Monthly Archives: Aug 2018

Nice to Digne-les-Bains Part 10 – Thorame-Haute Viaduct (Chemins de Fer de Provence 74)

Its been highlighted to me that in my last post in this series I did not provide details of Thorame-Haute Viaduct. In that post, I provided rail-level images and then rushed on to the site of Thorame-Haute Station. This short blog is an attempt to rectify that mistake!  I guess you could also see it as a bonus for patiently bearing with me as I meander along the line between Nice and Digne-les-Bains!GECP locomotive, ‘The Portuguese’, breaks out into the Verdon valley as it leaves the western portal of the Tunnel de la Colle Saint Michel (c) Christopher James.The same locomotive crossing the Viaduct at Thorame-Haute, (c) Christopher James.An Autorail on the Viaduct. [1]Another Autorail on the Viaduct seen through the tree canopy. [2] This close up image shows the masonry of the Viaduct to good effect. [3]

These two images are taken from the Structurae website. [4] They have been selected to show the structure and it location rather than for any aesthetic consideration. Even so the structure appears graceful and dramatic. Not something that is noticeable at rail level or from a train. The arched voids in the spandrels relieve a significant amount of load from the arches of the viaduct.The viaduct and station at Thorame-Haute soon after construction of the viaduct was completed. [5]As a taster for my next post, the chapel immediately adjacent to the station at Thorame-Haute is the focus each year of a significant local festival. More of this in the next post, (c) Christopher James. [6]A final view back from Thorame-Haute Station towards the road-crossing and the Viaduct beyond, (c) La bête de Calvi. [7]


  1., accessed on 31st July 2018.
  2., accessed on 11th August 2018.
  3., accessed on 11th August 2018.
  4., accessed on 11th August 2018.
  5., accessed on 11th August 2018.
  6. I have been corresponding with Christopher James over a number of my posts about the Nice to Digne line. Christopher James lives locally and travels on the line frequently. This picture was sent to me by email.
  7., accessed on 31st July 2018.

Nice to Digne-les-Bains Part 8 – Meailles to Thorame-Haute (Chemins de Fer de Provence 73)

Meailles is the starting point for the next stage in our journey. The featured image is an excellent black and white panorama of the village, station, viaducts and railway line. This next image shows the station and the Viaduc de Moana sitting below the village. [1]We return to the station at Meailles ready to catch the next train. A final look round the station is followed by checking the timetable and then joining the next train as it leaves the station! The pictures below are all to be found on the relevant page of, [4] except for one which is an image from Wikipedia. [5]Driver’s eye view leaving Meailles Station. [9]Looking back towards the station from the level-crossing on the road up the valley side to Meailles village.

The next few images show the Viaduc de Moana which our train crosses almost immediately after leaving the station at Meailles.First from the level-crossing in the image above.Then a driver’s eye view of the viaduct.A railcar heading onto the Viaduc du Moana, (c) Mouliric. [2]Freight train on the viaduct. [6]The two images immediately above are sourced from the CPArama website. [3]

This image is taken from above the viaduct on the hillside close to the village of Meailles.




The image below is taken from the far side of the valley of La Vaire.The Viaduc du Moana crosses the Ravin du Maouna which can be seen heading away to the northeast behind the viaduct.Modern train on the Viaduc du Moana, (c) La bête de Calvi [8]The view ahead up the valley of La Vaire (above) taken from the road up the valley side to Meailles.The railway heads north-northwest up the valley of La  Vaire. The next major structure is a tunnel – the Tunnel de Méailles. The tunnel is 104 metres in length and is shown by the red, blue and green dots on the map below. At this point the railway line ius now 995 metres above sea-level. [7]The south portal of the Tunnel de Méailles. [7]The two images above show the north portal of the tunnel which includes a short ‘gallery’ beyond what would have been the tunnel entrance and then a significant retaining wall and bridge. [7]For a couple of kilometres the railway continues along the east bank of La Vaire. [9]Peyresq Halt is preceded by the bridge over La Vaire and followed by the tunnel portal. A Renault Autorail heads away from the Halt towards Nice. [24]It crosses La Vaire on a short girder bridge, passes through Peyresq Halt and then enters the Tunnel de la Colle Saint Michel [9]Modern transport at Peyresq Halt. [10]Looking back down the line, we see slightly older transport approaching Peyresq from Meailles. [11]The Tunnel de la Colle Saint Michel is at an altitude of more than 1000 metres above sea-level. It is 3.46km in length – the longest tunnel on the line. The tunnel is completely straight except close to its eastern portal where it has a slight curve which matches the line to the east of the tunnel. There are two interesting and original features in the tunnel which are both in the north wall. [12]

Inside a tunnel, a few metres from the eastern portal it can be seen that the eastern portal needed to be widened. The old alignment of the tunnel wall is still visible as a pedestal. The widening facilitated alignment sights for drivers. About 1100 m from the western portal, a side chamber 8 m deep and 4 m wide exists, which was a stable for horses during the construction of the work and was also used for turning the carts used to transport rubble from the tunnel construction.

In addition, this tunnel was subject to strong draughts which, in winter, froze water infiltrating into the tunnel. This caused the formation of ice stalactites which risked significant damage to trains. To prevent this the west portal was given an overhead door in 1969. The eastern portal is visible in images above the western portal is shown below. [12]As trains leave the western portal of the Tunnel de la Colle Saint Michel they cross a short viaduct over the River Verdon and crosses a track on the west side of the river. There is an old crossing keeper’s cottage adjacent to the line. [12]A view towards Digne taken from above the western portal of the Tunnel de la Colle Saint Michel.The crossing keeper’s cottage. [9]

Leaving the Tunnel de la Colle Saint Michel, the line turns sharply to the southwest and follows the western bank of the River Verdon to a point not far north of the Station at Thorame-Haute where it spans the river once again and enters the railway station on the eastern bank of the river. [9] [9][9][13][14]Steam at Thorame Haute Station. [15] A festival at Thorame-Haute.Another view of the station on an old postcard, the following photos all come from the same source, one of CPArama’s webpages. [16] La Place de la Gare, Thorame-Haute. [17]La Place de la Gare. [18]The station in bright sunlight. [20]A recent photograph of the main station building. [21]

It is interesting that the village which gives its name to this station is almost 8km away. The line enters the valley of the Verdon well south of the village and heads away south.

The station is about 95 kilometres from Nice at an altitude of over 1000 metres above sea-level. The station was opened in 1911 and a separate buffet building was included on the site next to the main building. [19] The railway line between Meailles and Thorame-Haute was on the last stretch of the line from Nice to Digne to be built. The length involved was that between Saint-André-de-Méouilles and Puget-Théniers.

Work began in January 1900 on the final 27km of the line. The tunnel boring took a number of years to complete. Steady progress was made on the tunnel. The project had a significant setback when, in April 1909 part of the land mass above the proposed location of the station at Thorame-Haute collapsed onto the site of the station engulfing the part built buildings and platforms. Stabilisation of the mountain required the construction of a 114 metre long, 3.3 metre high retaining wall. The wall was 1.5 metres thick and reinforced by 7 buttresses. [22]

The station was opened to travellers on 3rd July 1911 [23] with the inauguration of the full line taking place on 6th August 1911. The station at Thorame-Haute quickly became a significant tourist destination providing access to some high quality hotels in the upper reaches of the Verdon valley. A wealthy clientele travelled from the Côte d’Azur to access such hotels as the Alp’hôtel de Beauvezer, and the Fontgaillarde in Thorame-Haute.

It is at Thorame-Haute that this leg of our journey is completed.


  1., accessed on 5th August 2018.
  2., accessed on 5th August 2018.
  3., accessed on 9th August 2018.
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  10.,6.612933,3a,75y,90t/data=!3m8!1e2!3m6!1sAF1QipNFeGoAhEI7HVF0vLop7jT4jL6tfsbg5Zy7yg1S!2e10!3e12!!7i4296!8i2760!4m5!3m4!1s0x12cc6f997b176e59:0xb48d78a0c1ca0c6c!8m2!3d44.0420841!4d6.6129327, accessed on 10th August 2018.
  11.,6.612933,3a,75y,90t/data=!3m8!1e2!3m6!1sAF1QipM3SJhROxBfPav9XWKGwn1vNf2CGkvFGnLlyoBG!2e10!3e12!!7i3194!8i4937!4m5!3m4!1s0x12cc6f997b176e59:0xb48d78a0c1ca0c6c!8m2!3d44.0420841!4d6.6129327, accessed on 10th August 2018.
  12., accessed on 9th August 2018.
  13., accessed on 10th August 2018.
  14., accesed on 10th August 2018.
  15., acessed on 10th August 2018.
  16., accessed on 10th August 2018.
  17., accessed on 10th August 2018.
  18., accessed on 10th August 2018.
  19., accessed on 10th August 2018.
  20., accessed on 10th August 2018.
  21., accessed on 10th August 2018.
  22., accessed on 10 the August 2018.
  23.”Allons-Argens”%2C”chemin+de+fer”%2C1911&focus=searchwithinvolume&q=”Allons-Argens”, accessed on 10th August 2018.
  24., accessed on 1st August 2018.

