On 1st August 1861, Parliament agreed for a 24 ½ mile long railway track to be constructed within 5 years. The line would travel between Worcester and Leominster via Bromyard. At this time, Sir Charles Hastings was chairman of The Worcester Bromyard and Leominster Railway Company, and the company planned to raise £200,000 (£20 million pounds in today’s money!) by selling shares worth £10 each, as well as borrowing £65,000 if needed. £50,000 of these shares would be purchased by the West Midland Railway.
Construction Goes off the Rails
Problems first appeared three years later in 1864 when, despite spending over £20,000, the land had not all been purchased and contracts for actually constructing the railway had not even been arranged! In December 1866, the contractor declared themselves bankrupt, and work on constructing the line stopped. A new arrangement was set up, with the deadline for completing the line by January 1867. In June 1867 the line was still not complete, and only £67 was left in the bank account! The company then applied to have the construction of the line between Bromyard and Leominster abandoned, which was agreed by 1869. A new deadline of 28th June 1871 was agreed.
In 1874, a new company called The Leominster & Bromyard Railway Company was formed. The company was authorised to construct the remaining 12 miles of railway line between Bromyard and Leominster, with capital of £210,000.
In 1874, the first section opened between Yearsett and Bromyard Junction, and the last three miles to reach Bromyard were completed in 1877. The Worcester & Bromyard Railway was opened on Monday 22nd October 1877, taking more than 16 years to construct! The full line was still not complete however, as the line did not travel between Worcester and Leominster.
Back on Track
A new stretch of railway between Steens Bridge and Leominster was laid in 1884, and by 1888 the entire Worcester, Bromyard & Leominster Railway had been purchased by The Great Western Railway Company. This company undertook the construction of the final connection of the line (which connected Leominster and Bromyard) in 1897 and this final stretch of line meant trains could finally travel directly from Leominster to Worcester, 36 years after the start date! The first train on this line left Leominster at 7:20am on 1st September 1897, but only a small number of people came to see it.
At this time, rail was becoming an increasingly popular way to travel. The Bromyard Races were a popular event, and almost 7,000 people turned out to see them in 1884, many of whom would have used the train to travel there.
The railway also provided job opportunities, with people coming to find work at the time of hop-picking in September.
The End of the Line
Train travel became even more popular during the World Wars when road travel was restricted, but after World War 2 train use fell considerably in this area, with the Leominster to Bromyard trains being virtually empty. From September 1949 the stations ceased to be staffed, and the Bromyard – Leominster line closed to passengers on 15th September 1952.
The Worcester-Bromyard section remained open for storage of railway vans and wagons which had fallen into disuse. This section was eventually closed in 1964 due to the Beeching cuts, and the track was offered for sale after 1965 but there were no willing buyers. After being closed most of the line was sold off to private land owners.
Dr. Richard Beeching was a physicist, engineer, and chairman of British Railways. He is famous for what became known as “The Beeching Cuts” or “Beeching’s Axe”, which aimed to improve efficiency and cut costs on British Railways. As a result of his reports between 1963 and 1965, over 6,000 miles of railway lines were cut by the end of the 1960s.
Increasing competition from growing road transport, coupled with the end of petrol rationing led to a rapid growth in the ownership and use of cars. The number of miles travelled by vehicles grew at an annual rate of 10% between 1948 and 1964. In 1949 the “Branch Lines Committee” of the British Transport Commission was formed, which aimed to close the least used branch lines. The profitability of several rail lines had been questioned for many years, and freezes of rail fares and freight charges led to increasing problems, with operating costs becoming greater than income by 1955. The 1955 Modernisation Plan promised to increase investment in rail services, with steam locomotives being replaced with diesel and electric alternatives, with plans for the rail system to be back in profit by 1962. This was not the case, and by 1961 losses were running at £300,000 per day.
The Beeching reports recommended that 6,000 miles of mostly rural and industrial lines should be closed, with over 2300 stations to close.