News that the Eon-owned power station at Ironbridge has finally closed at the end of the week has drawn attention to the surviving section of lines that once served the area south of Wellington.
The power station, which was originally coal fired but has been powered by biomass for a number of years, was served by a branch off the Wolverhampton to Telford line from Madeley Junction that terminated just south of the River Severn crossing at Coalbrookdale.
Authorised on 3 August 1846, the Shrewsbury & Birmingham Railway was authorised to construct the 29¾-mile long line from Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury along with the branch from Madeley Junction to Coalbrookdale. The 10-mile section from Wellington to Shrewsbury was to be jointly controlled with the Shropshire Union Railways & Canal Co — later the LNWR and the line opened from Shrewsbury to Oakengates on 1 June 1849 and thence through to Wolverhampton on 12 November the same year. The Coalbrookdale branch, with its one intermediate station at Madeley, opened on 1 June 1854. The S&BR was to become part of the GWR on 1 September 1854. Passenger services were suspended between Madeley Junction and Lightmoor Junction between 22 March 1915 and 13 July 1925 and were to be withdrawn permanently on 21 September 1925 but was to remain open for freight thereafter.
Now known as one of Britain’s foremost preserved railways, the Severn Valley Railway was incorporated on 20 August 1853 to construct a 39½-mile long branch from Hartlebury, to the south of Kidderminster, to Shrewsbury. Opened on 1 February 1862, the line was operated from the outset by the West Midlands Railway. The bulk of the line, from just north of Arley station, was in Shropshire. In April 1910 there were six workings from Hartlebury to Shrewsbury with five in the reverse direction with additional services to Bewdley and Bridgnorth from the south. There was no Sunday service north of Bridgnorth and only a limited service south of there. The shortest journey time for a single journey over the 40¾ miles between Shrewsbury and Hartlebury was just under two hours. Passenger services from Bewdley to Shrewsbury were withdrawn on 9 September 1963, following the Beeching Report, with the line closing completely between Buildwas and Shrewsbury S&M Junction and between Buildwas East Junction and Alveley Sidings on 2 December of the same year. The line from Bewdley to Alveley Sidings closed completely on 6 February 1969. The final section to close was the short section retained in Shrewsbury from Sutton Bridge Junction to access the oil terminal established on the site of the erstwhile Abbey station; this was finally to close on 15 July 1988.
Authorised to construct a line from Wellington to Coalbrookdale on 20 August 1853, the Wellington & Severn Junction Railway was a local concern largely backed by the Coalbrookdale Iron Co. Engineered by Henry Robertson, the first section of line — from Horsehay to Ketley — opened on 1 May 1857 with that from Horsehay southwards to Lightmoor in March 1858. The section south from Ketley to Wellington opened with the commencement of the Wellington-Lightmoor (reverse)-Shifnal passenger service on 2 May 1859. In 1861 the line was leased to the GWR and West Midlands Railway before being absorbed in the GWR on 1 July 1892. The section from Lightmoor to Coalbrookdale, where a connection was made with the Wenlock Railway, was opened on 1 November 1864. In April 1910, there were 10 return workings per weekday over the line from Wellington via Ketley to Coalbrookdale with additional services over the section from Lightmoor to Coalbrookdale that had run from Shifnal via Madeley. The minimum journey time for a single journey over the seven-mile branch was around 20min. During the 1930s, in order to compete with road transport, a number of additional halts were opened along the line. Passenger services over the branch from Much Wenlock via Coalbrookdale and Ketley were withdrawn on 23 July 1962 on which date the section from Ketley to Wellington was to close completely. The line from Lightmoor Junction to Ketley closed completely on 6 July 1964 although the section from Lightmoor to Horsehay reopened for freight traffic on 31 July 1965. This line was again to be closed completely by BR on 4 January 1981 although the Telford Steam Railway now occupies the station at Horsehay and has plans for the partial reopening of the line.
Incorporated on 22 July 1861, the Wenlock Railway, which had originally been promoted as the Much Wenlock, Craven Arms & Coalbrookdale Railway, was empowered to construct the line from Coalbrookdale to Buildwas on the Severn Valley line, and from Much Wenlock to Craven Arms. The line opened from Coalbrookdale to Buildwas and from Much Wenlock to Presthope on 1 November 1864 and thence to a junction on the Shrewsbury & Hereford Railway at Marsh Farm on 16 December 1867. Operated from the outset by the GWR, the smaller company was formally absorbed following and Act of 7 August 1896. In April 1910 there were three return workings per weekday from Much Wenlock to Craven Arms with an addition three from Much Wenlock to Presthope. The service north from Much Wenlock was more intensive with nine return workings per day. There was no Sunday services a single journey over the 20-25-mile section from Buildwas to Craven Arms took around one hour. Passenger services between Craven Arms and Much Wenlock were withdrawn on 31 December 1951 on which date the section of line from Marsh Farm Junction to Longville closed completely. Passenger services over the line from Coalbrookdale to Much Wenlock ceased on 23 July 1962 with the cessation of the Much Wenlock-Wellington via Ketley service and the line closed completely from Buildwas to Longville on 2 December 1963.
Following the closure of line northwards from Lightmoor Junction, the only remaining section of line that survived away from the main Wolverhampton-Telford corridor was that from Madeley Junction to Buildwas that survived primarily to serve the power station. The first station to be built was Ironbridge A; this officially opened on 13 October 1932. Ironbridge B was to follow three decades later, not being opened until 11 June 1969 and not coming fully on stream until February 1970. Ironbridge A was partially closed on 27 October 1980 and completely the following year. Owned since 2001 by E.on, following its take-over of Powergen, it is Ironbridge B that finally ceased to generate power this week, slightly earlier than the original date proposed of 31 December. Coal and more recently biomass traffic was a regular feature of the line, except for the period during 1984 and 1985 when the miners’ strike effectively rendered the line redundant.
Although freight only for many years, the development of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum has encouraged attempts to reintroduce some form of passenger service over the surviving route. In the summer of 1979 an experimental diesel service to a new platform at Telford Coalbrookdale was operated; this was relaunched to the station — renamed Ironbridge Gorge — on 19 July 1987 for summer weekends but the service ceased on 2 September 1990.
The Telford Steam Railway has ambitious plans to re-establish a link with the National Network at Lightmoor Junction and run services through to Buildwas Junction; indeed has already taken occupation of the derelict signalbox at Lightmoor junction. There is, however, one major block to the reopening; following the closure of the line, the trackbed to the north of Lightmoor Junction was breached by the new A4169 road. Investigation suggests that bridging the new road is not insurmountable and would not require a significant alteration to the existing gradient profile of the line. In furtherance of this plan, Network Rail donated a suitable steel bridge span to the railway in 2010.
It will be interesting to see, now that the remaining freight to Ironbridge has ceased, how the plans for the development of the line through Coalbrookdale progress.