Why did Sandy-Potton-Cambridge close and not Hitchin-Royston-Cambridge also?

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24Grange

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With talk of the proposed route of the reopened East-West Railway being in the press, I have always wondered why Sandy-Potton-Cambridge was closed, yet the Hitchin branch remained open? Sandy-Potton-Cambridge was part of a longer distance line, whereas Hitchin-Cambridge just seemed to be a branch. There is only two sizable town on the route ( Royston-Letchworth) the rest are small towns or villages with the station some way from their centres. If it closed Hitchin has access to London via the ECML and Cambridge via Liverpool street. A bus service could serve Royston to Hitchin or Cambridge, picking up and dropping off en-route. So is it a strategic diversion route or something?
 
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yorksrob

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Wasn't there always a London - Cambridge service via Royston though, so it effectively formed a London secondary route (while Liverpool Street was the main line at one point).
 

70014IronDuke

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With talk of the proposed route of the reopened East-West Railway being in the press, I have always wondered why Sandy-Potton-Cambridge was closed, yet the Hitchin branch remained open? Sandy-Potton-Cambridge was part of a longer distance line, whereas Hitchin-Cambridge just seemed to be a branch. There is only two sizable town on the route ( Royston-Letchworth) the rest are small towns or villages with the station some way from their centres. If it closed Hitchin has access to London via the ECML and Cambridge via Liverpool street. A bus service could serve Royston to Hitchin or Cambridge, picking up and dropping off en-route. So is it a strategic diversion route or something?
The 'branch' to Hitchin goes on towards a fairly important place: it's called London.

The Cambridge - Sandy line went in a wavy line through nowhere in particular, coincided with the ECML in the wrong direction (ie facing north) and continued to Bedford, Bletchley and, once or twice a day, Oxford. Bedford and Bletchley, especially in the 1960s, were somewhat less important traffic generators than London. If you wanted to go from Cambridge to Oxford, it was quicker via London.
 

24Grange

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So Hitchin - Royston - Cambridge survived because trains ran to and from London? whilst Sandy-Potton-Cambridge didn't as it didn't serve London and was a "secondary cross-country route"?

I wonder how it would have got on , if it ran into a self contained bay at Hitchin at one end and one of the bays at Cambridge!
 

Ediswan

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So Hitchin - Royston - Cambridge survived because trains ran to and from London? whilst Sandy-Potton-Cambridge didn't as it didn't serve London and was a "secondary cross-country route"?

I wonder how it would have got on , if it ran into a self contained bay at Hitchin at one end and one of the bays at Cambridge!
For a while, it did pretty much that at Royston. Electric between London and Royston. DMU between Royston and Cambridge.

Edit: According to Wikipedia, that was 1978-1988.
 
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Wasn't there always a London - Cambridge service via Royston though, so it effectively formed a London secondary route (while Liverpool Street was the main line at one point).
Yes, very much so. When I was a boy, trainspotting in the late 1950s at New Southgate, there was a regular service (with nameboards on the coaches) called Cambridge Buffet Express. The trains were usually hauled by B2 or B17 steam locomotives.
 

70014IronDuke

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So Hitchin - Royston - Cambridge survived because trains ran to and from London? whilst Sandy-Potton-Cambridge didn't as it didn't serve London and was a "secondary cross-country route"?

If you look at a timetable from, say, 1962, the [Bedford] - Sandy - Potton - Cambridge line had approx one two car train each way every two hours. I doubt any train ever had standing passengers, save, perhaps for some combination of sporting event coinciding with the school run. I used it few times, it was never crowded.

I believe the Cambridge Buffet Express went via Hitchin (can someone confirm) - it was an 8 or 9 carriage train, every hour.

London had 8m people, plus what, another 8-10m catchment area?

Bedford had 60,000, Bletchley 15,000?, Sandy 4,000? and Potton could have disappeared down a sinkhole and the railway would not have noticed.

You wouldn't have used this expression back then, but it's what today people would call a "no-brainer".
 

yorksrob

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Yes, very much so. When I was a boy, trainspotting in the late 1950s at New Southgate, there was a regular service (with nameboards on the coaches) called Cambridge Buffet Express. The trains were usually hauled by B2 or B17 steam locomotives.