MOD Kineton and its Railway History

MOD Kineton developed as a depot in the Second World War. Construction began in 1941 and the depot came to occupy most of the land between Kineton and Temple Herdwyke. It was a Central Ammunition Depot, it also served during the war as a transit camp, with Polish and Czechoslovakian troops based there. [1]

Today, the site houses the Defence Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Munitions and Search School, and there is an extensive military family married quarters patch at Kineton, along with its associated information centre – Kineton HIVE. [1]

The MOD site at Kineton extends over several hundred acres and is linked to the main railway network by a branch-line. The branch-line is the remains of the old Stratford-upon-Avon and Midland Junction Railway (SMJ) from Fenny Crompton. The site was located just to the west of what was Burton Dassett station.

The Stratford-upon-Avon and Midland Junction Railway (SMJ) was a railway company formed at the beginning of 1909 by the merger of three earlier companies: the East and West Junction Railway; the Evesham, Redditch, and Stratford-upon-Avon Junction Railway; and
the Stratford-upon-Avon, Towcester, and Midland Junction Railway.

In 1910 the Northampton and Banbury Junction Railway was purchased and an east-west network was formed which linked routes to Bedford and Northampton in the east to lines leading towards Banbury and Gloucester in the west, by way of Towcester and Stratford-on-Avon.

The constituent lines had each been built with a view to carrying Northamptonshire iron ore to South Wales and the West Midlands, but they were all unable to finance their planned lines in full. The formation of the SMJ in 1909 was in effect a financial reconstruction, but the management of the combined company also showed a certain flair for generating tourist income, based on the connection with Shakespeare and also the family connections with George Washington. In addition the line developed as a shorter route for Midland Railway goods traffic from the Bristol area to London.

Some upgrading of the poor-quality infrastructure was undertaken, and some heavy mineral flows – continuing until as late as 1960 – passed along the line, but the severe operational constraints led to the diversion of traffic to other routes in 1964. By that time all of the passenger traffic had dwindled to nothing and the line was closed down piece by piece. A short section of the original network remains in use serving a Ministry of Defence depot at Kineton. [11]

Burton Dassett Station was known as Warwick Road Station and closed in 1873.

A schematic drawing showing Burton Dassett Platform and its two sidings goods yard post 1909 when it was operating under the control of the SMJ company. The Edge Hill sidings were built near to the site of the Warwick Road station some fifty years later. The photograph below shows the platform while still in place. [5]

The ammunition magazines were set out over a wide area and the depot was served by a yard branching off the LMS leading to an extensive network of sidings serving the magazines. Following closure of the through former SMJ line in 1965, the operation of the 4 mile stub from Fenny Compton (with connection to the Banbury to Leamington Spa main line) serving the Depot was taken over by the MoD. The line later passed into MoD ownership. It included some of the route of the disused Edge Hill Light Railway. [6]

The Edge Hill Light Railway [6] was formed to exploit the large ironstone reserves which lay just under the surface on the Northamptonshire/Oxfordshire border at a time when the enormous demands of Word War 1 were really making themselves known. The driving force behind the proposal seems to have been the proprietors of the Stratford on Avon and Midland Junction Railway who saw it as a means of increasing traffic on their railway. These proprietors were well connected City operators who specialised in increasing the value of railways before selling them on. The promoters acquired mineral rights to over 600 acres around Edge Hill. Unusually, instead of going for a simple mineral railway they opted for a public light railway and appointed Holman F Stephens, recently released from his army commitments, as engineer. This use of light railway powers for an essentially mineral railway has echoes of the still far from completed East Kent Light for which Stephens had been responsible since 1910. 

The proposed railway was 11¼ miles long, including a triangular junction with the SMJ at Burton Dassett and after two miles a rope-worked incline followed by three branches serving different parts of the ore field. These branches stretched well south into the ironstone field. In view of objections from landowners and the local authorities, the proposals were scaled down to a total of 5½ miles, and it was agreed to construct bridges instead of a number of level crossings, very unlike Stephens, but not unprofitable as the excavations were through exploitable ironstone.

The SMJ would have running powers from Burton Dassett to the foot of a cable-worked incline (just over two miles) and passengers might be carried over this portion. A high-level line from the summit of the incline to the quarries would be for mineral traffic only. The maximum permitted speed was 12mph on both parts of the line. The Light Railway Order was finally approved on 17 July 1918.View of the connection between the EHLR with the SMJR with ‘Burton Dasset Platform’ located beyond the bridge on the right.

Two Brighton ‘Terriers’ were purchased from the LB&SCR to work the low-level line, No 1 (an A1X, No 673, formerly named Deptford), in April 1919, and No 2 (an un-rebuilt Al class, No 674, formerly named Shadwell) in July 1920. The Edge Hill had no engine shed, though strangely there was a turntable at the junction, and the engines were serviced and largely kept at the SMJ’s Stratford-upon-Avon locomotive shed, under a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’, facilitated by the two companies’ shared chief officers. As a quid pro quo, the SMJ is said to have used one of the ‘Terriers’ for its Stratford to Broom Junction trains at times when it was short of locomotives.

Construction of the Edge Hill Light Railway began sometime in 1919, with the expectation that that it would be feeding traffic to the SMJ by the end of the year. However construction work was very slow and may have been suspended for a while. This was no doubt because the railway had been started at the time of a post war industrial boom which ended in 1920 resulting in poor economic prospects for a line dependent on iron ore. Further the SMJ, still government controlled, was soon to be nationalised or grouped and the proprietors could now see their investment being compulsorily matured somewhat sooner than expected.

During construction some limited traffic had developed when the incline was finished in summer 1922, as the ground through which construction was taking place at the top of the ridge was usable ironstone under a light overburden. This traffic was assessed in later years by a former engine driver, Mr H Green, to have been about 180 tons, or three 60 ton trains, a day. A siding agreement for the junction had been concluded with the SMJ on 1st March and ore was dispatched to Midlands and Staffordshire ironmasters.

The ‘self acting’ or gravity worked incline was still only partially completed but plant could now reach the top and a small Manning Wardle 0-4-0ST (1088/1888), named Sankey from its original employment on the building of the Manchester Ship Canal, was obtained from Topham Jones and CoCo. in June 1922.EHLR 0-4-0ST ‘Sankey’ is protected from the elements both by a tarpaulin as well as standing under the bridge. On the buffer-beam ‘Sankey’ is equipped with an inside set of dumb buffers.

The railway started from a small yard adjacent to the SMJ’s Burton Dassett platform. It then proceeded on slight gradients for some 2½ miles to a fan of sorting sidings at the foot of the 1 in 6 cable worked incline. At the top of the incline the line extended some yards to finish at an uncompleted cutting near the road to Ratley village; near the incline top there was a back shunt and a few yards of track towards Nadbury.

On Tuesday 10 October 1922 a directors’ inspection took place in connection with the incline mechanisms. During the inspection, there was a fatal accident resulting from runaway wagons. The incline was never repaired and commercial traffic ceased.View of the top of the EHLR incline showing the hut used to house the cable controlling equipment on 11th May 1930. Either side of the track the initial portion of the embankment has been supported by stone walling laid at an incline with rail used to anchor the top of the wall.Looking up the EHLR incline with EHLR 0-6-0 No 1 standing on the left of the photograph on 28th May 1935. The locomotive was purchased from the LBSCR being previously No 673 ‘Deptford’.

Photographic evidence seems to show little change over the years, except encroaching vegetation and rot, although a few construction tipper wagons seem to have disappeared at an early date and Brake Van No 1 was moved by persons unknown and ran away towards the junction, coming to a halt after about a mile. The Terriers were considered for purchase by the Southern Railway in 1938, but although they were assessed as ‘reasonable’ later in 1942, they were rejected due to their condition.This photograph is being taken from the base of the incline looking across the plain towards the SMJ junction. The EHLR storage sidings can be seen with the derelict Terrier locomotives and rolling stock.EHLR 0-6-0T No 2 is seen coupled to the brake van whilst being protected from the elements with a tarpaulin.EHLR 0-6-0T No 1, an ex-Brighton ‘Terrier’ stands with a tarpaulin covering the cab, boiler and fittings whilst the chimney has a protection inserted to prevent water ingression to the inside cylinder chest. Prior to being sold to the EHLR it carried the LBSCR running number 73 and was named ‘DEPTFORD’.

Resurrection of the line was considered early in WW2. However the site was requisitioned for the war effort and the Terriers were marooned on unconnected track. The Terriers were not finally cleared until the renewed demand for scrap that swept the bankrupt nation after WW2 and were all cut up by James Friswell and Son of Banbury over spring and summer 1946. 

The company story did not quite end with WW2. The owners, claiming they wished to take advantage of the boom in UK ironstone production during the 1950s, sought compensation from the MoD to reinstate the bottom end of the line via a deviation. This was probably simply a device to obtain greater compensation and no detailed plans seem to have been submitted. The Lands Tribunal gave the claim short shrift. The Company was finally wound up in November 1957. [6]

MOD Kineton

The depot itself has an extensive railway system of 76 miles of track. [5] The sketch plan below shows the extent of the network in 1947, it also shows in green the line or the Edge Hill Light Railway. [4]A part of the extensive ordnance depot at Kineton, Warwickshire, surrounded by ridge
and furrow. An extract from NMR RAF/CPE/UK/1926 509216-JAN-1947 English Heritage (EHA)
RAF Photography. [9]Openstreetmap shows the extent of the internal railway system in the 21st Century.

