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Features > Around Milton Keynes
Words and photos by Mark Richards
Although Milton Keynes
is a new city, its
railway heritage is long and established. This brief tour is an overview of the
railways around Milton Keynes, past and present and hopefully will provide an
insight into the railway history of the area.
Bletchley & Fenny Stratford
The original terminus of
the London & Birmingham Railway at Denbigh Hall, one mile to the north of
the present Bletchley station.
The first rails
through the area came in 1838 when trains terminated shortly to the north of the
current Bletchley station, at Denbigh Hall. From here, passengers were
transferred by stagecoach to Rugby where train services recommenced to
opened in 1846 and became an important junction, serving the West Coast Main
Line and cross country routes to Buckingham, Oxford, Banbury, Bedford and
The station at Bletchley was
rebuilt 1962-1964 with the elegant portico and station buildings demolished to
make way for the rather brutal and minimal building that now occupies the site.
In its heyday Bletchley had even boasted its own modest hotel!
Another sign of the 1960s electrification and
modernisation of the route through Bletchley is the Power Signal Box, a striking
and brutal looking building to the south of the station building, occupying a
site adjacent to the Buckingham Road bridge.
In the late 1950s a flyover was built at Bletchley
taking the Cambridge to Oxford line over the West Coast Main Line. It had been
intended to rejuvenate the line and cope with increased freight traffic, which
never materialised. The flyover remains today, a striking and some might think
ugly feature that dominates the railway skyline of Bletchley but it does remain
in use, being a useful facility for freight coming off
the Bedford to Bletchley branch.
In 1967 the through route from Cambridge to Oxford
was closed. A truncated section from Bletchley to Bedford St Johns remained
open, being extended to Bedford Midland in May 1984. The decision to close the
through route to Cambridge and Oxford, ironically came in the same year that
Milton Keynes was designated a new town for North Buckinghamshire.
Bletchley lost its importance as a railway junction
with 'intercity' services ceasing to call from the opening of Milton Keynes
Central in 1982. Currently Bletchley is served by London Midland services to
Northampton and London Euston and on the Bletchley to Bedford branch. There are
plans to extend the branch trains to Milton Keynes Central following completion
of the remodelling works there.
A resignalling scheme and proposed remodelling of
Bletchley station is due for completion by 2010. This will see the closure of
the PSB at the end of 2009 and a new entrance to the station is envisaged, which will
make it more accessible to the town centre. Bletchley TMD is also expected to
closed during 2008 with responsibility for maintenance of the 321 EMU fleet
moving to Northampton where the replacement Desiro's will also be based.
Bletchley Flyover, which
crosses the West Coast Main Line to the south of Bletchley station
The entrance to Bletchley
station, which is on Sherwood Drive, to the north of the town centre
150123 on the Bedford
branch at Platform 6 & 321435 at Platform 5, Bletchley station
Construction of he Bletchley to Bedford branch
commenced in 1845, the line between Oxford and Bletchley was opened in 1851 and
the extension east from Bedford to Cambridge came into use from 1862. The line
was until the 2004 resignalling project controlled by semaphores and each of the
level crossings on the route had its own crossing keeper. The small mechanical
signal boxes were also a quaint feature of the route, which even now still
retains much of the feel of a semi-rural branch line. Signalling is now
controlled from a purpose built centre at Ridgmont and despite this being manned
24 hours a day there is still no sign of a late evening service or Sunday trains
being restored to the branch.
The station building at Fenny Stratford, to the east
of Bletchley has been out of use for some years and now looks dilapidated and in
need of attention. The style is a common feature to all the station buildings on
the route. There are no facilities on the platform for intending customers to
purchase tickets and a rudimentary and out of place modern shelter provides the
only retreat from the elements. Access to the platform is via a footpath from
Simpson Road at the Bedford end or via the steep path from Watling Street at the
Shortly beyond Fenny Stratford in the Bedford
direction, the line crosses the Grand Union Canal and the attractive area around
The 'heritage' DMU units used on the branch, after a
brief interlude which saw loco-hauled trains, were replaced in 2000 by more
modern Class 150s, which still faithfully serve the route today.
