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Author Topic: Calne branch - past, present, future  (Read 6297 times)
Robin Summerhill
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« on: July 20, 2019, 09:04:02 pm »

Quote from: jamestheredengine
Just look at the stubby little Calne branch: yes, Beeching put it out of its misery, but from a regional perspective it's bizarre that it never got extended on to Marlborough (where the GWR station was perversely oriented the wrong way round) and consequently was doomed to languish as a not particularly useful little stub, rather than forming part of a secondary through route.

And looking a little further south, why were the railway pioneers quite so averse to building a line from Salisbury to Amesbury (and then keep going and aim for Devizes, perhaps...)?

I'm very much on home ground when it comes to the "stubby little Calne branch"  Grin

The Wiki page (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chippenham_and_Calne_line) is quite informative and largely correct so, rather than write it all out again I will copy and paste portions of it here.

“Calne was an important market and industrial town not far away, and at the time it had 16 mills within three miles, and moreover housed the largest bacon factory in England.
 
Seeing themselves at a disadvantage by not being on the railway, a meeting of interested parties was held on 3 November 1859, and this led to a public meeting on 8 November 1859, proposing a railway connecting the town with Chippenham and the main line. This was supported with great enthusiasm; only James C Hale, proprietor of the Calne branch of the Wilts & Berks Canal, was not happy. £15,000 of share subscriptions were promised before the meeting closed. James Baird Burke was to be the engineer, and his estimate of the construction cost was £26,663.

The formal subscription proceeded and four members of the Harris family —proprietors of the bacon factory—subscribed over 50% of the capital. All seemed to be going well but a disturbing letter was soon received: it had been understood that the GWR would be supportive, but the letter warned that income on the line might not cover the operating costs of the line for several years, and that any profits would fail to contribute to repaying the capital cost.

From 1900 to the 1930s the line handled much passenger and freight traffic, making Calne one of the busiest stations in Wiltshire. During the Second World War there was heavy passenger traffic for the RAF establishments at Lyneham, Compton Bassett and Yatesbury, which continued into the early 1950s.

With the increase in road vehicle usage throughout the twentieth century, use of the line by passengers and for freight purposes declined steadily, and in the 1960s it was clear that the future of the line was doubtful. Freight traffic had disappeared by the time the last passenger train ran on 18 September 1965. The track was lifted in 1967.”


So, to summarise, the line was a privately funded venture that the GWR eventually bought for a song. It was never intended by the GWR or anybody else to extend the line.

The GWR, however, did investigate the traffic potential to the east of Calne towards Marlborough. The trouble with that neck of the woods is that there is no intermediate traffic to speak of; only a few minor villages and hamlets all the way, and a rise of 400 feet to cross the chalk downs at Yatesbury into the bargain. As a result one of the first GWR omnibus services was introduced on the route instead - I believe in 1909, but I haven't looked it up so happy to be corrected on the date.

Notwithstanding what Wiki has to say, it is a moot point whether Beeching “put it out of its misery” or closed a viable railway. Whilst I agree that freight had been lost to road traffic (intentionally by the way because they were trying to get shot of wagonload traffic at the time), passenger takings were reasonably healthy, and what made it look otherwise to Beeching was the ludicrous and subsequently discredited railway accountancy concept of “contributory income.”

This meant that places like Calne were only credited with fare income to and from Chippenham. The rather naïve view was taken that the revenue element of any tickets sales beyond Chippenham (eg to Bristol Bath Swindon London etc) would be counted as main line income. The railway rather naively thought at the time that if they closed a local station, the railway-travelling public would meekly and obediently travel to their nearest still-open station and catch the train from there. By the time they found out the hard way that that simply didn’t happen the damage had already been done, and that was one of the major reasons why the expected savings from Beeching’s branch line closures never materialised.

Finally, in place of a railway across empty chalk downs to serve as a secondary route, the GWR already had one a few miles to the south – Reading Newbury – Savernake – Patney & Chirton – Devizes – Holt Junction, then around the appropriate curve at Bradford Junction to get to Westbury or Bath. And they decided they didn’t need that either Smiley
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grahame
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« Reply #1 on: July 21, 2019, 07:31:54 am »

Thank you, Robin, for that wonderful summary of the Calne branch.

