Station Name: LEIGHTON BUZZARD - Dunstable line platforms

[Source: Nick Catford]

Date opened: 9.4.1838
Location: West side of Station Road
Company on opening: London & Birmingham Railway
Date closed to passengers: Still open
Date closed completely: Still open
Company on closing: Still open
Present state:

The station was rebuilt in 1989. At this time the Dunstable line platforms were demolished and the site used for a new booking office and station car park.

County: Bedfordshire
OS Grid Ref: SP911250
Date of visit: 28th January 2011

Notes: The first station, simply known as Leighton, was opened by the London and Birmingham Railway on 9th April 1838 as part of the first section of its line from London Euston to Denbigh Hall. The station had two facing platforms and was sited ¼-mile south of the Linslade tunnels. (These are arranged unusually for a four track main line: the southbound slow line has a tunnel to itself as does the northbound fast line, however the northbound slow and southbound fast lines share a tunnel. This stems from the fact that the line was built as double-track and, when quadrupled, the two extra lines could only be placed along both sides, as single-track tunnels.) There was no engine shed at the first Leighton station, but a turntable was provided prior to the opening of the Dunstable line to comply with a Board of Trade request.

In May 1848, the station became a junction when a branch line to Dunstable was opened. The London & North Western Railway replaced the first station on 14th February 1859 with another more permanent structure located 8 chains (175 yards) to the south. The new building had an imposing frontage featuring arched windows, and it opened onto the Dunstable line
up platform which was protected by a canopy in front of the building. A subway gave access to the other platforms. A lattice footbridge at the south end of the station did not give access to the platforms and was for pedestrian access to Southcott Avenue on the west side of the line. The new station had two island platforms and two side platforms with Dunstable line trains using the two shorter platform faces on the east side of the station. Access to the Dunstable branch was controlled by Leighton No. 2 signal box situated to the north of the station, while the actual branch signals were controlled by the main line box to the south. A two-road shed opened south of the station on the up side in 1859. It had two arched entrances which were later replaced and the building shortened, with a final re-roofing as late as 1957. The depot was closed by BR on 5th November 1962. In 1874 land was purchased to the south of the station alongside the engine shed for the construction of goods sidings, which eventually became known as Wing Yard; it had a 5-ton crane but no goods shed. There were also a number of private sidings.

Although officially called Leighton the station was sometimes referred to as Leighton Buzzard, and the name was changed to Leighton Buzzard on 1st July 1911

The LNWR was absorbed by the London, Midland & Scottish Railway in the 1923 railway grouping and, in 1927, a crossover was added between the fast and slow lines. This was to play a significant role in the derailment of Royal Scot No. 6114 Coldstream Guardsman at Linslade on 22nd March 1931 when the driver took the crossover at 50-60 mph instead of the regulation 15 mph. There had been a diversion in place on the fast lines, and the driver had missed the warning signals. The engine overturned and six people were killed, including the driver and fireman. The Great Train Robbery of 1963 occurred just south of this station, at Bridego Bridge near Ledburn - a bridge on the southbound stretch towards Cheddington.

The station was modernised in the late 1950s with new platform buildings. Wing Yard was closed on 6th February 1967 although private sidings remained open after that date; the site is now used as a car park. Grovebury sidings on the Dunstable line just south of Leighton Buzzard remained open until 8th December 1969. After closure of the Dunstable line its platforms

were put to other uses. The original booking office was retained at this time.

By the 1980s the track through the platforms had been lifted. In 1989, the remaining platforms were lengthened to accommodate 12-coach trains and a £1.8m project to rebuild the station was started. As part of this rebuilding programme the Dunstable line platforms and the booking office were demolished with a new booking office provided slightly forward of the original building on what would have been the Dunstable line track. The remainder of the track bed was used for a new station car park.

The station is served by London Midland and Southern, and is managed by the former. Southbound, three London Midland trains depart per hour on weekdays, one of which sometimes runs non-stop to London. Additionally, one Southern train per hour runs to East Croydon. Northbound, two trains an hour run to Milton Keynes Central, one from each operator. A third train runs to Northampton, whilst the fourth runs to either Rugby or Birmingham New Street.


