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A Brief History of The Ickenham Miniature Railway
Very early in its existence the Ickenham & District Society of Model Engineers built a portable miniature railway track and when the society moved to its current headquarters in 1954 this was permanently installed alongside the clubhouse. This was a raised track providing a straight run allowing one train to run backwards and forwards.
The first suggestion for the building of a continuous live steam track was made in 1964, but it was to be several years before work started. In part it was down to the fact that part of the new railway was to be on council owned land and it was not until 1969 that the lease for this land was signed. Thereafter work proceeded quickly and the main line circuit was completed by mid July. Society locomotive ‘Speedy’ became the first to complete a circuit of the new track on 20th July 1969.
Work continued to provide a station and steaming bay loop line inside the new circuit and all was in readiness for the official opening ceremony on Saturday 27th September 1969, the day after the society AGM. The opening ceremony was performed by Mrs Rosea Kemp, a radio weather forecaster, who drove a locomotive (suitably decorated with a headboard) through a tape stretched across the track.
During 1970 the railway was open to the public on Sundays, but attendance was sparse and for 1971 the public opening days moved to the first Saturday of the summer months, where they have remained ever since.
At this time the method of operation was for passengers to board the train in the loop. The train would then complete several laps of the main line before returning to the loop where the passengers would alight. The train would then run over the turntable ready to pick up the next load of passengers.
The railway was equipped with a colour light signalling system controlled from a small signal box next to the water tower.
At the society AGM in 1975 the decision was made to extend the track to a new terminal station on the front lawn. As before this was a project that took a number of years to come to fruition. In part this was due to several other projects which took place at the same time. Among these other projects was one to put the existing track on a proper concrete base. Previously the sleepers had rested on bricks buried in the earth and this had given problems maintaining the correct level. Naturally all this extra work diverted resources from the construction of the extension, slowing the work considerably.
Nevertheless the new station was ready for opening at the beginning of the 1982 summer season. Thus it was that on Saturday 8th May 1982 the Reverend Paul Kelly, rector of St Giles Church, officially unveiled the name board of the new Ickenham St Giles Station before boarding the official first train. Just fifteen minutes previously, to the accompaniment of flags and whistles, the last passenger train had left the railway’s original station, Wood Halt, it being named for its last two hours of use.
The new station featured an overall roof, a dedicated booking office, a water tower and a turntable large enough to turn an entire train. A new signalling system was introduced to control the new points and this required drivers to set the route themselves by operating trackside buttons as they passed them.
With work on the station complete, attention focussed on upgrading the facilities in the steaming bays where steam locomotives are prepared for service. Over the years following the opening of the station the old turntable on the steaming bay loop was replaced by a traverser and several parallel, raised tracks. At the end of the 1980s a new workshop was built and the opportunity was taken to provide covered storage sidings below it for our passenger carrying trolleys and these sidings are also accessed by means of the traverser.
The signalling system with the trackside buttons did not last in service long and by the mid 1980s had been removed. Subsequently points were controlled by signalmen at two locations. Drivers were given authority to proceed by means of hand signals. At first the signalmen were out in open but 1989 saw work start on the construction of a new signal box. That same year a tunnel appeared over the line for the first time.
The mid 1990s saw the construction of a new inner loop on the main line. Following the popularity of the tunnel on the original line, the new line was provided with a much longer, curved, tunnel. At the same time a new comprehensive signalling system was installed on the whole railway to control all the new junctions. This system is still in use today.
The late 1990s saw the construction of a new, larger, booking office, complete with features, such as an open fire place, that make it very popular with members on the colder running days. Not long after this a roof was provided over the steaming bays, vastly improving conditions on inclement running days.
Over three years from 2010 to 2013 the original station roof was replaced by a new structure which now also provides cover for the arrival platform.
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