A Model Railway depicting Thurstaston
station on the Hooton to West Kirby branch on the Wirral Peninsula
the enthusiast point of view, the line had a particular fascination, as
it was a joint line, historically shared between the GWR and
to nationalisation in 1948, all passenger trains were worked by GWR
locos and men, whilst freight was
worked by the LMS. The LMS prohibited anything other than tank locos on
the branch. After nationalisation in
1948, these fixed rules were removed and both locos and coaches could
be either GWR or LMS
based with some passenger trains a mixture with one company's loco
hauling the other company's
excessive in these days of main-line trains as small as one or two car
multiple units, the normal branch train was either three or more LMS or
constituent non-corridor coaches, or a 4 coach GWR B-set. In
one photograph, an extra coach has been used to strengthen the B-set to
5 coaches. The most common passenger
locos in the later years were LMS
Stanier 2-6-2 tanks and GWR 41XX Prairie tanks.
Even up to the very end
of passenger services on the branch in September 1956, British Railways were
promoting the line by offering afternoon excursion tickets from the main line
stations Rock Ferry through to Hooton going on to Hadlow Road through to
Parkgate on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
of the main railway companies developed some form of train for branch line service
where the steam engine could be operated from a cab in a separate passenger
coach at the other end of the train from the engine.
This saved the need for the engine to be uncoupled and run round the
coaches at each end of the route. These
went under a number of terms, largely dependent on the earlier railway
autotrain (GWR), motor train and push-pull (LMS). The
specific coaches developed by the GWR were
referred to as autotrailers or autocoaches.
passenger autotrains were operated on the Hooton to West Kirby branch
periods during the British Railways period. The earlier operation used ex GWR stock.
When the engine was propelling, the driver would be in the
cab. From here, they could work the vacuum brake, sound a warning gong and through the use of rodding, the
of the regulator handle in the autotrailer was transferred to the
regulator by a combination of twisting, pushing and pulling. The fireman was required
to stay on the
engine and work the reverser in addition to the normal fireman’s duty.
The well known photograph by H. C. Casserley of West Kirby station shows the driving
the autotrailer standing at the platform. The engine is behind the group of nuns and children on the
platform. A second
photograph of the engine being
watered at the other end of the station shows that it is 1457. The coach is
considered to be W212W, which is now running as steam rail motor 93
preserved and un-converted back to how it was originally built by the
Great Western Society at
Mollington Street depot
had an allocation of two 14XX 0-4-2T engines, 1417 and 1457 which were
fitted for use with the autotrailer.
It appears that the autocoach was used for workmans trains, there being no
First Class section.
The summer 1952 working timetable shows the 7:16am
from West Kirby to Woodside as the sole autotrain working of the day on the
branch. From the 1951 Engine and Men's Workings, Turn 484 booked on at
Mollington Street at 4:10 am to prepare this
and another engine, leaving for Grange Lane carriage sidings at 5:40am. Here, they
would couple up to the autotrailer, having to connect vacuum and auto
gear, and be joined by the guard. Once
ensemble would leave empty at 6:05am to West Kirby, arriving at 06:55am . The 7:16am was the second departure of the day, taking
exactly an hour to reach Birkenhead Woodside. The train would then return to Grange Lane carriage sidings, deposit the coach
and guard before returning the engine to Mollington Street at 09:00am.
That was the entire
shift for the engine crew, so it was hardly ‘sweating the assets’ in terms of the engine, coach or personnel. I doubt that ticket receipts would be sufficient to cover the direct costs of the
operation but those were times when delivering a service was more important than its cost.
