Jersey's railways

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Jersey's railways

This article by Ronald Burt was first published in the 1961 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise


This is a story of the now defunct Jersey railroads, namely the Jersey Railway, latterly known as the Jersey Railways and Tramways, and the Jersey Eastern Railway. The Eastern and the Western Railways were entirely separate concerns with neither physical nor financial connections.

This article is in two parts, dealing with each railway individually and in general they are referred to as they were more commonly known, JWR - Jersey Western Railway, and JER - Jersey Eastern Railway; thus it may be possible to recapture some memories of old Jersey which have long since gone.

  • Railways: The introductory page to Jerripedia's comprehensive, illustrated history of the island's railways

Jersey Western Railway

It was in the year I870, during Queen Victoria's reign, that steam trains first came to Jersey. The line was owned and run by a firm called the Jersey Railway Company and the service ran from St Helier terminus - the Weighbridge - to St Aubin, a distance of approximately four miles.

The line was built under an Act of I869 to the standard gauge of 4ft 8½in. Work on laying the permanent way progressed very well; so well in fact that it was completed by 28 September 1870, and it was on this date that the first train ran from St Helier to St Aubin, but only as trial run. Several trial runs followed and, after it had been certified that the section complied with Board of Trade standards, the inaugural train left St Helier approximately one month later, on Tuesday 25 October 1870, en route for St Aubin (the limit reached by the railway at that time), as a sign that public traffic had begun.

A point of interest was that the line was carried from La Haule to St Aubin on trestling built at the top of the beach, near to the sea wall.

The locomotives owned by the company upon the opening of the railway were two 2-4-0 inside cylinder tanks, supplied by Sharp Stewart and Company, of Manchester, named Haro-Haro and Duke of Normandy. There followed in I879 a 2-4-0 loco named General Don; also, it is believed that in the early days of the company another loco, named North Western was working, but it was eventually found to be too small for the traffic and was sold to the JER.

Tuesday 25 October 1870 was the opening day of the railway and was accordingly declared a half-holiday in St Helier, and a full day's holiday in St Aubin: celebration scenes at both termini were spectacular. At St Helier a guard of honour of the Rifle Company of the Town Battalion of the Militia, with the Queen's Colour and the town band, were present to receive His Excellency the Lieut-Governor, Major General Guy. The excitement of the privileged assembly inside the station was intense, whilst the public, congregated outside, were no less enthusiastic.

Four carriages

The train of four carriages, drawn by the company's two locomotives, Duke of Normandy and Haro-Haro, was due to leave St Helier station at 1 pm. It was to carry the Lieut-Governor, the Bailiff, the Dean of Jersey and the principal civil and military authorities, together with the specially invited guests and the band of HM 15th Regiment, to the opposite side of the bay at St Aubin.

A few minutes before one o'clock, His Excellency declared the railway open, and gave the order to start. As the train moved slowly out of the station amid the cheers of spectators, a battery of the Royal Jersey Militia Artillery fired a salute of 13 guns. The train with its 200 passengers on board made the non-stop journey in about 20 minutes. On its arrival at St Aubin's terminus, the Dean gave an eloquent address on the wonderful power of steam, and offered prayers for the undertaking of the project.

Like St Helier's station, St Aubin was gaily decorated, and outside, the Company of the South West Regiment of the Militia waited to receive His Excellency with the Queen's colour, and again fired a salute. The inaugural ceremony over, the guests then drove to Noirmont Manor, the residence of Mr Pickering, contractor to the company, where a sumptuous luncheon was provided; the toasts were many and the speeches long and numerous. During the afternoon and evening large numbers of people travelled from and to St Helier, in order to savour the novelty of rail transport, and to view the attractive decorations and triumphal arches which had been erected all over St Aubin in honour of the occasion. The day ended with a brilliant display of fireworks.

At that time the St Helier terminus, with its open roof of oval form, had one platform extending the whole of the Conway Street side. The pleasing granite entrance of later days was not yet constructed. St Aubin's terminus was similar in design, except that it had two platforms, one on each side of the lines. The service comprised 15 trains in each direction on weekdays, and ten on Sundays. The carriages were of the four wheeled type and open-sided, having merely roof protection supported on pillars.

Despite the successful beginning of the Jersey Railway Company, it did not prove to be a financial success and, in the end, became the property of the debenture holders. It was purchased in July 1883 by a Mr T Heyward Budd for £23,500, and a new company was formed with Mr Budd as its chairman; it acquired the original line from him for £58,705, and undertook to build an extension from St Aubin to La Moye.

