The Closure of the Derby - Buxton/Manchester Line

[Source: Rowsley Association]

The Beeching Report, published on 27th March 1963, recommended that local passenger services between Derby and Buxton / Manchester should be withdrawn, and that all intermediate stations between Derby and Chinley should be closed with the exception of Matlock and Bakewell. The proposed closure of Bakewell was subsequently added in a legal notice in The Times of 31st October 1963.

A BRB meeting on 10th April 1963 gave a mandate for certain studies to be carried out on what were seen as duplicate routes. The findings subsequently appeared in a confidential report, dated March 1964, headed “Examination of Duplicate Routes – Trans Pennine”. This included the Derby to Manchester line, and while it could hardly be described as a Trans-Pennine route, it was part of a duplicate route between Manchester and London. One recommendation proposed the complete closure of the line between Matlock and Peak Forest Junction immediately after completion of the Euston to Manchester Piccadilly electrification, and the simplification of facilities between Ambergate and Matlock, with plans to be put in hand at “an early date”. The net saving was estimated as £142,400. This could not be made public, of course, as the Midland route was the principal one for London to Manchester passenger traffic while the Western Lines electrification was taking place.

The withdrawal of freight facilities was not affected by such considerations, of course, and at the end of January 1964 it was announced that Rowsley Sidings would be closed, and that banking of freight trains between Rowsley and Peak Forest / Buxton would cease. The target date for closure was given at 23rd March. Consultation meetings took place at the beginning of that month. It was clear that the closure of the Sidings would take place, irrespective of the case put forward by the staff. However, the case for the withdrawal of banking engine floundered, as safety aspects relating to the banking of unbraked trains were still governed by the findings of Board of Trade tests in 1903 and updated instructions of 1930. After a lengthy adjournment, it was agreed that banking locomotives should be retained, with a revised date for the closure of the Sidings of 23rd April.

The closure of Rowsley Sidings duly took place on 23rd April, although they were retained for a short while for the stabling of wagons of locomotive coal. Many staff were made redundant, but a good number of Drivers, Firemen, and Goods Guards were retained for relieving through trains – and, of course, banking. However, the engine shed lost its allocation of engines – the few that remained for banking and local passenger services were now outbased from Derby.

In March 1964 notices were exhibited for the closure of the local stations, as recommended in the Beeching Report – the scheduled date of closure being Monday15th June. Like many proposed closure dates during that period, 15th June was not practicable and objections to the BRB’s proposals were not heard by the Transport Users Consultative Committee for the East Midlands until the Thursday of the same week. The recommendations from this enquiry then lay with the Minister of Transport for more than two years!

New electrified services were introduced between Euston and Manchester Piccadilly on 18th April 1966. At the same time, express services on the Midland lines were remodelled to cater mainly for passengers between Lancashire and the East Midlands rather than London.

Shortly, afterwards, on 24th June, advance notice was given for the complete closure of the line between Rowsley and Peak Forest Junction, and the singling of the line between Ambergate and Rowsley for local freight services only. Through freight, parcels and express passenger services were to be diverted via the Hope Valley line, as a result of which Matlock station was now to be closed to passenger traffic.

Plans for the first part of this scheme – the withdrawal of through freight and parcels services – were initiated almost immediately, with consultation taking place at Derby on 12th July 1966. There was to be no reprieve and trains were diverted from the line on 3rd October. A consequence of this was the complete closure of Rowsley Depot.

On 14th September 1966 Barbara Castle, the Minister of Transport, finally ruled on the proposal to withdraw local passenger service from the line. Her decision was that the stations north of Matlock should be closed, but those to the south – with the exception of Matlock Bath and Nottingham Road – would remain open but be served by peak hour services only. This meant that Matlock station could not now be closed. The changes to the local services were introduced on 6th March 1967.

Now all that remained were eight express passenger trains in each direction that just called at Matlock, and a freight trip service from Derby that served Matlock, Rowsley and Bakewell. Traffic from the Cromford & High Peak line, which connected at High Peak Junction, was also withdrawn on 6th March.

