Born from the Industrial Revolution, it was a system that, in its heyday, helped bring to life Norfolk’s countryside for tourists and commuters alike.

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But with so much of the county’s railway hacked away in the 1950s and 1960s, are plans of adding a link back into the region’s broken chain just a dream?

The vision for a reborn orbital railway line was launched in 2000 by a band of enthusiasts keen to revive axed branch lines and connect preservation railways with the main network.

Built in the late Victorian era, the importance of the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway – whose original route forms the northern section of the proposed circular route – is emphasised by co-director of Norfolk Orbital Railway, David Bill, who claimed it “opened up the tourism industry” and made Cromer and Sheringham the towns they are today.

“But by the early sixties the government of the day turned its back on the railways and was looking for ways to cut back the system,” he said.

“The cuts in Norfolk were deep and savage and at one point the plan was to wipe everything out.

“A group of us tried to save what we could and put a tremendous amount of effort in to saving the Sheringham to Weybourne, and then to Holt, line – we succeeded.”

The group’s aim is to create a circular route taking in Norwich, Cromer, Sheringham, Fakenham, Dereham and Wymondham.

Currently the biggest missing piece of the jigsaw is between Holt and Fakenham and while the Bittern Line, North Norfolk Railway (NNR) and Mid Norfolk Railway (MNR) have already gone some way to restoring the loop, the missing links remain between High Kelling and North Elmham.

Under the orbital plan the heritage NNR would extend to Fakenham to meet a lengthened MNR stretch from Dereham to Wymondham.

The circuit would then be completed at Wymondham to join back up with the main line to Norwich.

And despite critics querying the high price tag, the project was given real impetus in March 2010 when 100 yards of track was laid at Sheringham to connect the NNR with the commuter service on to Cromer and Norwich.

The next stage for the NNR is to take the line from its current stop a mile outside Holt into the town centre, alongside the A148 bypass to Common Hill.

Co-director Trevor Bailey said: “We now have signed an agreement which will allow us to purchase the privately-owned land – if we can raise the money – and the county council would like to sell their portion of the land to us.”

It is expected to cost between £200,000 and £250,000 to secure the land, which would pave the way to re-instating the track – and the group has already launched an appeal for donations.

Mr Bill said the only way to move the “very expensive exercise” forward would be through private donations and although “worthwhile”, estimated the project would cost millions and take many years to complete.

“When you look at the NNR now you see one of the most successful, original initiatives you could have imagined, which brings in thousands of tourists every year,” he said.

“If we had not started our group all these years ago and instead listened to our critics, then we would not be seeing the 150,000 visitors we now see each year – there wouldn’t be one. We have every reason to argue for it.”

The orbital team claim that engineering and public surveys carried out confirm the project is feasible but Mr Bill admitted there will still be challenges.

“Once we acquire the land in Holt there will be difficult engineering works to carry out to bring the land to a state where the track can be laid,” he said.

“Times have moved on – the system that now operates on the NNR and the MNR is different to what works on network rail. The technology has changed. There are solutions to this but there are barriers also – you cannot put right overnight the destruction of 40 years ago. The ability and potential is there, it’s just one huge challenge.”

Mr Bill also emphasised the importance of making a commuter line a reality to bring the railway “back to its original purpose”.

Echoing that ethos, Richard Ellis, chairman of Norfolk Tourism and Visit East Anglia, said: “If it becomes a reality, it could be a tourism attraction in its own right as well as a boost to those visitors who want to access our wonderful destination without resorting to using a car.

“Thus it would boost sustainable tourism in the county as well as potentially being an additional tourist attraction in its own right.”

Mr Bill added: “Our view is that as the tourist trade expands it will be appropriate to reintroduce a regular service to commuters, shoppers and schoolchildren.

“We need to be putting right the damage that should never have happened in the first place.”

To support the appeal, send donations to The Holt, Melton Constable and Fakenham Railway Co, The Railway Institute, Melton Constable, Norfolk NR24 2DA.

Anyone interested in finding out more about the project can visit www.norfolk-orbital-railway.co.uk.

COMMENT – Page 20

15 comments

  • If only all the original tracks had been 'mothballed' when Dr Beeching wielded his axe we may have seen the re opening of much of Norfolks lost rail network. The work of the Norfolk Orbital Railway is too be admired but I fear it is too late for the Fakenham part of the jigsaw.

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    caroline jacobs

    Monday, April 9, 2012

  • PB, R.Beeching was appointed to the role by the Conservative Minister of Transport, Ernest Marples. He was by profession a physicist and engineer and was second choice for the role of Chairman of the British Railways Board. His recommendations were in line with the views of those who appointed him so it is hardly surprising that they were so readily accepted. Many of the routes he recommended for closure were based on usage figures which are as hotly disputed today as they were then. However, his main failing was to not see the potential to reorganise loss making lines by introducing new working practices and technology. It is this aspect which he manifestly failed to recognise which makes his appointment so regrettable . Unfortunately, then as now, the initial Conservative and then Labour administrations which so enthusiastically adopted his plans were in debt to the road transport lobby which in itself carried, and still carries, political sway. The fact that at the time of his appointment he received a salary 2 and half times greater than the head of any other nationalised industry must raise a number of questions which to this day remain unanswered.