I seem to recall reading that it was popular with students when the pubs used to close mid day !
 

70014IronDuke

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So Hitchin - Royston - Cambridge survived because trains ran to and from London? whilst Sandy-Potton-Cambridge didn't as it didn't serve London and was a "secondary cross-country route"?

It wasn't even a 'secondary' cross-country route at the time.
I wonder how it would have got on , if it ran into a self contained bay at Hitchin at one end and one of the bays at Cambridge!

It did run into a bay at Cambridge.

Had it run into a bay at Hitchin, if would
a) still have carried about 20-30 times more passenger numbers per day than Cambrdge - Sandy
b) have prompted even the dullest railway manager to connect it tout suite to the main line, and instigate through running to Kings Cross.
 

Arglwydd Golau

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I believe the Cambridge Buffet Express went via Hitchin (can someone confirm) - it was an 8 or 9 carriage train, every hour.
Yes, it did and during the day prior to the evening peak also took passengers for Biggleswade, Sandy St Neot's and Huntindon connecting with a DMU at Hitchin.
 

A0wen

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If you look at a timetable from, say, 1962, the [Bedford] - Sandy - Potton - Cambridge line had approx one two car train each way every two hours. I doubt any train ever had standing passengers, save, perhaps for some combination of sporting event coinciding with the school run. I used it few times, it was never crowded.

I believe the Cambridge Buffet Express went via Hitchin (can someone confirm) - it was an 8 or 9 carriage train, every hour.

London had 8m people, plus what, another 8-10m catchment area?

Bedford had 60,000, Bletchley 15,000?, Sandy 4,000? and Potton could have disappeared down a sinkhole and the railway would not have noticed.

You wouldn't have used this expression back then, but it's what today people would call a "no-brainer".

The Cambridge Buffet Express wasn't hourly - this site suggest 2 hourly http://www.leightonlogs.org/1B66rememrev.htm

It ran limited stop and definitely via the GN route, ending in 1978 when the electric service to Royston commenced and through Cambridge - Kings X services ceased.
 

ac6000cw

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The history of the Hitchin - Cambridge line is here on Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royston_and_Hitchin_Railway

The Cambridge Buffet Express wasn't hourly - this site suggest 2 hourly http://www.leightonlogs.org/1B66rememrev.htm

It ran limited stop and definitely via the GN route, ending in 1978 when the electric service to Royston commenced and through Cambridge - Kings X services ceased.
That's my understanding too.

The 'branch' to Cambridge was an important strategic route for the pre-grouping Great Northern Railway (not least to keep the Eastern Counties Railway at bay!)
 

bramling

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With talk of the proposed route of the reopened East-West Railway being in the press, I have always wondered why Sandy-Potton-Cambridge was closed, yet the Hitchin branch remained open? Sandy-Potton-Cambridge was part of a longer distance line, whereas Hitchin-Cambridge just seemed to be a branch. There is only two sizable town on the route ( Royston-Letchworth) the rest are small towns or villages with the station some way from their centres. If it closed Hitchin has access to London via the ECML and Cambridge via Liverpool street. A bus service could serve Royston to Hitchin or Cambridge, picking up and dropping off en-route. So is it a strategic diversion route or something?

Simple answer is commuting from places like Letchworth, Baldock and Royston. The explosion in through Cambridge journeys came later.

By contrast the other route had Potton which is small, Gamlingay tiny, and Old North Road and Lord’s Bridge essentially in the middle of nowhere, and no London service.
 

MikeWM

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I have had a few discussions in the past where people have told me that Cambridge University were *very* keen to have the line closed so they could use the trackbed for their radio telescopes at Lord's Bridge (and indeed, apparently started construction *immediately* after the line closed). The clear insinuation was that they were involved somehow in promoting the closure.

I'm not sure how true that is - it is before my time! - but it seems possible, at least.
 

mailbyrail

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As a former resident of Bedford, I've heard that about the telescope - but can't remember the source.
 