Track unsafe

In 1884 the States Engineer reported that the condition of a portion of the railway between St Helier and St Aubin was unsafe; a long discussion ensued in the States on 8 August. Though previously ordered to effect necessary repairs, the railway company had neglected to do so; notice was finally given that the line would be closed if the necessary repairs were not carried out within ten days.

In the meantime work was continuing fairly well on the extension to Corbiere, which was being built to a narrower gauge, that of 3ft 6in. On 1 September 1884 the extension began to carry passengers; and work progressed so very well that by December of the following year the line was declared open for its entire length. During 1885 the board tried to effect an amalgamation with the Eastern Railway, so that both railways could go to the States and endeavour to obtain powers to charge increased rates. There was, in fact, an anomaly in as much as the fares on the La Moye section were 65% higher than those on the original section, which were fixed at a lower rate under the Act of 1869.

It seems, however, that the Eastern Railway, whose president was also vice-president of the States, was not in favour of the idea of increasing rates, nor of amalgamation, and the Western Railway abandoned the idea; it was considered that there was no chance for a petition from the western line alone to succeed. Again financial difficulties arose and the railway was thrown into Chancery, which, however, was relieved of its trust by a syndicate being formed.

At this particular time the original track was being reconstructed and the gauge being altered from 4ft 8½in to 3ft 6in so as to couple up with the narrow gauge of the extension, and effect through running between St Helier and Corbiere. It was upon this alteration of the gauge that Manning Wardle and Company, of Leeds, supplied in 1884 two 2-4-0 outside cylinder tank locomotives; number one was named St Aubin and number two St Helier. These were followed in 1893 by number three, Corbiere, and in 1895 by number four, St Brelade.

With the turn of the century a larger locomotive was bought from Andrew Barclay and Sons, being number five and named La Moye; this loco was the biggest and weighed 36½ tons, whilst the four preceding locos weighed approximately 26 tons. Their livery was olive green with yellow and vermilion lines.

New general manager

On 18 January 1896 the Jersey Railways and Tramways was registered under the direction of Mr W H Dickson, who was to be the general manager of the company for many years; under his able management matters took a turn for the better. One of Mr Dickson's engineering feats was the undertaking of the building of St Aubin's tunnel on the extension to Corbiere in 1898; this obviated the use of a bad curve which was negotiated only with difficulty by trains composed of non-bogie carriages. By cutting through the rock, this situation was greatly eased.

Granite exports

As the extension to La Moye was finished and had been in use since the beginning of 1886, it only remained for the final section to be brought into use; this was done in 1889. It is to be noted that the new Corbiere station was built at the end of a short section which curved away from that of La Moye quarries; the old station, situated adjacent to these quarries, was abandoned, though the section to the quarries continued to operate as a branch for many years, carrying away thousands of tons of granite to St Aubin's harbour to be shipped to the mainland.

The stone from these quarries was used in the building of the Thames Embankment and of Portland Breakwater. It is on record that La Moye Granite Quarries Ltd contracted to send over 75,000 tons of granite per annum for three years from the date of opening, or to pay a penalty of £2,000 per year; whether or not this quantity was conveyed, history does not relate, but it is a fact that a considerable stone traffic was conveyed on the railway.

A map showing the Jersey Western Railway track

20th century

Coming now to the early years of the 20th century, the JWR has taken on a new look. The permanent way had been relaid, the extension to Corbiere completed, and through running was in operation, Millbrook station had been moved from its original position to the other side of the track nearer the sea to allow the making of the road, and the St Helier terminus had been rebuilt.

St Helier then became the largest station on the line, possessing four tracks covered by a double span roof, also a booking hall and a circulating area; alongside the station were the engine sheds and workshops, where the Jersey Railways and Tramways Company built its own carriages. Intermediate stations were numerous and were sited at about half mile intervals, as will be seen from the diagram, which also shows distances and the heights above mean sea level; from St Helier to St Aubin the track was practically level, but onwards heavy gradients with reverse curves had to be negotiated.

Crossing loops were provided at Millbrook, St Aubin and Don Bridge, otherwise it was a single track railway throughout.