The thing that has staggered me over the years of (casually) reading up about it and wondering is the sudden and dramatic fall of the line from a healthy passenger service and an apparently well used goods yard to closure.  Either there were massive underlying problems of empty passenger trains and wagons trundling about, or the closure looks to have been a very poor decision ...

Where lines just survived those times, they have done dramatically better in recent years. It feels (there are exceptions, including one in Wiltshire) comparing the start of the 1960s that lines and stations are either gone, or now have services way above the levels of that time.

Had the line to Calne remained open ... today MetroWest would be two trains an hour Bristol to/via Westbury (one stopper, one semifast) and three trains an hour to/via Chippenham - two London expresses and one stopper - after Bath Spa calling at Corsham, Chippenham and terminating at Calne, plus perhaps some other stations. 

The trackbed is still in place - though used as a popular walking and cycling route.  Built over only n the former site of Calne station.  Even the crossings of the River Avon and the Great West Way (A4) are still bridged - the A4, though, with a bridge now with a slight arch (to allow taller road traffic) and I don't know the state of the river bridge having crossed in just once in the dark (don't ask!).

Perhaps a fanciful dream to think that Calne could be re-opened - the last new station to open in Wiltshire was in 1937 and I can't think of any station that has re-opened on a new site / with a new platform at all.  (Melksham re-opened in 1985 on part of the old platform which - thank goodness - was in situ).  Its probably time for the powers that be in Wiltshire to catch up with many other parts of the UK in careful re-openings and new facilities and I hear promising plans - though I don't see any shovels yet ... and I doubt it would be Calne.

Beyond Calne, Robin is right - the ground rises and you hit that rural area that people have thought to be traditionally all Wiltshire.  And you also hit the end of the natural travel-to-work area (and river catchment) down to Bristol.   Perhaps, indeed, the high land past Avebury should be the natural place for SubNational Transport Bodies to meet.

As a historic note, early proposals for the Kennet and Avon Canal passed through Calne, and up a flight of locks around Cherhill then back down to join the Kennet at Marlborough.   What was built in the end to climb the escarpment was the flight of 29 locks at Caen Hill, Devizes which lift the canal 237 feet.
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Robin Summerhill
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« Reply #2 on: July 21, 2019, 11:37:38 am »

Graham and other mods – you might want to consider taking these posts out and starting a new thread on “The Calne branch then and now,” because we’ve well and truly hijacked this one and I could go on all day about it!

The entire trackbed is still in place all the way from the junction with the main line at Chippenham to the former station throat at Calne, with the following exceptions:

1.    The land immediately after the junction at Chippenham has been redeveloped as part of the former Cattle Market site for about 200 yards. There is however a field on the other side so the route would only actually need to be moved a few feet.
2.    Black Bridge over the Avon at Monkton Park, Chippenham was demolished many years ago. A new footbridge was installed in the late 90s/ early 2000s as part of the scheme to turn the route into a footpath/ cycle track. Needless to say if a railway was ever contemplated again this would have to be replaced with something much more substantial.
3.    The section between Stanley Bridge Halt and the site of the bridge that used to take the Wilts & Berks Canal under the line (traces of which still remain, by the way) is still in private hands, and somebody has built a tennis court over the trackbed at Stanley Mill. This section was not incorporated into the cycle track scheme because a relatively minor road with little traffic runs parallel to the railway here. This private section covers 0.45 miles of the trackbed.
4.    Black Dog bridge over the A4 – an identical situation that described at (2) above
5.    There is currently nowhere sensible to put a station at Calne, the station site having been redeveloped twice since closure. You could take the line to the south but that would be further from the town centre, or you could take it north into Castle Park. I can see the natives getting restless over that idea…

Whilst it was quite enjoyable sharing that lot with the group (I have been walking and cycling up and down the line quite frequently since 2002), I think that the idea of the branch ever reopening is pie in the sky for a number of reasons. Firstly, the Stagecoach bus service 55 runs at 20 minute intervals (30 mins on Sundays) between Calne and Chippenham railway station, and also between Calne and Swindon. It also serves the new developments on the western side of Calne, at Studley/ Derry Hill and Pewsham that were simply not there when the railway closed, and the railway’s route would have served then poorly anyway - nearly a mile away from Studley Cross Roads down a narrow lane, and even farther from Pewsham from where a walk into Chippenham would be shorter than down Stanley Lane to Stanley Bridge Halt.

