Gala to celebrate history of rail line

Gala to celebrate history of rail line

Roger Orchard

The Newbury and Southampton line

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by

In 1962, passengers in Didcot said farewell to the Newbury and Southampton line forever.

And despite transporting thousands of people between the Midlands and the South Coast over seven decades, and acting as a vital D-Day supply route, it soon faded into distant memory.

But 50 years after its closure, the legacy of the line will be revisited in a three-day steam gala next weekend.

The event at the Didcot Railway Centre will feature vintage passenger and goods trains – including a Maunsell U Class 2-6-0 locomotive 31806 that would have run on the line.

Railway Centre operations manager Roger Orchard said: “The Didcot, Newbury and Southampton line was a private railway that had been envisioned as a major artery between the Midlands and the South Coast.

“Sadly it never really managed to attain that and became more of a backwater service, dying a lingering death in the 1950s and 60s.”

The line was built in the late 19th century, with the first section of railway between Didcot and Newbury opening in 1881.

It was fully completed by January 1891 and traffic largely consisted of heavy goods trains, as well as passengers to small villages along the line.

Mr Orchard said: “The line had its heyday during the Second World War, when D-Day was being devised.

“The authorities realised they had to shift fantastic amounts of manpower and equipment down to the South Coast, so the line was upgraded from a single to a double track.

“It became a very busy line, with armed forces trains shuttling their way along it. But after the war, it retreated back to being a backwater rural track again.”

By the early 1960s, the line was deemed to be uneconomical and was closed in sections over the upcoming years.

The last passenger train between Didcot and Newbury ran on September 8, 1962.

Mr Orchard said: “As buses and cars became more popular, the line just couldn’t compete. And so it died somewhat of a lingering death. But we want to celebrate everything it achieved with our gala weekend over the bank holiday.”

The three-day event will feature vintage trains, real ale and other activities for visitors to enjoy. The Maunsell locomotive is expected to be a particular highlight for fans.

Publicity officer for the centre Adrian Brodie said: “This locomotive would have been on the line in the years up until it closed, so it seemed apt to invite it back.”

The gala runs from 10.30am until 5pm next Saturday, Sunday and Monday. For more information call 01235 817200 or visit didcotrailwaycentre.org.uk

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