Published 30th April 2013
A brand new railway offering steam passenger rides for Londoners is about to open. The newly constructed line at Kempton, will be officially opened on May 17 during a ceremony for invited guests with public trains running the following day. Steam-hauled rides will continue on every Sunday until the beginning of September, following which trains will probably be worked by a small petrol locomotive.
This new project is the first phase of a larger plan being pursued by the Metropolitan Water Board Railway Society. The society was formed with the objective of reviving as much as possible of the 2ft gauge railway which once linked the pumping station at Kempton to that at Hampton on the River Thames.
The old pumping house at Kempton, not far from the famed Kempton Park Race Course, is the home of the huge triple expansion steam pumping engine restored by Kempton Great Engines Trust and is a visitor attraction in its own right. While talks continue aimed at revival of the industrial railway which once served the location, the society has constructed a circuit of track – known as ‘The Hanworth Loop’ - around a field to the west of the A316 road.
Although this is separate from the eventual intended alignment of a revived waterworks line, which lays to the east of the elevated road (pedestrian and car access exists under the elevated main road and adding a railway under the neo-motorway should not present any significant problem) it may eventually be possible to link it with the line towards Hampton.
Meanwhile, building ‘The Hanworth Loop’ provides the society with experience of constructing and operating a railway. Moreover, when it opens it will do so with a steam locomotive.
The capital city is surprisingly bereft of operating heritage railways. The old Southall Railway Centre presented the only standard gauge steam railway within the Greater London area but is no longer open to visitors. The reopened Epping Ongar Railway runs on a trackbed once used by London Underground trains but is outside the M25 to the north-east of London itself, albeit easily accessible from LT’s Epping station.
That leaves Kew Bridge Steam Museum, a one-time water pumping station now home to a wonderful collection of working steam pumping engines, which has a short 2ft gauge running line around three sides of the perimeter of the building operated by its own steam locomotive, a new-build replica 0-4-0ST ‘Wren’ named Thomas Wicksteed.
The Kew line will not be operating this summer due to building works at the museum and with a shared heritage (the Metropolitan Water Board and its pumping stations) Kew has sent its steam loco and passenger coach to the new railway for the coming summer. They join a resident coach restored at Kempton and petrol-hydrostatic locomotive Hounslow, built by Science Projects of Hammersmith and on long-term loan to the MWBR society.
The loco, Thomas Wicksteed, arrived at the ‘Hanworth Loop’ at the beginning of April and has been working test trains around the railway as new operating crews are trained. These operations included giving rides to MWBRS members on April 21 when we visited to take the photographs accompanying this story.
‘The Hanworth Loop’ is located on Thames Water land and cannot be routinely accessed by the public. Indeed, the entrance to the site access road is controlled by a remotely operated security gate. Visits to the railway, and/or the Great Engines, are only possible on Open Days. Check the websites for details of operating and how to reach the site.