Some might think that road/rail integration is poor now, but it is perfect compared to how things were in the 60s. NO buses ran to Chippenham railway station; they centred on the bus station, half a mile away and involving a quite steep hill. Even the forerunner of the current Faresaver X31 between Chippenham and Bath, the 46 and 46A in those days, went straight along the A4 Bath Road and expected its passengers to walk to get to it, rather than the situation today of serving the estates on the western side of town.

And the 46 in those days, incidentally, operated a two hourly service from Calne to Bath. So the idiots who dreamt up “contributory income” who thought that former rail passengers from Calne to Bath would get the bus to Chippenham, get off that bus THAT WAS ON ITS WAY TO BATH ANYWAY, walk up the hill to the station and then give the railways some money to take them to Bath when they could be bothered to run the irregular service that was the norm in those days, were living in Cloud Cuckoo Land. As they say, pigs secured and ready for takeoff…

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grahame
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« Reply #3 on: July 21, 2019, 12:04:32 pm »

Graham and other mods – you might want to consider taking these posts out and starting a new thread on “The Calne branch then and now,” because we’ve well and truly hijacked this one and I could go on all day about it!

I wondered about that at my earlier response.   Yes - I will do that ... but currently following up yesterday ...
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« Reply #4 on: July 21, 2019, 01:56:00 pm »

Where lines just survived those times, they have done dramatically better in recent years. It feels (there are exceptions, including one in Wiltshire) comparing the start of the 1960s that lines and stations are either gone, or now have services way above the levels of that time.
Just a general thought, not relating to Calne or anywhere specific, but isn't that in part because there are more people now and more so because we travel more than we used to? People now don't tend to necessarily live locally to their work (or work locally to where they live, to look at it the other way), we travel more for business and for leisure, and so on; so even if rail's share of the travel pie is smaller than in 1960, the whole pie is sufficiently bigger to make it a bigger slice.
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grahame
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« Reply #5 on: July 21, 2019, 03:09:43 pm »

Graham and other mods – you might want to consider taking these posts out and starting a new thread on “The Calne branch then and now,” because we’ve well and truly hijacked this one and I could go on all day about it!

I wondered about that at my earlier response.   Yes - I will do that ... but currently following up yesterday ...

Now split off from http://www.firstgreatwestern.info/coffeeshop/index.php?topic=21891.0
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grahame
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« Reply #6 on: July 21, 2019, 03:44:57 pm »

Where lines just survived those times, they have done dramatically better in recent years. It feels (there are exceptions, including one in Wiltshire) comparing the start of the 1960s that lines and stations are either gone, or now have services way above the levels of that time.
Just a general thought, not relating to Calne or anywhere specific, but isn't that in part because there are more people now and more so because we travel more than we used to? People now don't tend to necessarily live locally to their work (or work locally to where they live, to look at it the other way), we travel more for business and for leisure, and so on; so even if rail's share of the travel pie is smaller than in 1960, the whole pie is sufficiently bigger to make it a bigger slice.

In part there is a lot more travel ... rail was 17% of around 300 billion km per annum in 1952, and 10% of around 800 billion km per annum in 2016

Great fun looking this one up. Selective quoting from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42182497 :

Quote
Back in 1952, less than 30% of distance travelled in Britain was by car, van or taxi. 42% was by bus or coach, and 17% by train.

By 1970, three-quarters of all passenger kilometres were by private vehicle. The proportion reached 85% in the late 1980s and has stayed roughly constant since then - as has the total distance driven each year.

Travel by bus and coach has been in long-term decline, accounting for just 4% of total distance travelled in 2016, a tenth of the figure of the early 1950s.

Away from the roads, rail fell to a low of 5% in the mid-1990s but has steadily increased - it's 10% now.

Other references:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/729521/national-travel-survey-2017.pdf

https://www.nimblefins.co.uk/average-annual-mileage-cars-uk

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rail_transport_in_Great_Britain#/media/File:GBR_rail_passengers_by_year_1830-2015.png

Now - 17% of 300bn is 51bn, 10% of 800bn is 80bn which suggests that passenger rail kms rose by 57% on a network who's route miles halved - 3.13 times the traffic per route km in 2016 compared to 1952.   I wouldn't like to suggest an elasticity factor - in other words, what the passenger numbers would look like today in alternative scenarios such as 75% of route miles being retained which hindsight might suggest, or just 25% retained which Serpell might have suggested.