Some of the storage magazines had no road access so small railcars were used as staff transport. Some were fitted out as fire tenders. [4]MoD No 9122 a four-wheel personnel transport Railcar built by Baguley-Drewry in 1975 (Works No 3711 of 1975) stands in the sidings. (c) Roger Monk. [4]View of Army 9114, a Fire Tender Railcar, seen standing outside Kineton Central Ammunition Depot’s locomotive shed. The unit was built by Clayton Equipment Company in 1968 (Works No. 5380/1), (c) Roger Monk. [4]

Kinston had other small fire-tenders operating in the 1960s. Two which were scrapped in 1970 can be seen in a flickr photo posted by Gordon Edgar. [7]

When the M40 was built there was a period when the rail link to the MOD site was cut. It was a while before a new bridge was built over the motorway. After the bridge was built, the branch-line was completely renewed with full depth ballast and welded joints. [1][2]Martin Loader comments (see below): Army loco 278 Coppice (built by Thomas Hill in 1988) heads towards MoD Kineton on 12 March 1995 after taking ex-works Mk1 coach 21274 for a run along the MoD Kineton to Fenny Compton line. It is pictured on its way back from Fenny Compton and has just crossed over the M40 motorway (note the lorry just behind the coach). The rebuilding required when the motorway was built a few years previously has given this stretch of track a very modern appearance for a freight line with deep ballast and continuously welded rails, (c) Martin Loader. [2]

During the 1980s the extensive network of sidings was cut back when internal road transport to serve a central rail/road transfer facility was introduced.

The depot stores spare railway carriages and locomotives on behalf of the various UK Train Operating Companies, [1] utilizing some of the redundant sidings for this purpose. In 2018, the Depot and railway are still in use. The above information and more can be obtained from the Industrial Railway Society’s Preliminary Draft Handbook Industrial Railways & Locomotives of Warwickshire. [3][4]

The rail link left the main line and crossed the motorway (M40), before running in a straight line towards the depot.Some pictures of the link follow, three at Google Streetview images and others are used with the kind permission of Martin Loader. [10] The rail-link bridge over the M40.Martin Loader comments: Army loco 277 trundles along the Army’s Fenny Compton to Kineton line near Knightcote, heading for the MOD depot on 24 February 1992 with three immaculate VGA wagons of military stores. The wagons had been tripped up to Fenny Compton on the 6M19 07:45 Didcot to Fenny Compton, behind 47309, (c) Martin Loader. [10] Looking east toward the mainline from Knightcote Lane.Looking east toward the mainline from Church Road.Looking west toward the M40 from Church Road. Martin Loader comments: Army locos 273 Edge Hill & 265 have a very unusual load to haul as they traverse the MoD line from Fenny Compton to Kineton on 28 March 1992. They are passing Knightcote with the Branch Line Society ‘Kineton Pullman’ railtour. The tour had started from Manchester Piccadilly behind 47597, with 58013 added later for working top’n’tail up various branches. Ironically I had visited this location a month previously and had taken a picture of a more normal sort of train you would expect to see at this location. [10]Army locos 273 Edge Hill & 274 Waggoner (built by Thomas Hill in 1987) head towards Kineton on the MoD branch from Fenny Compton exchange sidings with the Hertfordshire Railtours 1Z16 09:35 Paddington to Kineton ‘Edgehill’ railtour on 13 March 1994. They are pictured approximately half way along the branch, near Northend. The tour had traveled from Paddington behind 47811, and would soon be moving around the Army depot via a complicated set of reversals, which involved another Army loco (278 Coppice) on the rear. [10]Two ppictures above of the M40 Bridge, (c) Steve Daniels. [21]The rail-link bridge over the M40. The rail-link, looking east toward the M40.The B4100 over-bridge, (c) Steve Daniels.. [20]The rail-link looking west toward MOD Kineton.And a driver’s eye view, (c) Steve Daniels. [22]In miserable light, Army locos 273 Edge Hill & 265 head back towards Fenny Compton with the Branch Line Society ‘Kineton Pullman’ railtour on 28 March 1992, after doing a tour of Kineton Army Depot (in the background). The tour had arrived at Fenny Compton behind 47597 & 58013 working top’n’tail. [10]Class 47 No. 1714  with vans arriving at MoD Kineton in April 1971. [15]

MOD Kineton’s rail link enters the satellite image below by passing under the B4100 which can just be picked out at the top-right of the image. The location of the old Burton Dassett  platform was just off the image at the top-right corner on the north side of the line and to the east of the road bridge. The first element of the rail network encountered by an arriving train was the receiving and dispatch sidings which also are visible on the satellite image below.In the satellite image immediately above the four-track engine shed can easily be picked out close to the centre of the picture. A few images of the loco shed follow:

Thomas Hill V307, V272 and one other, unidentified TH in the loco shed at Kineton [8]

Thomas Hill V333 at M.O.D B.A.D. Kineton Loco Shed. [8]

AB663 at Kineton. IIRC, this had recently arrived from Germany where it operated with the BAOR and was built to continental loading gauge. [8]

Thomas Hill (Rotherham) Limited (THR) was a company which repaired and sold steam road vehicles, diesel and electric road vehicles and railway locomotives. It later made its name building and rebuilding diesel locomotives. In 1962, negotiations were started with Rolls-Royce Ltd to take a financial interest in THR. These negotiations were concluded in April 1963 with Rolls-Royce Ltd taking a 51% controlling interest and THR became a subsidiary of Rolls-Royce, Diesel Engine Division, Shrewsbury.

On 30 June 1989 the company was sold again, this time to RFS Engineering Ltd. RFS were already operating at the old BR Doncaster works. The Thomas Hill name was dropped, but developments of TH designs continued to be produced. RFS’s first seven locos (narrow gauge locos for the channel tunnel contract) were numbered into their own scheme, thereafter works numbers of locos continued TH’s numbering.

Stock and work were transferred to RFS’s Doncaster works by August 1993. The final loco (CRACOE, for Tilcon, Grassington, N Yorks) was built at Doncaster as RFS Doncaster went into receivership. In 1998 RFS was acquired by Westinghouse Air Brake Co and in 2000 was renamed Wabtec Rail Limited. Wabtec has retained the IPR in the Thomas Hill and Sentinel ranges of locomotives. [12]


I have been endeavouring to find details of all the locos used on the site. The SMJ Society ( led me to a table prepared in 1960 which gives details of the locos on the site up to that date. [17]

Loco No Power Type Builder Year Dates Disposition
013 Steam 0-4-0ST WB 1941 3/58 Gone by 7/59
102 Steam 0-6-0ST HE 1943 1/52 To BIS 11/53
128 Steam 0-6-0ST HE 1944 1/52 to 3/58 To BIS 7/58
137 Steam 0-6-0ST HE 1944 7/57 to 3/58 To BIS 7/58
147 Steam 0-6-0ST WB 1944 7/57 to 3/58 To ARN 3/60
149 Steam 0-6-0ST RSH 1944 1/52 to 11/53 To ARN 10/54
150 Steam 0-6-0ST RSH 1944 4/56 to 3/60
155 Steam 0-6-0ST RSH 1944 3/55 to 3/58 To BIS by 7/58
164 Steam 0-6-0ST RSH 1945 8/55 to 3/60
172 Steam 0-6-0ST WB 1945 3/58 To LM by 7/59
174 Steam 0-6-0ST WB 1945 3/55 to 7/59
182 Steam 0-6-0ST VF 1945 11/53 to 5/56 To BIS by 4/57
197 Steam 0-6-0ST HE 1953 3/58 to 3/60
8206 Diesel 0-4-0DH NBL 1955 7/59 to 3/60
8209 Diesel 0-4-0DH NBL 1959 7/59 to 3/60
8210 Diesel 0-4-0DH NBL 1958 7/59 To ARN 9/59
8212 Diesel 0-4-0DH NBL 1959 9/59 To ARN 3/60
8212 Diesel 0-4-0DH NBL 1959 7/59 to 3/60
9001 Petrol 4w Wkm ? 3/58
9003 Petrol 4w Wkm ? 3/58, 7/59
9008 Petrol 4w Wkm ? 3/58
9009 Petrol 4w Wkm ? 3/58
9010 Petrol 4w Wkm ? 3/58
9011 Petrol 4w Wkm ? 3/58
9012 Petrol 4w Wkm ? 3/58
9013 Petrol 4w Wkm ? 3/58
9014 Petrol 4w Wkm ? 3/58
9015 Petrol 4w Wkm ? 3/58
9016 Petrol 4w Wkm ? 3/58
9019 Petrol 4w Wkm ? 3/58
9024 Petrol 4w Wkm ? 3/58
9025 Petrol 4w Wkm ? 3/58
9026 Petrol 4w Wkm ? 3/58
9027 Petrol 4w Wkm ? 3/58
9028 Petrol 4w Wkm ? 3/58

Key: ARN = Royal Engineers, Arncott, Oxon.      BIS = Base Ordnance Deport, Bicester, Oxon

Loco Builders: HE = Hunslet Engine Co.; NBL = North British Locomotive Co.; RSH = Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns Ltd.; VF = Vulcan Foundry Ltd., WB = W.G. Bagnall & Co.