The London & Birmingham Railway opened the first section of its line between London Euston and Boxmoor (Hemel Hempstead) on 20th July 1837 and from Boxmoor to a temporary northern terminus at Denbigh Hall on 9th April 1838. The line had originally been planned to pass through Buckingham, but opposition from the Duke of Buckingham ensured that it was forced east through Linslade. One of the intermediate stations opened with the second part of the line was at Leighton, ¼-mile south of the Linslade tunnels.

Leighton was the nearest station to Luton, which was developing as an industrial town in the early 19th century. Although a direct stagecoach service between Luton and London had started in 1810, and Dunstable, to the west, was on an existing busy coach route, neither could serve the needs of the area. A branch line from Luton to the London & Birmingham at Leighton was proposed by George and Robert Stephenson in 1841, and it initially received considerable local support.

Nothing was done until 1844 when a meeting was held in Luton. By now there was mounting opposition to the scheme which would have to cut across the 'Great Moor', a large area of undeveloped common land close to Luton. This angered George Stephenson who vowed that Luton would not get a direct railway connection to London as long as he lived.

Although the Luton line was not built in Stephenson's lifetime (he died in 1849), a branch line to Dunstable received Royal Assent on 30th June 1845 with the passing of the Dunstable, London & Birmingham Railway Act which authorised a line between Leighton and Dunstable. Inevitably a meeting was held in Luton to discuss proposals from local businessmen to build a
line from Luton to the new line at Dunstable once it was completed. Many people preferred a counter proposal for a direct line between London and Manchester passing through Luton, which would be 14 miles shorter for passengers travelling to London, avoiding the need for a change of trains at Dunstable and Leighton. Another option was to build a branch to the Great Northern Railway's London to York line which was already under construction and would pass 12 miles to the east of Luton. The direct route was chosen as the best option which, at that time, left Luton without a railway while other branch lines in the area were already being planned and built.

The double-track Dunstable branch opened on the 1st June 1848 with a terminus on the west side of Watling Street and no intermediate stations (although a station at Stanbridgeford was opened in November 1860). By 1851 Luton was the largest town in Bedfordshire without a railway or canal to cater for its increasing industrial growth. In 1853 the GNR was approached to build a branch to their line at Hatfield, but this was turned down.

On 3rd July 1854 the Hertford & Welwyn Junction Railway received parliamentary authority to build a line from the North Eastern Railway at Hertford to the GNR at Digswell, and on 30th September 1854 there was a proposal to extend this line across the GNR to Luton and Dunstable linking three established railway companies (NER, GNR & LNWR). Not wanting to be left out, the GNR offered to work the line between Hatfield and Luton although it was not prepared to provide any finance.

The Luton, Dunstable & Welwyn Junction Railway Act was passed on the 16th July 1855 authorising a junction with the LNWR at Dunstable and a triangular junction with the GNR at Digswell together with a bridge over the GNR to allow through running over the H & WJR between Hertford and Dunstable. All three companies were authorised to work the line.

A single track was built (with the intention of doubling in the future) with construction starting on 16th October 1855 which, in Luton, was designated as a half-day public holiday as residents had waited so long to get a railway!

Unfortunately the company was unable to raise sufficient capital to purchase all the necessary land between Welwyn and Luton. The LNWR refused to help by leasing the line although they did offer to work the line for two years after completion. In an attempt to save the line an amalgamation between the H & WJR and the LD & WJR was proposed. This was bitterly
opposed by a minority of disgruntled Luton shareholders who claimed that passengers would be forced to travel to London via the Eastern Counties main line at Hertford rather than using the shorter GNR route via Hatfield. The amalgamation and formation of the Hertford Luton & Dunstable Railway was passed at a heated meeting on 26th January 1858, but although both lines were completed and approach embankments were constructed, the linking bridge was never built due to restrictions imposed by the GNR. The Hertford line was opened to passenger traffic on 1st March 1858 between Hertford (Cowbridge) and a short-lived station at Welwyn Junction on the GNR.

Work on the Luton line had been progressing during the amalgamation negotiations, and at a shareholders’ meeting on 6th August 1857 it was announced that the first section of the line between Luton and Dunstable was ready for goods traffic. Several goods wagons were fitted with seats to take shareholders along the line. The line was initially inspected on 18th March 1858 and, after a turntable was provided at Leighton at the request of the Board of Trade inspector, the line was passed a month later, with a goods service running from 5th April 1858 and a passenger service from 3rd May 1858; large crowds travelled to Luton station for a day to take part in the celebrations and ride on the new line.

