Kent Rail

Spa Valley Railway

 

The raison d'etre of this line is outlined in the website's Tunbridge Wells West section, although some key facts will be repeated here to give the overview substance.

 

General History

 

With the South Eastern Railway planning to advance to Hastings and then on to Lewes, having reached Tunbridge Wells on 20th September 1845 (albeit at a temporary station for the time being), the London Brighton & South Coast Railway was becoming concerned that their railway territory was being invaded. In response to this, the company endeavoured to establish a counter-attack. From East Grinstead the LB&SCR had planned to have a line branching off to Tunbridge Wells, passing through Eridge and Groombridge on the way. Opened throughout on 1st October 1866, the line was a through route from the outset, a single-line spur being provided between Tunbridge Wells (LBSCR) and the SER line, despite the LB&SCR initially envisaging it to terminate (an Act of Parliament passed in 1864 decreed that a link line would be built).

 

Although only being a branch compared to the SER route through Tunbridge Wells, the LB&SCR line became a busy thoroughfare and was further augmented by the enlargement of Tunbridge Wells (LBSCR) station during the 1890s, complemented with improvements to the arrangement at Groombridge. Service frequency increased further after the route was absorbed into the Southern Railway during the 1923 Grouping, increasing the number of trains using the spur. This situation was perpetuated into nationalised days, but general decline of the line began with the phasing out of steam traction. Diesel multiple units began arriving in force in the form of a batch of four Hampshire / Berkshire Class 204 formations built in 1958. Steam traction was dwindling by the early 'sixties in the south east in general, and surrounding connecting lines - such as that between Uckfield and Lewes - were subject to closure.

 

The line to Tunbridge Wells West remained in use until the days of the London & SouthEast sector, by which time its passenger usage total was seriously low. The line eventually fell foul to impending modernisation work, which was required to upgrade the route in harmony with the rest of the third rail network. British Rail was unable to justify the capital expenditure on a line which carried few people - the track was in a poor state and the signalling was due for replacement. Closure was proposed in 1982, although the line ploughed on for a further three years, finally succumbing on 6th July 1985, the last day of timetabled British Rail operation. The route lay derelict for a number of years thereafter, all infrastructure remaining intact, the track still being present at Groombridge during 1989. Stacks of lifted sleepers and rails were evident at Tunbridge Wells West (the suffix ''West'' appeared in 1923), the station structures also remaining intact. However, bad news was on the horizon and by the early-1990s, the local council had agreed a deal to allow a large supermarket complex to be built upon the former site of the West station. Whilst the station building and four-track engine shed were protected as listed buildings, the remaining area of the station site was totally obliterated, the historically-important goods shed and signal boxes succumbing. Although now devoid of the island platform and 1950s-built signal box, the site at Groombridge remains largely intact, complete with station building and platform 1.

 

In a bid to reopen the line as a private venture, the ''Tunbridge Wells & Eridge Preservation Society'' was formed on 13th September 1985. Thankfully, the society managed to secure the Tunbridge Wells West to Groombridge track bed, preventing development work being undertaken, but sadly, the Tunbridge Wells West site could not be saved in its entirety. However, redevelopment did not yield all bad results: the supermarket's coming to Tunbridge Wells was agreed on the condition that it paid for the restoration of the engine shed and station building. Meanwhile, the North Downs Steam Railway at Stone in Dartford had been operating a small railway arrangement (the author remembering it well), which was fundamentally a three-quarter circle of track of not even half a mile in length. Whilst an interesting view of Dartford Bridge could be gained and the adjacent farm's presence complemented it, the railway was severely restricted by space. The North Downs Railway had accumulated an impressive array of rolling stock, consisting of a single steam locomotive, a number of diesel shunters and an array of rare carriages and wagons. Unfortunately, vandalism became a serious issue and in 1995, the railway organisation decided to transfer to Tunbridge Wells to augment the operation there. During 1996 its assets were progressively moved to Tunbridge Wells, the latter of which was benefiting from track being relayed at the site. The first steam locomotive to use the newly re-laid track ran in 1996, and was the North Downs Railway sole operational steam engine. Groombridge finally received track in 1998. Internal reorganisation occurred during the late 1990s and by 2000, the operation was mainly in the hands of those members who had run the North Downs operation at Dartford.

 


 

Spa Valley Railway

We begin our look at the line with a view towards the signal box in April 2002. On the left, beyond

the railings is the car park for the supermarket, whilst beyond the ex-4 Bep EMU buffet car on the

right are the engine shed entry lines. David Glasspool

 


 

Spa Valley Railway

 1924-built Peckett 0-6-0 ''Fonman'' enters the former bay platform of the old Tunbridge Wells West

station in April 2002, with two BR Mk 1s and a Mk 2 brake in tow. David Glasspool

 


 

Spa Valley Railway

A view back towards the buffer stops reveals the station building in the background, on the right,

and the engine shed in the centre. Sadly the station building is no longer in railway use, but at least

it survives, now in the function of a restaurant. David Glasspool

 


 

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