The three pictures above show 0-4-0 Thomas Hill Locos which at one time served at MOD Kineton now serving elsewhere. The first two of these images are of the same loco No. 01546 now based at the East Kent Railway.

The Network

Microsoft Bing Satellite Image of the Exchange Sidings shows some significant activity.Google’s Satellite Image is, I believe, taken more recently and shows sidings with much less activity.Stored railway rolling stock, (c) Steve Daniels. [18]

Unlike Bicester MOD Railway, (see the site at Kineton has restricted access and photographs of the railway lines, level-crossings and the buildings served are scarce.The exchange sidings can just be picked out (centre-left) in this aerial view taken from the north-west. [19]

At either end of the exchange sidings a single track line heads away into the base. There are two return lines which run parallel to the exchange/storage sidings, and which each form a loop. The first has three double stub-sidings which serve the storage bunkers which can be seen on the above image immediately below the lagoon. The first loop is shown fully on the map below. The second loop runs on the south side of the lagoon.Four different branch-lines leave the loop to serve the rest of MOD Kineton. The first divides off the loop to the west of the exchange sidings. It heads down to the south-west of the depot past Boundary Farm.Train on the line past Boundary Farm, (c) David P. Howard. he comments: This train suddenly appeared pulled by a small blue diesel engine. The track is part of the extensive network surrounding DSDA Kineton, from where munitions are distributed. [23]These tracks are just by the footpath to Gaydon from Kineton are part of the extensive network at DSDA Kineton, from where munitions are distributed. The train in the picture above was travelling a long this line., (c) David P. Howard [24]

To the south-west of Boundary Farm the line divides once again with the most northerly branch heading towards the B4086 Kineton to Banbury Road.The railway/road crossing can be seen marked with an ‘x’ in the bottom middle of the above map.Railway crossing on the B4086 to the West of Kineton, © Colin Craig.  [13]Railway crossing on the B4086 to the West of Kineton, © Robin Stott. [25]Railway crossing on the B4086 to the West of Kineton, looking North-East up the railway line, © Robin Stott. [26]The line near Red House Farm, (c) David P. Howard. [29]

South-west of the B4086 the network forms a large irregular loop with a series of sidings towards the southern perimeter of MOD Kineton.This aerial image is taken of the area south-west of the B4086 . The view is looking from East to West. [27] The storage bunkers in this area of the depot can be most easily seen in the satellite image below.Modern ‘High Density’ Road-Fed Explosives Stores Houses (ESHs) at Kineton in the 21st Century. [14]

The line returned across the B4086 at another level-crossing to the East of the first, and north of  the village of Radway.Part of the extensive rail network that exists around MoD Kineton, here a level crossing at Radway and a view back down the line towards the storage facility pictured above, (c) Mike Faherty. [1]The level-crossing near Radway is on a bend in the B4086, (c) Robin Stott. [28]

North of the level crossing the line branched into two, the left-hand line returning to the line we followed down the north-west boundary of the site the other branch turning north and swinging sharply round to run alongside another storage facility.Modern ‘High Density’ Road-Fed Explosives Stores Houses (ESHs) at Kineton today (above). The phone boxes are provided because Mobile Phones (& Digital Cameras) are banned from the Explosives Area. [14]To the East of the storage bunkers, the line turned north and headed towards Marlborough Barracks. After circumnavigating the Barracks, the line passed close to the west of Temple Herdewyke before rejoining the loop close to the exchange sidings at the rail access to the site. A sketch plan of Marlborough Barracks.

We finish this post with a number of miscellaneous photographs taken at different times at various places around the MOD Kineton railway network.

A Double Sided Rail Fed Explosives Store House (ESH) at Kineton before the re-build (only one now remains as an example for the training school. [14]

Kineton Depot April 1971. [15] Kineton Depot April 1971. [15]


  1., accessed on 5th August 2018.
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  4., accessed on 6th August 2018.
  5., accessed on 6th August 2018.
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  7., accessed on 7th August 2018. The Army Ordnance Depot at Kineton possessed two rail-borne fire tenders up until their disposal in 1970. This is them shortly after arrival at the scrapyard of Bird’s Commercial Motors Ltd, at Long Marston on 30th March 1970. They bore the Army running numbers 9041 and 9042 and were built by D. Wickham and Co.Ltd at Ware in 1956, works numbers 7390 and 7391 respectively.
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  9. file:///C:/Users/Roger%202/Downloads/SouthEastWarwickshireandCotswoldsHigherLevelStewardship(HLS)TargetAreasNMP.pdf, accessed on 7th August 2018.
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  17. CAD KINETON – LOCOMOTIVES 1952 to 1960; Source: “British War Department Locomotives 1952 – 1960” by G.P. Roberts, published by the Birmingham Locomotive Club 1960  via, accessed on 8th August 2018.
  18., accessed on 7th August 2018.
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Nice to Digne-les-Bains Part 9 – Floods and Landslides (Chemins de Fer de Provence 72)

Christopher James contacted me having read a number of my posts because he remembered images of a major landslide at Annot Station. He undertook some research and found a newspaper article and some photographs of the landslide at Annot. The images he sent me and the newspaper article are immediately below. We corresponded a little about the date of the landslip and I think we now believe that it happened as part of a major incident which occurred in November 1994.

On 5th November 1994 an extreme flood event caused the lowest and the second-lowest dams on the Var to collapse. The flood wave inundated parts of Nice, including Nice’s international airport which is situated near the river mouth. It was out of service for several days. The airport lost the business of 50,000 passengers, with damages running up to an estimated 4.5 to 6 million euro. Elsewhere roads like the RN202 were cut, power and telephone lines were interrupted, and three people died and four disappeared. [1] This estimate of lives lost is low compared with some, for instance HydroEurope say that 70 people were estimated to be killed, with large scale infrastructure damage and economical losses from the closure of the airport. The economic damage is estimated at 550 – 800 million Euros. Of the three most recent flood events the flows of 1994 were an order of magnitude higher than the others – 1994 (3680 m3/s), 2011 (1330 m3/s), 2016 (1280 m3/s). [2]

My blog:, provides a number of pictures of the damage done to the watercourse, it revetments and its structures. Part of the problem has been the gradual encroachment into the valley of the Var by various land reclamation schemes over the years. [3]

But these events are not a recent penomenon. The Observatoire Regional des Risques Majeurs (ORRM) En Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur has reported on a series of similar events over the past 150 years. [4] These events have occurred across the whole of the southern alps – Sisteron in 1886; Valette (Ubaye Valley) in 1982; Annot in 1994 and 1996; Rochaille in 2001; Villard-des-Dourbes in 2002; Barles in 2008, are all events mentioned by the ORRM. Their website includes the following photograph taken at Annot in 1994. [4]

As we have already noted, the events of November 1994 were of an order of magnitude greater than had been experienced in the catchment of the River Var in the century or so before 1994 and in the years after. Significant structures were destroyed, such as the Pont de Gueydan, immediately below.

The main A8 was cut by the river. The railway was cut at various points and it was 18 months before it re-opened. At the time there was a significant risk of complete closure of the line. The image below shows one of the ‘elephants’ along the line which was destroyed and had, along with the road and river embankment, to be rebuilt.

More damage to the A8 and the railway line.

The bridge at the mouth of the River Vesubie was destroyed.

The floods of 1994 were devastating for the railway and for the communities it served. They left a number of communities inaccessible except by mountain tracks. Rebuilding of railway and roads was no easy task and the subject of some wrangling about what was best for the communities alongside the river.

In 1994 a new highway was planned, situated in part on the right bank of the Var. This would result in a further reduction of the river bed in the order of 10%. The plans met with strong opposition from the riparians, who fought the proposed highway in the Administrative Court.

A decision was taken in 2001 to further investigate the road alignment. The highway was eventually built along a modified itinerary and under a different name. [1]

If anyone knows more about flooding and landslides that have affected the Nice to Digne line it would be good to hear from you.


  1., accessed on 6th August 2018.
  2., accessed on 6th August 2018.
  3., accessed on 6th August 2018.

MOD Ashchurch and Ashchurch Railway Station

I was reading a book by Neil Parkhouse and looking at a series of photographs of the historic station at Ashchurch which was demolished as part of the fall out from the cuts associated with Dr. Breeching. Apart from feeling a sense of dismay that the original station and its building, together with the branch-lines it served, has been lost for ever, I noticed a reference to a siding serving MOD Ashchurch and decided to investigate. [1] …

DE&S Ashchurch, known locally as “Ashchurch Camp”, was the UK MOD’s primary vehicle storage and distribution site for all types of armoured and soft-skinned vehicles, together with Royal Engineer bridges, boats and construction plant. The Centre was the only vehicle depot in the UK using Controlled Humidity Environments (CHE) for long-term vehicle storage. [2]

In March 2012, the UK MOD’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation confirmed its intention to consult publicly on proposals to redevelop ‘MOD Ashchurch’ for creation of a sustainable mixed use development, likely to include new homes, community and local retail facilities, a primary school, employment uses and open space. [2][4]

After this a campaign was fought to save the site and in 2015 the GMB Union reported that the site had been save and would remain in operation at least until 2025. [3]  However, continuing pressures on MOD budgets leave the position of the site uncertain. Atb present proposed developments are adjacent to the site but they indicate that pressure still exists in the locality for new housing. [5]

A rail link remains, as can be seen on the OpenStreetMap excerpt below.

