This Saturday 1st June 2019 will mark 160 years to the day that the Halesworth, Beccles and Haddiscoe Railway became the East Suffolk Railway, opening south to Ipswich, north to Yarmouth and east to Lowestoft. The branches to Framlingham, Snape and Albeburgh opened the same day.
Regular passenger service on the Framlingham branch was curtailed in 1952; the last passenger train to run was one year later. The line was used to transport freight up until 1965 when the line closed for good.
100 years, 5 months and 1 day after it opened, the section from Beccles to Yarmouth was closed 2 November 1959 diverting all traffic to Lowestoft. The goods-only Snape branch lasted only until 1960.
The line was threatened with complete closure following the Beeching Report of 1963. In 1966 the line was saved thanks to an effort by ESTA – then known as the East Suffolk Travellers Association. In return for the mainline staying open the branch to Aldeburgh was closed but the trackbed to Leiston was retained to be used by the Sizewell nuclear power plant.
The 1980s saw the line singled in two sections; the now 49 mile route was 40% double track and 60% single.
A push in the late 1990s into the new century saw a short piece-redoubled at Beccles in 2012 allowing trains to run hourly whereas the track arrangement prior could only accommodate a train every two hours.
A Community Rail Partnership was set up in 2002 to bring local authorities, the train operating company, town and parish councils, local businesses and residents together to promote the service, make improvements, and ensure the economic viability of the line.
Lowestoft, Beccles and Wickham Market station have seen significant refurbishment in the last 2 years. In some cases station buildings that had been sold off after the line was de-staffed were taken over by community non-profit organisations and turned into community hubs. Charities set up at other stations providing self-catering facilities at Darsham with the town museum occupying Halesworth station.
Volunteer station adopters have taken on all stations looking after plants, flowers, shrubs and station gardens.
The current train operating company has installed ticket machines and real-time information screens at all stations bar Brampton, the smallest station on the line, but the platform there was completley refurbished in 2016.
The best is yet to come when Greater Anglia will replace the entire East Suffolk Line fleet (some of the trains date back to 1986) with brand new trains, all three and four carriage, with free on-board WiFi, plug and USB sockets and A/C; these trains and their bells and whistles would be unrecognisable to those travellers who first boarded back in 1859.
Today the 160 year old East Suffolk Line is a success story. More frequent trains have led to a big increase in patronage; between 2009 and 2019 the number of passengers has more than doubled. Journeys for 2018 – 2019 were a record-breaking 725,000.
A number of events are happening along the line 1st and 2nd of June to celebrate the railway’s 160 years in existence.
- Saturday 8.45 – station to station walk from Wickham Market Station via train to Melton to Wickham Market station by Station House Community Connections (coordinating events at Wickham Market station).
- Saturday 10.00 – 16.00 – permanent collection at Halesworth & District Museum including scale models of the original station located 1/2 mile north, the current station prior to its bombing in 1941, and a working miniature moveable platform.
- Saturday 10.00 – 17.00 The Long Shop Museum in Leiston opens along with their tea room.
- Saturday 10.15 – East Suffolk Lines Community Rail Partnership station to station walk from Halesworth to Darsham Country Centre inside Darsham station with reception/refreshments.
- Saturday and Sunday 10.30 – 16.30 Leiston Works Railway presents the first return of steam in more than 50 years and the works line grand opening.
- Saturday 12.00 – Birthday party at Wickham Market station with refreshments.
- Saturday and Sunday 13.45 – 16.00 – 160 years railway exhibition at Beccles and District Museum.
- Saturday 14.00 and Sunday 12.00 – history talk at Wickham Market Station (railway architect, Francis Thompson).
- Saturday 16.00 and Sunday 14.00 – history talk at Wickham Market Station (the station in Campsea Ashe during the 1950s).
- Sunday 9.30 – 5K fun run dash from Wickham Market station.