John Speller's Web Pages Fairford Branch

John Speller's Web Pages - GWR Narrow Gauge
Fairford Branch
The Witney Railway was incorporated by Act of Parliament on 1 August 1859 to build an 8-mile line from Yarnton Junction, just north of Oxford on the Oxford, Worcester & Wolverhampton Railway, to the prosperous blanket-making town of Witney. The engineer was Sir Charles Fox. The line opened on 13 November 1861. The East Gloucestershire Railway, incorporated by Act of Parliament on 29 July 1864, proposed to extend this line via Faringdon and Andoversford to Cheltenham, providing an important through line from Oxford to South Wales. At around the same time there was a proposal to extend the Faringdon branch to a point on the East Gloucestershire Railway just east of Lechlade, which, since the Faringdon branch was broad gauge, would presumably have meant a break of gauge somewhere. In the event only the 14 miles from Witney to Fairford were ever built, opening on 14 January 1873. The original Witney passenger station was replaced by a new one slightly to the south, though the original station continued to be used as the goods station at the end of a short branch. Both companies were operated by the Great Western Railway and absorbed into the GWR in 1890. While the line's more grandiose plans were early abandoned, there were still hopes as late as 1923 of building a bridge across the River Churn and linking up with the Midland & South Western Junction Railway at Cirencester. In 1906 the Fairford Branch became an important pilot scheme for the Great Western Railway's system of Automatic Train Control by means of cab signalling. This proved so successful that the distant signals were removed from the line, resulting in a considerable saving in the cost of the infrastructure. The line was important in World War II because it served the RAF airfield at Brize Norton, in honor of which Bampton station was renamed Brize Norton & Bampton. Passenger service on the whole branch and goods service beyond Witney ceased on 16 June 1962. Goods service to Witney was withdrawn on 2 November 1970.
Map of the Fairford Branch excerpted from the GWR System Map
Another view of Witney Station in around 1905 with an Armstrong "Sir Alexander" Class 2-2-2 as reboilered by William Dean. These locomotives were both more powerful and heavier than the Gooch "Rover" class, though with smaller boilers there was less steam in reserve
A bustling Witney Station in a postcard view of around 1910
Keeping warm in the snow. GWR publicity shot of a trainload of Witney blankets, destined for Maple & Co.'s department stores, in the Witney goods yard behind a Dean Goods 0-6-0
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