West Thurrock - Tunstead now runs down the WCML via marston vale to MML. I have had this confirmed on RTT. It ran twice last week at 01:00 in the morning. Not sure why the turnaround, perhaps its a tester to see if there is any complaints :lol:

http://www.realtimetrains.co.uk/train/H62546/2016/04/10/advanced

Forders is going to be used as a central location to build the rest of EWR.

Apparently road bridges are planned at Kempston Hardwick and Stewartby. So perhaps the rest of the stations are getting the same?
 
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