Category Archives: Transports of Delight

Anhalter Bahnhof

Anhalter Bahnhof ruin, Berlin, Germany

When you emerge from the Berlin S-bahn station, Anhalter Bahnhof, you’re confronted with the vestigial remains of the late nineteenth-century inter-city main-line terminus of the same name, a reminder of a different Berlin that’s largely disappeared.

The earliest railways to reach Berlin each terminated at their own station – Postdamer Bahnhof (1838) from Potsdam and the Anhalter Bahnhof (1839) from Anhalt.   These were followed by the Frankfurter Bahnhof (1842), the Stettiner Bahnhof (1842) from Stettin (now Szczecin) and the Hamburger Bahnhof (1846-47).

The Berlin rail system went through frequent and radical realignments during the nineteenth century and the original Anhalter Bahnhof was completely and magnificently rebuilt in 1876-80 to the designs of Franz Heinrich Schwechten (1841-1924) as a major terminus under an iron-and-glass trainshed, said to be the largest in continental Europe though smaller than St Pancras.

The bombastic glazed brick façade was decorated with sculptures — figures representing Night and Day by Ludwig Brunow (1843-1913) flanking the clock, and International Traffic by Emil Hundrieser (1846-1911)  crowning the central pediment.

Albert Speer’s 1930s scheme for a world capital [Welthauptstadt] called Germania to celebrate the anticipated Nazi victory in the Second World War would have severed the approach tracks to the station, which Speer proposed to convert into a swimming pool.

After the Wannsee Conference of January 1942 inaugurated the Final Solution plan to exterminate Europe’s Jews, Anhalter Bahnhof, unlike the other Berlin stations that transported Jews in freight wagons, provided ordinary carriages with armed guards, attached to scheduled services, to give the impression that elderly Jews were being taken to a well-deserved retirement.  

The terminus was practically put out of action by Allied bombing in November 1943 and February 1945, and although the Allies restored services from 1946, the East Berlin authorities took a dim view of trains from East Germany arriving at a terminus in the American sector, and diverted all traffic to the Ostbahnhof in 1952.

The station stood empty and unused until 1960 when most of it was demolished.  In response to public protests the central portion of Schwechten’s façade was retained and cleaned.  Brunow’s statues were replaced by reproductions so that the originals could be shown at the German Museum of Technology built on former railway land nearby.

The footprint of the station platforms and tracks is occupied by an all-weather football pitch and a concert venue, Tempodrom.  Alongside, a vast bunker constructed as a shelter in 1943 houses the Berlin Story Museum, an exercise in dark tourism from which no-one emerges feeling cheerful, telling the story of twentieth-century Berlin warts and all:

Ashburton: railway station

Former Ashburton railway station, Devon (2017)

The “Birmingham Railway Mafia” has left its fingerprints all over the early history of the rail-preservation movement in Britain.

From the early 1950s such individuals as the writer Tom Rolt (1910-1974), the photographer Ivo Peters (1915-1989) and the businessman Patrick Whitehouse (1922-1993), among others, were involved in saving the Talyllyn and Ffestiniog railways in North Wales and establishing the Tyseley Railway Centre in Birmingham.

Patrick Whitehouse persuaded British Railways to sell him a former Great Western Railway locomotive for £750, and with a Talylynn colleague, Pat Garland, sought a suitable branch railway on which to run it.

They secured the Totnes-Ashburton branch line in Devon, which still had track in place, and opened what was then the Dart Valley Railway – now operating as the South Devon Railway – in 1969.

There was, however, a catch in the deal.

For two years, the rail service ran the full length of the line and locomotives were stabled at the Ashburton terminus.

In 1971, however, the Ministry of Transport exercised its right to take over the trackbed north of Buckfastleigh and use it to improve the A38 trunk road.

The heritage line was permanently cut back to Buckfastleigh station, yet the historically significant Ashburton station with its overall roof, dating back to 1872, still remains intact, fifty years after the last train left.

It’s now a garage and is well-maintained, but the surrounding land has commercial development potential that could destroy its historic significance.

