The Epping Ongar Railway operates on a preserved railway along the final section of the old Great Eastern Railway and London Underground Central Line branch line between Epping and Ongar, with an intermediate station at North Weald. The line was reopened in late 2004 after 10 years of closure (operating a Sunday and Bank Holiday service using a Class 117 diesel multiple unit), running between Ongar and Coopersale. The service is provided by volunteers who maintain the line as well as run the trains. The land and infrastructure is owned by a separate company, Epping Ongar Railway Ltd.
Early workings Edit
The connection to Ongar was made in 1865 by the Eastern Counties/Great Eastern Railway. The eastern section of the line, between Epping and Ongar, was always single track, with just one passing loop at North Weald station, and approximately 14 trains each day went as far as the rural station, with the rest terminating at Epping or Loughton.
This remained the case until 1949, when the London Transport Passenger Board's New Works scheme extended the Central Line to Epping using electric trains (taking over the railway from British Rail). The Epping-Ongar branch lost its through trains to London, and a shuttle service between Epping (to connect with trains to London) and Ongar was implemented; for a short time, one could see the unusual sight of steam trains and London Underground electric multiple units side-by-side at Epping. The steam shuttle was hired by the London Transport Executive from British Rail, as it was felt there wasn't justification for electrification as far as Ongar unless patronage of the branch rose.
The 1950s saw attempts to improve the service on the branch, and eventually the line was given light electrification in 1957. The low-cost nature of the electrification meant that the branch could only support special two- or three-car trains—the power supply was simply not strong enough to support full-size trains, nor would the short platforms on the branch line have been long enough to support eight-car trains. Hence, the Epping to Ongar branch was normally operated as an isolated branch of the Central Line. However, for two days every year, through trains were run from London, terminating at North Weald. These trains served the North Weald airshow on the Saturday and Sunday of its opening at the aerodrome almost adjacent to the station. The normal Epping to Ongar shuttle dovetailed with this service passing the terminating train on the adjacent line during its southbound journey. The through train was operated as an extra train on the normal Central Line timetable, but was only 4 cars long.
Cutbacks and closure Edit
From the late 1960s onwards it became ever clearer that the line's patronage wasn't growing as had been expected (mainly due to restriction of development in what was now designated Green Belt land). Even at its peak in 1971, its daily 650 passengers hardly made the line an economic proposition. London Underground tried to close the entire line in 1980; instead, a reduced service was implemented, along with Blake Hall tube station being closed on Sundays.
North Weald station's platform one was closed in 1976, then the passing loop/westbound tracks were lifted in 1978. Until this time, access to the two platforms was controlled from the original Eastern Counties Railway signal box still sited on the southbound platform to this day. Until this occurred, North Weald was the last section of the London Underground network to be signalled using mechanical semaphore signals.
On September 30, 1994, the line, which was making a loss of seven pounds for each passenger journey and was in need of some expensive maintenance work, was finally closed to the public, the Central Line terminating at Epping Station. At the time of its closure, it was carrying a mere 80 passengers a day; local lore had it that the line was being kept open in case the Cabinet needed to be evacuated to the nuclear bunker at Doddinghurst. However, the track was left intact along with the stations (albeit in an unmaintained state).
Purchase & reopening Edit
The line was purchased by Pilot Developments (later Epping Ongar Railway Ltd.) in 1998. The Ongar Railway Preservation Society entered a £325,000 offer for the line, but Pilot Developments convinced London Underground to accept their slightly higher offer after the bidding deadline. Independent politician Martin Bell described the deal as "the most controversial land deal in the constituency for years", alleging a conflict of interest with local politicians. The line, under the running group (Epping Ongar Railway Volunteer Society), reopened on Sunday 10 October 2004, providing an hourly service between Ongar and North Weald. The line was shortly after extended to Coopersale, although no alighting facilities as yet exist here.
On Sunday 9 October 2005 the line celebrated its 1 year running anniversary, with a large number of people visiting on the day.
In early 2006 between 22 January and 9 April the line was shut down for engineering works. This involved general station maintenance, rolling stock maintenance and track maintenance. Ongar station remained closed for engineering works and general maintenance and reopened on Sunday 28 May 2006 to passengers, although initially without the use of the station buildings.
The Easter weekend of 2007 saw the Railway's largest number of visitors on a single day since reopening, on both the Sunday and Monday. The Teddy Bear's Picnic, Anniversary of Reopening and Halloween events are also very popular.
At the end of 2007, as a result of the awarding of planning permission for the Ongar residential development (see below), the railway was sold to a new private owner who is committed to bring steam back to the line.
In early 2008 the line was closed to passenger trains in order to undertake the major engineering works in order to facilitate the return of steam to the line, such as run-round loops, signalling, along with coal and water facilities.
Heritage railway operations Edit
During 2006-07 the line ran an hourly service on Sundays and Bank Holidays, beginning on the hour every hour at Ongar, arriving at North Weald at 13 minutes past the hour before departing for Coopersale, and returning to North Weald for pick up and set down at 33 minutes past the hour, subsequently leaving for Ongar. The first train left Ongar at 11:00, with the last returning at 15:50 (16:50 between April and September).
