We’re very proud of our railway history in Stourbridge! This part of the website looks back over the decades to the very beginning of passenger services in the town. Scroll down to see some great nostalgia, and to find out how to get in touch with any memories or maybe old photos and memorabilia that you’d like to share with us.
We’re very grateful to Roger Davis of the Stourbridge Line User Group for allowing us to reproduce his article about the history of the Stourbridge branch line…
The opening of the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway in 1852 saw the opening of Stourbridge station. However, this station was neither of the existing stations – it was about 3/8 mile north of the current Stourbridge Junction station just south of Junction Road. This station was not convenient for the town centre, so a line was built from it to a new station situated just south of Foster Street. This opened on 1 October 1879 and ran south from the OWW station, now renamed Stourbridge Junction, before turning sharply right and heading in a north westerly direction to the town centre station, which was simply named Stourbridge. The line was built with double track throughout, the line from the Junction being the down line. The town centre station was a single 298 feet long platform built on the down side of the line and possessed a fine station building. On 1 January 1880, the up line was extended down a steep 1 in 27 incline beyond the station to serve the goods depot at Amblecote.
Double track continued past the station over a very low bridge which spanned Foster Street, before the down line terminated about 150 yards past the station. A crossover onto the up line at this point allowed steam locomotives to be released to run around their trains. Trains leaving Stourbridge on a train bound for Stourbridge Junction used the down line for the first 100 yards before crossing to the up line.
The first major change to the branch occurred on 1 October 1901 when the original two platform Stourbridge Junction station closed and was replaced by the four platform station that is still in use today, albeit with one less platform. This meant that the branch was realigned at its southern end to follow the route that exists today.
Economy measures during World War I saw the line closed from 29 March 1915 to 1 May 1919 and, on reopening, timetables renamed the station as Stourbridge Town, although all the signage at the station still displayed the name Stourbridge.
The 1922 timetable shows that 46 services operated in each direction on Mondays to Saturdays, with 3 services in each direction having first class accommodation as well as third class. By 1932, this had increased to 62 services in each direction.
In 1935, the signal box that stood opposite the station alongside the up line (almost on the same spot as the current station) was closed, the crossover south of the station was removed, and the branch was operated as two separate parallel single lines – the down line being a bidirectional passenger line and the up line a bidirectional goods line. North of the station, a buffer stop was installed with a wagon parked behind it and sleepers piled up behind that to stop trains reaching the crossover there. At the same time, the railmotors which had operated most of the services since the line reopened were replaced by auto trains – a locomotive pulling an auto coach down the slope from Junction to Town and propelling the train back to the Junction. The position of the engine was for safety reasons given that the branch was downhill at 1 in 67 from Junction to Town.
By the 1950s, the auto trains were operated by ex-GWR 14xx 0-4-2T locomotives based at Stourbridge shed. These engines were famed for their performance on auto-trains, especially on services from Gloucester Central to Chalford in the Stroud Valley. On journeys back to Gloucester when propelling their train, they often got engaged in a race with LMS Jubilee Class express locomotives on the adjacent Bristol to Birmingham line, and often won the race. If a 14xx locomotive was not available, a 64xx 0-6-0PT locomotive was brought in from Wolverhampton Stafford Road shed. Steam operation was replaced by diesel operation from late 1956 when GWR “Flying Banana” railcars were moved to Stourbridge shed to operate the service.
1957 saw two very significant developments. The first was purely cosmetic when the suffix “Town” was finally added to the station’s name boards. However, in October and November, the passenger line was truncated to terminate at the end of the platform to the south of Foster Street. The double track bridge over Foster Street was removed and replaced by a single track bridge for the goods line. At the same time the abutments and trackbed were raised by 2 feet and Foster Street was lowered by 4 feet to enable double decker buses to use Foster Street.
In 1959, the GWR railcars based at Stourbridge shed were withdrawn from service and replaced by modern Tyseley based bubble cars that would become Class 121 and 122 vehicles when TOPS classification was introduced in 1968/69. The 1960s and the closure of the line from Wolverhampton to Stourbridge Junction had an effect on the Town branch. In early 1964, British Rail announced that they intended to close both Amblecote Goods Depot and Stourbridge Town station, even though neither the line nor the station were in the hit list of closures in the previous year’s Beeching Report. As it turned out, the threat of closure of the Town Branch was lifted, but Amblecote Goods Depot closed in July 1965, the goods line was lifted and the bridge over Foster Street was removed on 24 September 1967, a brick wall being built on the south side of Foster Street. The station itself became an unstaffed halt from July 1967. Today, there is no trace of the line north of Stourbridge Town to Amblecote Goods Depot.
