by Phil Marsh

Weymouth Quay line set to be closed after political and enthusiast battles end in reality

Published: 7th February 2016

No trains this century but protesters carry on campaigning to keep line technically open...

...despite having no practical deliverable plans

The Weymouth Quay branch has always been a special line for enthusiasts but has not seen a train this century. In fact there have been no scheduled passenger trains for 25 years with only a few excursion trains covering the tracks since then.

The line was used to convey passengers to Weymouth Quay station to connect into shipping services to France and the Channel Islands. The train, after going across Melcombe Regis level crossing ran through streets following a railwayman walking in front of the train carrying a red flag.

Toilets on the train were locked so passengers did not flush them on the track in the road along the Quayside. It was common for carelessly parked cars to be bounced away from the tracks when the occasional boat-train operated.

The line leaves the Waterloo main line a few hundred yards away from the end of the platforms at Weymouth Town station and runs alongside the station carpark to a level crossing at Melcombe Regis. This section of line was disused for many years but was brought back into use as a siding about eight years ago. Since then engineers trains and a ‘West Country’ Class steam locomotive have used the siding.

What’s to be closed?

Coast side of Melcombe Regis Level Crossing the track runs for one and a quarter miles to Weymouth Quay station where Channel Islands and French cross-channel ferries used to berth.

Officially, the line has been ‘temporarily out of use’ since 2009. Network Rail (NR) gave notice that they wanted to close the line in 2013 but Weymouth and Portland District Council Objected. This was so they could investigate whether it was possible to operate a tram on the Quay line. A Parry People Mover was used years ago but was not a success.

NR agreed to give the council until the end of 2015 to make a decision on their tram plan. The deadline passed and the line now stands to be closed permanently on 8th May 2016.

No ferries, no boat trains or freight any more

Weymouth & Portland Council and NR have agreed that the line cannot be used to operate trains or trams on and that it does not fit in with the town’s Town Centre regeneration Masterplan. In addition, regular ferries do not, and have not called at the Quay for many years and the line is regularly flooded at the super-tides several times a year.

These ferries also brought huge quantities of goods from the Channel Islands and freight services were operated along the Quay line carrying flowers and fruit bound for London and other places. Passenger and freight trains were hauled by small tank engines through the streets and the engines had a large bell on the buffer beam which was rung by the footplate crew to warn road users that a train was approaching!

Objectors and deadlines

Objectors have until 19th of February 2016 to contact NR when they will be commencing the legal closure process.

Locally, there has been much debate with some cyclists and Motorcyclists saying the rails create a danger in the road and the council suggesting that it was a danger to the public and constraining the town’s development.

It is thought that the final two trains were operated on April 1 1995 and May 2 1999 operated by charter train companies. Some local groups have vigorously objected to the closure and proposed several rail-related schemes but have not managed to be able to take plans forward due to funding and other resources.

Turntable travails

And it was these local groups that objected to earlier closure proposals that stymied plans for a turntable to be installed in the station car park using the Quay line to access it. They claimed incorrectly that if a turntable was installed, the line would be closed as a result. The turntable project was a fully funded project with CAD drawings submitted to NR and the council.

The objectors to the Quay closure managed to convince the council and NR not to close the line and with a considerable lack of interest and action from the Network Rail and South West Trains property departments, managed to kill the turntable project.

This in turn has meant that steam charter rains are now running on a regular basis to Swanage and Minehead instead of Weymouth meaning the Weymouth tourist economy has lost out.

The local media has incorrectly reported that the closure will now bring the turntable project to fruition. It has been reported that over 2,200 campaigners have signed a social-media petition supporting the ambition to turn the disused Weymouth Tramway line into a unique heritage railway and attraction. They say that such a line would attract many tourists to the town and would be a fantastic tourist attraction.

But such an operation would require substantial supporting infrastructure such as a servicing depot and given the line runs through the streets and pavements, a significant safety management system would need to be documented.

A locomotive and carriages would also need to be acquired. This would cost a huge sum, maybe half a million pounds and then the track would need to be relaid as it has not had any maintenance for 20 years. Nobody would sanction running a train when there is no knowledge of what may be supporting the track, which is likely to have some voids underneath which would cause a derailment if used.

Railway to cycleway?

The Rodwell Train is a cycleway using the former railway trackbed running from Weymouth to Portland and well worth visiting. Weymouth is served by South West Trains trains from London Waterloo, Southampton and Bournemouth as well as by Great Western Railway services from Bristol via Yeovil.

It is easy to spend a day walking the Quay Line and on The Rodwell Trail so those interested in railways, walking. cycling and the seaside are well catered for in Weymouth.

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