Friday, 17 January 2014

Bedford to Sandy

Last July I joined a group of people interested in promoting the reopening of the Bedford to Cambridge section of the East West Railway.  They included representatives from Railfuture , MPs and councillors and ordinary members of the public.   We met in Priory Park and after a photo shoot set off to walk the disused line to Sandy.  I took a number of photos and here are a selection:-
Banner displayed on the day on the side of the cafe
Quite soon after leaving the park we came to the first bridge over the Ouse.  It appeared to be in reasonable condition.
Next feature on the line was the Meadow Lane overbridge.  This shot taken looking back towards the Bedford.
And from the same spot looking the other way towards Sandy.  Just out of sight is the Bedford Southern Bypass.
The aforementioned bypass which has breached the track bed.  However a bridge (offset to the left) has been provided for walkers and cyclists.
Looking towards Bedford from the same spot. John Henderson of Railfuture is returning on his bike so he can travel to Blunham by car with all the rally banners etc.
 Looking towards the bypass from the other side at the point where the path regains the track bed.  It wouldn't be out of the question to provide a road overbridge here.
 Looking towards Sandy from the same spot.
 Here there is a dog leg in the cycle path at a junction with other trails. Bedford Sewage works can be seen in background.
Looking east from the same spot the path moves into a wooded section.  All of this section is well surfaced and easy to walk or ride.  On the approach to Willington, the path deviates from the track bed although it is marked on the map as following it.
 This is the point where it rejoins the former Varsity line.  Looking towards Bedford along the impassable section.
Looking east towards the former Willington station.
It looks as if two competing camps have been graffitiing the remains of what I believe is the base of the former signal box at Willington station.  Looking at old photos it looks like there was one at end of the Bedford platform.  "No rail link" has been changed into "Now! rail link"
Remains of the Bedford platform.  No evidence of the Cambridge platform remains.
More altered grafitti at the far end of the platform
Looking back towards Willington station from Willington Lock.  The path  meanders its way along the track bed.
Looking the other way the track bed is blocked ahead and the cycle trail has to make a deviation via a public footpath. 
A closer look reveals a sign warning cyclists that they must dismount for the footpath section.
Now at the other side of the deviation looking back.  At the tree line the path turns right down to the lock on the Ouse
And looking the other way towards Sandy from the same point.
A replacement bridge has been installed under the Willington to Great Barford road.  View looks towards Bedford.  This would certainly have to be rebuilt if it were to used for the East-West route.
Further on towards Blunham the line entered a shallow cutting (seen on the right) but the cycle path went up along top edge.  View towards Willington.
 Just before Blunham the trackbed enters a wooded section again.  Just out of sight is a small housing estate built in the forecourt area of the station called "Old Station Court"
The former Blunham station.  Now home of "The Dog Lady"
The bridge abutment on the Sandy side is substantially intact.  Just some brickwork at ground level remains on the other side.  The cycle path takes a southern deviation here.
 This is an underpass for the public footpath that crosses the line.  Almost hidden from view.
However a closer look shows it is quite unobstructed when you get inside.  There appears to be a later wooden decked extension on this side.  Shortly after this the trackbed is regained via a quite steep ramp.
 On the approaches to Sandy, the line crossed several river bridges.  This is the first.
 A small sign tells us of the the company that refurbished the bridge.
And this is the second of the bridges.
And the third
Here the cycle path shares an access road to a farm.  Looking west from the side of the A1.
This would have been roughly the site of the short lived Girtford Halt just to the west of the A1.  Opened 1938 closed 1940 after passenger numbers didn't materialise as expected.  The bridge under the A1 has found a new purpose serving the housing estate that has been built to the east of the Great North Road.  The trackbed has been built over by some of this estate as well as by a school.  However there is a short section that can be seen just the other side of the bridge as well as a length of embankment as the line approached the crossing over the East Coast main line.  Even this has been breached in several places.  If this were the route taken by East-West Rail then I am sure it would be possible to make a deviation to the north of Sandy and rejoin the original route to the north of Potton.  This might even improve journey times as the original route was a bit winding from Sandy through Potton.  However the loss of an interchange station at Sandy would be a disadvantage.

View Larger Map
This is a Google satellite image showing the trackbed curving round from top left to bottom right.


  1. I worry about this line of expansion. The line from Sandy to Cambridge is seriously breached (unlike this one) so joining up to Cambridge would likely mean going south on the ECML - which is likely to take valuable capacity. Do you not feel that a route direct to Hitchin or a more southerly route to emerge south of Stevenage would be a better option?

  2. Hello Ian. Thanks for your comments. You are right about the difficulties between Sandy and Cambridge. I agree that using the ECML would not be a good idea especially after Network Rail's efforts to squeeze a bit more capacity out of it. Adding East West trains would defeat this. There is some merit I think in going from Bedford to Hitchin although the old line is also seriously breached in a number of places. The Cambridge line flyover complicates this and there would have to be a reversal at Hitchin or miss it out altogether. Going via the Midland main line to Luton and then across to Stevenage as you suggest is also an interesting option. This might mean missing out Bedford if you put a chord in to link the the Marston Vale line to the Midland. My worry is that the route from Oxford to Bedford is more or less set in stone now. If the section from Bedford to Cambridge is convoluted and the journey time is extended, then it won't work. This is what finished it off the first time around. It was quicker to go via London. That is not to say the options available by the the existence of this route weren't important in their own right and in my opinion were overlooked in the decision to close it. It will be interesting to see what the report due out next month suggests as the preferred route.