Feature: On the right track for journey through time on the Brigg line

Kirton Tunnel, once a feature of the line, but now single track. EMN-160709-081228001
Kirton Tunnel, once a feature of the line, but now single track. EMN-160709-081228001

I have to admit that it is more than 25 years since I boarded a train at Brigg Station.

But the station was a focal point for me in my youth, so I decided it was about time I took a look again and considered what the future might be for the line.

As a youngster, I would collect fruit for my father’s shop sent by ferry and train from Humber Street Fruit Market in Hull.

I pushed a barrow through the town to what was then a busy, bustling station.

Another memory was of the day I left Brigg for college in Chester. Students did not have cars then!

I can just remember lying in bed listening to the whistle of the steam engines as they went over the Cadney Road bridge.

Sadly, since the 1990s it has all been downhill for the line, but hope stirs and Paul Johnson, a railway fanatic, leads the call for a better service – while the town council not only dreams of that, but more immediately wants to see a station less troubled by vandals and fly tipping.

On a fine mid-summer Saturday I began my nostalgic journey, accompanied by Paul.

I crossed the recently-built £400,000 bridge to catch the 11.30 train to Gainsborough.

The platform can be a bleak windswept place.

There are no buildings on the station to store parcels and fruit boxes now; the last were demolished in 1994.

Once aboard, the familiar local landmarks along the line remain little changed from my student days.

We passed over the bridge on the old River Ancholme, and then the new River Ancholme, before rattling on through what was Scawby Station and to Kirton Tunnel, one of the line’s features and the only tunnel in North Lincolnshire.

I got chatting to Paul.

“The line in the tunnel is single-track now, where the other track was is now a drain,” he said.

“The tunnel is cut through limestone and collects so much water it has to be collected and moved away.”

In some ways the troubles that beset the line today go back to the mid 19th century when a local landowner would not sell land to the railway companies to build a major junction.

So the junction was built at Barnetby, and instead of being an important point for the meeting of three lines, the town was left with just one.

“The Brigg line opened in 1848-49 and the main purpose was the movement of heavy freight between Grimsby and the industrial centres of Northern England.”

It was also a popular link from the Sheffield area to Cleethorpes.

From then until the late 1960s the line was busy for freight and passenger traffic every day of the week.

“The first cuts came in 1968 and the line survived a closure proposal in 1988, before, in 1993, the Saturday-only service with three trains each way came in,” said Paul.

This type of service is officially known as a Parliamentary Service.

The line is presently operated by Aviva Northern Rail, effectively the same company that has operated the service for the past ten years.

Extensive upgrading of the track for the line’s use as a diversionary freight route took place about five years ago.

Paul added: When the Trans Pennine line was closed after the landslip at Hatfield a lot of freight came this way.

“Sadly that freight traffic is now much less. Coal tax imposed by George Osborne has not helped and coal is not going to West Burton Power Station.”

We got to Gainsborough and disembarked.

At Gainsborough Central another newly-built £400,000 bridge stands as a beacon of hope that one day before too long the Brigg and Kirton line will have a second coming.

Don’t build your hopes on it, though.

Paul is certainly a rail champion, but all I would say is that I hope his enthusiasm bears fruit.