DVD recalls memories of last Lowestoft to Ipswich loco haul on East Coast Line
06:30 14 May 2014
They were used by commuters, businessmen and holidaymakers travelling non-stop on a three-hour journey between Lowestoft and Liverpool Street.
Back in 1959 there were seven loco-hauled services a day that enabled people in Lowestoft and the surrounding area to reach London without the inconvenience of changing trains.
But, despite escaping the axe after the Beeching report in 1963, by 1984 there was only one still running on the East Suffolk Line that departed Lowestoft at 7.17am and returned at 4.50pm.
And in poignant scenes on Saturday, May 12 that year, part on the area’s railway heritage trundled into history as the service was finally phased out.
When the train arrived back in Lowestoft it was adorned with two boards – one wishing it a happy retirement as a small crowd of people looked on.
Now the memories of that last locomotive and other trains on the East Suffolk line in the 1980s have been brought back to life in footage from Norfolk filmmaker and historian Keith Buttifant.
Mr Buttifant has produced a DVD called The East Suffolk Line in the 80s, featuring remastered footage he shot at the time to make sure images would remain of the final journeys made by the train.
The hour-long DVD features all the stations between Lowestoft and Ipswich, many of which, including Beccles, Brampton and Melton, have changed greatly over the last three decades.
There are evocative scenes of manual level-crossing gates being swung across roads to enable trains to go by, and of signalmen pulling heavy levers in their signal boxes, together with drivers’ eye views of the line.
Mr Buttifant was also allowed to make a visit to the swing bridge over Lake Lothing in Oulton Broad, and the DVD includes a fascinating sequence of the bridge in operation, taken from the swinging span as it opens to allow passage to river traffic.
The DVD also features the phased-out loco haul on a journey from Lowestoft to Norwich as it passed Somerleyton, Haddiscoe and Cantley.
Mr Buttifant, of Thorpe St Andrew, near Norwich, said: “The East Suffolk line, running from Lowestoft to Ipswich, will surely go down in history as one of the great survivors of the railway age.
“Back in the summer of 1959, there were some 17 daily departures from Lowestoft Central station to Beccles and beyond, seven of which enabled passengers to travel through to Liverpool Street without a change of train.
“However, just four years later, the line was recommended for closure in the Beeching report, and only a vociferous and well-organised local campaign prevented the railway from being lost for ever.
“During the ensuing years, the trains to and from London were gradually whittled away, and by the start of 1984 there was just one left.
“Every weekday morning, this train set out from Lowestoft at 7.17am –arriving at Liverpool Street just under three hours later, with the train back to Suffolk leaving the capital at 4.50pm.
“Consisting of nine mainline coaches and a buffet car, it was a marked contrast to the rattling diesel railcars which operated the remainder of the services.
“Thirty years ago though, on May 12, 1984, this train ran for the last time.”
At the same time, the whole route through to Ipswich was being modernised, with the installation of a new state-of-the-art radio signalling system and automatic level-crossing barriers replacing former manual operations.
Long sections of the line were reduced from double-to single-track as an economy measure, thus severely limiting the number of trains which the line could handle, and it is only in the last year or so that this situation has been improved by the reinstated double line in Beccles.
The Beeching report of 1963 led to a nationwide cull of 2,2128 stations, but the East Suffolk Line escaped the axe thanks to fierce local opposition.
Some 1,914 written letters of objection were sent in and the campaign spawned the East Suffolk Travellers’ Association which continues to work on behalf of local rail travellers to this day.
■ The East Suffolk Line in the 80s costs £14.99, with £3 for postage and packing, and can be ordered online at www.picturesintime.co.uk or by post from Keith Buttifant, 50A Hillcrest Road, Thorpe St Andrew, Norwich NR7 0JU. (Cheques made out to Keith Buttifant).