Last week, whilst pottering over to Chasewater, I noticed the unusual sight of heavy plant operating on the old South Staffordshire railway line. Activity was clearly taking place between the former Charringtons oil depot at Newtown, just off the A5, and over the bridge toward Hammerwich. This came as some surprise, as the track that remains between the demolished oil depot and the Cross City line at Lichfield has decayed to a somewhat parlous, overgrown condition. Although speculation continues over the prospect of the freight route reopening at some point – I’ve commented about that previously, and written an article for the Lichfield Blog about it – the remaining turnout to Newtown remains mothballed.
After some research, I’ve discovered that the old Brownhills yard, once used to store and distribute heavy fuel oil arriving by train from Cheshire, has been taken over by rail equipment hire specialists Quattro Plant. Combining the functions of depots at Rugeley and Rugby, the new site is apparently ideally sited to supply maintenance and construction equipment for rail projects throughout the midlands.
It seems I haven’t been the first to notice this intriguing development, as a search revealed the existence of a Facebook group dedicated to the restoration of the line between Walsall and Lichfield. In a post on their wall, member Rob Taylor posted the following on March 15th:
Quattro Plant Ltd RAIL DIVISION (Email)
“We are consolidating our Willenhall and Rugeley depots, and moving to the Brownhills site (the old Charrigtons oil depot).
This is planned to be complete by the end of April, with new track and points being completed.”
However, on the group’s ‘Info’ page, they state on March 25th:
***25th March 2010***
Quattro Rail Division seem to be using the line at the Anglesey Sidings, which is a start! but according to Network Rail, they shouldnt be;-
“Regarding the line usage between Lichfield – Brownhills. I have contacted our freight Manager and out Operational Property Services Manager regarding this enquiry and both reported that they have not had any dealings with Quattro” Network Rail.
Has any reader got the full story on this? The line is technically still an operational route, even though it has been largely disused since 2003 – which is why the new overbridge was recently completed over the new Southern Bypass in Lichfield. It would seem to make sense to use the link to deliver on-track plant to the mainline efficiently and unhindered by road traffic, although the current condition of the permanent way with no signals, copious shrub growth and rotten sleepers will take an awful lot of reconstruction before it’s usable.
I do hope this small section of the former line will enter use once more. I always found it sad that after the closure of Charringtons, the oil depot was used by a road haulage company, who closed access to the line, preferring to undertake all transport by road. Such a situation said much about the lack of cohesive transport policy, not just in the midlands, but in the UK as a whole.