This blog provides some details of the history of the site and its rail link and inevitably covers some of the history of the railway station at Ashchurch.

Ashchurch Railway StationThe 1902, 1:2500 OS Map of the station. The line to Tewkesbury leaves to the West, that which formed the relieving line via Evesham heads off to the East. The goods sidings enter at the top of the map and there is at at-grade crossing which makes a through route between the two branch-lines. MOD Ashchurch is off the map to the right. [6]View looking Northwest of the ex-Midland Birmingham – Bristol main line, the Down freight being on the Down Main, headed by LMS 4F 0-6-0 No. 4272 (not yet renumbered). On the left is the branch to Tewkesbury and Great Malvern, with a train at the branch platform and its engine further left, running round. Out of view to the right is the line to Evesham, Redditch and Birmingham – also the Ashchurch Military Depot. Ashchurch Junction signalbox (rebuilt 10 years later) is in the centre, in the ‘V’ of the Up platform. To get onto the station platform, you had to use the level-crossing from the approach road to the left: the booking office etc. was on the Up platform, where there was also a privately owned Public House. Behind the smoke is the large Provender Store. This picture was taken on Christmas Eve 1948, (c) Ben Brooksbank. [8]No. 73010 is on the main line in August 1952 and is heading towards Gloucester. The line curving off to the right leads to Evesham and the cottages on the far right can be seen in the third picture below, (c) D. J. Norton. A donation has been made to Ashtma UK to acknowledge the use of this photograph. [9]A view taken from the south of Ashchurch Station from A438 road bridge, in 1957 with the new signal box under construction. The 08.06 Sheffield – Gloucester express (hauled by a Class 5 4-6-0) is approaching. On right, the line to Evesham etc. (also the MoD Depot), with a GWR 2-8-0 waiting on a southbound freight. On left, the line to Tewkesbury and Malvern, with Ashchurch Junction signalbox in the V of the Up main and branch platforms. The new signal box will not open for another year and will last only until February 1969. (c) Ben Brooksbank. [10]The station in January 1970 after the removal of both branch-lines, (c) Hugh Llewelyn. [7]No. 44362 is approaching the station on the Birmingham & Gloucester Loop on 4th August 1952 on its way from Evesham. The line in front of the cottages leads to the at-level rail crossing on the map above. The line on the right provides access to the sidings for MOD Ashchurch, (c) D. J. Norton. A donation has been made to Ashtma UK to acknowledge the use of this photograph. [9]

Ashchurch Railway Station was opened by the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway on 24 June 1840. Later it became a part of the Midland Railway and later still the LMS. This was once a railway centre of some importance, as it was the spring-off point for two branches, one each side of the main line.

The Evesham line was actually a lengthy loop serving Evesham, Alcester and Redditch, re-joining the main line at Barnt Green, near Bromsgrove. This line closed between Evesham and Redditch on 15 October 1962 due to poor condition of the track, while Ashchurch to Evesham followed on 17 June 1963 (Redditch to Barnt Green remains open on the electrified Birmingham suburban network).

The line to Tewkesbury, Upton-upon-Severn and Malvern, closed beyond Upton on 1 December 1952, Ashchurch to Upton following on 14 August 1961. At this time Ashchurch station was renamed Ashchurch for Tewkesbury, but it too was to close, on 15 November 1971, reopening on 1 June 1997 as a through station.

There used to be a connecting curve linking the two branches, crossing the main line on the level just north of the station, creating a layout which may have been unique in Britain, but this curve closed in December 1957. There was an extensive goods yard to the south and another to the north, and to the north west a large grain store.

The remains of the old line are still apparent, in places, with much of its infrastructure in existence. The old connecting curve and the two branches it served could be clearly be traced on a map as late as 2007. With much of the Ashchurch to Tewkesbury line now being used as a Segregated Cycle Path and Footpath, this section proved valuable during the 2007 floods as it was the only dry route into, and out of, Tewkesbury at the time. [2] Much of the station site has been built over and we are left with a new incarnation of the railway station with no real character.

An access siding to MOD Ashchurch remains, together with exchange sidings alongside the main line. In the image below, the single-track to the right of the mainline leads to the army depot. The exchange sidings are to the south of the road bridge on which the photographer is standing.MOD Ashchurch’s Exchange Sidings to the south of the present A46.

MOD Ashchurch

This satellite image shows the full extent of MOD Ashchurch and the rail access which can be seen curving away from the present Ashchurch Railway Station across the north side of the depot. The old Evesham line continues beyond the extent of the depot as a defined line of vegetation across the fields the two images below are pictures take looking first west, then east from the B4079 which forms the eastern boundary of MOD Ashchurch.Looking West from the B4079 along the north side of MOD Ashchurch.Looking East from the B4079 along what was the railway line to Evesham.

MOD Ashchurch was confirmed as an Army depot in 1939 and is visible under construction on aerial photographs taken in 1940. On aerial photographs taken in 1943 it comprised eleven very large rectilinear vehicle storage and repair buildings that measure between 90m and 122m wide and between 97m and 147m long. A number of long narrow buildings are dispersed between them, plus a number of separate circular possible fuel stores, protected by flat-topped mounds which measure circa 12m in diameter. The buildings were painted with camouflage patterns during World War II. [11]

A large rail terminus was situated to their north-east, around SO 9393 3408, but this was replaced with more large rectangular buildings by 1954. Railway tracks also formed a loop through the buildings and around the rail terminus and are connected to the main line at SO 9296 3375, with additional sidings at SO 9333 3383. A large number of assorted vehicles and other equipment were parked in rows between the railway tracks and the buildings, and in large spaces at SO 9347 3372, SO 9365 3366 and SO 9385 3367. [11]

The site has continued in use as a military vehicle depot and in 2005 was the Ministry of Defence’s primary vehicle storage and distribution site, known as Defence Storage and Distribution Centre (DSDC) Ashchurch. In Summer 2016, relocation of the depot was being considered. Ashchurch and its sister site in Mönchengladbach, Germany were the 2 major “controlled humidity storage” sites preserving vehicles and kit for all three the Services, but government wanted to close both by 2018. [12]

Broadly, the construction of the depot may be divided into two phases, wartime and early 1950s post-war expansion. Construction work began shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War and building work is visible on 1940 aerial photographs. By 1943 building work was complete and the depot comprised eleven large storage and workshop buildings, a large rail loading areas to the north, and barrack accommodation to the west (SO 93 SW 115). A ring of light anti-aircraft guns defended the depot and other defence sites in the vicinity, sites (SO 93 SW 108, 109, 117 and 126, and SO 93 SE 65). [11]

The adjacent Ashchurch railway junction was one of the reasons why the depot was located here and in the event of damage to one of the lines trains could easily be rerouted. When this line was closed in 1964 a section was left in place to serve the depot. Today a siding leads to a loading area where vehicles may be driven directly on to flatbed rail wagons and the transport and loading area. [11]

The depot was originally entered through four gates off the A46, three of these are now closed and it is entered from a single western entrance, Austin Road that leads to the guardroom. Functionally, the depot may be divided into two uneven areas. To the west of Austin Road is an essentially domestic and administrative area with two playing fields, the one to the south has a 1960s sports club on its north side (SO 93 SW 115). To the west of this playing field is a small, post-war service housing estate known as St Barbara’s Barracks. To the north of the guardroom and west of the main approach road is the unit headquarters, a NAAFI, barrack accommodation, and at its northern end a small maintenance area. To the north are also a handful of timber wartime huts, remnants of a once far larger camp. [11]

At the northern end of the main approach road is the triangular transport and loading area. A railway siding enters here from the branch line to the west and is today served by a travelling crane. Along the southern side of this area, Churchill Avenue, are three, single storey, brick buildings, with steel Crittall-style windows and flat concrete roofs with raised clerestory lights. These were originally gas decontamination buildings and in the event of a poison gas attack would have provided changing and washing facilities for the workforce. On the northern side of the loading area are two less substantial wartime buildings constructed from hollow clay blocks: a wartime measure to economise on clay and fuel. [11]

To the north and east of the main approach road are 11 large wartime maintenance and storage sheds and smaller ancillary buildings. Two types of shed were built. To the north are four steel framed sheds with brick walls, which are lit by northlight roofs. The provision for good lighting in these buildings may suggest that they were used for maintenance activities. Along the side walls of these buildings are integral brick air-raid shelters. Most have been stripped, although at some their entrances traces of the sloping support for the anti-gas curtains may be seen. Internally, a few retain wooden bench seats along their walls and emergency bulkhead lights. The remaining eight large sheds are also steel-framed with brick walls, but these have hipped, corrugated asbestos sheet clad roofs illuminated by glass roof lights. These buildings are entered from either end of the aisles through pressed steel folding doors. Between some of the buildings are large open spaces that were used for marshalling vehicles or storage, at the centre the largest of these is known as Liaison Square. [11]

Between the main store sheds are a variety of smaller brick ancillary buildings and as described above, some, such as, the administrative offices are built from wartime hollow bricks. Other smaller workshop and stores buildings are brick-built with hipped roofs.

