Jersey Western Railway

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A train passes through First Tower in the 1930s

An Act passed by the States in 1869 paved the way for the introduction of Jersey's first railway the following year, running a distance of approximately four miles from the Weighbridge terminus at St Helier to St Aubin.

Standard gauge

Work under way to convert the line at St Aubin to narrow gauge

The line was owned by the Jersey Railway Company and was standard gauge - 4ft 8½in. The first trial run was on 28 September 1870 and after Board of Trade approval had been received (although nominally self-governing, Jersey was still very much subject to English controls) the first passenger service operated on 25 October. The line was built on the shore line for its full length. There was no sea wall along the length of the bay at that time and the line was subject to erosion of the sandy soil beneath it during stormy weather. The last section of track from La Haule to St Aubin was carried on trestling at the top of the beach.

The company initially operated two 2-4-0 locomotives built by Sharp Stewart of Manchester and named 'Haro-Haro' and 'Duke of Normandy'. They were followed by another similar engine, 'General Don', and a smaller train, 'North Western', which was eventually sold to the Jersey Eastern Railway.

Public holiday

The official opening of the line was an occasion for great celebration and a public holiday was declared in St Helier and St Aubin to allow the people to view the ceremonies. In town a guard of honour was provided by the Town Battalion of the Militia, with the Queen's Colour and the town band, to welcome the Lieut-Governor, General Philip Guy, the Bailiff, Jean Hammond, the Dean, William Corbet Le Breton, and other dignitaries and invited guests, who left the terminus on the first four-carriage train, pulled by 'Haro-Haro' and 'Duke of Normandy' at 1 o'clock, accompanied by the band of the 15th Regiment.

The Royal Jersey Militia Artillery fired a 13-gun salute as the train pulled out of the station and it took 20 minutes for the 200 passengers to reach St Aubin with no stops en route. At the destination the Dean said prayers and extolled the virtues of steam power. The South West Regiment of the Militia was on parade to receive the distinguished passengers who were taken by horse and cart to Noirmont Manor for a grand lunch.

Meantime, large numbers of people travelled backwards and forwards between St Helier and St Aubin to view the wonderful decorations and triumphal arches erected to mark the occasion and enjoy the fireworks display at the end of a momentous day in Jersey's history.

'St Brelade' at the Weighbridge terminus

Daily service

The railway then settled down to operate 15 return journeys on weekdays and ten on Sundays between the single-platform terminus at St Helier and the two-platform station, built to a similar design, at St Aubin.

Unfortunately the service was not a commercial success and was purchased from the debenture holders in 1883 by T Heyward Budd, for £23,500, who then sold it on at a profit to a new company, of which he remained chairman. It undertook to build an extension of the line to La Moye, but in 1884 there were concerns about the safety of sections of the existing track and the States of Jersey gave the company ten days to undertake repairs, under threat of closure. The States kept a tight rein on the railway's activities, controlling fares and resisting a merger with the Jersey Eastern Railway.

A train bound for Corbière takes a sharp turn at St Aubin

La Moye extension

The extension of the line to La Moye was built to narrow gauge (3ft 6in) and in due course the track between St Helier and St Aubin was re-laid to the same gauge. Two new locomotives, 'St Aubin' and 'St Helier' were purchased from Manning Wardle of Leeds in 1884, followed in 1893 and 1894 by 'Corbière' and 'St Brelade'. At the end of the century 'La Moye', a larger engine weighing 36½ tons to the 26 tons of the other four, was bought from Andrew Barclay. This locomotive is still working to this day in South Africa.

Failure to secure a merger with the Jersey Eastern or to obtain consent for an increase in fares (the limit on the original St Helier-St Aubin sector was 65% lower than that agreed for the La Moye service) led to further financial problems and the railway was only rescued from bankruptcy when it was purchased by a syndicate. On 18 January 1896 Jersey Railways and Tramways was registered, and under its general manager, W H Dickson, business began to improve.

St Aubin tunnel

A tunnel was created at St Aubin to improve the through route to La Moye and in 1898 an extension of the line to Corbière was completed. Trains running on this section carried thousands of tons of granite from La Moye quarries to St Aubin for export to England, where it was used for the construction of the Thames Embankment and Portland Breakwater. The contract was to supply over 75,000 tons of granite a year for three years.

By the early years of the 20th century the St Helier terminus had been extended to house four tracks covered by a double-span roof. Stations were in operation along the route to St Aubin at West Park, Bellozanne, First Tower, Millbrook, Bel Royal, Beaumont and La Haule, and at Pont Marquet, Don Bridge (serving golf courses at La Moye and Les Quennevais), Blanches Banques and La Moye on the way to Corbière. There was only a single track for the whole length of the line, but crossing loops were created at Millbrook, St Aubin and Don Bridge.

A train passes the Grand Hotel at West Park

St Aubin also had a fine station, with four tracks, and a Station Hotel and carriage shed attached. The train followed one of the most scenic routes imaginable, passing along the coast of St Aubin's bay before meandering through unspoilt countryside in St Brelade. Many people in Jersey today regret that this service could not have survived but the arrival of motor buses in the early 'twenties brought about a decline in traffic from which the railways could not hope to survive.

Railcars introduced

To cut costs, traditional locomotives drawing open carriages were replaced with railcars, as many as four in service at one time. These were called 'Pioneer', 'Portelet', 'La Moye' and 'Normandie'. The company had intended to build a street tramway in St Helier, but this never got started and by 1922 Jersey Railways and Tramways introduced their own buses to connect with the railway line. Competition from Jersey Motor Transport, which began operations in 1923 led to its acquisition by the railway company five years later. Rail traffic had declined so dramatically that the line was closed from October to April, but before the company had the chance to settle down with the new pattern of services, fire swept through the St Aubin station and carriage shed on 18 October 1836, destroying all the rolling stock stored there over the winter.

The company decided to close down, the States agreed to purchase its properties, and the track was all removed. Today a beautifully maintained walk runs from St Aubin to Corbière where the trains once operated, and there is a wide pedestrian promenade from St Aubin to St Helier.



Histories

The stations

A train nears St Aubin
St Aubin in 1905

Profiles of Jersey Western Railway stations from www.disused-stations.org.uk

Gallery of Jersey Western Railway pictures

(click on thumbnail to view larger image)

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