Initially there were five trains in each direction on weekdays only; two of these were later extended to Leighton. At this time Luton trains used a new station in Church Street, Dunstable, with through trains to Leighton bypassing the LNWR station which was at a lower level. Initially an end-on connection had been proposed which would have required raising the level of the road by three feet to provide a level crossing. This was rejected by Parliament, so a diversion was authorised in 1856 taking the new line over Watling Street, rejoining the Leighton line to the west of Dunstable station. A proposed new station at the junction was not built at that time, although through trains from Luton could back into the LNWR station if required.

Work at the Welwyn end of the line had started in April 1856, but little was done. The formation of the Hertford, Luton & Dunstable Railway was authorised by parliament on 28th June 1858 with new capital available to complete the line. On 28th January 1859 work was once again underway, and there was even a second 'cutting of the first sod' ceremony. On 19th
April 1860 the HL & DR informed both the Eastern Counties Railway and the GNR that they were terminating the 1858 agreement. The GNR immediately took steps to take over the line because of its strategic importance as a link between the three main lines; a Parliamentary Bill was prepared to facilitate this. At this time the line was nearing completion, with a special train carrying LNWR officials on 12th June and another 'special' on 17th July for company shareholders. After passing its Board of Trade inspection, the line between Luton and the Great Northern was opened to both goods and passenger traffic on 1st September 1860 with intermediate stations at New Mill End, Harpenden and Wheathampstead. At this time a Sunday service was introduced for the first time.

There was a junction with the GNR at Welwyn, but no station was provided, and the H & WJR station at Welwyn Junction was closed with trains on both lines terminating at Hatfield.

In 1864 there were six daily down trains between Hatfield and Leighton, with five up trains. There were a further two down trains between Luton and Leighton in the early morning with two up trains in the afternoon and evening and one train in each direction between Hatfield and Dunstable. On Sundays there were two down trains between Hatfield and Dunstable, with one up train with two short-running services.

The Hertford, Luton & Dunstable Railway was absorbed by the GNR under the Great Northern Railway Act of 12th June 1861. This gave the GNR exclusive rights to operate the line, although a clause in the Act gave the LNWR joint rights to use the section between Dunstable and Luton. In December 1868 new parallel lines into Hatfield were brought into use for the branch services, and the earlier junctions were removed in January 1869.

Although built as single track throughout, it was always the intention that the line would be doubled, and sufficient land was acquired over some of the route. In the late 1890s the Great Northern line between Digswell and Hatfield was widened with a new track being provided for Dunstable trains, and the old Dunstable line becoming the new down slow main line.
In 1890 passenger numbers were sufficiently high for doubling the line between Luton and Dunstable. This was authorised by Parliament in 1891, but progress was slow and it did not open until 10th September 1899. Proposals to double the remainder of the line brought a lukewarm response from the GNR. Passenger numbers increased through the 1890s, and by 1900 there were nine trains in each direction between Luton and Dunstable, with eight in each direction between Luton and Dunstable and seven between Dunstable and Leighton.

In 1920 the new town of Welwyn Garden City was founded by Sir Ebenezer Howard, following his previous experiment in Letchworth Garden City. Howard had called for the creation of planned towns that were to combine the benefits of the city and the countryside and to avoid the disadvantages of both. During the construction of the new town, temporary contractors’ halts were provided at the junction of both the Hertford and Luton lines, close to the site of the earlier Welwyn Junction station. The halt on the Luton line became a public station on 14th August 1920, remaining in use until 20th September 1926 when the new Welwyn Garden City station was opened.

Through the 20th century the line remained very profitable, due in part to the large number of private sidings, in particular those serving chalk quarries near Dunstable, the sand and gravel pits around Leighton Buzzard and, later, Vauxhall Motors in Luton.

Following the 1923 general grouping the Dunstable branch became part of the London Midland & Scottish Railway while the Hatfield to Dunstable line was part of the London & North Eastern Railway. This split continued after nationalisation in 1948 with British Railways Eastern Region being responsible for the Hatfield line as far as Harpenden down distant signal, with the remainder of the line coming under the London Midland Region. On 2nd April 1950 the boundary was adjusted, transferring Harpenden (East added on 25th September 1950) to the LMR.

