First, some historical context!
The railway first arrived in Norfolk in 1845 with the opening of a line from London via Wymondham and Cambridge. Its original terminus was at Trowse on the outskirts of Norwich. In 1849 this was joined by the Great Eastern Main Line, also linking Norwich to London, creating a new terminus at Norwich Victoria. Journey times to the capital were shorter on this route, and it soon became very profitable. King's Lynn had been linked to the country's growing railway network in 1846, and in 1862 the line was extended on to Hunstanton.
The creation of the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway, a combined venture between the Midland railway and the Great Northern Railway merged several smaller schemes into a larger proposal of creating a new main line from the Midlands into Norfolk. The M&GNR created a hub at Melton Constable, which served as a junction for the route with lines heading west to the Midlands, north to Cromer, south to Norwich and east towards Great Yarmouth as well as housing a major engineering works.
In the late Victorian era with the new waves of holiday passengers during the summer months, and the increased routes for cross-Britain trade, Norfolk boomed thanks to the new rail network.
A number of the cuts to the Norfolk network pre-dated the Beeching Axe by several years. In 1959 the Main Line of the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway was closed, on economic grounds and as car ownership increased, the need for rural routes was considered lessened, and, as a result of the 1962 Beeching Report many stations and lines were closed.
As luck would have it, some of the trackbeds remained and formed the basis of a number of privately owned railways and walking and cycle tracks.
These privately owned lines run by enthusiasts follow former trackbeds:
and there are also narrow gauge railways at:
Bure Valley Railway
Norfolk's longest fifteen inch gauge line, operated by The Bure Valley Railway runs between the ancient market town of Aylsham and Wroxham, the 'Capital of the Norfolk Broads' with country stations serving the villages of Brampton, Buxton and Coltishall.
The Bure Valley Railway is fast becoming one of England's premier narrow gauge railways, offering a service second to none to the enthusiast, traveller and tourist in all seasons of the year.
The steam or diesel locomotives pass through scenery which is as varied, interesting and beautiful as any to be found on a railway journey in England.
The main station of the line is situated in the middle of the market town of Aylsham and on the nine mile journey between Aylsham and Wroxham there are intermediate stations at Brampton, Buxton and Coltishall, all of which can form part of a fascinating day exploring the Bure Valley by rail and foot or bicycle.
The railway is built on the track bed of part of the former Great Eastern Railway line between Wroxham and the junction of the Dereham to Wells-next-the-Sea railway at County School (the western extent of the track bed of the Mid-Norfolk Railway). Opened on New Years Day in 1880, our station at Aylsham was one of two to serve the town.
Established in 1995 with the aim of buying and restoring the then-disused line between the Norfolk market towns of Dereham and Wymondham, the Mid-Norfolk Railway currently own 28km (17.5 miles) of track and track bed through some of central Norfolk's most attractive countryside, making it one of the largest preserved railways in the UK today.
Whilst the rolling stock resides principally in Dereham, services, which run to a timetable throughout the year, can be joined either in Dereham or at Wymondham Abbey Station.
The Mid-Norfolk Railway is home to a diverse and expanding collection of locomotives and rolling stock. Currently, the operation is powered by heritage diesel locomotives that haul both passenger trains and the regular freight traffic off the national network. The day-to-day passenger services rely on a diesel railcar fleet, which offers unrivalled panoramic views of the line and surrounding countryside. Steam days are run from time to time and, as the branch joins the mainline at Wymondham, visiting rolling stock is commonplace.
North Norfolk Railway
The North Norfolk Railway (otherwise known as the ‘Poppy Line’) offers a 10.5 mile round trip by steam train (vintage diesel trains on some journeys) through a delightful area of North Norfolk designated as being of outstanding natural beauty.
To the south are wooded hills and the Norfolk beauty spots of Kelling Heath and Sheringham Park. To the north, the sea and all within easy walking distance from the stations along the route.
The railway's headquarters in Sheringham is more than just a station. There is a museum signal box, children's activity coach, souvenir shop and a buffet, as well as an attractive booking hall and a ladies' waiting room.
At the other end of the line is Holt terminus, about 1 mile from the centre of the lovely Georgian Town. The 'Holt Flyer', a London Routemaster Bus service meets most steam trains in the summer.
Wells and Walsingham Light Railway
The Wells & Walsingham Light Railway was born out of one man's passionate dream, hard work and sheer determination. Having previously built the mile long 10¼" gauge railway from the town at Wells to the beach there, in 1979 Lt. Cmdr. Roy Francis started to construct the WWLR on the four miles of old Great Eastern track bed from Wells to Walsingham. Work was completed in 1982 and on 6th April services began on schedule making this the longest 10¼" narrow gauge steam railway in the world.
Hauled by the new unique 2-6-0 + 0-6-2 Garratt locomotive “Norfolk Hero” the train has a seating capacity of 76. The ground floor of a redundant signal box moved from Swainsthorpe to Wells, provides a shop and tearoom. The full history of the railway, the journey described, engineering, locomotive and permanent way details, can all be found in the guidebook.
Bressigham Narrow Gauge Railway
The Bressingham Collections include working and static steam locomotives, carriages and fixed engines, memorabilia. The centre piece is the three-abreast Gallopers. one of the finest to be seen anywhere. Built by Savages of Kings Lynn in 1900 and owned and operated by the Thurston family of Norfolk until 1934, the Gallopers later operated at Whitley Bay and ended up in Brechin, Angus before finding a home at Bressingham.
East Anglia Transport Museum
The East Anglia Transport Museum is home to the East Suffolk Light Railway, a 2ft gauge railway which opened in 1973 to recreate a typical light railway of years gone by. It winds its way along the northern perimeter of the Museum between the main station at Chapel Road, and Woodside, the furthest point of the trolleybus route.