A second attempt, in November 1970, to close the line to save £30,000 per year was staved off. The fine station building, which was deteriorating and had lost its canopies during the 1970s, was finally demolished in February 1979 when the platform was cut back by 70 yards and fitted with a temporary building as a booking office and a bus shelter. The site of the station forecourt, the station building and the adjoining trackbed was redeveloped as the first version of the bus station.
The 1990s saw the introduction of new Class 153 single car units onto the line to replace the aging Class 121/122 bubble cars. There had been braking issues with the older units which resulted in them overrunning the buffers in 1977, 1989 and 1990, on the first occasion crashing through the wall and finishing up overhanging Foster Street. The Class 153s had been used on the Stourbridge line previously in their original guise as 2-car Class 155 units which were used on the Birmingham – Stourbridge Junction – Cardiff services. During 1991 and 1992, the 35 2-car units were converted into 70 single car units and redesignated as Class 153.
The line finally was closed in early 1994, but only temporarily from 10 January to 29 April. This allowed the old station to be completely demolished and a new station with a 170 feet long platform built on the opposite side of the line, with the smart booking office and waiting area that is in use today.
An experimental Sunday service was operated in 2006 using a prototype PPM50 railcar developed by Parry People Movers of Cradley Heath. As a result of this trial, the new London Midland franchise specified that two PPM60 vehicles would be purchased for use on the Stourbridge Town service. These entered service in June 2009 and, despite some teething troubles that saw Class 153 units reintroduced for a short period, have proved very successful.
In April 2012, the bus station was demolished and replaced by the superb £7m interchange.
Today, the service level is the highest ever with 107 round trips on weekdays, 102 round trips on Saturdays and 41 round trips on Sundays. The fact is that, until the PPM50 experiment in 2006, the line never had a Sunday service.
Thanks to StevesTrains again for the above ticket. We think it’s from December 1959.
If you have any memories of the Stourbridge branch line, or pictures you could share with us, we’d love to hear from you!
You can email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to us at:
Phil Tonks, Pre Metro Operations Ltd, Regent House, 56 Hagley Road, Stourbridge, West Midlands, DY8 1QD
Here’s a link to a recent article that appeared in the Black Country Bugle on local Stourbridge trains Letting the train take the strain in Stourbridge
Here’s some more from the Black Country Bugle – this time it’s all about the grand opening of Stourbridge Junction station in 1901, although an earlier station existed around 400 yards further along the line towards Birmingham. Stourbridge Junction Opening Ceremony 1901
Here’s a fairly recent memory, courtesy of Steven Taylor, who kindly gave us permission to use the picture.
Before 2009, when we started operating The Shuttle on a full-time basis, the service was operated by full-size units. These were “Class 153” types, and they were based at Tyseley depot near Birmingham. Only one unit was needed to operate the branch line service, but this rare picture shows two of them!
On 2nd March 2004, one of the units had broken down, and another was sent to recover it (for those interested, the broken down nit was 153379, and the recovery unit was 153375). Steven kindly asked the driver to take the picture for him!
Thanks to Peter Chapman, here are some working timetables for the period 7 September 1964 – 13 June 1965 on the branch line. As Peter says, they are somewhat different to today’s service! Journey time was planned for 2 and a half minutes end to end (much like today) and there were early and late departures, but nowhere near as many in total as there are today. Note also that Stourbridge Town was known simply as “Stourbridge” back then. Click on the link to see them as a .PDF
Here’s some more recent history, thanks to Tony Hunter. The first picture is of the early days of the Sunday trials on the Stourbridge branch line, which ran during 2006 to assess how a light rail vehicle might work. It also gave Stourbridge it’s first Sunday service on the line in over 100 years! The vehicle shown has the “family resemblance”, but was slightly smaller than the 2 vehicles that currently operate the service. This particular vehicle still exists, and is being refurbished as an exhibition vehicle.
The second picture shows one of the current railcars – 139 001 – being exhibited at Tyseley Railway Museum in Birmingham in June 2008, ahead of it’s launch on the branch line. It is in an incomplete state, as the interior still had to be fitted, as well as other parts, such as a windscreen wiper.