Over the weekend, the still under refurbishment Eping-Ongar Railway had an open day. Officially to celebrate the restoration of one of their train stations, which was far from finished, I overheard on chap comment that actually it was an attempt to recruit more volunteers to help with the final push to reopen the line properly again.
Well, whatever the reason, it is actually I quite liked the chance to see the station in partial repair than to turn up after everything is polished and perfect. Dereliction has its appeals, even if it meant some limits to the toilet facilities.
That said, I did approve of the use of the waste water from the hand basin being used to flush the men’s urinal. More of that sort of thing please.
On approaching the station, it is apparent that works are still underway with the unfinished road sending up clouds of dust whenever a vintage bus churned up the ground and an old BT phone box looking very sorry for itself.
The future footbridge was also unrealistically close to the ground, as it hadn’t been lifted up over the railway yet. Repainted and waiting to be installed, the bridge is actually from Woodford train station on the Central Line – dating from when it was the Great Eastern Railway – and was donated by Ongar Railway Preservation Society. Currently to cross the line we used the level crossing (itself donated by Network Rail after being removed from a Norwich train line), which is a novel experience for most city dwellers.
Approaching the station building itself, I was swiftly accosted and encouraged to take a trip on one of their trains. Given the choice of a passenger trip (£2), a cab ride in the little engine (£5) or in the big engine (£7) I took the middle option.
I also then missed the next available ride as the cab was full with its limit of four people, so lingered around trying not to sneeze too often as the plants in the local fields engaged in sexual congress.
Eventually though, back came the little diesel shunter, by which time a small crowd had gathered on the platform, and I had to artfully squeeze myself to the front to ensure I got on this trip. Queuing is definitely going out of fashion.
After a delay due to changes of drivers and chance to peer at the very mechanical layout inside, with a sudden lurch, we were off. Just a run along the tracks towards Ongar Station, then back again, but four of us were inside the drivers cab. How exciting!
It was pointed out that the track is in quite poor condition along this stretch, and the locomotive shudders and rumbled as it growled its way along the tree lined permanent way. A wave to people watching from a road bridge. Then stopped just before the track became a bit too worrying, and slowly reversed back.
Do try not to notice the hole in the floor.
Do however notice the remains of the electric isolators in the middle of the railway – the remains of the time this was part of the Central Line before it closed down in Sept 1994.
This stretch of railtrack has a lot of heritage associated with it, and can be dated as far back as 1865, but the lack of expected housing in the area meant it was never very popular. Taken over by London Underground in 1949, it still struggled to generate revenues and when it closed was carrying just 80 passengers per day.
Later, and rather controversially, the Epping to Ongar tracks and stations were brought and opened again by an independent operator, but this also failed to be that successful.
The line closed again in 2008 and the works since than have been dedicated to restoring the line in order to run heritage steam trains along it.
The open day though, was still based around their diesel engines and some old passenger carriages.
Eventually the cab ride was over as we pulled backwards into the station, after the level crossing had been closed and off to let more people have a ride. Quite fun, even if taking a photo in a bone-shaking drivers cab proved surprisingly difficult.
The restored old fashioned signal box was full of people who looked like they might be settling down for a long time, so barely a chance to get a decent look around.
However, and surprisingly little visited, were the old passenger carriages, one of which I can just about recall being in use when I moved back to the UK – so that was more nostalgic than the cab ride, which had just been a bit of fun. These carriages though are in dire need of some TLC, and I think a wasps nest has taken up residence in one of them.
It was also quite interesting to see an evolution of the No Smoking signs within trains. Might investigate that a bit more one day.
Overall, an enjoyable hour or so at the station. There were heritage buses running around the area, but they had a very steep price as I would only have wanted to take one trip, so I walked back to Epping. A moderately pleasant walk of 40 minutes or so.
According to a note on their website, there were 1168 people who visited the station on the day, which is not bad for a station almost in the middle of nowhere. Later this year, or more likely next, they will reopen the line again as a heritage railway.
As I understand it, the eventual aim is to restore the line all the way back to Epping tube station, and if so that should substantially boost visitors, as it would be a lot easier for public-transport based visitors who dislike 40 minute countryside walks to travel up for a trip on a steam train.
I’ll book a trip in the drivers cab for that!
More photos in my photo gallery.