Milton Keynes Central
Milton Keynes Central was opened in May 1982 and is
the principal station in the area. As discussed earlier its opening displaced
Bletchley as the main intercity stop. The station itself is situated within an
office block; to the left is Station House, to the right Elder House. Until
earlier this year a replica of a 'Bloomer' locomotive built at Wolverton Works
stood in Station Square.
The station currently has five platforms, although
this will be increased to seven before the end of 2008. Platform 1 is currently
used by London Midland services terminating at Milton Keynes Central. Platforms
2 and 3 form the up and down slow respectively, while up and down fast services
use Platforms 4 and 5.
Works currently underway at Milton Keynes Central
will see Platform 1 become a through line, joining the current up slow to the
north of the station. A new bay - to be numbered 2A - will be provided by remodelling the current
Platforms 1 and 2. An additional down fast will be provided to the east of the
station, adjacent to the current Platform 5, whilst this line will become
bi-directional. The changes are designed to allow additional fast services to
stop at Milton Keynes, which is currently very poorly served during the peaks.
The new Southern service from Milton Keynes Central to East
Croydon, which is expected to start in January 2009 will use the new bay
platform 2A. This platform will also be used by services from Bedford to
Bletchley, extended to Milton Keynes Central at some point in the future.
Night view of the
entrance to Milton Keynes Central
Wolverton is perhaps best known for its railway
works, while much reduced from their heyday are still an important feature of
the town. Until the arrival of the railways, its nearby neighbour Stony
Stratford was an important coaching town; the stagecoaches from London would
break their journey here. The phrase 'cock and bull story' is said to originate
from this time as travellers stopping for the night would tell increasingly wild
and doubtful tales at the towns two main coaching inns - The Cock and
Nearby is New Bradwell, which was built to house the
workers employed at Wolverton Works. Sadly the rows of railway built terraces
have mostly gone.
Wolverton's current station is the third, the first
being replaced in 1840 by a larger affair, which in turn was replaced in 1881 as
the railway was diverted to the east of the expanding works. The 1881 station
building which was situated on the Stratford Road bridge survived until 1991
when demolition by BR thwarted attempts by Milton Keynes Council to have it
There are proposals to provide a more substantial
station building for Wolverton once again to replace the current temporary 'hut'
in the car park. Rudimentary shelters are provided on the slow line platforms
but otherwise facilities are non-existent. The station is now dominated by a
large housing development taking place to the east, between the railway and the
Grand Union canal. Some of these new apartments will be within a few metres of
the WCML and I wonder who would want to live so close to Europe's busiest
Looking south along the island platforms
at Wolverton. The slow lines are to the left with the fast lines on the
Although much diminished,
Wolverton Works are still an important feature of the town
Wolverton to Newport Pagnell Railway
The Wolverton to Newport Pagnell
railway linked two of the original towns, which are now part of the New City of
Milton Keynes. The line was designed to convey employees to the works at
Wolverton. It was finally closed to passengers in 1964 with closure to freight
coming in 1967. Coincidentally this was the same time as the through route from
Cambridge to Oxford via Bletchley (described above) was closed.
Two intermediate stations were provided at New
Bradwell and Great Linford. The remains of the station platforms can still be
seen today although any other immediately recognisable signs that this was once
a railway are sadly absent. At the Newport Pagnell end of the line the only
reminder of railway days is the post for the starting signal. All traces of the
station and small loco shed that once occupied the site have been subsumed under
new housing developments. The station in Newport was not particularly convenient
for the station, with shops and other facilities being some distance to the east
of the terminus. There is a Station Road in Newport, which presumably would have
once run to the station site but this has since been truncated by changes to the
An interesting feature of the route is that it is
very straight. From Great Linford station, which is now situated in the Giffard
Park housing development, the route climbs gently to the crossing of the Grand
Union canal. Modern roads from the development of Milton Keynes have in places
disturbed the natural course of the route but the sound of trains pounding up
and down the West Coast Mainline in the New Bradwell area do provide some memory
that this was once a railway too.
The route of the old railway
line now forms 'Railway Walk' a part of Milton Keynes' extensive redway system
of cycle/pedestrian routes which criss-cross the new city.
All that remains of New
Bradwell station is the platform. This view is looking towards Wolverton
The post for the starting
signal at Newport Pagnell is the only marker that this was once the site of
a railway station
An attractive bridge
carries the route of the former Wolverton to Newport Pagnell railway over
the Grand Union Canal at Great Linford