North Norfolk Railway gets reconnected to National Rail
By David Keller
The North Norfolk Railway gets reconnected to the National Rail network
The North Norfolk Railway (NNR) has been reconnected to the National Rail network for the first time in 46 years.
The steam locomotive Oliver Cromwell carried the first passengers over the new tramway-style crossing at Sheringham on Thursday, 11 March 2010.
More than £140,000 has been raised to install a link to connect the Poppy Line, which runs to Holt, to the national Bittern Line.
Record producer and rail enthusiast Pete Waterman attended the event.
"It's been an amazing achievement. It's something for the future, for youngsters to get involved with," he said.
The "occasional use" level crossing features 300 yards (274.32m) of new rails to connect Sheringham Station on the North Norfolk Railway to Network Rail's halt - the end point of the Bittern Line which runs to Norwich.
The original crossing over Station Road was initially closed as part of Dr Beeching's railway reform in the 1960s.
Although National Express mainline services will continue to use their existing halt, the reopening of the crossing will allow steam charter trains and visiting locomotives to reach the NNR via the National Rail network.
The North Norfolk railway from Holt to Sheringham will have a direct link to Norwich
This will bring an estimated 3,600 - 4,800 extra people from London to north Norfolk every year, improving the NNR's current annual turnover of £1.2m.
Work started on the crossing on Saturday, 9 January 2010 and the reconnection has been made possible by an anonymous £30,000 loan on top of £25,000 from Norfolk County Council, £5,000 from North Norfolk District Council and other personal donations.
Any extra money donated will be placed in the existing fund towards a new canopy on platform two at Sheringham, which will replicate the original look of the station.
"The great thing about steam railways, particularly in rural communities is it becomes important to them because it brings people in to see the engines, take a ride, and that has a knock on effect to the shops and local businesses," said Mr Waterman.
But is that idealistic vision accurate?
In the age of many families having more than one car, who will use the line and will it create a significant impact on the local economy?
The "occasional use" steam line will chug up to Norfolk no more than 12 times a year.
Sheringham's National Rail halt sits on the east side of Station Road
With thousands of pounds being spent on the crossing, is this just a case of nostalgia gone too far or is there money to be made?
"A bit of both," said Colin Borg, marketing director for the NNR.
"It is too early to give a specific figure but there is money to be made in nostalgia. Last year 130,000 tickets were bought for trains on the North Norfolk Railway and from our research, those people came to expressly ride on the trains.
"The steam charter trains, similar to the Cathedral Express that visits Norwich, can take around 300-400 passengers. The ones that come to Sheringham will expect to arrive Friday night or Saturday and return on Sunday - those people will need accommodation.
"We are not looking in the Euromillions category here, but we expect some money to be made. However, steam engines are an extremely expensive business," he added.
Tourist travel for communities in Weybourne, Kelling Heath Holiday Park and Holt to London is currently not in the NNR's plans, but Colin is optimistic.
"In the future, say 20, 30, 40 years, we could see passenger transport the other way from Holt to London, but that is all a long way away," he said.
Norfolk Orbital Railway
Sheringham Station is part of the Norfolk Orbital Railway project
The Holt, Melton Constable and Fakenham Railway Ltd, which has been pursuing this first Sheringham link as part of the Norfolk Orbital Railway project, also hopes that "occasional use" can be made more regular.
The company is also looking to link Fakenham to the Mid Norfolk Railway.
"The Norfolk Orbital Railway project is for the community and the environment," said Trevor Bailey, director of Norfolk Orbital Railway.
"We are not doing this for any sort of personal profit. It is hard, unpaid work but rewarding because we believe strongly in rail transport."
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