Disused March to Wisbech railway - photos


Building the Wisbech line
My selection of photos are of my own local railway branch line (that runs across the Cambridgeshire Fenlands) currently closed to all rail traffic but could potentially be re-opened again by Network Rail or ATOC in the near future with a view to restoring passenger services to my town again following passenger closure in 1968 and to freight closure in 2000. Now known as the 'Wisbech and March Bramley Line', it is the subject of a re-opening scheme along with a new proposed station at Wisbech by Railfuture UK, they having recently presented a 3,000+ signed petition to Cambridgshire County Council. Originally built in 1847 as double track to Wisbech, the old 'up-line' was lifted in 1972, barely four years after passenger closure had taken place and the loss of Wisbech East Station in September 1968. After passenger closure a maximum permitted speed of 25mph was imposed on the branch due to the poor condition of the trackbed.

(1) Whitemoor Junction, March, Cambridgeshire.

The Network Rail Class 73 is leaving Network Rail's engineering and recycling depot which is on the old Whitemoor Marshalling Yards. The single track on the right of the picture and buried underneath dense vegetation is the closed 7.8 mile branch to my home town of Wisbech.


(2) Elm Road level crossing, March

The first level crossing is about half a mile north-east of Whitemoor Junction is at Elm Road. This vintage 1960's built AHB still with its original audible bell warning is triggered when approaching trains trip a mechanical rail treadle some distance away either side of the crossing. No track circuits are used on this section of line. Nearby is a now-vandalised train crew phone once used to alert March East Signal Box that a train from Wisbech was standing adjacent to this crossing on the Wisbech side and thus awaiting access across Whitemoor Junction. A couple of hundred yards away towards Wisbech (heading to the left from the crossing) was a fixed distant signal board used for the approach to Whitemoor Junction.


(3) Chain Bridge river crossing

This is the only river crossing that the line encounters. Chainbridge, over the 'Twenty Foot' River, and adjacent to Chainbridge AHB level crossing on the B1101 main road, is on the outskirts of the town of March. Originally a double track bridge until 1972, it only now has the 'down-line' from Wisbech and the 'down' bridge. The old 'up' line to Wisbech and the 'up' bridge was removed in 1972, leaving behind the concrete supports that once carried the 'up' bridge. If the line was to re-open, then this steel girder bridge would have to be completely refurbished.


(4) Chain Bridge level crossing

Looking north-eastwards towards Wisbech, this 1960's AHB level crossing (operated by rail treadle switches) on the B1101 Main Road still has the old-style audible bell warning. Near the level crossing is a freight train crew's telephone box so the guard could inform March East Signal Box of any problems with this level crossing or request further instructions regarding Whitemoor Junction access. Unfortunately, some years ago vandals have since damaged this phone beyond repair.


(5) Private farm crossings

Near the small village of Coldham, four miles north-east of March, are a number of private farm crossings, some with and some without the stop boards. These rural crossings were constructed from old wooden sleepers recovered from the old 'up' line to Wisbech that was lifted in 1972.


(6) Station Road level crossing, Coldham

Coldham is a small village four miles north-east from March and is well connected by the B1101 main road from March to Wisbech. Until 1966, coldham had a station, signal box and small goods yard which served local agriculture. The station itself was unique by having one platform either side of this level crossing. The March platform was on the 'down' line and on the left side of the crossing, and the Wisbech platform was on the since lifted 'up' line and to the right of the crossing. All that remains since the station and signal box were closed and demolished in 1966 is the old gentlemen's toilet block that once was on the Wisbech platform. The house closest to the left side of the crossing is on the site of the goods yard. Since 1968, these gates were then only operated by the freight train crews.


(7) Waldersea level crossing, Long Drove, Waldersea

Waldersea is a mile north-east of Coldham village and is only a small collection of scattered houses in the middle of the Wisbech fens. Until 1968, Waldersea Sidings as it was called until then, once had a small goods yard with two short sidings adjacent to this quiet gated level crossing and to the left side of this photo. This small goods yard served the local agriculture in the area. Close to the tall crossing gate post once stood a signal box which controlled both the crossing and the yard points. No trace of the signal box has remained following the loss of passenger services in the late 1960's. In later years, the same as at Coldham, Waldersea crossing gates were operated only by the train crews working the once-daily freight service.


(8) Redmoor Lane level crossing, Elm, Wisbech

A mile on from Waldersea towards Wisbech and we come to Redmoor Lane level crossing on a usually quiet back road from Wisbech to the small village of Elm This crossing was built as an AHB in 1982, replacing the original double track gates, but however, around the mid 1990s a wayward tractor driver collided with one of the barriers prompting Railtrack (Network Rail precursor) to remove both of them. An extended track circuit both controls this crossing and is interlinked to the next crossing on the busy A47 bypass. Redmoor Lane has an adjacent relay cabinet box that has a back-up supply of 20 12volt car batteries providing a total of 240volts to this track circuit incase the mains power supply fails. In addition, March East Signal Box can directly control this crossing should the mains power and back-up supply both fail. Either side of the crossing is a two-aspect colour signal that would constantly blink the red aspect on and off like a warning beacon, whilst the green aspect would show only if the road signals and warble alarm were activating. In the event of the track circuit not detecting a train, the train crew would operate the crossing manually from a small switch button in a locked cabinet - a switch cabinet on both sides of the crossing.


(9) A47 Bypass level crossing, near Wisbech

This crossing is identical to how Redmoor Lane level crossing operates. The A47 Bypass crossing is interlinked to Redmoor Lane, has its own 20 x 12volt car battery back-up (against mains power failure) in its own relay cabinet, has direct control from March East Signal Box, and the train crews can operate it should the track circuit not detect a train. Either side of this crossing is a two-aspect colour signal that also operates identical to the two used on Redmoor Lane crossing. This crossing, built in 1982 at the same time as when the bypass was built, never has had any gates or barriers installed even though this is a very busy main road. Both these interlinked level crossings had a 10mph speed restriction over them until the final wagon of the train cleared the road. Most of the freight services using this line ran only at night, with departures leaving at 1:00am from Wisbech Goods Yard.


(10) Newbridge Lane, Wisbech

Newbridge Lane level crossing is on a narrow, rarely used lane just outside of Wisbech and a less than a quarter of a mile from the busy A47 Bypass. Originally with double track gates, later replaced with single track gates following the 1972 lifting of the 'down' rails into Wisbech, these gates were later themselves destroyed in the 1990s by a car thief trying to evade the police. For some years after 1968, only the train crews working the daily freight operated these gates here, but in the early 1990s these gates were themselves closed and padlocked against the road by the then Railtrack (Network Rail predecessor), for Newbridge Lane didn't see enough traffic to warrant the gates usage. Adjacent is the gate house, once used until the 1960s to help control the crossing, but now the old gate house is a private residence.

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That's cool stuff. It would be nice to see another rail line opened up for service again. We're not so lucky over here in the US. When there is mention of reopening a rail line for commuter use, the NIMBYs come out in full force to complain about noise and pollution before anything happens. They even come from towns many miles away to complain even though they're not even impacted by the reopening.