In June 1967, the BRB made public its long expected plan to divert the expresses via Chesterfield and the Hope Valley Line. However, Barbara Castle’s ruling on the local passenger services meant that consideration had now to be given to those who used the express services at Matlock. The BRB therefore came up with the ingenious plan of running non-stop services between Matlock and Derby, which would connect into and out of some of the diverted expresses. While the line would be closed to the north, the cost of train operation would certainly increase. It was 11 miles further between Derby and Chinley via the Hope Valley (a further 9 miles was added later when services were diverted in and out of Sheffield), while there were now to be additional trains covering the 17 miles between Matlock and Derby. Although not envisaged at the time, this new service was later to benefit the intermediate stations, which are today served by more trains than at any period in their 160-year existence.

It was also decided not continue operating freight trains beyond Matlock due to the cost of keeping Darley Dale, Church Lane Crossing and Rowsley North Junction signalboxes open.

The diversion of the expresses and closure of Rowsley and Bakewell Goods Depots officially took place on Monday 1st July 1968. The expresses should have run on Sunday 30th June, but were cancelled due to an industrial dispute with guards, as were the last trains on the Saturday. The very last train was 1H18 16.20 St. Pancras to Manchester Piccadilly on Saturday 29th June (trains having been diverted from Manchester Central in January 1968). This train left Matlock approximately 20 minutes late at 19.35 hauled by D80 with 8 coaches and a van. Relief signalman Herbert Taylor, who worked the last shift at Church Lane Crossing, recorded that the train past his box at 19.39 and that he received the ‘train out of section’ signal from Peak Forest North Junction at 19.59 – all other intermediate boxes having been closed or switched out.

This was not quite the end. Empty wagons still had to be removed from Rowsley Old Yard after unloading, and this took place during the following week. The three signalboxes north of Matlock were officially closed on 7th July.

South of Matlock, the intermediate stations were destaffed on 1st January 1968, following the installation of electric lighting. Those who joined these trains at Matlock were also asked to pay on the train, but continued to buy tickets at the Booking Office when travelling on the non-stop services as these also provided First Class facilities.

Now with only a sparse service between Ambergate and Matlock, it was decided to single the line, and this became effective from 11th May 1969. In anticipation of this work, a revised timetable was introduced on the previous Monday. All services were now pay trains and Second Class, with anyone travelling beyond Derby having to re-book. However, Derby to London tickets were still available from what was now referred to as the General Office at Matlock when it was open. This office now dealt only with parcels traffic, which itself was withdrawn within a few years.

Track lifting on the closed section of line commenced in January 1969, the intention being to work from Peak Forest Junction towards Matlock. The Up line was the first to be stripped, and by the end of June work was being carried out at Bakewell and in Rowsley Old Yard. Suddenly, on 22nd August the work came to a stand. 300,000 tons of stone were to be moved from the ICI Works at Peak Forest to Margam in South Wales and there were rumours about the line being rehabilitated.

Nothing happened, however, and on 14th May 1970 a meeting at Nottingham between British Rail, George Cohen Sons & Co. and T.W.Ward sealed the fate of the line. Work in lifting the track between Darley Dale and Millers Dale was to recommence on Monday 1st June, with recovered material being removed via Matlock. Not everything was recovered, however, and a notice was issued advising that on Sunday 17th February 1971, the line from bridge 35 at Matlock towards Darley Dale was to be brought back into use as a Research Department test track. Even this short section of track was not retained for long and towards the end of 1973 it was noted as being dismantled.

[the above information is from Rowsley : A Rural Railway Centre by Glynn Waite and Laurence Knighton, (Midland Railway Society), 2003 ISBN 0-9537486-2-6 and Cromford Station : A History by Glynn Waite, (Arkwright Society), 2009 ISBN 9780956270603. Both are available from the Rowsley Association.]

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