St Aubin station building, though small, was quite a fine one, and was attached to the Station Hotel. Like St Helier there were four tracks; three of these were for main line use and were covered by a single span roof, whilst the fourth track on the south side of the station was for Corbiere traffic. A new carriage shed was built in later years alongside the station. Continuing to Corbiere, the line started to rise on a gradient of one in 40 up to Don Bridge, and then to the summit (217 feet). Don Bridge station served the two golf courses, La Moye and Quennevais.

The railway throughout its entire length was laid with flat bottomed rails, dogged direct to the sleepers. Level crossings en route were numerous and were mostly of the continental type with lifting bars. The railway traversed one of the prettiest possible routes for light railways, passing through varied and beautiful countryside both by the sea and inland. After leaving St Aubin and the tunnel, the line wound its way up the valley passing under two picturesque little bridges, one at Seven Oaks and one at Don Bridge; these bridges are still in existence. It is to be noted that there were no semaphore signals on the JWR and train movements were controlled by hand signals only.

Rolling stock

he rolling stock of the railway consisted of approximately 23 passenger vehicles which, with few exceptions, were mounted on four-wheel bogies. Some of these were supplied by private firms, but the bodies of those of later date were constructed in the company's workshops at St Helier. They were finished externally in plain varnished teak and had first and second class compartments, all lighted by electricity, but before 1912 were illuminated by oil lamps. Some had compartments for the passengers, others had seats on either side of a central gangway with open vestibules and doors at either end similar to a tramcar.

All brake vans were fitted with posting boxes which were cleared at St Helier terminus and afforded a valuable facility to those in the vicinity of the various stations along the line. At one time the railway owned 21 open wagons, which were used in connection with traffic to and from the granite quarries at Corbiere, but it is believed, as the years went by, that their number was reduced to four, one of which was used as a water tank. The locomotives and coaches - not the wagons - were fitted with vacuum brakes and, although these were religiously coupled up at the commencement of every journey, it is said they were never actually used.

An interesting feature was the moveable track which was installed at the St Helier terminus. It was considered that the amount of traffic did not merit the expense of keeping a shunting engine for the purpose of assisting the turn round of trains. Space was too limited to permit of a run round, turnout, or points, so a traverser was sited immediately in front of the buffers, the train engine was driven on to the traverser which was then manoeuvred by man power across to the adjoining track and thus released the engine from the vehicles it had brought into the station.

Competition from buses

The early 1920s brought the motor omnibus, which meant road competition and once again business declined. In order to cut down running expenses, it was decided at a meeting of the company to adopt railcars for the conveyance of passengers; in addition to their cheaper running costs, railcars were capable of much quicker acceleration and had better braking power. So, in June 1923 the company bought the first of five Sentinel-Cammell railcars, (this rail car was in fact the first to be built by the Sentinel Wagon Works, Shrewsbury) and it was from this car that the makers gained a good deal of experience.

Number two followed a few months later and three further cars were purchased between 1925 and 1929; the last was bought from the then defunct Jersey Eastern Railway and was converted from the standard to the 3ft 6in gauge. Latterly there were four of them in service, named Pioneer, Portelet, La Moye, and Normandie, all of which had a working pressure of 275 lb; they accommodated approximately 60 passengers and, like the brake vans, were fitted with letter boxes.

The JR & T Co never built the street tramway that had been intended, but it introduced motor buses on 1 April 1922. A year later an important rival, named the Jersey Motor Transport Co Ltd, began operations, but in 1928 the JR & T acquired control of the JMT and, owing to the decline in winter traffic, the railway only operated from May to September. It was whilst the JR & T was going through this bad time that the end came rather quicker than was expected, for on 18 October 1936, a disastrous fire occurred at St Aubin's station, where most of the rolling stock was stored during the winter months, destroying 15 of the coaches.

It was on this that the management decided to close the line, after the States of Jersey had agreed to purchase the real estate of the railway. The rolling stock, rails etc, were sold to George Cohen, Sons and Co Ltd in July 1937, for demolition. The JR & T Co Ltd. was wound up and a new company, Jersey Road Transport Limited, was registered on 9 October 1937 to hold the railway's shares in the JMT.

The locomotive numbers, which were carried on the chimneys and backs of the cabs, together with the name-plates and makers' number plates, have been preserved in the British Railways Museum at York. The St Helier station, complete with the workshops, is now the bus garage and workshops of the JMT. The St Aubin station has been demolished some years ago, and what is left of the remaining intermediate stations is used for such purposes as tea-rooms etc. The formation of the old line from St Aubin to Corbiere has been made into a beautiful walk, with shrubs, flowers and greenery in great abundance all the way. For visitors to Jersey this is really a very lovely stroll, and to those of us who do remember the old train puffing its way along the extension track, nostalgic memories of a bygone age return.


