- South Staffordshire Line
The South Staffordshire Line was a railway line that connected
Lichfieldin Staffordshire, Englandwith Dudley, formerly in Worcestershire. However, it joined the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway's line just north of Dudley Station, where it, in essence, continued to Stourbridge, in Worcestershire(Dudley and Stourbridge were later to become part of the West Midlands conurbation). The section south of Round Oak remains open for freight workings only, and is now officially referred to as the South Staffordshire Line. The line was built by the South Staffordshire Railway.
The Original Line and Route
The line officially began at Wychnor Junction, north of Lichfield, and ran through what is now Lichfield Trent Valley. Trains then continued through to Lichfield City itself. From there, a plethora of stations along the route were served. The line continued through to Walsall and a low-level station at Dudley Port. This was technically the terminus of the line but it was connected to the OW&WR's line and then ran through Dudley itself from 1860. It went on to serve other stations before eventually terminating at the south-western extremity of the
Black Countryat Stourbridge Junction.
Just before its termination at Stourbridge, it crossed (and continues to cross) the massive
Stambermill Viaductwhich is one of the local area's most significant landmarks. It also crossed Parkhead Viaductjust south of Dudleyand for several hundred yards passed through Dudley Railway Tunnel.
History and Passenger usage
The line was opened in 1849. This was soon to become part of the
London and North Western Railwayas far as Dudley station, which, in 1860, was opened as a joint venture with the OW&WR itself later to become amalgamated into the Great Western Railway. This station was built ten years after the original connection, however, and trains on the South Staffordshire Line ran from Walsall to Stourbridge fairly early on. Dudley provided a useful change point for passengers from Walsall and Stourbridge to Wolverhampton, though this wasn't utilised to quite the effect the OW&WR had hoped, due to the similar connection at Dudley Port by the SSR with the Stour Valley Line - which today forms part of the West Midlands section of the West Coast Main Line.
To the north of Dudley Port, a link to the Birmingham Snow Hill- Wolverhampton Low Level route was added sometime between the inauguration of the line and the opening of Great Bridge South railway station in 1866. Wednesbury was also a useful passenger link into Birmingham, with the Darlaston Loop, also built by the SSR, diverging south of the station in a sweeping loop up onto the
Grand Junction Railway's line into Birmingham New Street.
All three of the above - Dudley Port, Great Bridge and Wednesbury - were completed in 1850, and the line was then opened accordingly. All other stations on the route - from Lichfield to Walsall - were in operation from 1849.
Passenger travel existed on this route from then through until 1964 with the fall of the
Beeching Axe. Only one station fell along the way - Rushall being closed in 1909. The OW&WR portion of the line was closed pre-Beeching, in 1962. The line was used as a through route from Walsall right up until the closure of the line on 19 March 1993, mainly being used for freight duties at the Dudley Freightliner Terminal, which closed - despite being far more profitable than Birmingham's terminal - on 26 September 1989. Traffic on the line continued to slump after the terminal's closure, and decreased the line's viability. The section of railway north of Walsallhad already been closed, with the last train using the route on 19 March 1984and the track being lifted two years later.
The Brierley Hill to Walsall section of the line officially closed on
19 March 1993, nine years to the day that the Walsall-Lichfield line had closed. However, there were a handful of other movements on the line after its official closure, including a cable-laying train which covered the route on 2 July 1993, on its journey from Birminghamto Stafford.
With the Dudley-Wolverhampton line closed in December 1967, the trip into Dudley from Stourbridge was a direct one. Indeed, the line from Stourbridge Junction to
Round Oak Steel Terminalis all that remains of the South Staffordshire Railway and its line, though virtually all of the track on the closed section towards Walsallis in place.
The Line today
Very little of the South Staffordshire line is used today, although Lichfield City and the connection to Lichfield Trent Valley high-level remain as part of London Midland's Cross-City Service to Redditch via Birmingham New Street. Freight usage on the OW&WR portion of the route has once again become more common thanks to the
Round Oak Steel Terminal.
In terms of infrastructure, nearly all of the trackbed still remains, and indeed so does much of the track. The closed section South Staffordshire line has gradually fallen into disrepair over the last decade or so, with much of the trackbed heavily overgrown - in some areas almost totally concealed by vegetation. Most of the track between the Blowers Green Road and Highgate Road overbridges was removed in 1999 upon the construction of the Dudley Southern By-pass overbridge, leading up to the buffers at Harts Hill which mark the beginning of the line's closed section. A few yards of track just north of the Dudley Freightliner site have been removed, along with part of the track at Golds Hill crossing; this is believed to have been the work of vandals.
A number of fences have been placed along closed sections of the line in a bid to clamp down on anti-social behaviour which had been occurring. These fences are fitted at locations including the canal underbridge near Conygree Road, the entrances to Dudley Tunnel and the northern side of the level crossing near Wednesbury town centre. There is also a fence across the northern end of the closed line at Walsall; this encloses a heavily overgrown section of railway which includes many mature trees.
Approximately three years before the line's closure, the signal box in
Dudleywas destroyed by arsonists, as was the signal box at Golds Hill crossing after the line closed. Another signal box on the active line (near Brettell Lane) was burnt down much more recently.
Three bridges have also been built over the line since its closure. In 1995, a four-span viaduct was completed over Golds Hill crossing to carry the new
Black Country Spine Road; construction of this road had actually started while the line was still in use. 1999 saw the opening of a new overbridge to carry the Midland Metronear Potters Lane in Wednesburyand another to carry the Dudley Southern By-Pass. The bridge carrying Tipton Road over the line was rebuilt in 2005, and a new overbridge was built in 2006 to carry the line over a new road on a commercial development north of Wednesbury town centre.
Future re-opening of the line has been suggested several times in many different forms.
The most likely plan - to be approved before the end of 2000s and completed in about 2013 - is Line 2 of the
Midland Metro, which would diverge at Wednesbury and follow the route of the South Staffordshire Line. It is planned this will be a single line venture. Any stops on the route (which will probably occur around the points of the old railway stations) are likely to be doubled as passing places. The Midland Metro plan was actually formulated back in 1992, a year before the line's closure. There are also plans afoot to reinstate the line to Walsall as a single freight line (frequency of trains along this route would never warrant a double line) to allow a quicker route to Bescot TMD, which is currently only traversable by means of a lengthy run through Cradley Heath, diverging at Galton Junction and then later at Soho East. The most unlikely plan is that of Railtrackin 1997 - which suggested passenger services may be laid on once more. This was part of a plan to give the Merry Hill Shopping Centreits own heavy rail link. These plans never came to fruition and are unlikely to - although it is clear that a heavy rail link would make the centre far more attractive to those from far afield.
Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway
London and North Western Railway
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