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CyclingSid
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« Reply #7 on: July 21, 2019, 03:52:32 pm »

At risk of throwing the points and sending us off on another diversion.

There was a railway, of sorts, from Salisbury to Amesbury via Porton. The extensions to Larkhill and Bulford. I believe it was entirely military so no "venture capital" involved.

And now for something completely different in relation to the chalk downlands. In the 1914 edition of "Notes on Reconnaissance & survey of military railways" there is an exercise to reconnoitre a military railway from the existing railway station at Hungerford to the existing railway station at Chipping Norton. Materials supplied half-inch OS map of the area (with railways removed), part sections and suggested answer. The 1940 edition "Notes on Military Railway Engineering" Part 1 (Survey) has similar. Possibly useful as an exercise, in an area the military was familiar with, but unlikely to ever exist as commercial entity.
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Robin Summerhill
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« Reply #8 on: July 21, 2019, 05:34:20 pm »

Quote from: CyclingSid
In the 1914 edition of "Notes on Reconnaissance & survey of military railways" there is an exercise to reconnoitre a military railway from the existing railway station at Hungerford to the existing railway station at Chipping Norton.

To me this seems remarkably odd, as if the military didn't know what was already there.

Less that 9 miles from Hungerford is Savernake. There was a perfectly good GWR railway to get that far, and then there was a perfectly good Midland & South Western Junction Railway line to Andoversford. There it joined the GWR Cheltenham to Banbury line, the first major station on which after Kingham was Chipping Norton.

Building a new direct military railway seems a rather expensive way to avoid a reversal at Andoversford, but we are talking about the military here... Wink

PS - I wouldn't waorry about the diversion - its still the right part of Wiltshire and it went through Marlborough  Grin
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Red Squirrel
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« Reply #9 on: July 21, 2019, 05:59:36 pm »

Calne is an interesting case. The town has a population of over 17,000, so it's not quite as big as Portishead (25,000) but it's not far off. Would it be worth the cost of rebuilding 9km of track to put it back on the rail network? As others have pointed out, the obstacles are all probably surmountable. There's even a trackless platform in just the right place for it at Chippenham! At the Calne end, it would probably be necessary to find a new site; would somewhere near the White Horse Way/A3102 roundabout work?
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« Reply #10 on: July 21, 2019, 06:10:11 pm »

Quote
reconnoitre a military railway from the existing railway station at Hungerford to the existing railway station at Chipping Norton.
I think the idea was a training exercise to show that  they had assimilated the requirements for a military railway, not quite the same as a civilian railway (steeper gradients acceptable etc). So I presume that the idea of removing the existing railways from the map was so they weren't distracted by the available lines.
The provided route (I presume the answer, after they had provided some thoughts of their own) went east from Hungerford.
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martyjon
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« Reply #11 on: July 21, 2019, 06:32:01 pm »

A ripe case for a tramway.
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grahame
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« Reply #12 on: July 21, 2019, 06:46:48 pm »

OK - It almost certainly won't happen but

1. Here's the end of the old trackbed path. I'm standing on it, back to Chippenham looking at the new construction on the site of Calne Station. The path leads off down the hill across fields to the river / the slope is also fields and I wonder about the track in the approach being moved no more than a few yards north and brought it slightly lower to terminate near where the Calne branch of the Wilt and Berks canal terminated

2. Until a few years back, the 233 Bath to Chippenham bus carried on through to Calne but the Chippenham to Calne section was removed as the 55 Chippenham to Swindon via Calne grew.   I can't help feeling there was precious little through traffic;  an earlier post suggested that transferring to the train for Calne to Bath journeys would be unlikely - yes, but bear in mind that the bus (at least now) from Chippenham to Bath takes an hour longer than the train. 


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« Reply #13 on: July 21, 2019, 07:57:01 pm »

There are two useful little books on this subject - confusingly, both called The Calne Branch. Both are still available from the Wilts County Libraries service. I did pick up a copy of one of them (1972 one) in a second hand bookshop when I lived in that neck of the woods.
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« Reply #14 on: July 21, 2019, 09:34:19 pm »

A ripe case for a tramway.

Or indeed a notch on the scale measuring how much the government really was serious in their statement of "reversing Beeching"*


*I have felt for a long time and still do, that in this sort of context, the name "Beeching" would be more appropriately replaced by "Marples".
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