During the war extensive railway sidings and open storage areas covered the northeast part of the site. By 1954, this area had been covered by a further 14 large storage sheds. These are steel framed structures comprising standard gabled aisles arranged in different number configurations. The external walls appear to be infilled with low breeze block walls to about 1m in height and above by corrugated asbestos cement sheeting, this is also used for the roofs, which are lit by glass roof lights. The buildings are entered from either end through sliding steel-framed doors clad in corrugated metal sheets. Also built at this time was the double-storey structure with a gabled roof set adjacent to the A46. This is also steel-framed with low concrete, or cement rendered, walls at its base and the upper part is clad in corrugated asbestos cement sheets with horizontal glazing bands. [11] The main sidings are shown on this satellite image along the northwest boundary of the depot.One end-loading platform was provided at the depot to allow vehicle to roll on or roll off wagons.

A few images taken withing the site of MOD Ashchurch follow below. The adjacent image shows Andrew Barclay 0-4-0D ARMY 236 in excellent order during the 1980s and based at Ashchurch. The image immediately below shows warflats in the sidings at Ashchurch. [14] MOD Ashchurch’s future is uncertain. Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury Councils have included the site for housing in their Strategic Allocation for redevelopment as housing. [13]


  1. Neil Parkhouse; British Railway History in Colour, Volume 3: Gloucester Midland Lines Part 1: North; Lightmoor Press, Lydney, 2017. (
  2., accessed on 4th August 2018.
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  14.—a-rural-railway-rendezvous, accessed on 4th August 2018.

Nice to Digne-les-Bains Part 7 – Annot to Meailles (Chemins de Fer de Provence 71)

Our journey along the Nice to Digne line recommences at Annot. We are halfway between Nice and Digne. My memory of travelling on the line is that Annot was touted as being an excellent destination when travelling from Nice, to allow access to mountain walking. A little research shows that to be the case. The map below is a copy of the hiking route map which includes an extensive range of walks. The “.pdf” from which it is taken can be accessed by following the link in the references at the bottom of this post. [1] The train we travelled on through Annot to Digne in 2001 was full of hikers who left the train at Annot.It will also be evident from the above map that the line has left behind the department of Les Alpes Martimes and is now in the Alpes de Haute-Provence. The Tramway from Pont de Gueydan northwards (…r-de-provence-69) followed the approximate boundary between the two departments.

Annot is in the valley of La Vaire. Its station is on the valley side to the southeast of the town centre. [2]

Annot is located on the edge of Mercantour National Park, it was founded on a small hill and surrounded by wooded mountains, the village which dates from the 11th century, has little by little spread along the banks of La Vaïre. The old village is built in sandstone. Immense boulders of this rock (sometimes more than 100 metres high) can be seen at close quarters by following the “Chambre du Roi” waymarked circuit. Some of these rocks can be seen in the background of the image below.The viaduct seen from beyond the village. [3]A view of Annot from further to the southwest. [4]Annot from above. the railway can be seen crossing the viaduct behind the town. Annot railway station is just off picture to the right. [5]

OpenStreetMap provides an excellent cartographic image of the town, station and viaduct. The railway can be picked out easily as a black line to the east and north of the town. [6]

So, we return to the railway station and prepare to leave travelling North, initially, towards Digne-les-Bains.

The pictures immediately below are taken at the station. The first shows the most modern trains on the line and the carriages of the Steam service. [7]An older railcar (autorail) and the steam service waiting at Annot Station. [8]A modern train approaches the throat of Annot station from Digne while the “Portuguese” Steam Locomotive waits in the station. [9]The three images above show Annot station in its very early days. [16]

Our train sets off from Annot. The next few images give a driver’s eye views along the line as we leave the station. [10] About 700 metres beyond the Station the line crossed the Viaduc de la Beite, across the valley of La Beite. We have already seen the viaduct in the photographs of the town of Annot above. But it is an elegant structure, so more photographs seem appropriate.This is Le Train des Châtaignes. It is the last day of the 2013 season (Saturday 2nd November) for the “Train des Pignes” It circulated between Puget-Théniers and Le Fugeret for the Fête de la Châtaigne at Le Fugeret, (c) Jose Banuado. [11]

Post card images follow: A freight train has just crossed the viaduct heading for Annot, circa 1956. [16]

As trains travel over the Viaduc de la Beite, they turn back to towards the D908 and for a short distance travel east-west before turning to the northwest once again. As the road and railway continue in a northwesterly direction their paths drift closer together so that around 4 kilometres northwest of Annot they are running side by they approach l’Arret des Lunieres. [10]l’Arret des Lunieres.

North of the Halt the road drifts down toward the valley floor while the railway follows the contours. As the disparity in levels increased the old road swung underneath the railway at Ravin de Fouent Bouisse and back again under the viaduct having crossed the stream. The clearances between road and rail were not adequate fro modern vehicles and the road had to be diverted to stay on the southwest side of the railway.The viaduct before any consideration of diversion of the road. [14]

In no more than a couple of hundred metres, the road had dropped sufficiently to pass under the railway at a second viaduct and then follow it on its northeast side. before switching back to the southwest side again. The viaduct was named, “Viaduc de Fontbouisse.”Looking back towards Annot.From the same position, looking forward towards Le Fugeret.An early picture of the Viaduct. [14]With the road back on the southwest side of the railway, the lines are supported a significant height above the road by a substantial retaining wall.

As the road and railway approach the village of Le Fugeret, they separate and Google Streetview becomes less effective in showing the route of the railway! Before entering the station at Le Fugeret it is worth looking at the satellite image below to get a feel for the railway in the immediate vicinity of the village. As can be seen in the image, the railway station is some distance from the old village. The station is just visible at the bottom of the picture, with the old village to the middle left. The railway line uses this location to loop back on itself to gain height before continuing once again in a northwesterly direction. It’s track can be picked out on the satellite image, and can more easily be seen on the openstreetmap extract below it.Le Fugeret Station was set on an approximately north-south alignment to the southeast of the village to permit the line to gain sufficient height to continue on its journey up the valley of La Vaïre. The station buildings from the south. [10]The station buildings looking south towards Annot. [12]The northern end of the platforms at Le Fugeret Railway Station. [10]The northern station throat with the old village of Le Fugeret visible to the left of the track ahead. [10]A rural idyll near Le Fugeret. [13]A train leaves Le Fugeret station for Digne and passes the old village. The small bridge under the train in the image is shown below in a telephoto view from the main road in the village. [15]The line leaves the station and heads towards the loop. The station is off the picture to the right, the village is in the foreground, the accommodation bridge is visible to the left of the churchThe railway can be seen again right at the top of the photograph having turned through 180° close to the village, as seen below. [17]The railway turns round to the northeast with the old village behind. [18]The village is off the photo to the left. The railway continues to turn through 180° in the foreground, and can be picked out again, after turning through another loop, at the top of the picture. To the bottom right of this picture and hidden behind the trees, the line passes through a short tunnel. [17]

A 194 metre tunnel allows the 180° turn to negotiate the topography of the village. This tunnel is called “Tunnel Notre Dame.” It is shown below marked with red, blue and green dots. [19]The southwest portal of the Tunnel Notre Dame. [10]The southeast portal of the Tunnel Notre Dame and the small bridge over the grandly named Ravin du Gros Vallon. [19]An accommodation bridge provides access between fields either side of the line. There are a number of driver’s eye views in this post which have been taken from the website of Reinhard Douté ( [10]

The line completes its first 180° turn after passing under the accommodation bridge above. It then crosses the Ravin du Coin, on an embankment, before entering a lengthy curved tunnel which accommodates the next 180° turn – The Tunnel du Fugeret. The tunnel is marked by red, blue and green dots below and is over 500 metres long. [20]The southern portal of the Tunnel du Fugeret. [20]The northern portal of the Tunnel du Fugeret. [20]

The line then curves gently across the north of the village to the Tunnel de la Barre which can be picked out on the left of the satellite image immediately below. On the way, it crosses the Ravin du Gros Vallon again. The second image below shows the viaduct which spans the ravine.The third image below shows Le Fugeret with the line running high on the hillside behind it and the viaduct over the Ravin du Gros Vallon can bee seen on the right of the picture.Le Fugeret from the southwest. [21]

The Tunnel de la Barre is marked on the map below by red, blue and green dots and is just 75 metres long its portals are shown below. [22]The east portal of the Tunnel de la Barre. [22]The west portal of the Tunnel de la Barre. [22]

After leaving the tunnel the line continues to curve round to the north and then crosses a viaduct and passes through another short tunnel.The Viaduc de l’Hubac. [10]The viaduct and tunnel of l’Hubac. The Ravine is known as the “Ravin de l’Ubac.” [14]

The viaduct is a substantial structure, the tunnel is short, only 35 metres in length. The south east portal is shown in the first image below and the northwest portal can be seen in the second image below. [23] A short distance beyond the Tunnel de l’Hubac, the line crosses the D210 on what is now (2018) a very new, short-span structure. The road then climbs steeply, first to run, for a very short distance, at the same elevation as the track, and then to rise high above it.In the two images immediately above, the line continues alongside La Vaire, but high above it to the East, towards the next station at Méailles. Along the way it crosses a series of viaducts and requires a number of retaining walls. [10]High retaining walls can be seen from the D908 on the West side of the valley of La Vaire. Some, as above, hold the hillside above the railway. Some, like immediately below, support the railway. And in places the railway leaves the hillside to run on its own retained embankments and crosses ravines by means of bridges, as in the second image below.Looking forward up the line towards the station at Meailles from the D908 across the valley.A similar view from a few hundred metes further north along the D908. [24]Two images (above) of the Meailles Viaduc Sud, both taken from Google Streetview.