The adjacent Grade-II listed goods warehouse has been converted to offices by the architects Van Ellyn & Sheryn [Ashburton Listed Conversion – van Ellen + Sheryn | RIBA Chartered Architect – Devon], but none of the other surviving railway structures are listed.

The Friends of Ashburton Station launched a detailed and ambitious scheme to convert the passenger station as a prelude to a long-term plan to reconnect with the operational railway at Buckfastleigh, but the latest news on its website is dated September 2015:  Friends of Ashburton Station.

Their Facebook page shows encouraging signs of life.  The latest post there is July 2020, in the midst of the pandemic:  Friends of Ashburton Station – Posts | Facebook.

It’s hard to tell how the railway could co-exist with the further planned improvements to the A38, but restoring a significant historic structure in the middle of Ashburton would be a benefit, and the detail of the 2015 scheme inspires confidence that the project has been carefully thought-out.

Bennerley benefactors

Bennerley Viaduct, Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire (2022)

On January 14th 2022, fifty-four years after the last train crossed Bennerley Viaduct, the “Iron Giant” reopened, providing public access to magnificent views across the Erewash Valley on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border.

This remarkable structure, built to cope with the likelihood of subsidence in a heavily mined coalfield has survived because of three lucky circumstances.

Its wrought-iron construction made demolition inordinately expensive;  the demise of most similar viaducts ensured its listing at Grade II* and, most important of all, its location near to the Derbyshire town of Ilkeston meant that local people held it in their hearts.

The novelist D H Lawrence (1885-1930), born in nearby Eastwood, mentions it repeatedly in Sons and Lovers and The Rainbow.  For local youths, clambering in the girders as the trains rumbled overhead was an adolescent rite of passage.  Its distinctive shape told local travellers they were nearly home.

After the railway closed the viaduct survived a succession of vicissitudes until Sustrans, the charity which oversees the National Cycle Network, devised a scheme to fund its renovation.

When Sustrans backed away from the project in 2018, the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct worked with Railway Paths Ltd, the owner of the viaduct, to find the means to make it accessible as a community asset. 

I visited the viaduct within a week of its opening with my mate Richard, who often rides shotgun on my history explorations.

We took a train to Ilkeston Station, from where it’s an easy walk up the Erewash Canal towpath to cross the viaduct by a newly-constructed ramp at the west end and steps at the east, returning by the Nottingham Canal towpath to the station.

There must have been at least fifty people on the deck on a cold January midday, enjoying the new experience and full of curiosity.

The Friends of Bennerley Viaduct have brought long-term benefits to local people, dog-walkers, joggers and cyclists, bird-watchers and nature lovers, as well as rail enthusiasts and industrial archaeologists.

The restoration cost of £1.7 million was met in part by railway heritage organisations (the Railway Heritage Trust, Railway Paths and Railway Ramblers), national heritage organisations (Historic England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund) and the local authority, Broxtowe Borough Council.

Richard was intrigued by the sheer variety of other charities that had contributed to the restoration, and back home he researched the less obvious ones:

© Richard Miles

  • the Charles Hayward Foundation, set up in 1961 by Sir Charles Hayward (1892-1983), a Midlands-based businessman whose engineering company Electrical & General Industrial Trusts Ltd eventually became part of the Firth Cleveland group
  • the World Monuments Fund, a New York-based non-profit organisation founded in 1965 to preserve architectural and cultural heritage sites around the world
  • the Headley Trust, a division of the Sainsbury Family Trust, which makes awards to projects both in the UK and overseas supporting causes from arts and heritage to education, health and social welfare and overseas development
  • the Pilgrim Trust, established in the UK in 1930 by an American philanthropist Edward (‘Ned’) Harkness (1874-1940), son of one of the founders of Standard Oil, and dedicated to the UK’s “most urgent needs” and for “protecting its future well-being”
  • the H B Allen Charitable Trust, founded in 1987 by Miss Heather Barbara ‘Mickie’ Allen (d 2005), a descendant of James Burrough, the founder of Beefeater Gin
  • the Sylvia Waddilove Foundation UK, a trust bequeathed by the Bradford-born textile heiress Miss Sylvia Waddilove (1911-2001) which provides grants for a variety of causes, including the preservation of buildings of architectural or historical significance

I admire the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct for three particular reasons:  they are clearly rooted in an energetic local community;  they manage mainstream and social media extremely well, and – as Richard discovered – they are adept at finding financial support from eclectic sources.

