The Wirksworth Branch
Desperate to reach Manchester, but thwarted by political wrangling with the London & North Western Railway north of Ambergate, the Midland Railway opened its branch to Wirksworth in October 1867, with the intention of extending to Rowsley and beyond, if necessary. The extension, however, was never needed, and although the line struggled to justify its existence in terms of passenger numbers, the amount of milk and limestone that was transported was enough to warrant the building of the line on its own.
Passenger services ceased in 1947, and the milk traffic declined from this time too, but stone trains continued to run until 1989, when production at the quarries stopped. Throughout all this, the line was a natural testing ground for new stock built at. Derby, and was also used to test locomotives that had undergone overhaul at the works. Additionally, if a quiet place was needed for an official photograph, the branch was one of the first places people thought of. The result was an amazing variety of rolling stock seen over the years, from MR steam railmotors, to main line locomotives, dmus and even the Midland Pullman.
What was conceived as part of a major trunk route from London to Scotland looked set to end its days as little more than a long, picturesque siding, until in the mid-1990s, a determined bunch of local businessmen formed Wyvern Rail Ltd to return a passenger service to the valley using dmus to provide a commuter service during the week, but with steam trains providing a tourist attraction at weekends. The beginning of this new chapter in the line's history coincides with the publication of this book in September 2004, when the first passenger trains for nearly 60 years departs from the station at Wirksworth.
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