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The line from Alton to the main line two miles north of Winchester was opened in 1865. Although owned by a private company, it was staffed and operated by the L&SWR from the beginning, and the larger company absorbed the line in 1876. The line was never a great success, although it was used by expresses on occasion if the main line through Basingstoke was unavailable. Diesel units replaced steam in 1957, providing an hourly service between Alton and Southampton. Passenger traffic was not sufficient to support the service however, and the line was closed in 1973.
Immediately after closure, local volunteers formed the Mid Hants Railway, and through share issues and other fund-raising, they were able to purchase the track bed. A steam service from Alresford to Ropley opened in 1977, and the extension to Alton Station was completed in 1985, with the Mid Hants trains using platform 3. West of Alresford, the station at Itchen Abbas has been demolished for a small housing development, and the M3 severs the old track bed near Winchester, so no westward extension is feasible.
The stations now on the line are Alton, Medstead & Four Marks, Ropley and Alresford. The Watercress Line, as it is generally known, is now one of the most successful heritage railways in southern England.
These photos were taken on Wednesday 11th March 2009.
Alresford Station doesn't look particularly attractive from the outside.
On the platform side, however, the paint work and period signage is very attractive.
The Station Buffet is open from Tuesday to Sunday of every
week, whether there is a train service or not.
Gas lamps illuminate the inside, and there are facilities for those who wish to dine outside.
The Signal Box with carriages in the short siding.
Spring flowers cheer up the passengers travelling to and from Alresford.
The up platform looking east.
Period signs by the footbridge.
View looking east from the end of the up platform.
To the west of the station there are sidings for carriages which are making a sandwich of the Class 33 diesel loco.
Steam loco 73096 is backing up to the train of Mark 1 carriages.
73096 was built at Derby in 1955.
She is ready and gleaming for the steam gala which was to begin a couple of days later.
Having passed along the run-round loop, 73096 is ready to run up to Ropley.
Again, 73096 is shunting carriages at the up platform.
Ropley Station has been well preserved, but some renovation
work still needs to be done.
The gardens (behind the camera) are immaculate, and provide picnic facilities as well.
Period lamp posts and signage give the station an early Southern Region feel
The following locomotives were
being steamed up in preparation for the
Steam Gala Weekend at the Watercress Line over the period 13th to 15th March 2009.
850 "Lord Nelson" is on loan from the National Railway Museum at
She was built at Eastleigh by the Southern Railway in 1926, and taken into preservation in 1962.
Lord Nelson's gleaming tender.
View from the other side.
This loco was built by Beyer & Peacock in 1874.
She has spent time at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre and on the Bodmin & Wenford Railway.
The Gresley A4 "Bittern" was built by the LNER at Doncaster in
She is, of course, sister to the record-breaking "Mallard".
34016 "Bodmin" was built at Brighton by the Southern Railway in 1945. She was taken into preservation in 1972.
34007 "Wadebridge", an original Bullied "spam can",
was also built at Brighton by the Southern Railway in 1945.
She was taken into preservation in 1981.
73096, previously seen at Alresford station, steams into Ropley.
The Class 33 diesel loco arrives at Ropley to join the steam locos preparing for the open weekend.
© Copyright M J Smith, 2009
No photographs to be reproduced elsewhere without permission.