The line operated two diesel shunters, one a Drewry shunter (works number 2566, current number D1995), named "Heather" by the railway, and two Ruston 88 shunters (RH 512572 is in service, RH 398616 is being used for spares and as a static display). The line employed a Harsco tug unit ("Badger") for engineering work.
It has been reported in The Railway Magazine that the Epping Ongar Railway has bought Hawthorn Leslie 0-6-0ST Isabel (works number 3437/1919). Isabel is at Llynclys South railway station on the Cambrian Railways Trust line but will be moved to Ongar during 2011. 
Finnish rolling stockEdit
The railway also owns four Finnish steam locomotives, and two wooden-bodied Finnish coaches. Servicability aside, these will not, and can not, be used for passenger services; they are of a different (5 ft) track gauge to the railway lines.
The railway at one point owned at least two trains of 1962 tube stock. Units 1616 and 1491 (formed as an eight-car train) were purchased in 1996, and unit 1744 was purchased in 1998. These units were taken away to be cut up for scrap in 1998 and 2003, respectively, after they were destroyed by vandals.
Future plans Edit
- Ongar: It is intended to restore the station, rebuild the trackwork, install a signal box and have full signalling. This will enable an increased service frequency, and is a key step towards towards reintroducing steam trains on the line.
- Epping Glade: It is intended to extend trains to Epping, with the current plans having the train terminating at a new station near to the present London Underground Epping station, called Epping Glade. This will require significant investment and will be tackled once the line has re-opened with steam services.
- Coopersale Halt: The possibility of building a halt at Coopersale village where the train presently stops is under consideration, subject to investment and a possible consultation with residents.
- North Weald: It is intended to restore the station and signal box, rebuild the passing loop here and add full signalling with both semaphore and colour light signals. This will enable an increased service frequency, and is a key step towards towards reintroducing steam trains on the line.
- Steam: Steam reintroduction is an objective for the railway, necessitating run round loops and servicing facilities. Tank locomotives will likely be used for the majority of services as larger locomotives will not be necessary for the length of trains that can be accommodated on the line, the line's short platforms preventing the use of long trains. Guest locomotives, both steam and diesel may appear from time to time.
Ongar residential development Edit
The railway has been the source of political wrangling since it was abandoned by London Underground Ltd. Its former owners, Epping Ongar Railway Ltd., have been awarded planning permission for a large portion of land at Ongar station, previously the site of the goods yard, for residential development. This has been met with much hostility from local government and local residents who believe that such development will be detrimental to the future of the railway in terms of rail vehicle storage and maintenance depots.
See also Edit
- London Underground Central Line
- Epping Underground station
- North Weald Underground station
- Blake Hall Underground station
- Ongar Underground station
- ↑ Institution of Civil Engineers (1987). Moving people in tomorrow's world. Thomas Telford, 42. ISBN 0-7277-0391-9.
- ↑ Taylor, Sheila; Green, Oliver (2002). The Moving Metropolis: A History of London's Transport Since 1800. Lawrence King, 281. ISBN 1-85669-241-8.
- ↑ Taylor & Green 2002, p. 281.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Template:Cite news[dead link]
- ↑ Blake Hall poster advertising proposed closure. Retrieved on 2008-07-17.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 Catford, Nick. Subterranea Britannica: SB-Sites: Blake Hall Station. Subterranea Britannica. Retrieved on 2007-09-29.
- ↑ Epping to Ongar railway line, Essex. urban75. Retrieved on 2007-09-29.
- ↑ The Holden F5 Trust. The Railway to Epping & Ongar. Retrieved on 2007-09-29.
- ↑ Cravens Heritage Trains. Railways to Epping and Ongar. Retrieved on 2007-09-30.
- ↑ 10.0 10.1 Template:Cite news
- ↑ Cravens Heritage Trains. Cravens Heritage Trains: 1960 Train Stock. Retrieved on 2007-09-30.
- ↑ Cravens Heritage Trains. District Dave's London Underground Site.
- ↑ 13.0 13.1 Template:Cite news
- ↑ Template:Cite news
- ↑ Mixed Traffic, Issue 2, April 2005. Retrieved 2007-09-29.
- ↑ 16.0 16.1 16.2 Epping Ongar Railway - Carriage, Wagon & Locomotive Department. Retrieved on 2009-09-29.[dead link]
- ↑ Mixed Traffic, Issue 8, September 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-29.
- ↑ The Railway Magazine, November 2010, page 57
- ↑ http://eorailway.co.uk/news/
- ↑ 1962 tube stock. SQUAREWHEELS.org.uk. Retrieved on 2007-09-30.
- Epping Ongar Railway official website - More information can be found at the official site
- Epping Ongar Railway News - The latest news about Epping Ongar Railway
- Epping and Ongar Railway History - An unofficial site by one of the members of the Volunteer Society on the railway's history.
- London's Abandoned Tube Stations - Photographs of the Epping-Ongar line between 1977 and 1981