Diesel-hauled freight trains started replacing steam in February 1959, and passenger trains in June 1959, the latter being replaced with DMUs in 1962.

In common with many other branch lines passenger numbers went into rapid decline in the 1950s. The Sunday service was withdrawn on 21st January 1951, but a service of seven down and five up trains between Hatfield and Dunstable was maintained until closure of the line with four trains in each direction between Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard. The passenger service between Dunstable North and Leighton Buzzard was withdrawn from 2nd July 1962 with the last 'Dunstable Flyer', as it had been nicknamed, running on 30th June.  Two enthusiasts’ specials travelled along the line after closure, both arranged by the South Beds Locomotive Society: the first on 22nd September 1962 ran between Luton and Banbury and the second, the 'Cobbler Tour', on 19th September 1964, ran from Luton to Leighton Buzzard and on to Newport Pagnell, returning to Luton via the Midland main line.

The line remained open for freight traffic until 1st January 1966 after which it was cut back to Grovebury sidings south of Leighton Buzzard, serving sand and gravel pits, until final closure on 5th December 1969. Track-lifting was piecemeal, starting at Dunstable in late 1968 but not reaching Stanbridgeford until July 1969. Track-lifting west of Stanbridgeford started in February 1970 and was not completed until February 1971. National Cycle Route 6 now follows the line between Stanbridgeford and Dunstable.

The Hatfield line was scheduled to close on 6th January 1965 as part of the Beeching cuts. Closure was deferred following local objections - but only until 24th April when the last 'Skimpot Flyer' carried a wreath and a large number of passengers on a farewell journey along the line: it returned to Hatfield almost empty! The line remained open for freight and for goods traffic to Luton Bute Street until 26th June 1967. After that date the line between Luton and Dunstable was singled and retained to serve the Dunstable Cement works at Houghton Regis, with a new connection from the Midland main line at Luton opening in November 1965. The east end of the line was also retained for rubbish trains bound for Blackbridge sidings east of Wheathampstead. Track lifting on the remaining section between Blackbridge and Luton started at the Eastern Region/London Midland region boundary west of Harpenden East station on 8 May 1966 towards Luton and from 26th February 1967 towards Blackbridge. Blackbridge sidings closed in May 1971, and much of the track between Welwyn Garden City and Wheathampstead now forms the Ayot Greenway cycleway and footpath, with the the trackbed between Luton Hoo and Harpenden is incorporated into the 50-mile Lee Valley Walk.

A number of enthusiasts’ specials visited the remaining section of line between Luton and Dunstable. In October 1968 a special train ran from St Pancras to Bedford, returning to Luton, where it was the first passenger train to use the connection between the Midland and Bute Street station. It continued to Dunstable North as part of the Midland Railway
London Extension centenary celebrations. The last passenger excursion was on 17th January 1987 when Hertfordshire Railtours’ 'Chiltern Chariot' visited the line running to the Dunstable cement works via the Vauxhall sidings. The line was finally closed to all traffic when trains to the oil depot at Dunstable were withdrawn in 1989, by which time the line had just one train per week. Apart from the section through the site of Bute Street station, the track was then mothballed.

In the early 2000s the South Midland Railway Group set up a base in the ex-Bedford Trucks sidings on White Lion Retail Park at Dunstable and planned to form a transport heritage centre. The site was linked to the mothballed line to Luton via an illegally reinstated connection which the group hoped to reopen in the long term. The lease of the yard, however, was not secured, and in July 2001 it was reported that the group was in dispute over their occupation of the site. The project ended when the illegal connection to the Luton to Dunstable branch line was removed in March 2001, and vehicles were removed in July 2001 and January 2002; the remaining railway vehicles on the siding were finally cut up by the council, and the tracks were lifted in 2005.

In December 2003 the Department for Transport approved the Transport & Works Act submission for a £85m scheme to convert the line into a guided busway. Planning permission and a Transport & Works Order were granted in November 2006, and the Transport Minister gave the go-ahead in August 2008. Tenders for its construction were sought in July 2009.
In May 2009 a group called the South Bedfordshire Railway was proposing to set up a short heritage railway at Dunstable alongside the proposed busway. Luton Borough Council said the scheme might be possible if a society and funding were in place by winter 2009. The group was unable to meet the deadline.