The result is, as the Friends’ spokesman Kieron Lee told the BBC, that there are Bennerley Viaduct supporters as far away as Australia, Canada and Hawaii:  Bennerley Viaduct reopens to public after £1.7m repairs – BBC News.

No-one much under seventy can now remember travelling in a train over Bennerley Viaduct, but there is footage of a journey from Derby Friargate to Nottingham Victoria shortly before the passenger service ended on September 7th 1964:  A short film of the Friargate Line – YouTube.

Additional research by Richard Miles


Blackpool Tramway, Rigby Road Depot

The Blackpool Tramway is a monument to the entire history of railed street transport in Britain.

Blackpool had the very first electric street tramway in Britain, opened in 1885, and it now runs a modern light rapid-transit (LRT) service, alongside a varied collection of heritage trams for tourists and enthusiasts.

Until after the First World War three tram operators between Fleetwood and Lytham St Annes each ran two fleets – entirely conventional trams for local traffic alongside a range of designs to cater for crowds of holidaymakers who wanted to ride around enjoying themselves, preferably in the open air when the weather was favourable.

In the 1930s when a new transport manager, Walter Luff, was appointed he quickly realised that it would be impossible to handle the Promenade crowds with buses, particularly in the autumn Illuminations period.

He commissioned a suite of four ultra-modern tram designs primarily to work the Promenade service – luxurious, streamlined single- and double-deckers, some of them open to the fresh air for summer services.

After the Second World War, while every other tram operator in the country went over to electric trolleybuses or diesel motor buses Blackpool still needed the segregated Promenade tracks, stretching from Starr Gate in the south to the outskirts of Fleetwood in the north, to shift the crowds up and down the Promenade efficiently with the best possible view of the Illuminations.

New trams were far more expensive than new buses, however, so the 1930s fleet soldiered on, patched, repaired and many of them rebuilt in new guises. 

The only completely new trams to be added to the fleet after the 1950s were eight Centenary cars, built around the time of the tramway’s hundredth anniversary in 1985, when Government subsidies became available for new trams as well as buses.

Eventually the game was up, and the Victorian tramway was upgraded to modern LRT standards, with a fleet of sixteen sleek articulated trams which took over the basic service in 2012.

Nowadays, the Blackpool Tramway has three fleets:  the LRT cars are the “A” fleet, nine modified 1934-35 double-deck Balloon cars are the “B” fleet with widened doorways so they can stop at the raised LRT platforms, and the “C” fleet is a huge and varied collection of rolling stock dating back to, and before, the 1930s modernisation. Some of these trams are operational; others await repair or restoration.

The “C” fleet’s traditional home, Rigby Road depot, had an uncertain future in the period when the LRT fleet was planned and installed.  The new fleet eventually went to a purpose-built depot at Starr Gate, and Rigby Road was designated the base for the heritage fleet, despite a long-standing backlog of building maintenance.

It’s now intended to double as a working tram depot and a museum, branded as Tramtown.  The building needs attention to make it weatherproof, and some at least of the relics on wheels that have fetched up there need to move elsewhere to increase display space.

At present Rigby Road is a uniquely fascinating treasure-house of transport history, open to the public on bookable tours led by enthusiastic volunteers.

If you enjoy rail transport, it’s not to be missed.   

Best buy: British Railways Class 20

Great Central Railway, Loughborough: British Railways Class 20 locomotive D8098

Many of the new diesel locomotives that British Railways ordered to replace steam were either useful for tasks that were no longer needed or simply useless, yet the solution to the need for a flexible, adaptable, light freight locomotive already existed.

While such white elephants as Class 17 (1962-65) and Class 14 (1964-65) were devised, ordered, constructed and found wanting, the first batch of 128 English Electric Type 1 locomotives, later designated Class 20, had been built between 1957 and 1962.

