There is a practical pro-rail initiative in Norfolk which has long been in preparation and which is now making serious progress.
The Norfolk Orbital Railway’s registered charity, the Melton Constable Trust, has succeeded in buying a stretch of the former GER at Fakenham which goes by the glorious name of Pudding Norton. This stretch includes one of only two bridges where the GER went over the M&GN and the iconic Three Arches bridge shown here which carried the line to Wells on Sea over the River Wensum. Built in 1849 this bridge has to be worthy of preservation in its own right. The Melton Constable Trust is working in close partnership with the Mid Norfolk Railway, which already operates the line from Wymondham to Dereham and is in the process of extending its line northwards from Dereham to County School. The purchase of the Pudding Norton land means that the partnership now owns both ends of the route from Dereham, a major centre, to the further substantial town of Fakenham. The aim is to acquire the sections in between and thus to provide for the eventual return of rail services to Fakenham.
This success follows the purchase of a section of trackbed at High Kelling and the conclusion of an agreement to acquire an adjacent stretch: key parts of the route for an extension from the North Norfolk Railway’s present terminus into the popular shopping and residential town of Holt.
The ultimate objective is to create the Norfolk Orbital Railway by connecting the MNR and NNR lines which, together with existing Network Rail lines from Wymondham to Norwich and Sheringham, would provide multiple journey options. The priority, however, is the extension of the two private lines to significant new destinations.
Thus the aim of the promoters is to pave the way for a rail reconnection to the market towns of Holt, Fakenham and Dereham which were lost 50 years ago. This would be of immense potential benefit to the local economy, combating rural isolation and increasing traffic congestion as well as being a boost to tourism, as has been demonstrated over the years at Sheringham. We are talking here about a modern rail public transport service of value to the daily life of the community and to the environment, as well as the heritage services already run by the two existing private railways.
This is just not wishful thinking. The North Norfolk coast has been turned into a tourist boom area, reminiscent of what happened over 100 years ago. Most experts put this down to the attraction of the restored heritage line which fills hotels and boarding houses throughout the summer and much of the year. This resurgence is strongly reflected in the great increase in patronage experienced on Greater Anglia’s Bittern Line service from Sheringham to Norwich and in the repeated improvements to that service.
The Pudding Norton land was bought at auction with less than three weeks in which to raise the £24,000 required by public appeal. In total, for both the High Kelling and Pudding Norton land acquisitions, the Trust has attracted donations of some £75,000. That is a measure of the community support that exists. The Melton Constable Trust now needs to raise the same sort of sum again to complete the purchase of the second section at High Kelling, to repair a bridge at Pudding Norton and to make that site secure. It then has to accumulate the means to bid for further sections of trackbed, a likely priority being the next section on the route southwards from Pudding Norton on the route to Dereham.
If you support this initiative, please visit the North Orbital Railway website at www.norfolk-orbital-railway.co.uk.