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Saturday, 6 August 2016

Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway

In a nutshell

Gauge:          2'

Length:         3 miles (4.8km)

Opened:       20 November 1919 - closed 1969 (for commercial traffic)
                     Reopened 1968 (first preservation train)



Tel:       01525 373888


Date of visit:     31 July 2016


Key Facts

  • The railway was built just after the First World War to link the Double Arches sand quarries with the mainline railway south of the town at Grovebury sidings. 
  • It was constructed using surplus equipment from the War Department.
  • Two Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0T locomotives were originally used on the line but they were unable to cope with the sharp radius curves in the railway and so were sold in 1921. 
  • It then became one of the first railways in Britain entirely operated by internal combustion locomotives (mostly Motor Rail / Simplex locos).
  • After WWII, most of the sand traffic was handled by road vehicles and so the railway declined. It closed to commercial traffic in 1969.
  • It was immediately taken over by a Preservation Group which had started running trains along the tracks in 1968
  • The present terminus, Page's Park, was where sand trains waited in sidings before crossing the road to the washers and transhipment sidings for the mainline railway
  • The route now passes through housing estates which were built in the 1970s before striking out into open country, passing some of the now disused sand quarries on the way
  • The line terminates at Stonehenge Works where the line's workshops are based. Beside the station is the brickworks after which the station takes its name
  • The railway houses one of the largest collections of narrow gauge locomotives in the country - and recently ran a train headed by sixteen of their internal-combustion powered locomotives.



My Impressions

Having never been to Leighton Buzzard before, I was pleasantly surprised by the location of the main terminus for the railway, being situated at the edge of a park. The first thing I noticed was the impressive, recently opened main building - very grand for a preservation railway.

After buying my ticket and browsing through the secondhand railway books, I made my way to the platform for the first train of the day.

Our locomotive was one of the line's O&K 0-6-0WT locos, Elf. She was being made ready before departure.

 I boarded one of the open-sided bogie coaches and before long we were chugging along the line. After skirting Page's Park ......

..... we very soon started making our way through various housing estates, which must make this railway fairly unique in the UK. We then crossed one of the many level crossings on the route - Stanbridge Road.

At  Leedon Loop, the driver exchanged tokens .......

....... before we once more passed through housing estates and level crossings.

On reaching the edge of the town we passed over Vandyke Road.....

.... after which the line took an abrupt right turn. While pausing for the guards to reboard the train we could admire the recently landscaped wild flower meadow .....

..... before running alongside Vandyke Road and out into the countryside.

After a mile or so we reached the Redland Brickworks ......

.... before rolling into the line's terminus - Stonehenge Works.

Here there were opportunities to view some of the exhibits and browse the exhibition showing the history of the railway and its connection to the World War I Light Railways.

 After watching the loco take on water .....

and run round its train ....

..... I boarded once more for departure.

Passing the wildflower meadow once more, we re-entered the outskirts of the town .......

...... passed the spur showing one of the branches to a former sand quarry .......

...... before passing Beaudesert (an Alan Keef diesel) on a Down train at Leedon Loop.

We ultimately steamed back into Page's Park station to terminate our journey.

After watching Elf run round her train ......

..... receive some ongoing maintenance ....

 ..... before departing once more, .....

..... I partook of an excellent lunch of omelet and chips in the cafe and then wandered around the engine sheds where Chaloner (a de Winton vertical boilered loco) was on show .....

...... together with some of the line's other locos - another O&K 0-6-0 and a Baldwin tank.

 After another visit to the bookshop, I was able to watch the departure of Beaudesert, before hitting the road back to Cheshire.

This is a remarkable little railway with an interesting history. I would like to revisit when it holds one of its galas to view some of the line's Simplex locos 'in steam'. Presumably, in a couple of years' time, when it reaches its 50th anniversary, there will be a special event or two. Well worth a return visit.


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