Jersey Eastern Railway

This railway was, perhaps, less well known than its western counterpart, but nevertheless it did exist, and was part of the old Jersey and the good old days. There was even a certain amount of friendly rivalry between the regular passengers of the two respective railways. [1]

It was in 1871 that the inhabitants of Gorey drew up a petition asking that they, too, like their neighbours in the west, should be connected to St Helier by rail. It was as a result of this petition that an Act of the States of Jersey, passed on 31 March 1871, authorised the construction of a railway from S Helier eastwards to Gorey. The Royal assent to this Act was given by an Order in Council on 19 March 1872, and the Jersey Eastern Railway Company Limited, was registered on 6 April 1873, and its capital was £60,000. This Act also gave the company the power to extend the line from Gorey a further two and a half miles to St Catherine. This extension never materialised; if completed it would have cost a further £20,000.

A pleasing ceremony took place in a field at Samares: it was the cutting of the first sod, and the date, 17 September 1872. This was performed by Mrs Edward Mourant, the wife of the Seigneur de Samares, chairman of the company.

As with the neighbouring railway, work progressed very rapidly on the laying of the track, for on 6 August 1873, after the line had been approved and certified by the States Engineer as being fit for traffic, the inaugural train left the temporary terminus at Green Street, and proceeded to the edge of Gorey Common, the limit reached by the permanent way up to that time. An imposing reception was given by the directors of the company and their friends.

Work continued with great energy, and on 6 May 1874 the line was opened throughout its entire length, and Green Street station was closed, because the Snow Hill terminus at St Helier had been completed in the meantime.

It must be mentioned that the line was a single track throughout, with passing loops at Pontac and Grouville, which stations had up and down platforms, whilst the termini had only one platform. It was laid with flat bottomed rails, weighing approximately 70 lb to the yard, and to the standard gauge of 4 ft 8½ in. The track was approximately 6½ miles long, and kept near the coast for part of its way, the remainder being more inland. For nearly 18 months after its opening, Gorey Village remained the JER eastern terminus, but on 25 May 1891, a half mile extension was completed and opened; this completed the railway to Gorey Pier station.

Snow Hill terminus

The main terminus at Snow Hill, St Helier, lay in a deep cutting by the side of Fort Regent. This cutting was some 100 yards long, and its sides almost perpendicular.

At the time of its construction, the cost must have been quite heavy, and it was thought that there was a possibility of extending the line through the town and linking up with the Western Railway, but as the years progressed this idea was abandoned. As already mentioned, Snow Hill Terminus had a single platform and was capable of accommodating two trains at the same time, and access to the inner end was by a central cross-over. In addition to the main tracks, there were two sidings, both of which had small carriage sheds at their extremities. From the main station for a distance of 50 yards the line was single, and then became double for approximately 80 yards, passing under the Regent Street bridge to the locomotive sheds, where there were several loops and five dead-end sidings.

Between the main terminus in town and the Gorey Pier terminus there were nine stations and one halt, being St Luke, Greve d'Azette, Samares, Le Hocq, Pontac, Le Bourg (halt), La Rocque, Fauvic, Grouville and Gorey Village. Near Le Hocq station was a short tunnel and a cutting, this being the only earth-work on the line. The only bridge where the railway ran over the road was at Roseville Street, where a steel girder bridge was built.

The stations were substantial two-storey buildings of continental design, which incorporated the station master's residence. None had platform shelters except the main terminus at St Helier. Grouville station was originally provided with a crossing loop but, when horse racing was transferred from there to St Brelade, this was disconnected.

As on the JWR, the only signals used on the line were of disc-pattern, which worked in connection with the level crossing gates. These gates were also of continental pattern, and would rise to a vertical position when the roadway was clear.

The Company owned four tank locomotives, each of which weighed approximately 24 tons, and were supplied by Kitson & Co of Leeds; they had the 0-4-2 wheel arrangement and were named Caesarea , Calvados , Mont Orgueil and Carteret. The locos were painted bright olive green lined with black bands, having a thin white line on either side; the dome and the sand boxes were also painted green whilst the inside of the frames and the motion were vermilion.

