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Weymouth Quay Railway

The rolling stock may have gone, but will metal wheels ever roll over these rails again?
Gear Wheels delves into the history of the
redundant harbour line railway that once ran
through the streets of this Dorset seagoing town.

The Weymouth quay tramway was opened to much acclaim in the 1800s to support the Channel Island steamer service by preventing the need of double handling, i.e., removing goods from a wagon at the main town station, loading onto carts and transporting by road to the dock area, or vice versa.

The track as it still appears today

  Consisting of a length of track of standard gauge with short sidings on the quay, the tramway was worked by the Great Western Railway (GWR), but owned by the Weymouth & Portland Railway. Horses were used to haul the wagons in the early years of the line, but as loads increased in weight and frequency their limitations became apparent. In 1878 the first wheeled locomotive negotiated the route.

   Steam loco's immediately overcame the snags associated with horsepower, although a whole new set of problems arose that were only resolved by placing certain restrictions on the line, not least the requirement for a policeman to walk in front of the engine waving a red flag (or swinging a lamp when dark) as the train traversed the narrow public road.

  A second motive unit was soon added, although our four-legged friends were retained for shunting purposes until well into the last century. A passenger service to the quay was inaugurated in 1889 when GWR took control of shipping operations.

  This pattern of goods and passenger services continued with various improvements being made to keep pace with the changing pattern of life until well into the 1920s; these included the enlargement of the quay platforms and various track realignment work, etc., to allow for the extra length of standard railway carriages used on the rail network at the time. Strangely, for a line carrying fare paying passengers, no evidence of a mechanical signaling system can be traced either through records or by remains on the ground. Maybe, with its strictly enforced speed limit of just 4 mph this was deemed unnecessary!

   In later years the motive unit was required to have a bell which the fireman rang continuosly as it moved along the road, while the shunter had an array of devices, including a whistle, flag, lamp, etc., as well as strong vocal chords to get car drivers out of the way. At known dangerous points he would walk in front of the loco.

  On the outbreak of the Second World War public services to the quay area were suspended and it wasn't until 1945 that a regular goods service resumed. Passenger operations following some 12 months or so later.

The quay branch gradually became busier in those post-war years with its peak arguably being in the 1960s after which a gradual decline set in as more and more people used their own transport and road haulage took over from rail freight.

  As shipping movements to the Channel Islands transferred elsewhere use of the track declined and, in 1972, the last goods train traversed the line, although a summer boat service continued for some time. The death knell for the tramway came with the electrification of the main line to the Dorset coast in 1988.

  Today the carriages may have gone (although it is believed a locomotive negotiated the harbour trackway in the late 1990s), but the track along Commercial Road remains as an important link in Weymouth's proud past, and who knows what future developments may bring forth as roads becomes even more congested and the cost of vehicle transportation rises.  


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