4COR

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The MRAO were already at Lord's Bridge from 1956 (they moved into the old wartime bomb store) and had already built the 1km telescope on the land to the south of the line, so it certainly wasn't a case of moving everything out there on its closure. But clearly, the ability to use the trackbed which runs almost east-west was a benefit to Ryle who had already started designing the 5km scope as a successor to the 1km - the track did get re-laid to a gauge of 20ft or so ;) .
 
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eastdyke

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The Cambridge Buffet Express wasn't hourly - this site suggest 2 hourly http://www.leightonlogs.org/1B66rememrev.htm

It ran limited stop and definitely via the GN route, ending in 1978 when the electric service to Royston commenced and through Cambridge - Kings X services ceased.
Summer '55 it was 4 trains per day (not Sundays) with a journey time around 90mins for the 58 miles. In addition to the 'Buffet Express' there were a further 10 or so other trains with journey times of around 2 hours. It was a very well served/used route. And yes they did run into the south bays at Cambridge.

It was an interesting service from a loco point of view, a wide variety could turn up. Occasionally even an ex-works A4. Top Shed perhaps not trusting Doncaster to get everything right after overhaul and using the turn for running-in?
 

RT4038

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Simple answer is commuting from places like Letchworth, Baldock and Royston. The explosion in through Cambridge journeys came later.

By contrast the other route had Potton which is small, Gamlingay tiny, and Old North Road and Lord’s Bridge essentially in the middle of nowhere, and no London service.
There was, historically a substantial service operating to Letchworth and Baldock, with approximately an hourly service continuing to Cambridge, going back many years. The Sandy-Potton-Cambridge line was historically a different company, with a completely different operating pattern (of a country branch line serving market towns) with very few passengers riding by the 1960s. Even Sandy only had about 10 trains a day each way in 1969.
Completely different world then!
 

CBlue

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For the past twenty or so years there hasn't even been enough patronage to sustain the bus service that used to run Biggleswade/Sandy - Cambridge (Service 175 / 75 in its various forms under a few different operators.). Hardly a surprise the railway closed with hindsight.
 

Taunton

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Sandy-Potton-Cambridge was part of a longer distance line
Actually it wasn't. What is portrayed as the Oxford line was operated in three distinct sections, breaking at Bedford and Bletchley. Any service running through these points was as much for operating convenience as anything. There were a couple of through services at odd times but nothing significant. About the only established flow was an evening mail train from Cambridge to Bletchley, where the northbound mails were transferred onto a WCML service which stopped there.

Long like this. Canon Roger Lloyd's classic book "The Fascination of Railways" describes his time when he was at Cambridge University in about 1910 and would visit the station in the afternoon. The GER express to London carried heavy loads, the LNWR one to Bedford notably few.

The current proposal for a new Oxford-Cambridge route still seems to have a gap between Oxford and the GW main line westwards at Didcot, which will still require a double change, probably uncoordinated.
 

Ianno87

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For the past twenty or so years there hasn't even been enough patronage to sustain the bus service that used to run Biggleswade/Sandy - Cambridge (Service 175 / 75 in its various forms under a few different operators.). Hardly a surprise the railway closed with hindsight.

And travelling via (and changing at) Hitchin isn't too bad a rail journey from those points.
 

eastdyke

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Actually it wasn't. What is portrayed as the Oxford line was operated in three distinct sections, breaking at Bedford and Bletchley. Any service running through these points was as much for operating convenience as anything. There were a couple of through services at odd times but nothing significant. About the only established flow was an evening mail train from Cambridge to Bletchley, where the northbound mails were transferred onto a WCML service which stopped there.

Long like this. Canon Roger Lloyd's classic book "The Fascination of Railways" describes his time when he was at Cambridge University in about 1910 and would visit the station in the afternoon. The GER express to London carried heavy loads, the LNWR one to Bedford notably few.