The overgrown track was cleared of vegetation in spring 2010, and funding for the busway was approved in June. Track-lifting between Luton and Dunstable began in autumn 2010 and was completed in January 2011. Three bridges, including one immediately north of Dunstable Town station, were demolished in October 2010. The 'Luton to Dunstable Busway'
(previously known as Translink) will link Luton airport and Houghton Regis following the former railway line between Luton and Dunstable and the route of the siding to the Dunstable cement works at Houghton Regis. It will open in 2012.

Sources: Wikipedia (Leighton Buzzard station) and the Hatfield, Luton & Dunstable Railway by G & S Woodward (1977). Published by Oakwood Press ISBN 978-0-853614-58-6.

For further reading see Hertfordshire's lost railways by Keith Scholey ISBN ISBN 1 84033231 X and Bedfordshire's lost railways by Keith Scholey ISBN ISBN 184033 271 9 and Branch Line to Dunstable by Sue & Geoff Woodward (2008) Published by Middleton Press ISBN 978-1-906008-27-7.

Other web sites: Lost lines - features photos taken along the line between 1989 and 2007. BBC Beds, Herts & Bucks web site. Disused Railways web site.

Tickets from Michael Stewart, route map drawn by Alan Young

To see other stations on the Leighton Buzzard - Welwyn Garden City line click on the station name: Stanbridgeford, Dunstable North, Dunstable Town, Chaul End, Luton Bute Street, Luton Hoo, Harpenden East, Wheathampstead, Ayot, Welwyn Garden City Halt (first station) & Welwyn Garden City (second station)

Leighton Buzzard station looking north c.1925. The Dunstable line platforms are to the right.
Copyright photo from John Alsop collection

1925 1:2500 OS map showing the station, goods sidings and engine shed. The Dunstable branch is seen diverging at the bottom of the map.

A Dunstable train waits at Leighton Buzzard station c. early 1950s. The engine shed is
seen beyond the bridge. Loco 58887 is a Webb 2F coal tank. Built in December 1881 at LNWR's Crewe works, it was numbered 252. Passing to the LMS at grouping, it was renumbered 27596, then at nationalisation it was renumbered 58887 and allocated to 8A, Edge Hill shed. It was fitted with push-pull apparatus for working the Leighton Buzzard - Dunstable branch and allocated to Bletchley shed, 4A, from where it was withdrawn in 1955 and cut up at Crewe works later that year. One Coal tank is preserved:1054 is undergoing a major overhaul on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway.
Photo from John Mann collection

A Dunstable train (left) has just arrived at Leighton Buzzard station in 1956.
hoto from John Mann collection

Leighton Buzzard station looking north c.late 1950s. The Dunstable line platforms are on the right.
hoto from John Mann collection

A Luton train awaiting departure at Leighton Buzzard station in 1960.
Photo by Michael Brooks

84002 at Leighton Buzzard station in June 1962 with a train that has arrived from Dunstable.
Photo by John M. Cramp (from 30937 Photographic Group web site)

Leighton Buzzard station looking south c.early 1960s. The Dunstable line platforms are seen on the left. Passengers are seen on the former up platform, so clearly they were used by other services after closure of the service to Dunstable North in 1962. The original booking office can still be seen behind the new building, with a new canopy over the platform.
Photo by John Mann

BR2/2 84002 with the 8.25 am train from Luton Bute Street has just arrived at Leighton Buzzard station on 30th June 1962, the last day of pasenger service.
Photo by David Pearson
Looking north at the disused Dunstable line platforms in March 1989, the new canopy in front of the booking office is seen on the right.
Photo by John Mann

Looking north at the site of the first Leighton station in March 1989
Photo by John Mann

Recent aerial view of Leighton Buzzard station. The new station building to the right stands on the site of the Dunstable line platforms.

The site of the Dunstable line platforms at Leighton Buzzard station, looking north in January 2011.
Photo by Nick Catford

Click here for more pictures of Leighton Buzzard station




[Source: Nick Catford]

Last updated: Sunday, 21-May-2017 14:30:25 CEST
© 1998-2011 Disused Stations