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How cars have driven a railways comeback

By Toby Neal | Features | Published:

Rising car ownership which saw Britain's rail network take a battering in the 1960s is now responsible for a rail revival, according to a new book which highlights the large number of railway stations which have been built or reopened in the last 40 years or so.

According to authors Paul Smith and his stepdaughter Sally Salmon, there are now more stations on the network than there were in 1978, with more to come with the HS2 project and various proposed reopenings.

Back in January 1978 there were 2,358, and by January last year there were officially 2,560 operational stations, although they reckon that 2,580 would be closer to the mark.

"The demise of lines and stations from the 1960s onwards was blamed, among other things, on the explosion of car ownership, and the irony is that one of the catalysts for the numerous station openings is precisely the same thing," they say.

"There are so many vehicles choking the roads that large numbers are now turning to rail as a preferred method of travel."

They have travelled widely to compile their Directory of British Railways and hunt down reopened stations, brand new stations, old stations which have been revived or reopened on adjacent sites, replacements, and private or non-timetabled stations which have become public stations.

The scope of the book is 1948 to 2018 and it includes some stations which opened during that period before closing again for good, an example being Jackfield Halt, which opened on March 1, 1954, after the existing halt was hit by subsidence, but did not last long, closing on September 9, 1963.

A gleaming new station which has flourished has been Telford Central, which was opened on May 12, 1986. The book gives its passenger figures – specifically, exit and entrance numbers for 2016/17 – as 1,207,406.

Then there's Cannock, a comeback station. "It was opened by the South Staffordshire Railway on February 1, 1858, closed by British Rail on January 18, 1965, and rebuilt and reopened on April 10, 1989." Passenger figures – 233,172.

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Others highlighted include Landywood, Cheslyn Hay, for which the directory's details are: Opened by the L&NWR, March 2, 1908, closed January 1, 1916, and reopened by British Rail on April 10, 1989. Passenger figures, 108,336.

Stourbridge Town, opened February 19, 1979, closed January 10, 1994, and reopened April 25, 1994. Passenger figures 575,406. It adds that at just 0.8 miles long, the Stourbridge Junction to Town branch is the shortest on the National Rail network.

The Hawthorns, West Bromwich. Opened by the GWR on December 25, 1931, as The Hawthorns Halt, closed by BR April 29, 1968, and rebuilt and reopened on September 25, 1995, as The Hawthorns. Passenger figures, 436,562.

Welshpool station opened on May 18, 1992 and superseded the old station following a realignment of the track due to the building of the town's bypass. The old building is now used as a tourist, restaurant, and shopping centre. Passenger figures for the new station – 170,648.

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One of the shortest lived reopenings must be that of Trawsfynydd Power Station in Mid Wales, from July 15, 1990, to September 9, 1990, presumably as some temporary tourist line.

In the same vein is a railway revival in the Ironbridge Gorge.

The book says Ironbridge Gorge station was opened by the Much Wenlock, Craven Arms & Coalbrookdale Railway on November 1, 1864, as Coalbrookdale, and closed by British Rail on July 23, 1962.

It was reopened as Telford (Coalbrookdale) on May 27, 1979, and closed on September 2, 1979, and then reopened as Ironbridge Gorge on July 19, 1987, and closed on September 2, 1990.

Although the book only gives the bare details, the background story was that the 1979 service saw the arrival of scheduled passenger trains in Coalbrookdale from Birmingham for the first time since 1962. The new Sunday service was part of a programme marking the 1979 bicentenary of the Iron Bridge.

The service which began in 1987 was known as the Ironbridge Express and was an experimental summer Sunday excursion train which used a temporary platform built at the Museum of Iron at Coalbrookdale.

Running on seven consecutive Sundays, it took passengers from Birmingham to the heart of the Ironbridge Gorge, but first summer results were disappointing as it failed to break even. It needed 400 passengers each trip to be viable, but numbers varied from 70 to 160.

The firm with which Wrekin Council had jointly organised the service went bust, but in the summer of 1988 the council negotiated direct with British Rail and there was a new summer Sunday train service, from Birmingham New Street, calling at Wolverhampton, and arriving at the specially built platform next to the Museum of Iron.

As the book gives the closure of the station as September 2, 1990, presumably the service ran during the summers of 1989 and 1990 as well.

"Directory of British Railways, New And Reopened Stations 1948 to 2018," is published by Pen & Sword and costs £25.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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