Leighton Buzzard Light Railway

Leighton Buzzard Light Railway

Heritage Railway
name = Leighton Buzzard Light Railway

caption = A train on the LBLR being pulled by no. 11 "PC Allen"
locale = England
terminus = Leighton Buzzard
linename = Leighton Buzzard Light Railway
builtby = A.J. Arnold and G. Garside
originalgauge = RailGauge|24
preservedgauge = RailGauge|24
era =
owned =
operator = Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway Society
stations = 2
length = 3 miles
originalopen = 1919
closed = 1969
stageyears = 1968
stage = First passenger trains run by preservation society

The Leighton Buzzard Light Railway (LBLR) is a narrow gauge light railway in the town of Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire, England. It operates on a RailGauge|24 gauge, and is just under 3 miles (4.8 km) in length. The line was built just after the First World War to serve the many sand quarries to the north of the town. In the late 1960s the sand quarries switched to road transport and the railway was taken over by a group of volunteers who now run the line as a heritage railway.


Sand extraction

A bed of Lower Cretaceous sand runs across Bedfordshire and these have been quarried on a small scale for several centuries. The most significant quarries occur around the town of Leighton Buzzard. In the 19th century sand was carried by horse-drawn carts from the quarries south of the town to be shipped on the Dunstable-Leighton Buzzard railway. These carts caused considerable damage to the roads of the district and resulted in claims for compensation against the quarry owners from the Bedfordshire County Council. At the end of the century steam wagons were introduced which increased the damage to roads.

The outbreak of the First World War meant that sand supplies of foundry sand from Belgium were cut off. Sand was needed for the British ammunition factories and new sources of high quality sand were sought. Leighton Buzzard sands proved well suited to these needs and production in the region increased dramatically.

After the war ended in 1919 the quarry companies were told they could no longer transport their product over local roads, so a private industrial railway was proposed to take the traffic.

The original railway

The Leighton Buzzard Light Railway opened on Thursday November 20, 1919, linking the sand quarries (Double Arches at the far end of the line) with the mainline railway to the south of the town at Grovebury sidings. The line was originally built using surplus equipment obtained from the War Department Light Railways. The railway was built to a gauge of 2 foot and laid using mostly 30lb rail. The line opened using steam traction provided by two Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0 side tank steam locomotives. These proved inappropriate for the tightly-curved line and the steam locomotives were sold in 1921. From that point on the railway was run entirely using internal combustion locomotives, almost exclusively the products of the Motor Rail company. It was one of the first railways in Britain to be entirely operated by internal combustion locomotives.

After the Second World War sand traffic began to return to the road system. In 1953 a strike on the mainline railways pushed more traffic onto the roads. By the mid-1960s only one of the sand quarry companies, Arnold's, still used the light railway to carry sand. The mainline to Dunstable was lifted in 1965.

The preservation era

In 1968 the line was much more lightly used, and volunteers under the name of "The Iron Horse Railway Preservation Society" took over the line on weekends to run passenger trains. These were the first formal passenger services to run on the line. Part of the agreement between the railway and the volunteers was that the volunteers would carry out the repairs that were necessary to the permanent way. This was immediatly undertaken, the group having purchased some second hand rolling stock and 4 Simplex diesels from the St. Albans Sand and Gravel company, which were dismantled and formed into one reliable machine. The last sand train ran on the main line in 1969, although several of the quarries continued to used the rail lines within their quarries. These too were eventually replaced by roads and conveyor belts and the last internal quarry line was abandoned in 1981. Today the line is run purely as a heritage railway.

A large collection of steam and internal combustion locomotives run on the line. Visitors can ride the train for a small Fare and are issued with an Edmonson ticket to do so. There is a significant collection of historic industrial railway locomotives on display at Stonehenge Works at the northern end of the line.

The route

The line is somewhat unusual as it runs mostly through numerous modern housing estates, which have been built since the 1970s, although the last half mile of the line runs through countryside. There are a number of open level crossings for which trains have to stop.

The railway began at the Grovesbury Sidings, where sand trains unloaded into a series of washers and the sand was transshipped to either standard gauge trains on the Dunstable branch or to road. The complex of sidings and industrial plant at Grovesbury was replaced with an industrial estate in the early 1970s.

Trains from Grovesbury crossed the Billington Road by a level crossing and worked up a steep grade to Page's Park. Here a branch line to the south connected to the line's main engineering workshop and the Pratt's Pit quarry. In 2006 Page's Park forms the southern terminus of the heritage railway.

From Page's Park the line curves to the north towards a summit at Red Barn. From there it descends at a gradient of 1 in 60 before climbing again to cross Stanbridge Road. On the left is the site of Marley's Tile Works,now a housing estate, which was connected to the railway for most of its existence. The line then descends Marley's Bank at a maximum gradient of 1 in 25. Loaded sand trains running to Grovebury Sidings would often need an additional banking locomotive to climb this incline.

At the bottom of Marley's Bank the line turns sharply north and runs along the level to Leedon Loop. The line here is passing through a housing estate built in the mid 1970s. After leaving Leedon, the railway crosses the Hockliffe Road and crosses the Clipstone Brook and begins to climb again on a 1 in 50 gradient to cross the Vandyke Road.

Immediately after crossing the Vandyke Road the line curves sharply through 90 degrees to Vandyke Junction where there was a passing loop. Here the branch line from Chamberlain's Barn and New Trees quarries joined the main line. A short section of this branch remains intact although heritage trains do not use it. The railway then runs parallel to the Vandyke Road, climbing steadily to a summit at Bryan's Loop and then descending again to cross the Shenley Hill Road. The line levels and continues to Stonehenge Works now the main engineering workshop of the preserved railway. This is also the northern terminus of modern operations.

From Stonehenge the line continues northwards with a mile-long section of double track, climbing towards the two Double Arches sand quarries, owned by Joseph Arnold and George Garside.

Preserved locomotives

These are the locomotives operating on the preserved railway

team locomotives

Visiting locomotives



ee also

*British narrow gauge railways

External links

* [http://www.buzzrail.co.uk/ Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway website]
* [http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Leighton_Buzzard_Narrow_Gauge_Railway More pictures on Wikimedia Commons]

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