I was on a mission, a mission to catch the tiniest National Rail train in England (possibly the smallest heavy rail passenger train in the world), on England’s shortest branch line. I made my way through the Saturday morning shoppers to Euston station, where I caught a Virgin West Coast train to Birmingham.
Birmingham has two main stations; New St and Moor St. Although the two stations are only about 5 minutes walking distance apart, no trains stop at both stations as the lines that serve them do not intersect. My Virgin train arrived at Birmingham New St and I had to transfer to a West Midlands train which was departing from Birmingham Moor St, but instead of walking the 1050 feet (320m) between the two stations, I decided to use the opportunity to travel on Birmingham’s trams.
Birmingham has a single 22km long tram line operated by West Midlands Metro, which runs between Birmingham New St and Wolverhampton. The line doesn’t quite connect at Wolverhampton station, although there is a short branch line planned which will run up to the station entry.
I walked out of New St station and directly on to the stop. A pink and white CAF Urbos tram approached, and I boarded We departed, and wound our way through the streets of inner Birmingham, before turning on to an old railway alignment. The tram ran alongside the Birmingham to Worcester line, with cross platform connections at Jewellery Quarter and The Hawthorns stations. I left the tram at Jewellery Quarter station, where I transferred to a West Midlands Class 172 DMU on a local service bound for Worcester.
After about a 20 minute journey, I alit the West Midlands train at Stourbridge Junction; an unremarkable station with a small railway yard and three platforms. Two of the platforms are for the main line services, and the third is for the branch line to Stourbridge Town. The branch line to Stourbridge town is the shortest branch line in Britain at only 0.8 miles (1.3 km) long, and has a shuttle service running between Stourbridge Junction and Stourbridge Town every 10 minutes. I transferred to the branch line platform and almost immediately, the Stourbridge Town service rattled in.
The train was befitting of the tiny branch line; a tiny little Class 139 railcar. The trains operate as a single car and are only 9.6m long. They seat 25 people and have a maximum service speed of 20 mph (32 km/h). The class 139 are built by Parry People Movers and are powered by flywheel, with an 86hp auxiliary LPG engine.
About twenty passengers boarded the tiny train as the Driver changed ends (taking less than a dozen steps to do so). The conductor gave the all clear (yes, the tiny train had two crew) and we rumbled out of the station and down the little branch line. The ride was quite bumpy on the two axles and we sedately made our way down the hill, through a cutting and into Stourbridge Town station. The whole journey taking just over 3 minutes, in which time, the conductor just had enough time to check the passengers’ tickets.
We arrived at the tiny Stourbridge Town railway station and all of the passengers alit. After a quick change of ends, the train was off back to Stourbridge Junction, leaving me behind at a tiny station with tall pitched roof and large clock. Surprisingly, the small branch line station has a staffed ticket office selling National Rail tickets.
I went for a walk up the steep road beside the station and found a photo spot an a bridge over the railway cutting. There was no variety in rolling stock (just the one Class 139 trundling back and forth, so after a couple of passes, I walked back down to the little station and caught the train back to Stourbridge town and then on to Birmingham.
At Birmingham, I changed to a Cross Country service to Sheffield. By the time I arrived at Sheffield, it was almost dark and there was a bitter wind blowing. I had intended to take a ride on Sheffield’s tram (Supertram), but the dark and cold left me reluctant to stray far from the station. I made a half-heated attempt at photographing trams outside the station, before boarding an East Midlands Class 222 Meridian DMU for London St Pancras.
The train was warm and comfortable, although the first class car had a slightly strange layout. The seats were arranged facing each other over tables, but the distance between seats was slightly larger than the width of the window, so there was an increasing offset between the seating arrangement and the window alignment.
We raced through the evening, along the Midland Main Line and after a comfortable but unremarkable journey, I arrived at St Pancras where my train pulled up beside a Class 43 HST. St Pancras is London’s international station, and as I left the station I saw sleek Eurostar trains stood ready to depart for France and beyond. After around 600km, my travelling was done for the day and I caught a Circle Line Underground train back to my hotel.