The Village of Meailles sits high above the valley floor to the East of La Vaire. The railway station sits midway between the village and the river, as shown on the map below (OpenStreetMap). [25]The station is overlooked by a massive retaining wall. [28] In the image below from 2016 we can see the wall under repair. [10] It is obvious in this image that now-a-days the station is little more than a Halt. But this is where we are going to stop and take time out. Meailles is that end of this stage of our journey and we finish this post with some pictures of the station.The station sits on a platform built into the valley side. [26]There was once a single siding which branched off the mainline to the south of the station and clung to the retaining wall behind the station buildings. [27]The civil engineering works associated with this small station are very significant. [29]The station is just visible to the bottom left in this postcard view of the village of Meailles. [30]


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MOD Bicester Military Railway

I have been aware of the Longmoor Military Railway for some time now. I knew nothing of the Bicester Military Railway until my wife and I had part of a weekend in the area. We were travelling along the M40 and using Satnav and we noticed and interesting area off to the East of the motorway which was just visible on the Satnav. Our initial thought was that there might have been some opencast workings in the area.

From looking at maps, we must have seen the area around Upper Arncott on the Satnav. It stood out far more clearly on the Satnav than it seems to do on the adjacent map. We thought that it would be good to investigate what we had seen. All we could manage was to drive through the area on the way to a wedding that we were attending.

Although some of the original railway appears to have been removed, much is still in place.

Further investigation seemed in order!

I have discovered that the Bicester Military Railway (BMR) is now a scheduled monument. It was the primary mode of transport at the Central Ordnance Depot Bicester. [1] It was opened in 1942 as part of the war effort. It belongs to the Ministry of Defence and links the military depots at PiddingtonArncott and Graven Hill with the Oxford to Bicester Line. The BMR has no road bridges. All of its crossings of public roads at Ambrosden, Arncott and between Arncott and Piddington are level crossings. [2]

Historic England provides the following information: [1]

Work on surveying the land for the rail system commenced in April 1941 and the 2.6 miles of railway that circled Graven Hill was pegged out ready for construction by August 1942. Track laying was well underway by the following month. Initially the entire track was to be laid using ‘philplug’ concrete sleepers and the rails were held in place by simple bearing plates and ‘dog’ spikes. These sleepers were found to be unsatisfactory and were replaced by different types of concrete sleeper; including those manufactured by Stent that can still be found at a number of points on the railway, especially within the spurs leading into the storage hangars.

Elsewhere on the system, once it was realised that the concrete sleepers were highly visible at night, it was intended to replace them with conventional timber sleepers; however, limitations on the supply of timber dictated that some of the concrete sleepers were retained and these were painted with a thin coat of black bituminous paint to tone them down.

The concrete sleepers that were gathered up after replacement were not wasted and they were put to a number of alternative uses, including the building of passenger platforms. Six passenger platforms were built around the Graven Hill depot – Langford Farm Halt (demolished), E2 Platform (demolished), Westacott Platform (partially demolished), D6 Platform (demolished), Queens Platform (demolished), and Graven Hill Platform. Fragmentary remains of the Westacott Platform can still be found to the west of the level-crossing gates on Westacott Road, and Graven Hill platform adjacent to the running line within the Sorting Sidings complex is the only fully extant example left. In addition to these improvised passenger platforms, a purpose-built ramped two-road loading / unloading bay was built in the gun park for the handling of artillery pieces.

The scale of the operations during the Second World War can be appreciated when it is realised that up to seventeen steam locomotives were working virtually around the clock to receive, sort, deliver, recover, and despatch wagons to the various storage hangars and sidings. During 1944 with the build up to D-Day and the supply of the invasion forces in Europe, 78,623 wagons were received and 77,896 were despatched through the exchange sidings; together with135,034 internal movements, this gives a grand total of 291,554 wagons being handled during one year.

Initially all train movements were controlled by a manual ‘Regulator’ system, using a block system whereby the drivers of any train had to stop at a phone cabin and ring for permission to advance into the next section, all controlled from the railway control office at Graven Hill and the regulator building at Arncott.

Eventually in 1947, two redundant locking lever frames, rodding, and semaphore signals were obtained from the defunct Cairnryan Military Railway and installed at Bicester to control major rail movements on the running lines at Graven Hill and the 2-mile section to Arncott depot that ran through Ambrosden. The lever frames were installed in two new two-storey structures that resembled a civilian signal box called ‘Blockposts’; the example at Graven Hill was called ‘A’ Blockpost and it housed a 16-lever interlocking frame (SP 58417 19846).

In 1960 a two-road locomotive shed with inspection and ash pits was built together with associated locomotive yard sidings at the north western end of the Sorting Sidings. The locomotive shed was designed to hold up to six locomotives and originally this structure had a flat central roof flanked by a row of smoke ventilators over each road, with a single pitch roof dropping to the side walls. This arrangement was to allow the smoke and steam to escape up through the roof. With the withdrawal of steam locomotives and introduction of diesel locomotives in 1965, these vents were removed and replaced by simple electrically driven extraction fans, and the roof was altered to a gabled design.

During the 1980s, the old Romney hut C1 (Carriage and Wagon Shop) at C Site, Arncott was closed and the work was transferred to a new purpose-built two-road Carriage and Wagon Department workshop at Graven Hill. The workshop was constructed against the north eastern corner of the Graven Hill locomotive shed. The shed is a simple rectangular-plan steel framed structure clad with corrugated steel sheeting.

The original railway administrative centre was located at Arncott depot, but it was moved in 1978 to a new two-storey Railway Headquarters (Building D99) over-looking the southern end of the Sorting Sidings (SP 58361 19972).

The map above is clearer than the one near the top of this post. The section of the railway which feeds Piddington Depot is now abandonned. The Military railway links into the Oxford to Cambridge line close to Bicester Outlet Village. A sketch plan of the site is included below. [10]

As an aside, RAF Bicester was also rail served and connected to the Oxford to Cambridge line as well. The old line cannot be seen on the adjacent map, but it is clearly visible on the satellite image below. The thin black line shows the route of the branch/siding. For much of its length the line of trees betrays its path. In 2008 the route was walked and pictures were taken for the website ‘Dereliction in the Shires’. [3] At the time, there was little hope for the rejuvenation of the Oxford to Cambridge line.

The Bicester Military Railway (BMR) had no connection to the RAF branch/siding and was a much more significant endeavour. It served what is now the Defence, Storage and Distribution Centre (DSDC), the construction of which began in 1941. By September 1942 the Headquarters and first storehouse had opened and in 1943 the Depot assumed its first role as a main Support Base for future operations in Europe, and an Army Mobilisation Centre.

By 1943, 31 miles of track had been laid which was operated by 7 locomotives. The personnel of the BMR was formed of the Railway Operating and Maintenance Detachment of the Royal Engineers, which in 1943 consisted of 136 officers and men. The railway personnel resided at No. 3 Camp in Arncott, in poor conditions in overcrowded Nissen huts. Most of the BMR staff had been employed by the civilian railway lines. In addition to training on the Longmoor or Melbourne Military railways, the personnel also received basic military training in drill, weapons and explosives. [10]

The original BMR was considered an excellent achievement and a testament to the Corps of Railway Engineers, Royal Pioneer Corps, Royal Corps of Siganls, the 3rd Non-combatant Corps and the Italian PoW. The network was built quickly, and performed very well for a heavy loading job. [10][11]

The depot achieved its peak activity in the latter part of the war when some 20,000 troops and members of the ATS were employed there. Since then the depot has had a number of roles.

It was in 1961 that Central Ordnance Depot (COD) Bicester was selected to play a key role in a major reorganisation of the UK Base Ordnance Installations. The ordnance depots at Didcot and Branston, together with their associated “outstations”, were closed and their functions concentrated at Bicester.

Further reorganisation in 1980-82 led to the closure of other Depots – Chilwell and Ruddington (near Nottingham) – and the transfer of its stock holdings to Bicester and even more responsibilities.

The Garrison occupies an area of 12½ square miles. The storage area was initially dispersed to minimise the effect of conventional aerial bombing. The Garrison roads stretch over 32 miles and the Army railway has over 41 miles of track. The storage areas are enclosed by 21 square miles of perimeter fence.

In April 1999, the depot changed its name to Defence Storage and Distribution Centre (DSDC) Bicester.

