South Western Railway has run a special Class 159 train, carrying invited guests, on the Fawley branch, otherwise known as the Waterside line.
The ‘Fawley Explorer’ was a ‘fact-finding’ service, to investigate the potential re-opening of the Fawley branch line in Hampshire, after more than 50 years since regular passenger services ceased.
The special service follows a successful submission to the Department for Transport’s ‘Restoring your Railway Fund’ by Hampshire County Council. This funding will allow Hampshire County Council to carry out a feasibility study into reopening the line for passenger services once more.
The service became possible through cooperation between South Western Railway and Network Rail, which had to cut back undergrowth, test condition of the track, and prepare the train crew.
On board the train were Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris, Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy, Nick Farthing, chairman of the Three Rivers Community Rail Partnership, which has long campaigned for the opening of the line, and representatives from Hampshire County Council and Southampton City Council.
The Fawley branch line opened on 20 July 1925 and runs for approximately eight miles from Totton, on the South Western main line between Bournemouth and Southampton, to Fawley. The last regular passenger train ran on the line on 14 February 1966, with the last regular freight service running in 2016. Occasional military freight trains still use the line as far as Marchwood and, in May 2017, the Three Rivers Community Rail Partnership ran a series of special passenger trains from Southampton Central.
There is still work to be done before passenger services can resume, but the national focus on expanding the rail network by utilising disused lines provides hope that a return of services for this part of Hampshire may now be a step closer.
Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “It is almost precisely 95 years since the line between Southampton and Fawley opened. Yet, due to the Beeching cuts, the last time passengers were able to travel this line England were lifting the Jules Rimet (Trophy – the football World Cup).
“While we can’t guarantee sporting supremacy again, we’ve been absolutely clear that we are determined to reconnect communities and level up infrastructure across the country. Taking steps towards restoring passenger journeys on lines like this demonstrates that commitment.
“The progress towards developing a business case for this restoration is testament to the energy and enthusiasm of local campaigners, and I share the passion they and other communities have to reopen and restore local lines.”
Mark Hopwood, managing director of South Western Railway, said: “Branch lines are vital to connect local communities, with many now out of use. Exploring the possibility of reopening disused lines for rail passengers is vital for us to reconnect our communities again.”
Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy said: “Railways have a huge role to play in building environmentally sustainable economic and social development, and places like Marchwood, where the railway is still in place, are perfect examples of where we can help local communities grow.
“It’s great to see a passenger train down this line again and this has been a really useful event for our partners to understand what we might have to do to bring trains back permanently.”