The loco and coach were used for a 5:01pm afternoon service from Rock Ferry to
Hooton, then empty to Stanlow before working the 5:52pm Stanlow to Rock Ferry.
was right at the end of passenger service on the branch in August and
1956. This time,
the stock was ex-LMS
with the British Railways standard class 2 2-6-2T engines. 84000 and 84003 were
Mollington Street in the 4 week period ending 11/08/1956, giving 5 to 9
of operation before the end of passenger services.
photographs of 84000 at West Kirby on 13/09/1956, although it is not
to confirm that this was a motor train operation. In the recent Middleton Press Chester to
Birkenhead book, photos 114 and 115 show 84000 on a motor train at Helsby in 1959. The standard tanks remained at Birkenhead until 1961 working on local passenger and freight, including
the motor train to Helsby.
The LMS method of
operation used two additional vacuum pipes to pass the movement of the
regulator in the driving trailer to the engine.
This was able to operate through more coaches than the GWR
system, to a maximum of 4, and the West Kirby and Helsby trains shown have 3 coaches. Again, the fireman
remained on the engine and communicated with the driver in the trailer driving cab by means of
respecting the working of Rail Motors and Motor Trains” from 1946
LMS motor train operation was not allowed on any of the lines on the
however GWR motor trains were permitted between Birkenhead and Chester
Hooton and Ellesmere Port. Also,
motor trains were allowed between Bidston and Seacombe.
British Railways goods workings were mixed, typically using Jinties or Pannier tanks. Due to
the down gradient from Neston towards West Kirby, 1 in 73, some were double
headed to provide the necessary braking power.
larger engines were used, such as 84000 standard tanks and Black 5's, and a
Fairburn tank and Hughes Crab are recorded working the final freight
trains in each direction.
I have heard of Stanier 8F's and BR
9F's being used, but have yet to see photographic evidence, other than
an 8F on a demolition train.
In the short
period between the Cadbury's factory at Moreton opening and the line closing, empty vans from Cadbury's at Bourneville were worked to the factory over the branch.
One of the photos shows what is believed to be one of these trains at West Kirby with a 4F. I understand that some of these were diesel hauled.
The train of full vans was worked back to Bourneville via Bidston.
electric trains that operated from Liverpool Central to Rock Ferry,
West Kirby and New Brighton from 1938 were serviced at Birkenhead North
depot. However, major overhauls required a journey to Horwich Works
near Bolton and for this the EMU's were steam hauled from Birkenhead
North through West Kirby and Hooton before reversing and continuing to
Bolton. A number of old wagons had been converted to
have a Buckeye coupling at one end to couple up to the EMU's which did not
have the usual buffers and couplings at the end of the sets.
To avoid gauging issues, the large steps for the passenger sliding doors
were removed for travel.
The line was used for occasional movements of troop trains.
These could be more like main line trains, an unpublished photo shows a Stanier 2-6-4T leaving West Kirby with at least 8 corridor coaches.
Possibly the most significant train in the line's history ran on the 11th of July 1957 when the Royal Train took the Queen to Grove Road station in Wallasey.
The special working was hauled by a pair of Stanier 2-6-4T locos.
By this date, the passenger service had finished, requiring maintenance to restore the track to passenger standards. Large crowds lined the route for the train's passing.
Towards the end of operation, when it was time for the West Kirby scout
troop's summer camp, an empty ventilated van was placed in the siding at West
Kirby station, opposite the signal box. The scout hut was just outside the
railway land so the scouts would need to go over the wall with their equipment
and load the van. A few days before they were due to leave, the van would
be collected and transferred to the station nearest their camp, often somewhere
in North Wales, so their equipment was waiting for them when they arrived.
The reverse happened at the end of the camp.
passenger service on the line was steam worked
to the end, however, after closure it was used for driver training on
DMU's for service on other local lines.
The 2009 book on The Wirral Railway shows a special train to Chester for the local girls school leaving West Kirby behind 2 Fairburn 2-6-4T locos.
What is especially interesting is that it is departing towards Hoylake but using
the platform at West Kirby Joint station as the train was too long for the main station.
Also, the date is April 26th 1963, so was over 6 months after the official closure of the track it was using, but still a year before it was taken up.
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