They conformed to the misguided thinking of the time, ironically – a design based on the American switcher, rated at 1,000hp with a maximum speed of 75mph, lacking a train-heating boiler and so unsuitable for passenger trains except in hot weather.

The cab filled one end, and much of the locomotive frame was given to a long bonnet which concealed the single English Electric power unit, its weight providing adhesion for hauling heavy loads.

By the mid-1960s British Rail were lumbered with various patterns of unsuitable locomotives as the need for light freight locomotives declined, and the Class 20 proved adaptable to a range of purposes.

Crucially, they were capable of operating as multiple units – two or three locos driven from one cab – so they could handle heavier loads without increasing crew costs.

Marshalling them in pairs nose to nose provided the driver with maximum visibility of the road ahead in either direction.

Some even appeared on passenger trains, in tandem with other classes fitted with heating boilers.

Indeed, in 1966 BR ordered another hundred Class 20s to replace the ragbag designs that had to be junked quickly.

They lasted well, and turned up in unexpected places, such as the construction phases of the Channel Tunnel and High Speed One.  Of the original 228, 39 are still in existence.

They have proved popular with the leasing companies that supplement current operators’ traction needs, such as Direct Rail Services and Harry Needle Railroad Company (HNRC).

And they are usefully employed on heritage railways. Known to enthusiasts as “Choppers” because their exhaust resembles a helicopter, their noise is instantly recognisable, redolent of a particular period of British railway history, shortly after the demise of steam.

Buyers’ remorse: British Railways Class 14

PeakRail, Matlock, Derbyshire: British Railways Class 14 locomotive D9539

Apart from the profligate construction of untried and untested designs, the other problem with British Railways’ hastily ordered diesel fleet in the 1950s was the failure to visualise the changes that were about to overtake the transport industry.

When the order went out to replace steam locomotives with diesel, the British Railways Board ordered one-for-one replacements.

There seems to have been little appreciation that the growth of road transport and the government’s huge post-war investment in motorways would inevitably rebalance the opportunities for railways to make money into and beyond the 1960s.

So there was no long-term need to replace hundreds of small steam shunting engines with a diesel equivalent, and many of these new locomotives lay idle in store or were scrapped without being much used, whether or not their designs had proved fit for purpose.

British Railways Class 14, built at the BR works at Swindon (1964-65), was an attempt to construct a light shunter with better visibility than the steam locomotives it was intended to replace.

Twenty-six were ordered initially in 1963, followed by a further thirty before the first actual locomotive was completed.

Like the ubiquitous and highly successful 08 family of shunters, Class 14 had steam-locomotive driving wheels and connecting rods to provide adhesion and stability, but they were underpowered for some of the tasks that were available to them.

They were withdrawn from service from 1970 onwards, not because of design deficiencies but because the work for which they were intended – shunting single-wagon loads, pick-up goods trains and short-distance freight – disappeared in a very short time.

Unlike the lamentable Claytons, the Class 14 found a ready market among industrial users, particularly collieries, where many of them worked for twice or three times the length of time they were in the BR fleet.

Latterly, they have proved popular on heritage railways, where they are adept at hauling light passenger trains at relatively low speeds. Of the 56 locomotives built, nineteen still exist in preservation and another five have been exported.

Buyers’ remorse: British Railways Class 17

Ambergate Station, Derbyshire: British Railways Class 17 Clayton locomotive (1963)

Once when I was a teenager, out for a bike ride with my mates, I stopped to take a picture of the formerly triangular Ambergate Station, where the former Midland Railway main lines from Derby to Manchester and Sheffield bifurcated.

Decades later, I showed this image to an evening-class group in Matlock and, while the nice old ladies listened patiently, the rail enthusiasts in the audience began to make ecstatic noises.

It turned out that the locomotive in the picture was a considerable rarity.

Even I could see it was non-standard, painted in red ochre, with a centre cab and long bonnets concealing the engines.

This was an example of British Railways Class 17, known colloquially as “Claytons” after their manufacturer, one of a number of pilot designs commissioned after the decision was taken to replace steam traction with diesel under the 1955 Modernisation Plan.

