There could be a new heritage railway built in South-East London, if plans by the Crossness steam pumping station are realised.
The Crossness pumping station sits within the Thames Water sewage treatment works, and they have recently built a dedicated pedestrian walkway which provides a secure route between a new car park on the outside of the sewage plant, and the heritage site within.
But rather than walk, why not take a ride on a light railway?
The possibility of a light railway being built here has been lurking around since 2011, when the Royal Gunpowder Mills loaned a locomotive to the Crossness team under an agreement to restore it.
That locomotive is a local beast though, being the oil fired steam engine, Avonside 0-4-0T Woolwich, which once worked the light railway built inside the Woolwich Arsenal, when it was a sealed off military factory.
In addition, a diesel locomotive, and some original rolling stock from the Woolwich site has been preserved.
Having a steam light railway at a sewage pumping station also makes heritage sense, as most pumping stations – whether for sewage or fresh water — had light railways to move coal around the site.
Adding to the heritage of the proposed railway, it’s thought that the alignment of the proposed railway, by chance happens to follow that of a temporary railway which was built to support the construction of the treatment works during the 19th century.
In a way, this is a disused railway line coming back into use.
So, an old local locomotive came back to almost its original home, and a planning application filed in 2013 called for the pedestrian walkway to be built, with provision for the railway later.
Later has arrived, and a planning application has now gone in to seek approval for the railway as well. This is part of a wider Heritage Lottery funded scheme to restore more of the original Victorian pumping station to working order and create a new museum on the site, to be known as The Great Stink.
The light railway will be a single track of 18 inch gauge track, with passing loops and two small timber stations at each end. As only a single train will be in use, they hope to avoid the need for signals, but that’s subject to rail regulator approval.
So no signal boxes. Yet, as in the long term, there may be an option to extend the railway from the Crossness car park along the ridgeway towards Plumstead, and then provide a very convenient link to the mainline station.
At the moment, access without a car is by a long walk or bus ride from Abbey Wood station. That is being upgraded for Crossrail, and the builders there have done some voluntary work with the heritage railway to prepare the land.
Although the main purpose of the railway is to replace the 550 metre walk from car park to heritage site, they hope that it will become an attraction in its own right, and that locals will be keen volunteers working and maintaining the trains.
The planning application confirmed that their proposals “will not generate any foul sewage”, but it will generate lots of lovely puffs of smoke and squeals of delight.