In 2000, the Garrison had 850 servicemen and 2500 civilians working within its boundaries. They were the largest employer within Cherwell District Council. [4]

Bicester Garrison has responsibilities extending to Banbury in the north, Milton Keynes in the east and Oxford city in the south. The Bicester site occupies an area of some 12 square miles, this is primarily because of the storage depots which were spread out and dispersed to minimise the effects of conventional aerial bombing. The Garrison roads stretch over 32 miles and the Army railway has over 41 miles of track. The perimeter fence is 23 miles long round the storage areas, but the estate boundary is considerably more. [5]

As of 31st July 2018, Bicester Garrison lists the following units as being active on site:

HQ Bicester Garrison and Garrison Support Unit (HQ BG & BGSU)
23 Pioneer Regt RLC/1 CSL Regt RLC
DEMS Trg Regt
241 Signals Squadron – 10 Signal Regiment
299 Signals Squadron (SC) – Bletchley
Bicester Army Learning Centre 77 AEC
Logistic Commodities and Services (DES LCS)
262 Signal Squadron – 15th Signal Regiment (IS) – LogNEC (Fwd)
16 Cadet Training Team (CTT)
Defence Storage Group (DSG)
142 Veh Sqn RLC – Banbury
710 Op Hygiene Sqn RLC – Aylesbury
Oxford University Officer Training Corp
Army recruiting Team
HQ Oxon/Bucks Cadet Force. [5]

Very recently (2018) the MOD has been selling off some of its estate and the Graven Hill Depot area of this site has now been turned over to housing which has inevitably resulted in the closure of lengths of the railway. The site of Graven Hill was an ordnance depot first used during World War Two and still in use in the early 21st Century. Arncott Hill and Graven Hill formed the focii of the vast site. Some areas of the site have fallen out of operational use. However, numerous storage hangars and much of the original infrastructure remain. It is the outstanding example in the UK of a bulk storage depot built during the Second World War, designed to be fully integrated into rail and road transport networks and is the precursor of the modern commercial distribution depots dotted around the motorway network. [6]

The Bicester site was divided into two main areas. The depots were named for the hills that they surround – Graven Hill Depot and Arncott Depot. The two depots were further sub-divided into six distinct functional sites, A, B, C, and F at Arncott, and D and E at Graven Hill.

Graven Hill Depot Railways

Completed in 1943, the depot at Graven Hill was operated by a mixture of soldiers, Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), and civilian staff; military personnel were originally housed in temporary Nissen huts, later to be replaced by permanent barrack blocks – St. David’s Barracks (completed 1958). The complex was served by the Bicester Military Railway, fed from the Oxford to Bletchley railway line. After 1945, COD Bicester remained the premier ordnance depot for the British Army, although since the 1960s, the functions associated with the different parts changed. The depot is now subject to disposal. [6]. The site is shown below courtesy of an image from available on the internet. [7]An aerial view of the Graven Hill Site taken in 1945. The connection to the national network can be seen on the top right of the image. [10]An extract from the Ordnance Survey plan of the site taken from an archaeological report on the site which shows the general railway layout well. Graven Hill signal box can be picked out to the southwest side of the main line. [12]The proposed housing development plans from 2015 leave the railway intact on the southwest side of the site. [13]

The Bicester Military Railway left the national network to the South of Bicester. The OpenStreetMap map below shows Bicester Village Railway Station and Bicester Outlet Village and to the south of these, Bicester Sewage Treatment Works and the network rail-side exchange sidings for Bicester Military Railway.Holding sidings at MOD Bicester. Wagons are brought into the holding sidings by main line locomotives. They are then taken onto the military railway by the MOD locomotive, (c) Steve Daniels. [19]

Access to the Military Base was from the south end of the exchange sidings above and is shown on the map below.The military base is shown as a light pink tinged area, surrounded by a red line. The railway entered it as it crossed Langford Lane, marked with a ‘x’ above and shown at the north-west corner of the satellite image below.A train enters the Bicester Miltary Railway site, (c) Steve Daniels. [8]There was a complex network of sidings at the entry point to the Military railway. [9]Graven Hill Signal Box viewed from the East was south east of the sidings shown on the map above. [10] It can be seen casting a long shadow in the bottom right-hand corner of the satellite image below.

The main line linking Graven Hill to Arncott continues along the south boundary of the military site (below). A network of rails surround Graven Hill providing access to a whole series of warehouses.


Leaving Graven Hill Depot, the railway line approaches Ambrosden on the way to Arncott Depot.The first road encountered on the journey was crossed by a level crossing – Merton Road was crossed just to the West of Ambrosden.Looking north-west towards Graven Hill from Merton Road Level Crossing, Bicester Military Railway. Ambrosden platform was situated on the right hand side of the track. 28th March 2017, (c) Roger Marks.Merton Road west side gate, (c) John Grey Turner.Looking south-east towards Arncott from Merton Road Level Crossing, Bicester Military Railway. The building on the left once housed the crossing keeper. 28th March 2017, (c) Roger Marks.Merton Road Level Crossing at Ambrosden on the Bicester Military Railway. 28th March 2017, (c) Roger Marks.Merton Road ground frame, (c) John Grey Turner.  

The line continues on beyond Merton Road with the village of Ambrosden on its left and then runs parallel to the road between Ambrosden and Lower Arncott, and crosses the River Ray.

Arncott Depot

Just to the south of the River Ray the line enters the Arncott Depot. The depot boundary extends out towards the River Ray so as to encompass the multi-way points which opened out into the depot sidings and the signal box which can be seen towards the top of the satellite image below.Arncott Depot entrance gates and signal box, (c) Mark Edwards. [14]The railway spreads out to serve a series of warehouses and operational buildings. Top centre to bottom right is the line which runs toward the now disused Piddington Depot which crossed Norris Road close to the also doused Arncott halt.

The next three pictures show the area immediately around the blue flag on the satellite image above, the road crossing and halt.The disused Arncott Main level crossing on the Bicester Military Railway, looking towards Arncott yard and Bicester. 12th September 2017, (c) Roger Marks.Arncott Halt before the track was lifted, this view looks towards the level crossing above, (c) 70023venus2009. The remains of Arncott station on a disused section of the Bicester Military Railway. 12th September 2017, this view is taken from the level crossing above, (c) Roger Marks.

The line to the Paddington Depot travelled to the south of Palmer Avenue to meet the B4011. The level-crossing on the B4011 is shown after removal of some of the line. Looking West towards Arncott with tracks in place. The view looking towards Arncott and the working part of the Bicester Military Railway, from the disused Piddington branch at Piddington crossing. The former crossing keeper’s hut is on the left. 12th September 2017, (c) Roger Marks.The view from the level crossing looking east towards Piddington Depot before the removal of the line. The disused Piddington branch of the Bicester Military Railway, looking towards the terminus from Piddington Crossing. 12th September 2017, (c) Roger Marks.

The site beyond the gates (above) is shown on the extract from ‘OpenStreetMap’ below. The depot is now disused.

Returning to Arncott Depot. The map below shows the northern part of the Depot with the gate/signalbox at the top  and the line to Piddington leaving the image on the right. The second map below shows the southern half of the depot and its connection across Murcott Road to St. George’s Barracks.The crossing at Murcott Raod is shown in the next few images.Murcott Road Crossing west side, (c) John Grey Turner.Murcott Road Crossing west side, (c) John Grey Turner.Murcott Road Crossing, (c) Steve Daniels.Murcott Road West, (c) John Grey Turner.This plan shows St. George’s Barracks and the link at the top right back up to the line to the Piddington Depot.

Locomotives and Rolling Stock

I have only been able to find a small number of pictures without all rights reserved. There are a variety of sources of photographs of the line and it rolling stock. One interesting set of photos are taken by Chris Turnbull on a Railway Study Association visit to the BMR. [16] A short, eclectic series of photographs follow below, some taken at Bicester, others elsewhere. The common thread is that locomotives and rolling stock once served on the BMR.D2700, 0-4-0DM built by the North British Locomotive Co.Ltd., Glasgow in 1955 No.27426. Originally numbered WD8205, it worked at Bicester, Marchwood and Longmoor Military Railways before passing into private ownership in the 1980’s. [17]MoD No.01512 (ex-301) “Conductor”, a Thomas Hill (Vanguard) 34t 0-4-0 diesel hydraulic locomotive with 255 hp Rolls Royce C6SFL engine. On display at Long Marston Open Day in June 2009, from its home base of the Defence Storage & Distribution Centre, Bicester. [15]Shunting loco “Storeman”, (c) Steve Daniels. [22]The exchange sidings, with a coach and loco from the Bicester Military Railway © Ian Mortimer.BR Mk1 SO 4754 ex Bicester Military Railway, Horsted Keynes, 2 August 2014, (c) Nigel Menzies.Purchased from the Army’s Central Ordnance Depot Military Railway at Bicester, its TOPS classification is VJX. It was built as No. 23136. [23]BR Box Van B784284 – B784284 was withdrawn from British Rail service in November 1984, going into Army service. It was purchased from the Army’s Bicester Central Ordinance Depot in October 2000, the Army’s number being WGB 4188. This van is fitted with instanter couplings, which are a later version of the three link, (c) Mark Cann. [18]Looking through the boundary fence at MOD rolling stock, (c) David Luther Thomas. [20]M.o.D. and ex railway company rolling stock at Bicester Depot. (c) David Luther Thomas. [21]LSWR Goods Van (AD 47253) – Arriving at Quainton in August 1972 from the Ministry of Defence, Graven Hill, Bicester; this van carried the army number AD47253. It is fitted with a hand brake only. [24]The 2-row carriage shed at the Bicester Military Railway, June 2007. [25]


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