The current proposal for a new Oxford-Cambridge route still seems to have a gap between Oxford and the GW main line westwards at Didcot, which will still require a double change, probably uncoordinated.
I don't quite follow. Sandy-Potton-Cambridge was always part of a longer distance line. And what does the GWML/Didcot have to do with Oxford-Cambridge? (apart from onward connections and the future aspirations of the original promoters of the scheme)
 

Ianno87

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I don't quite follow. Sandy-Potton-Cambridge was always part of a longer distance line.

The point is that very few trains actually ran through - travelling from Oxford to Cambridge usually involved at least one change along the way.


And what does the GWML/Didcot have to do with Oxford-Cambridge? (apart from onward connections and the future aspirations of the original promoters of the scheme)

Some people have the idea that East West Rail is about fulfilling some rip-roaring unstatisfied demand for journeys such as between Norwich and Bristol (or variants thereof).

Whereas really its about connecting housing development along its route to employment in places like Oxford, MK and Cambridge (and keeping itself operationally clear from getting tangled up in the rest of the network), with any long distance journey opportunities simply a side-effect.
 

Taunton

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I don't quite follow. Sandy-Potton-Cambridge was always part of a longer distance line.
Here's the timetable for the Cambridge line from the mid-1950s, a few years before closure. Only three trains a day even had connections at Bletchley for Oxford (and only one on Sundays), and they stopped at every wayside station to Bedford. Not really a "long distance" line at all.
 

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eastdyke

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The excellent Disused Stations website has some good stuff on both Cambridge (not currently linked from their home page so you need to bookmark the link) and the stations on the old 'Varsity Line'
Cambridge:
The Potton page (for example) has details of Bedford-Cambridge:
The Fenny Stratford page (for example) has details of the Bedford Railway [Marston Vale] - and yes not disused I know!:
The Claydon page (for example) has details of Oxford-Bletchley:
Here's the timetable for the Cambridge line from the mid-1950s, a few years before closure. Only three trains a day even had connections at Bletchley for Oxford (and only one on Sundays), and they stopped at every wayside station to Bedford. Not really a "long distance" line at all.
Your timetable would seem to confirm the point that Sandy-Potton-Cambridge was always part of a longer distance line!!
 

DerekC

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The crazy thing about closure, though, is that the decision was taken in 1967, the same year that the development of Milton Keynes was announced. I recall my dad pointing that out at the time. You would have thought that somebody in DfT (actually I think it was all part of Environment then) might have put two and two together. Oxford - Cambridge didn't have to stay a rural backwater. It was, as far as I know, double track all the way. According to Mr W Pedia, an experimental diesel service using an articulated 3-car unit was run in 1938/39, achieving a 1 hour 45 minute journey time, which shows what could have been achieved in the 60s and 70s if BR had had a mind to.
 

Dr Hoo

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The crazy thing about closure, though, is that the decision was taken in 1967, the same year that the development of Milton Keynes was announced. I recall my dad pointing that out at the time. You would have thought that somebody in DfT (actually I think it was all part of Environment then) might have put two and two together. Oxford - Cambridge didn't have to stay a rural backwater. It was, as far as I know, double track all the way. According to Mr W Pedia, an experimental diesel service using an articulated 3-car unit was run in 1938/39, achieving a 1 hour 45 minute journey time, which shows what could have been achieved in the 60s and 70s if BR had had a mind to.
I think that there is a bit of reverse logic being applied here. The Oxford-Cambridge line was chosen for a trial between 5 September 1938 and 2 January 1939 (when the Derby-built diesel unit was withdrawn after several failures). The whole point was the line had minimal services and thus had spare capacity for trial running of an 'extra' diagram that obviously had no established users to disappoint. If it broke down, few people would be disrupted. A steam set was held in reserve to cover breakdowns. The trials were all about establishing the technical parameters of the experimental design, which integrated components from no fewer than 26 sub-contractors, not about a new service offer.

The lightweight unit was quite 'nippy' and could almost manage 'even time' with a maximum speed of 75mph. After the trial on the Oxford-Cambridge line the unit went onto a Midland Main line diagram that got as far as St Pancras-Nottingham.

(I am not aware that the test diagram included calls at Sandy or Potton so all of this is probably 'off thread'.)
 
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