Experience the route that time forgot in Armstrong Powerhouse’s stunning Train Simulator recreation of the Wherry Lines.
Opening in 1844, the Norwich to Great Yarmouth railway, via Reedham, was the first railway to be seen in Norfolk. Three years later, the branch from Reedham to Lowestoft followed and it wasn’t until 1883 that the final piece of the jigsaw fell into place with the construction of the alternative route via Acle to Great Yarmouth.
Until 1923, this railway was operated by the Great Eastern Railway company and it was their fear of a competitor attempting to reach Great Yarmouth which resulted in the construction of the later route via Acle. The name of the line, Wherry Lines, originates from the Norfolk wherries which were once important in transporting goods and people around the broads before roads and railways became widespread.
Fast forward to the 1980s and the ‘Yarmouth’ route was thriving with summer services from all parts of the country, such as London, Liverpool, Manchester & Newcastle (the Lowestoft branch never attracted as much traffic so will be kept to the side for the time being). Come the early 1990s however, cheap package holidays abroad were starting to take hold and the demand to visit Yarmouth as a holiday destination steadily dropped. As a result, these direct services were gradually reduced and by the time of privatisation in 1996, only the London trains and a couple of services from Liverpool Lime Street remained. By 2004, the Liverpool trains were withdrawn, resulting in Yarmouth only being served directly from London & Norwich.
As loco-hauled services progressively disappeared around the country, these London trains held strong and, as a result, started to attract quite a following from enthusiasts. With the electric hauled set from London being dragged from Norwich to Great Yarmouth by a Class 47, a run round procedure was required at Yarmouth to haul the set back to Norwich – something quite rare to witness by the end of the 2000s. This continued until 2014 and remained a popular day out for enthusiasts but, come early 2015, Class 47s were being withdrawn by DRS in favour of Class 37s. These locos were unable to haul the 8 or 9 coach sets from London due to having an insufficient ‘ETH index’ (the amount of electricity that can be supplied for on-train systems such as air conditioning and heating), so as a result, direct services from London were withdrawn and, after many decades, Yarmouth has been left with no direct services beyond Norwich. This might all sound rather gloomy but a new era was arriving on the ‘Wherry Lines’ and enthusiasts were in for a right treat.
So far, only direct services to Yarmouth from far off places have been mentioned but local services from Norwich to Yarmouth & Lowestoft have also offered plenty of interest in recent years. From the late 1950s, diesel multiple units (DMUs) replaced steam-hauled local services and this largely remained the case until the early 1990s. Since then, Norwich Crown Point depot has intermittently had shortages of DMUs so to combat this, they cobbled together a set of 3 of 4 coaches, plus a locomotive, to cover. Usually the locomotive in question would be a Class 47 but in the early years, it wasn’t unknown for a Class 31 or 37 to do the honours. This loco-hauled train soon became known as the ‘short set’ due to its short appearance in comparison to the London trains, though in later years, it has had a second locomotive added to facilitate top and tail operation, which removes the requirement to run round. This arrangement continued until April 2014, but with the Mk3 coaches undergoing refurbishment and experiencing lower availability as a result, Mk2 coaches were provided instead from DRS, who had already been supplying Class 47 locomotives for the set since 2009. As mentioned previously though, with increasing reliability issues, the Class 47s were falling out of favour and by June 2015, Class 37s had arrived to operate the short set. No longer on an ad-hoc basis depending on DMU availability but scheduled workings from Monday to Friday and extra Saturday services during the summer.
As of early 2016, this route is somewhat of a time warp with semaphore signalling and manual level crossings surviving for most of its length. With the addition of Class 37 hauled passenger services, it is a treasure trove for enthusiasts and oozes the character of yesteryear: one of the last places to truly experience the railway as it was. Whilst a date for re-signalling has yet to be set in stone, it is only a matter of time, so this add-on is Armstrong Powerhouse’s tribute to the line that time forgot. Enjoy it and, if you can, make sure to visit as soon as possible to see it for yourself.