Coaching stock

The coaching stock of the railway consisted of 12 coaches, all of which were four-wheeled, most of them purchased from English railways; five, obtained from the LNWR, were among the first covered coaches used by that company and were of great age, being built around 1850. As the years went by the JER replaced their coaches with better ones, and the last of the LNWR coaches disappeared in I923. The remaining coaches (at that time 14 in number) were constructed of teak, varnished and lined in red, and were all well kept. In the early days of the railway they were lighted by oil lamps but, as in the case of the JWR, a change was made later on, to electricity. As on the JWR, all brake vans were fitted with post boxes. Goods stock consisted of four covered, and four open, wagons.

Goods traffic on this railway was very light and was normally accommodated in a wagon attached to a passenger train. The braking of the train was not continuous, and they relied upon the steam brake of the engine, supplemented by the guard's handbrake.

An interesting feature concerning the coaches of the company was that they had letters instead of numbers, like their counterparts of the JWR, and were of first and second class. The four coupled side tank engine, named North Western, which had been purchased from the JWR, was again found to be too small for traffic requirements and was eventually sold; it is believed to have gone to a quarry in Scotland.

The train service, especially in the later years, was very good indeed for such a small concern, especially during the summer months. It comprised 20 trains on weekdays and 12 on Sundays in each direction, and the journey took about 30 minutes. In the summer an evening express was run from Gorey to St Helier, stopping only at Gorey Village and St Luke, thus making the journey in about 15 minutes. At the stations, trains were controlled by flag signals. Neither the JWR nor the JER were affected by the UK Railway Act of 1921.


Like the neighbouring JWR, the company fell into financial difficulties owing to the coming of the motor bus, and to houses being built away from the line instead of nearby. The Eastern Railway also tried to meet this competition by improved and faster services afforded by railcars, and in I927 the company purchased two Sentinel-Cammell steam railcars which were named Brittany and Normandie. The hope that these would be economical as regards running costs, as against the ordinary train, did not in the long run prove justified; and so it was decided at a meeting of the company to close the line and place the concern in liquidation, which took effect on 21 June I929.

An English firm named Dover Industries Limited began demolition in the November of that year. The railcar Normandie, already mentioned, was sold to the JWR and converted to the 3ft 6 in gauge; the Brittany was sold independently, her engine to be used as a power unit, and the body to become a bungalow, along with some of the coaches. The locomotives, and most of the rails and metal, were sold as scrap to a Polish firm. Most of the buildings and stations were converted into dwelling houses, and the engine sheds at Green Street are now used as the garage of the JMT, which company also converted the site at Snow Hill into a bus station. The station name board of Pontac is still to be seen as one drives eastward along the coast road to Gorey.

Unlike the former track of the JWR, there is no lovely walk to stroll along and remind us of the days when rail transport played its major part in the Island's economy, because the majority of the old Eastern track is private property and has been built on, although it is still possible to see the old formation in several places. Some of the former stations have been demolished, including the Gorey Pier terminus, replaced by a German bunker; the approach to Gorey Pier has, however, been improved by an attractive esplanade, well laid out with flower gardens and lily ponds. We must therefore be content to live along with the memories of the good old days.

Earlier proposal

Chronique de Jersey, 11 October 1845 (abridged)

"A Railway in Jersey. A meeting was hdd at the Hotel de Paris under the Presidency of John Le Couteur Esq to consider information from the directors of an English company wishing to establish a railway and harbour in the island. The railway was to start at St Aubin, and end at St Catherine, and was to be built in conjunction with a proposed harbour. The company had a capital of £300,000, and was proposing to disburse £250,000 for the St Catherine's harbour and the railway.
An amusing debate followed, in which the railway was referred to as ' Not being a Bubble' by the supporters of the scheme, whilst those against it said that far from attracting visitors, the sight of the railway would drive them away; it was laughable to assume that it could be used for the transport of potatoes, and as for its use in defence, it was ridiculous to think that this company could protect them against a foreign invasion.
Finally the project was abandoned. Mr Le Couteur saying that before his duties as Vicomte to value the land for purchase by the proposed Railway Company, he had to put his duty as chairman of the board of directors, and as such, to abandon all interest in the idea."

Notes and references

  1. This is a strange statement, given that the two railways operated in opposite directions from different terminuses in St Helier, and those whose journeys were confined to one of the services would scarcely have known the passengers of the other - Ed
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