Leighton Buzzard Railway

The Leighton Buzzard Light Railway (LBLR)

 

A 2ft (610 mm) narrow gauge railway is just under 3 miles (4.8 km) long. Built after the First World War to serve sand quarries north of Leighton Buzzard. The quarries switched to road transport in the 1960s and the railway taken over by volunteers, who now run the line as a heritage railway.

 

The original railway

Leighton Buzzard Light Railway opened on 20 November 1919. It linked the sand quarries with the mainline railway south of the town at Grovebury sidings. The line was built using surplus WD equipment and laid using mostly 30 lb/yd rail. The line opened using provided by two Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0 side tank steam locomotives. These proved inappropriate for the tightly-curved line and were sold in 1921. From 1921, the railway used internal combustion, almost exclusively the products of the Motor Rail company and was one of the first UK railways entirely operated by IC. After the Second World War, sand traffic returned to the roads. By the mid-1960s only one sand quarry, Arnold's, still used the LBLR. The BR line to Dunstable closed in 1965, apart from a stretch from Leighton Buzzard to Grovebury interchange sidings, which closed in 1969.

 

The route

The line is unusual as it runs mostly through modern housing built since the 1970s, although the last half mile runs through countryside. There are open level crossings for which trains stop. The original railway began at Grovebury Sidings; here trains unloaded the sand into washers before it was shipped to standard gauge trains on the Dunstable branch or to road. This area became an industrial estate in the early 1970s. From Grovebury the original line crossed Billington Road by a level crossing and worked a steep grade to Page's Park. From Pages Park there was a branch line south connected to the main engineering workshop and Pratt's Pit quarry. Page's Park is now the lines southern terminus and headquarters.

From Page's Park the line curves round towards a summit at Red Barn before a 1 in 60 decent. The switchback then continues with a climb again to cross Stanbridge Road. On the left is a housing estate which was once the site of Marley's Tile Works, connected to the original railway for most of its existence. The line then descends Marley's Bank (maximum of 1 in 25). Loaded sand trains to often needed a banking locomotive for this section.

From the bottom of Marley's Bank, the line turns sharply north to run along a level stretch to Leedon Loop and more housing. After Leedon, the route crosses Hockliffe Road and then the Clipstone Brook. After the stream the line climbs again at 1 in 50 to cross Vandyke Road.

After crossing Vandyke Road, the line curves sharply through 90 degrees to the site of Vandyke Junction. This was where a branch line from the quarries at Chamberlain's Barn and New Trees joined the main line. The line then runs parallel to Vandyke Road, climbing steadily to Bryan's Loop before descending to cross Shenley Hill Road. The line then levels for the run to Stonehenge Works. This is now the northern terminus of operations.

 

Baldwin WD 778

The Class 10-12-D was a class of narrow gauge 4-6-0 pannier tank steam locos built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works (USA) for British War Department Light Railways for service in France during World War I to 600mm (1ft 11¾in) gauge. Baldwin built and delivered 495 locomotives between October 1916 and April 1917; however, 9 which were lost at sea. After the war a number were sold to the Glynn Valley Tramway and 3 Stephens lines: Welsh Highland Railway, Snailbeach District Railways and the Ashover Light Railway. 4 of the class have been preserved in the UK: 778 with the Leighton Buzzard Light Railway; 794, Welsh Highland Railway, and Works Nos 44657 and 45190 at the Statfold Barn Railway. 778 has a coupled wheelbase 5ft 8in with 1ft 11½in drivers and 1ft 4in leading wheels. She is 14.5 long tons weight and as a fuel capacity of some ¾ ton of coal, and some 400 gallons of water in the pannier tanks. Drive is from two outside 9in x 12in Cylinders, with Walschaerts slide valves gears.

 

To Get Involved: The Railway is operated by the Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway Society. The entire railway, as well as its collection of locomotives and rolling stock, is an Accredited Museum (No 1631). To learn more contact Membership Secretary, Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway Society, Page's Park Station, Billington Road, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire LU7 4TN. Adult membership costs £24 per year, which entitles you to free travel, insurance when working on the railway, a regular newsletter and an award-winning magazine. Not to mention the sense of achievement!