Rail dream back on track
RICHARD BATSON The dream of a circular rail route around Norfolk is back on track after hopes grew of reconnecting a vital link.A vision for an orbital railway was launched in 2000 by a band of enthusiasts keen to revive axed branch lines and connect preservation railways with the main network.
The dream of a circular rail route around Norfolk is back on track after hopes grew of reconnecting a vital link.
A vision for an orbital railway was launched in 2000 by a band of enthusiasts keen to revive axed branch lines and connect preservation railways with the main network.
The biggest piece of the £35m jigsaw, aimed at commuters and tourists alike, is between Holt and Fakenham but a vital “corner piece” is a 100 yard stretch at Sheringham, which has recently received a boost.
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Network Rail has signalled that it would consider allowing an “occasional use” crossing reconnecting the Bittern commuter line and the North Norfolk Railway tourist attraction - to allow enthusiasts' trains to run into the steam line from as far afield as London.
The news has heartened supporters of the Norfolk Orbital Railway. David Bill, one of the directors, is the son of the last station master at Sheringham before the line was axed with many other rural branches in the 1960s.
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“This is great news. We are all celebrating,” he said.
It falls short of the orbital team's original hopes of moving the commuter station into the steam yard - something which the North Norfolk Railway say they would prefer to avoid to stop everyday trains and passengers spoiling the atmosphere of their period platforms.
But Mr Bill said he still hoped it could be a solution, to allow longer service trains into Sheringham, and get more people exploring the north Norfolk coast by train and linked buses rather than in cars on crowded roads.
He was even prepared to pay the first £1,000 to see Sheringham station rebuild in a style which would blend in with the steam line.
The occasional use plan paved the way for future expansion of the railway however he added.
Under the orbital plan the Sheringham link needs to be connected, and the North Norfolk Railway extended to Fakenham to meet a lengthened Mid Norfolk Railway stretch from Dereham to Fakenham. The circle would be completed by existing rail links from Wymondham to Norwich and on to Cromer.
Engineering and public surveys by the orbital team have claimed it was both feasible and popular, but that the hardest, and probably costliest, part was getting around Holt where the old route had been reused as a bypass.
And it has had its critics, with detractors querying the huge price tag of rebuilding ripped up tracks and bridges, as well as the forecast number of users, which some said would only be a few enthusiasts rather than providing a serious commuter option.
But Mr Bill still felt the original dream was achievable, and fellow supporters were keeping up pressure to ensure planners protected the route by stopping any development on it.
“It is a tremendous challenge, but it can happen if we safeguard what is left,” he added.
Anyone interested in supporting the Norfolk Orbital Railway Project should write to HMCFR Ltd, The Railway Institute, Melton Constable, Norfolk, NR24 2DA,