The Branch Line Society


Epping Ongar Railway - 'The Clickety Click'
Friday 4th October 2016

Report by Darren Garnon

The 08.00 heritage bus departure from Epping station was the first milestone of this long AGM weekend, long as in distance too - we were 82 miles from the East Kent AGM venue! About 25 members gathered awaiting their transport to North Weald station. Given the frenetic activity outside (and inside) Epping station, with very frequent trains, many commuters, parking and multiple school coaches manoeuvring in the tight turning circle, it was perhaps fortunate that our own transport, a heritage green Routemaster, was not early. There simply was not room for this additional 'BLS special' to wait at North Weald.

After an excellent breakfast, included in the day's package, and now with a full (including stomachs) complement of 45 members, the real business began. Negotiations with the EOR to run this tour had started almost a year before, and many lines initially were thought of as 'too difficult' to consider for valid operational reasons. A year on, dozens of phone calls later and a summertime face to face site visit drinking tea and appraising the options, there were grounds for greater optimism, but at that time no published working timetable was available to our BLS organiser. We would have to wait and see!

With 31438 in charge of our single DMU car, we started with the basics. Out from P3 participants immediately noticed the fully plumbed in static buffet coach occupying the precious final few yards of very rusty track by the buffer stops preventing end of line coverage. Ah well, can't win them all!

After reversing in the North Weald depot headshunt, we made for the main line and the first set piece highlight. Our charter was booked to be the first public train to run to the boundary with LUL - from where Epping station can be seen - a long held ambition of the EOR and one that they are sure to achieve. Inching past the stop board that marks the limit of normal passenger service (but of course there were no normal passengers on board this train!), we made cautious progress towards the fence that denotes the boundary. The tour inched towards the wire fence until we were just three feet from the LUL boundary. A spirited run followed, back up the hill to North Weald where our class 31 was replaced by 03119 for the shunts around North Weald depot and the station area.

The heritage green Routemaster at North Weald.
[© Kev Adlam 2016]

If you down to the woods today you're sure of a big surprise… Or at least on Fri 4 Nov 2016 anyone in Epping Forest might have had one.
The view ahead from the front of our AGM railtour at the Epping end of the Epping Ongar Railway - Bower Hill overbridge can be seen.
[© Philip Cartwight 2016]

We methodically cleared each loco depot line, and returned to North Weald for a leg stretch during the operation of clearing both Up carriage stabling sidings to the east of the station. Again, the EOR volunteers had been busy the previous day, removing trees that were growing between long-term stabled rakes of rolling stock that looked as if they hadn't been moved for years, indeed as if they couldn't be moved (they were!). With the Class 03 at the 'right end' our DMU coach was shunted up to the blocks of both cleared sidings soliciting enthusiastic applause from those on board. Lunch followed, held in the miscreant Mk2 static buffet coach 1214. With all aboard, there was a surprise, a familiar hiss of air brakes. Our hosts, knowing our passion for each and every 'yard', had disconnected the coach from its shore supply, removed the access gangplanks and arranged for the coach to be shunted the length of the siding with overlap. Another of many incredible red pen moments this day.

A break at North Weald during shunting, it is worth remembering that when LT closed the line from 3 Oct 1994 there was only a single track here.
Our tour train is on the left and the buffet (mentioned in the report) is the red coach in bay P3, middle right.
Compare this with Angus McDougall's 1957 picture of the station in BR steam-hauled passenger service days (below).
[© Ian Mortimer 2016]

[© Angus McDougall 1957]

From North Weald footbridge looking east to Ongar; No.1 & No.2 Up Sidings (right) are being cleared.
Our tour was the first ever passenger carrying train to visit them.
[© Ian Mortimer 2016]

The restored Blake Hall station on the way to Ongar. An unusual place for a photo stop
which is not open to the public - it is rumoured that the Society specialises in 'the unusual'!
[© Ian Mortimer 2016]

After an excellent lunch, prepared by an ex-Travellers Fare chef, we were away again, this time behind the Class 31. Although now raining, a photo stop had been arranged at the rarely used private Blake Hall station. (OP 1865; CP 2 Nov 1981 when the line's service was reduced to peak hours only). It was famously the quietest London Transport station, average 6 passengers daily (which seems rather a lot as it is actually so remote!) and was cosmetically reinstated with a platform by the EOR in 2012.

Onward to Ongar we reached the famous zero kilometre* post[left: © Philip Cartwright]from which all LUL distances are calculated (Chesham is 87.93km away = 54½ miles). Now the weather was appalling and the ground staff clipping the multitude of points required for our complex set of moves were truly amazing to persevere with what must have seemed (to them) 'pointless' shunts. Having completed the sidings (except for the final OOU run-round crossover) including through the shed to the north of the station, our attention turned to the three sidings to the south, including the 'Canal Headshunt'. Now it is fair to say that the BLS organiser of this particular fixture was new to such responsibilities and when it was pointed out to him nicely that he had slipped up twice as a double slip opportunity had been missed, he was faced with something of a dilemma because all the stock had been repositioned preventing a further shunt. Not a problem for the great guys at the EOR though.

Track completed, rain at last easing and dusk rapidly approaching; it was a fast run back to North Weald after a last loco change; the resident Class 37 doing the honours. The Green Routemaster was waiting for those who wanted to return to Epping station. One AGM fixture down and three to go! Special thanks to Marco and his very friendly 'Epping Ongar' team for their heroics in truly awful weather and to our local member Darren Garnon for his meticulous organisation which made it look as if this superb trip (no stone or piece of ballast left unturned) happened almost by accident!

* 'click' in military slang - hence 'Clickety Click'.

Ongar from the end of the line; again in 1994 at closure there was just a single line. Every inch of track possible was covered (even through
the metal building on the right, which is longer than it appears), except for the crossover seen which was clipped OOU pending repair work.
[© Ian Mortimer 2016]

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