Friday, 27 July 2012

The Watercress Line, Hampshire, England.

The Watercress Line also known as the Mid-Hants Railway is  a heritage railway in Hampshire, England, running 10 miles (16 km) from New Alresford to Alton. The line gained its popular name in the days that it was used to transport locally grown watercress in the surrounding areas to markets in London. The railway currently operates regular scheduled services, along with dining trains and numerous special events throughout the year.  The line was restored  in 1985.

The Mid-Hants Railway plays host to a modest collection of steam and diesel locomotives, passenger carriages and restored wagons, most of which are from the 1940s to 1960s period.  Steam locomotives operated include Bulleids West Country Class, the Loard Nelson Class  and the BR Standard Class 5.

The line was opened on 2 October 1865.  With the development of motorised transport, the line declined during the inter war and post war periods of the 20th Century and was further compromised. The decline had set in by 1932 and by 1955 the line was struggling to survive. It survived the Beeching Axe in 1963, but was eventually closed by in 1973. 

The section of line from Alresford to Alton that can be seen today was purchased from British Rail in November 1975. Reconstruction of the line subsequently progressed in stages. The section between Alresford and Ropley re-opened on 30 April 1977. The extension to Medstead & Four Marks opened on 28 May 1983  and the final section to Alton opened on 25 May 1985. 

Some of the structures that can be seen on the Watercress Line today were not part of the original railway. They have been added to make the line serviceable again and to recreate the feel of a fully operational steam railway. The line is now maintained by a small base of paid staff and a core of over 400 volunteers.

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