FolkestoneJack's Tracks

The Golden Arrow: Waterloo to Folkestone Harbour

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on March 14, 2009

The saga of the last train to Folkestone Harbour has finally drawn to a close today with the visit of BR standard class 7 steam locomotive 70013 ‘Oliver Cromwell’ with the ‘Golden Arrow’ from Waterloo.

West Coast Railways class 47 diesel 47245 hauls the railtour into Folkestone Harbour

West Coast Railways class 47 diesel 47245 hauls the railtour into Folkestone Harbour

Unlike previous occasions where a sense of uncertainty lingered, this time Network Rail has confirmed that the line will be mothballed after the steam special. A major factor in the closure was the significant amounts required to bring the line up to a modern standard. The one remaining consistant user, the Venice-Simplon Orient Express, will transfer their services to the freshly refurbished station at Folkestone West.

BR standard class 7 steam locomotive 70013 'Oliver Cromwell' on the viaduct

BR standard class 7 steam locomotive 70013 ‘Oliver Cromwell’ on the viaduct

The significance of this last visit was underlined by the relative extravagance (and delight) of three runs up the 1 in 30 ascent. Even the locomotive seemed fitting, for Oliver Cromwell is perhaps best remembered for being one of four locomotives used for the IT57 ‘Fifteen Guinea Special’ which was the last steam hauled passenger train operated on the mainline by British Rail. After the special excursion, on 11th August 1968, a steam ban came into effect across the network. Now, it has another last to add to its history.

Oliver Cromwell makes a spirited run up the 1 in 30 gradient

Oliver Cromwell makes a spirited run up the 1 in 30 gradient

As sad as it is to see the branch line close, the railways in and around Folkestone have been in decline for many years. The quadruple lines through Folkestone Central have been reduced to two lines for well over a decade and the island platform now stands bereft of structures, a ghost of a busier age. The ferries that once graced Folkestone Harbour have long gone (and with them the boat trains). The pedestrian footbridge and crossing box at Folly Road long since vanished. My parents could talk of earlier losses, remembering a railway far busier than I have ever known it. In some ways, it is a miracle that the harbour branch survived quite this long. So rather than bemoan its passing, I choose to glory in this last hurrah.

Oliver Cromwell at the tail of the railtour as it crosses Foord viaduct

Oliver Cromwell at the tail of the railtour as it crosses Foord viaduct

Today’s events lasted a couple of wonderful smoke filled hours and then finally, it was over. My last sighting of Oliver Cromwell came as she was dragged across the Foord viaduct, high above Folkestone’s streets and my vantage point near the premises of family funeral directors Hambrook and Johns.

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