The Railway That Nearly Was.

Home signalThis home signal is all that remains of the last station reached; Newport Pagnell. The goods yard and station site is now under houses.

When you travel the back roads or footpaths between Olney and Newport Pagnell, you may notice long banks or hollows in the fields, crowded with trees. They are the remains of a railway that nearly came to run from Wolverton to Olney, and was planned to go even further.

Only the first four miles of the line was ever finished, less than one fifth of the total scheme. Who knows what other changes might have happened if the line had been completed?

But it had started well. In 1866 a branch line from Wolverton to Newport Pagnell opened, part of the London and North Western railway (the LNWR).

Already plans had been made to extend the branch line to Olney, and then to Wellingborough to join another part of the LNWR there.

Contractors started work on cuttings and embankments between Newport Pagnell and Olney in 1865, almost as soon as their work on the Newport Pagnell line had finished. A bridge was built over Wolverton Road the next year. It would take the line North through what’s now the police station.

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Steaming Through Milton Keynes


This seventy year old steam locomotive came through Milton Keynes on the West Coast Main Line last Friday, on its way to Euston after a tour of the Scottish Highlands.

Engine 61306, ‘Mayflower’, was pulling the sort of carriage that I remember from the late 60s and the early 70s.

At the rear was an old diesel locomotive, but the Mayflower was doing all the work. I think the diesel was just there as a back up; I seem to remember it’s a requirement of taking an old engine onto the railway network.

Mayflower was completed in 1948, and built to a London North Eastern Railway design. By the time it was finished the railways had been privatised, so the locomotive went to work for British Railways until it was withdrawn from service in 1967.

I had fallen into conversation with a rail enthusiast a couple of days earlier who had told me about this train, so I was ready and waiting on the bridge just after six o’clock on Friday evening.

Several trains went up and down the four sets of tracks while I waited. It’s a busy line. At just before 6:28pm the train approached. It was a warm and sunny evening, but now the cutting was in shadow.

The driver sounded the whistle; I think he had seen me. He was kind enough to be wearing a nice red shirt that showed up well against the LNER green of the locomotive, as he drove the train with his elbow on the window sill.

Thanks for the tip, Ken.

The Depths of Tring Railway Cutting

Tales From The Edge
This is an occasional series where I go to the edge of North Bucks and show you what I've found.

Tring railway cutting is deep. It’s so deep it took me two visits to find a way of photographing it.

On the first try, I could get on a footpath right next to the wire fence and could hear trains go by, but couldn’t see them no matter what I did. I was also not in Buckinghamshire, as the county boundary goes along the middle of the road and over the bridge.

On the second try I went into the College Lake nature reserve and walked along the wooden fence by the cutting, but couldn’t see a thing. It’s a nice place to visit, though.

Back to the road and the bridge over the railway, where I found I could stand on the crash barrier at one end of the bridge and hold the camera up high. It took a few goes, but I got a photo of the slow train trundling by on the furthest set of tracks. Fast trains on the nearest tracks were still invisible to me.

Tring Railway Cutting at folly BridgeFolly Bridge carries the B488 Upper Icknield Way, a Roman road, across the cutting.

That’s great, but it doesn’t show you folks the depth and scale of the cutting. I jumped down and walked to the middle of the bridge; there’s a narrow footpath beside the road.

The bridge parapet is above head height. I put on a long lens, and held the camera above my head. After ten minutes and sixteen attempts, I got the shot.

Tring Railway Cutting from Folly BridgeLooking North into Bucks from Folly Bridge.

Folly bridge carries the B488 over the cutting at about it’s maximum depth of 12m, 40 feet. Work began in mid 1835, and the two and a half mile cutting was finished in late 1837. Except for where rock blasting was needed, it was all dug by hand. That’s an enormous amount of earth. The cutting took two tracks and the sides were at a 45° angle.

The cutting was widened in 1859 to take three lines, and again in 1876 to take four. It was widened again in the 1960s during electrification of the line and the sides of the cutting are now at a much steeper angle. No wonder I couldn’t see into it.

More than any I’ve done so far, this is truly a tale from the edge.

Thanks to Roger Runswick for telling me about this place on the edge.


The Site of The Great Train Robbery

Bridge 129  Great Train RobberyBridge 129, on the West Coast Main Line. The Post Office train was first brought to a halt a couple of hundred yards past this bridge.

At about three in the morning on Thursday the 8th of August 1963, driver Jack Mills and co-driver David Whitby in the diesel locomotive pulling the Travelling Post Office Train from Glasgow saw an amber signal light about a hundred yards just before bridge 129, when they were a few miles past Leighton Buzzard and heading South.

Warned by the signal,  they saw that 300 yards down the track and just before Sears Crossing the signal was red, so they brought the train to a halt before they passed the signal gantry. Both signals were false, and this was the beginning of the Great Train Robbery, fifty-five years ago today.

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