At our June meeting we were pleased to welcome Keith Parkinson, the chairman of the Nene Valley Railway, as our speaker. He described the early history of the railway and some of the developments and notable events during its 40 year history.
The railway very much relies on the voluntary help of some of its 1500 members as well as the expertise of the 15 paid staff. The number of visitors has risen from 56,000 in 2013 to 71,000 in 2017. The railway runs on a 7.5 mile length of track which extends from Peterborough to Yarwell and passes through a tunnel under the A1 trunk road. The line itself was opened in 1847 to provide a connection between Peterborough and Northampton and other towns in the Midlands and carried passengers until 1966 and freight until 1972 when it was closed. The 7.5 miles of track were then purchased by the Peterborough Development Corporation in 1974 and who later leased it to what was to become the Nene valley Railway. The first public train ran in June 1977 consisting of a set of ex-BR electric multiple units hauled by a French and a Swedish locomotive; nowadays the railway runs a timetabled service throughout the year using steam and diesel locomotives. At present the railway owns only a few operational steam locomotives and has to rely upon engines loaned from other preserved railways to operate the full timetable. In the early days when a number of other preserved railways were being developed there was a shortage of suitable British steam locomotives and rolling stock and the Nene Valley Railway therefore had to resort to acquiring some European locomotives and the associated rolling stock. However since then the railway have been able to acquire British engines and rolling stock and the European engines and carriages have been phased out. In addition to acquiring rolling stock the railway has had an extensive building programme including the construction of buildings at the various stations along the line and a new HQ with various station facilities at Wansford.
A unique feature of the railway is that it has a connection to the main line at Fletton through a branch line. Originally the permanent way of the branch line was in a poor condition and there was a weight restriction in force. However in 2012 the ownership of the branch was passed to the Nene Valley Railway who were then able to relay the track and so lift the weight restriction. The main line connection has proved to be very useful on several occasions such as when steam engines on main line excursion trains have broken down. Both the ‘Tornado’ and the ‘Flying Scotsman’ have recently suffered this indignity and have been brought to Wansford via the Fletton branch and stabled in the yard for repairs to be carried out. (See photos of Flying Scotsman bottom right of our pages, courtesy of David King, Member)
The Nene Valley Railway has something of a celebrity status in other fields having been used as a setting for Bond films and TV series as well as carrying the 2012 Olympic flame. Despite its success the railway has no plans to extend its track but would like to acquire a few more steam engines of its own.
It is perhaps a little ironic that a line that was closed because of a lack of passengers has now become a major well supported tourist attraction with thousands of visitors.