Enthusiasts mark 10 years of work on lost railway lines. Poulton and Wyre Railway Society’s David Cox outlines the progress made so far.
Eleven years ago a group of residents of Thornton, along with others, made a decision to ask Network Rail if they could be granted permission to clear all the weeds, trees, bushes and undergrowth that had accumulated at Thornton Station, writes Poulton and Wyre Railway Society’s David Cox.
Their aim, at that time, was to tidy up a part of their town which had been used as a general dumping ground and was now littered with all manner of rubbish.
The fences were broken down and the old station at Thornton was being used as a place for drug addicts to go for a fix.
The old rail track had lain unused for nearly 40 years just rusting away.
During their research into getting permission for them to carry out this task, they discovered another group of locals were proposing to use the old track bed as a cycle track.
When the group learned of the proposed plans to make the unused track a cycle way, they thought why not reinstate the railway as well?
Having once been two tracks but being reduced to one many years ago, the group suggested why not have both a cycle way and a railway.
A meeting was arranged for the two parties to come together.
At that meeting it became apparent that it would not be possible to have a cycle track running alongside the railway, due to the lack of space.
It was decided at this meeting that the two groups should merge and for reopening the railway, thus the Poulton and Wyre Railway Society (PWRS) was born.
A licence was obtained from Northern Rail for the group to clear the line and so the work began.
The volunteers faced a massive task.
They started at Thornton Station, removing all the rubbish which had been dumped over the years – anything from beer cans to shopping trollies and old broken toilets.
They also removed many hundreds of used hypodermic needles left by drug users.
There were many large old trees which had grown and many of these were in a dangerous state.
In the beginning the volunteers used their own tools for the task, as money was sparse, but a time came when heavy equipment was required to remove heavy items or old tree stumps that the team had removed, some of them by hand taking many hours of very hard work.
It was at this time that the Wyre Council stepped in and helped the fledgling society.
The PWRS was ,and is still, most appreciative and grateful for their assistance then and on-going, helping whenever they are able with the loan of equipment and transporting materials for us and erecting the secure fencing at Butts Close where our base will be when we are able to build it.
Without their assistance we would not be in the position we are today.
The Preston and Wyre Railway and Harbour company opened on July 15, 1840 having taken just four years to construct and at the time it was the most northern line in operation in the UK.
The project was the vision of the High Sheriff of Lancashire, Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood, and the route was built to connect the new port of Fleetwood to the industrial town of Preston.
Constructed by George and Robert Stephenson (and in part Joseph Locke) it formed an important section of the first through route from London to Scotland.
Passengers would disembark at Fleetwood and catch a steamer to complete the journey to Glasgow by sea.
The line was once home to stations serving Thornton, Burn Naze and Fleetwood but only Poultonremains open to passengers today.
And the section from Poulton to Fleetwood closed to passengers in 1970 and finally to freight in 1999.
Over the past 10 years the volunteers have removed dangerous trees cleared tons of rubbish from the track at both Thornton and Burn Naze stations along with all the brambles, nettles and the garden shrubs which had grown from seeds most probably dropped by birds.
Of course we had to take into account the needs of the wildlife; restricting when we were able to prune trees hedges and bushes.
To encourage birds to continue to frequent the land where the track is the volunteers have put up many nesting boxes along the line and there are signs these are being used.
There are many miles of fencing along the line and the society has repaired and replaced many sections of this, but there is still more to repair or replace, especially at the Fleetwood end.
There is also a need to repair and replace sections of the track, mostly at Jameson Road.
We are fortunate that Fleetwood Town Council has joined us and launched their ‘Fleetwood back on track’ campaign; we welcome their help with this project.
Both Burn Naze and Thornton stations have had a lot of work carried out on them, and they are both now in excellent condition, but they both will need some further work before we start to operate trains.
The future is looking good – we are getting close to the possibility of gaining a licence to run trains on a limited part of the line, but negotiations are still on-going.
The 1970s diesel multiple unit train was purchased last autumn for £15,000 and is undergoing restoration but more funds are needed for the work to be completed with the cost likely to be an additional £15,000.
The Fowler shunter is nearing completion at Burn Naze and the lads have done a sterling job.
It will be a wonderful day when we roll out our diesel multiple unit or the Fowler and take the local kids and their dads for a ride, if only a short one.
The end of the tunnel is in sight, but we still have to continue the work to make our dream come true.
Back on track
In 2007 the line was leased to Poulton and Wyre Railway Society to allow them to restore stations and the line, with the hope of reinstating services or opening a tourist attraction.