Could the railway line between King’s Lynn and Hunstanton finally be re-opened, campaigners ask on its 150th anniversary

Hunstanton Railway Station in its heyday, in 1905. Campaigners hope the line could be reopened.

Hunstanton Railway Station in its heyday, in 1905. Campaigners hope the line could be reopened.

Archant © 2012

Campaigners were still hopeful the King’s Lynn to Hunstanton railway could be restored, as an exhibition celebrating its history opened yesterday.

Bid to recreate classic engine

Nearly a century ago, juggernauts of steam hauled express trains on the iron roads that stretched from Liverpool Street to East Anglia.

Now enthusiasts hope to recreate an iconic engine, which inspired a class named after Norfolk’s Royal residence.

None of the 73 Sandringhams, which could thunder between Norwich and London in less than two hours, survive.

A project to build a replica launched in 2008 hit the buffers after its founder died and sufficient funds to cover the £2.7m cost of the project weren’t forthcoming.

Now a new B17 Steam Locomotive Trust has been set up to relaunch the appeal. Officials expect it will take at least 10 years to finance and build the engine.

At yesterday’s exhibition, the trust’s chairman Brian Hall said its 90 members were being balloted on whether to name the engine Spirit of Sandringham.

“We’re looking first and foremost for a strong brand going forward,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go.”

Retired engineer Mr Hall said whatever its name, the new engine would be built in stages as funds became available.

The first £56,000 will pay for the locomotive’s chassis.

In 2008, enthusiasts completed a replica of a larger A1 steam locomotive, Tornado, after 18 years’ fund raising to cover the £3m cost of the project.

A suitable tender for Sandringham has been found and is currently being cared for on the Mid Norfolk Railway, at Dereham, where the engine would eventually be based.

The first 40 or so Sandringhams were named after stately homes, bearing names like Gunton and Gayton Hall.

Mr Hall said later variants were named after football teams. But while there was a Norwich City and a Tottenham Hotspur, there was no Ipswich Town, because the Tractor Boys weren’t elected to the football league until 1938 - the year after the last Sandringham was built.

There was optimism despite the latest apparent blow to the project, in the shape of planning permission for a new pub on part of the former track bed.

On Monday, councillors agreed Marston’s brewery could build a “food led” pub opposite Tesco, on Hunstanton’s Southend Road.

They considered a report which admitted that the scheme would “undermine the potential for the railway line to be reinstated”, but said it would create 50 jobs.

Yet as the exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of the line opened at Hunstanton Town Hall yesterday, campaigners said 90pc of the track bed still remained.

Hunstanton Civic Society member Brian Holmes, who organised the event, said more than 300 people had visited on its opening day.

“At the moment, the aim is getting the local people to support it,” he said. “This town needs an alternative means of transport, it can’t tolerate the A149 much longer.

“We know there are problems with the existing route, although 90pc of it is still there all the stations are now privately-owned.”

Former West Norfolk mayor Colin Sampson, chairman of the Fen Line Users Association, said: “I’ve always been of the opinion we wouldn’t put the rails back where they were originally.

“If we were going to do it, it would be light railway. If we forget the financing of the project and look at could we put the rails back, yes we could.

“The railway would be a tourist attraction in its own right. It’s pie in the sky to some people but it’s still just technically feasible.”

The route, which snaked north from Lynn across the marsh, boasted a grand Royal Station at Wolferton, on the Sandringham Estate, fit for the comings and goings of Kings and Queens.

Last night retired engineer Richard Brown, the owner of the Royal Station, who now lives in it, said he wouldn’t object if trains stopped at its platforms again.

“I wouldn’t mind at all, because I’m a railway enthusiast,” he said. “My father and mother worked on the railway, we’re a railway family from York.”

From Wolferton, there were stations at Dersingham, Snettisham and Heacham, before the terminus on the seafront at Sunny Hunny.

Hunstanton literally grew around the railway as seaside holidays became all the rage in Victorian times. But passenger traffic declined in the 1950s and 60s as cars became commonplace.

Through trains from London were withdrawn and replaced by a diesel shuttle, in 1959. By the time it closed, in 1969, the line was losing £40,000 a year.

Last night Network Rail said there were currently no plans to re-open the route. But that didn’t necessarily mean it was the end of the line.

“We are aware that some people in the area have an aspiration to see the line reopened,” a spokesman said.

“We haven’t received any serious proposals to reopen the line. Any interest must be met with a sound business case as Network Rail has a duty to deliver the best value for money.”

The exhibition is open at hunstanton Town Hall today and tomorrow, from 1 - 7pm. Entry is free.

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