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Wells & Walsingham Light Railway
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The Wells & Walsingham Light Railway (WWLR) is a 10¼ inch gauge miniature steam railway in North Norfolk running between its named towns. The line, which is 4 miles (6.44 km) long, once formed part of the Great Eastern Railway and is now the longest 10¼ inch (260 mm) gauge railway in the world. It runs from the coastal town of Wells-next-the-Sea to the pilgrimage centre at Walsingham. It is the northern section of the former Wymondham, Dereham, Fakenham and Wells-next-the-Sea line which was closed to passengers in stages from 1964 to 1969 as part of the Beeching cuts. The railway operates from a new station located on the A149 approximately half a mile south of the original terminus at Wells. The terminus at Walsingham is situated a short distance north of the original GER station (which is now a Russian Orthodox Church). Trains run daily between April and October.
The Wells & Walsingham Light Railway was born out of one man's passionate dream, hard work and sheer determination. Lt. Cmdr. Roy Francis had already built the mile long 10¼ inch gauge Beach railway at Wells. In 1979 he started to construct the WWLR on the four miles of old Great Eastern track bed from Wells to Walsingham. Work was completed in 1982 and on 6th April services began on schedule. Pilgrim, an 0-6-0 side tank engine, hauled the train until 1987 when the new and unique 2-6-0+0-6-2 Garratt locomotive Norfolk Hero came into service. Two extra coaches were added to the train increasing the seating capacity to 76. A redundant signal box was moved from Swainsthorpe to Wells, where the ground floor was converted to provide a shop and tearoom. A sister loco to Norfolk Hero, named Norfolk Heroine after Edith Cavell, arrived in 2011.
Previous History of the Trackbed
The Lynn and Dereham Railway and the Norfolk Railway both obtained Parliament's permission to build lines to Dereham in 1845, at the height of Railway Mania, when railways were being frantically built across the whole country. The Norfolk Railway, building its line from Wymondham, reached Dereham first, and opened its railway to passengers on 15th February 1847; with the line being extended to Fakenham and Wells-next-the-Sea by 1st December 1857. Whilst the line between Wymondham and East Dereham was later provided with double track, the line north of there remained single line. A branch to Heacham, and a short spur to the harbour, also ran from Wells.
As part of the Great Eastern Railway, the branch became part of the Southern Area of the London and North Eastern Railway at The Grouping in 1923. At this time the coaches used on the Wells line were still ex-GER 6-wheelers, although these were gradually replaced with bogie stock. Arguably the most evident change was that the GER Royal blue locomotives and crimson coaches were replaced by LNER black locomotives and varnished brown carriages.
The line was heavily used during World War I and World War II, with extra Air Ministry sidings provided at Dereham in 1943. The line was also defended by an armoured train, reporting as Train G, based at Heacham and using F4 2-4-2 tank locomotive 7189 as motive power. The armoured train was frequently used on the Wells line, and once collided with some empty coaches at Wells
Following the war, the 1947 Transport Act which nationalised the railways, the branch line became part of the Eastern Region of British Railways on 1 January 1948. The 1955 Modernisation Plan resulted in the line's last steam passenger services. The final regular steam journey ran on 17 September 1955. Diesel units took over next day, with faster trains and a more frequent service. Steam-hauled freight continued into the early 1960s.
By 1960 there was an hourly passenger service to Norwich taking between 32 and 40 minutes. Despite this, increased use of road transport led to a decline in passengers, causing the service to became one of many threatened by the Beeching Report in 1963. The passenger service between Dereham and Wells ended on 5 October 1964, with the branch to Heacham having closed on 5 October 1954. (ref. www.wikipedia.com)
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