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Thursday

Railway Walks and ... Trains to Alton Towers


Railway Walks and the idea of taking the train to Alton Towers . . .

(First written in 2009 and updated a little in 2013)
I quite fancy Julia Bradbury's job. I watched Railway Walks, and as I watched her walking along a disused railway track in Scotland I thought of our local Beeching-closed railways in Staffordshire. It was a strange coincidence because during the day I'd noticed that Staffordshire County Council have published information on the stretch of former railway from Oakamoor to Denstone and given it a name: the 'Oakamoor to Denstone Greenway'.

The rail theme continued this morning. I picked up the local paper and the lead article is about a stretch of local railway that might be reopened. Cauldon Lowe through Froghall and off to Leek and Stoke has been acquired and may re-open for freight and passenger services. Wow! I've blogged before that the only traffic on the A52 (a dangerous road with some serious hills and bends) is mostly used by tractors and quarry lorries. It seems a crazy decision to start transporting the Lafarge lime and WBB (now Sibelco) silica sand via lorries along the A52 when it used to be transported more cleanly and safely by rail, and canal. Today's article suggests that Lafarge is seriously engaged in trying to use rail transportation again, which should be encouraged, and the result may be just 18 months away. (originally written in 2009, this has not yet happened by March 2013)

The newspaper article also raised the idea of being able to take the train to Alton Towers. Oh really . . .?! Further sections of the railway from Froghall to Oakamoor and Oakamoor to Alton Towers might, apparently, one day be re-opened to ease Alton Towers traffic. Surely this is our great local paper getting a bit sensationalist, or is it?

Rail access to Alton Towers logically needs to connect with existing rail links and probably add park and ride facilities. My mind always turned south to Uttoxeter for possible solutions. This story presents a northern option, which changes the possibilites dramatically. This option potentially opens the tracks to rail traffic from Stoke via Froghall . Interesting; I just don't believe this is even close to being seriously negotiated, let alone imminent.

There is good condition track in place from Froghall to Oakamoor and occasionally a steam train puffs along it. The end of the line is near Oakamoor at the river where there's no longer a rail bridge. Across the river, into the village, there is a long-closed tunnel, home to some lovely bats, I hear.  Needless to say, residents of Oakamoor are not convinced by the relevance of having the line re-opened for the pleasure of Alton Towers tourists, knowing that it will barely impact the level of traffic that speeds daily through the village when the theme park is open.

But things are changing round here by the day, regardless of the protests of local residents. Our gorgeous rural backwater has become earmarked as a 'Churnet Valley Leisure Corridor'. Oakamoor, a hidden gem and not currently a leisure destination in its own right, could find its status dramatically changed with the addition of 650 tourist lodges.

Nearby Moneystone Quarry (WBB/Sibelco), along this stretch of rail track, has now ceased operations (2012). The site has a restoration order on it but meanwhile new owners, Laver Leisure, are applying for an enormous leisure development, not just of the quarried land but of the adjoining farmland as well. Plans revealed to date (2013) show this to be disproportionate to the area, almost linking the villages of Oakamoor and Whiston with all these lodges. Further consultations with local residents are planned so we will see what transpires.

I predict that the deal-breaker or deal-maker for any serious rail development along the Churnet Valley will be the section from Oakamoor to Denstone, alongside Alton Towers (to the left of the picture); the stretch recently named the Churnet Way. Let's see what happens . . .

There is no denying the negative impact of Alton Towers traffic for miles around. Sadly, however, no obvious solution has yet been proposed. New roads through ancient woodland and private estates have not proved feasible for many reasons, despite a financial commitment from Alton Towers. The solutions voiced to date are worse than the problem, in my opinion.  And, for the record, the problem is serious.

Everyone is keeping tabs on the seriousness of this rail proposal and all the development proposals. Staffordshire Moorlands District Council are preparing a Masterplan, but for some time they have been keeping us, and the hopeful developers, in suspense. Interesting times!