The Claytons were a notorious result of indecisive and confused planning, undue haste to deliver untested innovatory designs, and the sheer stupidity of ordering off-plan without waiting for a prototype to be completed.

Built by Clayton Engineering Company and Beyer, Peacock & Company between 1962 and 1965, the design was an attempt to devise a single-cab locomotive with adequate visibility for the driver.  It failed.

Earlier prototypes had followed the pattern of the American “switcher” shunter, with a cab at one end behind a single large power unit.  Like the steam locomotives they replaced, which traditionally placed the cab behind the boiler and firebox, they gave the crew a limited view of the road ahead.

Providing adequate sight-lines from the Claytons’ single central cab necessitated twin power units, low enough for the driver to see past them, and these were inadequate and unreliable.  Indeed, the sightlines were still unsatisfactory because the length of the bonnets masked the track immediately ahead of the front buffers.

Some of the later deliveries of Class 17 were immediately withdrawn from the active list and stored.

After the last of 117 Class 17 locos had been delivered in 1965, the first withdrawals took place in 1968, and by 1971 they were all scrapped except one, D8568, which was sold for industrial use and is now based at the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway, Oxfordshire, where it operates from time to time.

Change at Matlock

Matlock Railway Station, Derbyshire

One of my very first adult-education lecturing jobs was at Tawney House Adult Education Centre, Matlock, in 1972.

At the time I was teaching in a Nottingham grammar school, so my weekly trips after a day in school began with a diesel railcar journey to Matlock station, by then the stub end of a singled branch line that had once been the Midland Railway main line from Derby to Manchester.

A persistent local rumour said that the town wouldn’t have retained this vestigial rail link had not Alderman Charles White secured the former Smedley’s Hydro as a county hall for Derbyshire in 1955.

In the mid-1970s Peak Rail [] began to implement a scheme to restore the entire missing railway between Matlock and Buxton as a heritage line with scope to carry heavy freight through and out of the Peak District National Park.

In the years since, that scheme has been repeatedly revised.  The current railway runs from Matlock to just south of Rowsley, and its next development phase envisages extending north to Bakewell.

When in 1991 the Peak Rail services reached Matlock, they were obliged to terminate at the boundary with Network Rail, and a temporary station was constructed, a quarter of a mile north of the historic station, and named Matlock Riverside.

Eventually, in 2008, following completion of the Matlock A6 road bypass and the construction of a Sainsbury’s store in the former Cawdor Quarry, Peak Rail negotiated a fifty-year lease into platform 2, the former down platform of Matlock Station, so that it’s now possible to travel by National Rail to Matlock from afar, cross the footbridge and continue with Peak Rail north to Rowsley South.

The route along the wide Derwent valley is attractive, but nowhere near as spectacular as the old main line further north and west which is now the Monsal Trail. Peak Rail specialises in on-train catering [], and the extensive former marshalling yard at Rowsley contains a number of interesting preservation projects, including the Heritage Shunters Trust – an entertaining memorial to one of the cheerfully loopy episodes in the history of British Railways.

Tinsley Viaduct

M1 Motorway, Tinsley Viaduct, South Yorkshire (1985)

The M1 viaduct at Tinsley, almost on the boundary between Sheffield and Rotherham, was an adventurous solution to a complex engineering problem – a double-deck design, taking the motorway on the top deck and a trunk road beneath across a flat valley-floor site riddled with old mine-workings, circumventing an electricity generating station and a sewage works and crossing two railway-lines and two main roads. 

The M1 deck is 65 feet above the valley-floor;  the A631 trunk road is slung twenty-five feet below it.

Colonel Maynard Lovell, the highways engineer of the West Riding County Council, submitted an original design in concrete, built in sections to counteract subsidence and heat-expansion:  its estimated cost was £6 million. 

This proposal was overruled by the Transport Minister, Ernest Marples, in favour of a single-unit steel box-girder design by Freeman Fox & Partners costing £4.6 million.

The viaduct, Junction 34 of the M1, opened to traffic in 1968 – the lower deck, carrying the A631, in March and the upper motorway deck in October. 

Within the following three years three box-girder bridges collapsed, causing fatalities, while still under construction. 