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    Douglas McCoy

    Tuesday, April 10, 2012

  • Don't know where the photograph came from but it does not look like the NNR to me. I am still of the view that I think it is unlikely that this scheme will ever be financed or viable to run. It is nice idea but many preserved lines are fully aware that costs for keeping locos and carriages running are increasing substantially as rolling stock gets older and requires major work to keep it going. The orbital railway appears to rely very heavily on the funding and efforts of others without putting a great deal in themselves other than ideas.

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    andy

    Monday, April 9, 2012

  • Norfolk Orbital Railway going through Fakenham - not via the old line that is now impossible as there are houses where the track used to be - or will those homeowners be offered substantial money to move elsewhere ? The idea of Norfolk Orbital Railway sounds great but come on - anyone with even a small amount of brain knows the line cannot go where trains used to run. Dream on !

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    Stop Press

    Monday, April 9, 2012

  • Andy, the photo is indeed of the NNR it shows Sheringham Station and was clearly taken during the steam gala in March as it shows the new trackwork in the station, the loco on the right is 9F Black Prince currently resident on the line, the photo is clearly taken from Church ST road bridge :)

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    norfolkman

    Monday, April 9, 2012

  • I do become worried about the head in the sand attitude that many people seem to adopt when they dismiss the idea of trying to re-establish a rail line between Holt and Fakenham. Of course it would be expensive and of course it would present engineering challenges. However, to assume that private motoring and alternative forms of transport such as buses will remain viable in the future is also very debatable. There is little doubt that increases in petroleum prices and a lack of investment in the road network will all contribute to even more hardship for those who rely on a car to continue to afford one. Given that within the next decade the government has indicated that it wishes to see toll roads extended one has to ask how long it will be before that idea gets expanded to include areas outside of the motorway network? If we are not to suddenly find ourselves left without any other options then it is necessary to look at alternatives to the car, bus and lorry for moving passengers and freight around. The Bittern Line in common with other lines serving rural areas has enjoyed a reversal of its fortunes because it has shown that many thousands of people prefer the train if it can be provided at a realistic cost and is reliable. Compared to other forms of transport trains enjoy many advantages including safety and a greatly reduced environmental impact. Whilst I'm not a 'train buff' or member of the 'green brigade' I do not believe that we should ignore the option of having more than one egg in the basket when it comes to the ability to move people and goods around.

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    Douglas McCoy

    Tuesday, April 10, 2012

  • Thank you norfolkman you are quite correct. I am not used to seeing a loco on that side of the platform with the smoke obscuring the car park.

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    andy

    Tuesday, April 10, 2012

  • I really do think the people who state that the railway cannot be reinstated around Fakenham cannot have troubled to look at the plans for exactly how the route will go. I know for a fact that it will go nowhere near the parts of the old track bed that are now built upon. I am told that shortly this will be explained on the NOR website, where you are welcome to contact them too.

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    Joey

    Tuesday, April 10, 2012

  • Extend the MNR to Fakenham maybe, that would be worthwhile and achievable. However, beyond that is an utter pipe dream. It is not remotely affordable and there are 101 more deserving priorities, even if the aim is to raise private money. Maybe restoring the line between Lowestoft and Yarmouth would be more beneficial!

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    Tom Jeffries

    Monday, April 9, 2012

  • I really do think the people who state that the railway cannot be reinstated around Fakenham cannot have troubled to look at the plans for exactly how the route will go. I know for a fact that it will go nowhere near the parts of the old track bed that are now built upon. I am told that shortly this will be explained on the NOR website, where you are welcome to contact them too.

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    Joey

    Tuesday, April 10, 2012

  • I really do think the people who state that the railway cannot be reinstated around Fakenham cannot have troubled to look at the plans for exactly how the route will go. I know for a fact that it will go nowhere near the parts of the old track bed that are now built upon. I am told that shortly this will be explained on the NOR website, where you are welcome to contact them too.

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    Joey

    Tuesday, April 10, 2012

  • Another hair brained scheme -where is the money coming from? The route will be explained on the NOR website...oh yeah! so that will depreciate the value of any nearby properties and passing through Pensthorpe Wildlife Park - I doubt it. If they wanted to invest in railways they should start with much needed improvements to the Bittern Line which has grown out of all proportion to the rural byway it was when Beeching proposed closure (note - Beeching made proposals he never closed any railways as that was done by the politicians).

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    Public Champion

    Tuesday, April 10, 2012

  • I really do think the people who state that the railway cannot be reinstated around Fakenham cannot have troubled to look at the plans for exactly how the route will go. I know for a fact that it will go nowhere near the parts of the old track bed that are now built upon. I am told that shortly this will be explained on the NOR website, where you are welcome to contact them too.

    Report this comment

    Joey

    Tuesday, April 10, 2012

  • Norfolk Orbital Railway going through Fakenham - not via the old line that is now impossible as there are houses where the track used to be - or will those homeowners be offered substantial money to move elsewhere ? The idea of Norfolk Orbital Railway sounds great but come on - anyone with even a small amount of brain knows the line cannot go where trains used to run. Dream on !

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    Stop Press

    Monday, April 9, 2012

  • Whilst I think the long-term cost of putting 'heavy rail' back on the route may be too high, It would not be impossible for a 'light railway' approach. On the other hand lines have reopened elsewhere in the UK - think Mansfield, Ebbw Vale, Alloa etc. All places that thought they'd lost their regular trains for good in the 1960s.

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    2-wheels

    Monday, April 9, 2012

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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