In 1970 the Cleddau Bridge at Milford Haven killed five workers and the West Gate Bridge over the Yarra River in Melbourne, Australia, killed thirty-five.  In 1971 the South Bridge over the River Rhine at Koblenz in West Germany also collapsed, killing thirteen.  

The Cleddau and Yarra bridges were both designed by Freeman Fox & Partners, who in the same decade designed the first Severn Bridge (1966) and the Humber Bridge (1980). 

It may have seemed appropriate to have a steel viaduct bridging the industrial heartland of the city of steel, but the original flexible concrete design would have avoided the disadvantages of the insufficiently tested box-girder construction, and a concrete viaduct doesn’t need painting. 

However a 2004 Highways Agency calculation indicated that replacing as opposed to rebuilding the viaduct would cost £200 million and involve hidden costs for delay and disruption amounting to £1.4 billion.

Initial modifications to Tinsley Viaduct began in February 1976 and continued with few interruptions for years.  The additional cost was given as £3 million at the start of the rebuilding programme. 

The ugly cross-girders and diagonal reinforcements along the lower deck have destroyed what elegance the original structure had, and their installation in a structure carrying an operational trunk motorway was a logistical nightmare.  The original maintenance gantries had to be completely redesigned, and the previously unrecognised need to inspect the inside of the box-girders required the fitting of permanent lighting and safety rails.  Furthermore, the formerly sulphurous atmosphere of the East End steelworks necessitated frequent repainting (£2 million at 1980 prices).

An £81,000,000 scheme to strengthen the structure further in order to meet EU criteria was completed in late 2005:  European legislation had restricted the motorway to four lanes;  intricate internal reinforcement of the box-girders enabled it to carry 40-tonne vehicles over six lanes and permitted a safer configuration of the Junction 34 slip roads.

It’s difficult, because of the effects of inflation, to ascertain whether the patching of the Tinsley Viaduct was in the end cheaper than knocking it down and building a new one.

The most perfect of all station houses 2

Wingfield Station, South Wingfield, Derbyshire (2021)
Wingfield Station, South Wingfield, Derbyshire (2021)

Almost nine years ago I wrote about Wingfield Station, Derbyshire, prompted by its inclusion in the Victorian Society’s Top Ten Endangered Buildings list for 2012.

This elegant ashlar-faced building is the only surviving example of Francis Thompson’s twenty-four stations commissioned by Robert Stephenson for the North Midland Railway.  It opened in 1840 and closed to passengers in 1965.

The historic building list description describes it as “…a subtly proportioned building with a delicacy of detailing that was greatly admired by contemporary commentators who appreciated its refined architectural qualities”.

Its design was good enough to appear, transformed into a suburban villa, in a supplement to John Claudius Loudon’s Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Farm and Villa Architecture (1842), and the pioneer historian of railway buildings, Christian Barman, in 1950 described it as “the most perfect of all station houses”.

By 2012, all the Victorian Society could do was fulminate about the neglectful owner and the lack of activity by the local council.

However, there was new energy at local level, when the lively South Wingfield Local History Group, founded in 2007, pressed English Heritage to upgrade the station building from Grade II to Grade II*, and their campaign succeeded in April 2015, prompting Amber Valley Borough Council to seek a compulsory purchase order and take the building over, in partnership with the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust.

The Trust has a long and honourable history, dating back to 1974, of rescuing Derbyshire buildings in distress and returning them to economic use.  One of the first of its projects was Francis Thompson’s Railway Village in Derby.

On December 11th 2019 Wingfield Station was formally handed over to the Trust, which has secured £137,000 of development funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and a £263,000 grant for urgent repairs from Historic England.

Detailed examination of the building has revealed that it was never modernised, so it is possible to restore it almost exactly to its 1840 appearance, complete with original paint schemes and recovered wallpaper from the ladies’ waiting room.

The intention is to adapt it to office use, with guaranteed occasional public access for its historic interest.

Presumably office workers can live with trains thundering past all day.  Trying to sleep there would be a different matter.

(If you want to sleep in a functioning Derbyshire railway station, go to Cromford. There are no overnight trains on the Matlock line.)