A history of the Jersey Western Railway
The first proposal for a railway in Jersey came in 1845, when a prospectus was published for the creation of a railway company and the building of a new harbour. The directors of the newly formed Jersey Railway Company met for the first time on 8 October that year and proposed a railway line from St Aubin to St Catherine, where the harbour would be built. The proposed route would have required a costly tunnel under Fort Regent in St Helier.
Nothing came of this scheme, and there were no further plans for a railway until 1 January 1861 when a proposition for a line between St Helier and St Aubin was put before the States by the Jersey Railway Company. The Acte was adopted the following year and was sent for confirmation by the Privy Council. Following a number of objections, final sanction was continually delayed as the Treasury objected to a clause which allowed the company to take possession of all the seashore below the high water mark without having to pay either the British Government or the States. On 22 October 1869 a new Bill was submitted; this time there were no delays as it was passed on 22 October 1869 and confirmed by Her Majesty in Council 20 days later.
This second Bill was very similar to the first but without the contentious clause. It stipulated that work should start within three months and the line should be completed within a year.
The majority of the capital for the line was put up by the contractor Mr E Pickering. For most of its length it would follow the shore line where no sea wall existed. As the route would be very close to the high-water line there was a danger of the track being washed away in bad weather. To safeguard against this Mr Pickering offered to build a sea wall between West Park and St Aubin, creating a strip of land sufficiently wide to build the railway, a road and a promenade. This proposal was approved by the States on 11 March 1870, although the railway would be opened before the sea wall was completed.
Despite some minor issues that could have delayed construction there was steady progress, and work was almost finished by September 1870; the first trial run along the line was made on 28 September. This went without mishap, and 300 invited guests rode on the train the following day. Further trials followed, and the line was approved for public use by an engineer appointed by the States on 17 October. There was a ceremonial opening followed by a banquet at Noirmont Manor, the contractor’s residence. 4,000 single journeys were made on the opening day, with trains stopping at the three intermediate stations, First Tower, Millbrook and Beaumont.
The standard gauge single-track line was 3¾ miles in length. After leaving St Helier it followed a gentle curve around St Aubin's bay with a passing loop at Millbrook; a short section near La Haule was raised on wooden piles where there was a danger of flooding from the sea.
In its early years the railway was well used, especially at weekends. Initially there were two locomotives with a third more powerful loco being delivered in June 1871. Three new stations at Cheapside (later renamed West Park), People's Park (short lived) and Bel Royal opened in 1872; another at La Haule had opened by 1876. In 1873 work on the sea wall was abandoned due to the high cost: the company felt that an improvement in the existing groynes and culverts would be sufficient to stop the line being washed away. The Committee of Defence took over the building of the wall which was completed between West Park and First Tower in 1880.
Despite the early popularity of the line, the company was declared bankrupt in December 1874. During this period the States Attorney-General ruled that the railway should be kept open until a new proprietor took possession on 24th July 1875. The ownership of the line changed several times in the following few years.
La Moye extension
On 15 March 1871 a petition was put before the States on behalf of the owner of the granite quarry at La Moye, who wanted to build a standard gauge tramway to carry stone and passengers to St Aubin, where the granite would be transported by the Jersey Railway for onward shipping from the docks at St Helier. The Bill was passed on 7 June that year with a time limit of two years allowed for construction.
Once the proposed route had been surveyed, some landowners demanded too much money in compensation for unproductive land of little value, and, at an extraordinary meeting held on 27 June, the Chairman recommended to shareholders that the project should be abandoned unless agreement could be reached with landowners. The greedy landowners backed down, and construction started with an estimate of six to nine months for completion. In March 1874 the company requested an extension of two years and approval for deviations; this resulted in a second Bill which was passed on 3 September 1874.
By 1 March 1875 construction had progressed well, but in early 1876 the company was declared bankrupt, and all work ceased until the 9 May with the line under new ownership. By the end of July 1877 rails of 3ft 6in gauge had been laid between St Aubin and Pont Marquet. It is not known when the decision was made to use narrow gauge instead of standard gauge as originally planned. It is clear that this gauge was used because of the extremely sharp curves and steep gradients between St Aubin and Pont Marquet. The plan was to fit the standard gauge Jersey Railway track with a third rail to allow through running to St Helier.
The first of two locomotives was assembled at the company's engine shed at St Aubin, and it made its first trial run on the line as far as Greenville on 10 September 1877. Within days the line was once again in financial difficulty, and little further work was carried out until January 1882 when ownership passed to Thomas Budd, one of the line’s creditors. During the intervening period protracted negotiations were held regarding a possible merger with the Jersey Railway Company, but nothing initially came of them.
On 17 July 1883 Thomas Budd sold his interest in the St Aubin and La Moye Railway to a consortium headed by Viscount Ranelagh; this consortium also purchased the Jersey Railway Company on the same day. The Jersey Railways Company was then established in London to administer both lines, and Thomas Budd was appointed chairman. In 1884 the La Moye line was completed, with the first trial train running on 15 March. In February 1884 works started to convert the St Aubin - St Helier line to narrow gauge. This was done in sections with trains kept running during the conversion, passengers being transferred to horse-drawn buses where the conversion was under way.
In July 1884 the La Moye line was inspected by the Jersey Eastern Railway's engineer and as there was still unfinished work at St Aubin. Opening of the line was approved to a temporary terminus near St Aubin Hospital. Once other required improvements had been made the line opened on 30 August 1884. Two further stations were later opened at Pont Marquet and Blanches Banques. The line was single-track throughout with a passing loop at Don Bridge.
There was a large quantity of rock to be blasted before the two lines could join at St Aubin, where a through platform was built alongside the existing terminus. This opened on 5 August 1885 with six through trains on a weekday from St Helier to Corbière and five in the opposite direction. There were 13 weekday trains from St Helier to St Aubin and 14 in the opposite direction, with a reduced Sunday service on both sections of the line.
Anniversary and liquidation
On 25 October 1895 the company celebrated the 25th anniversary of the line, but four days later it went into voluntary liquidation as the line had been unable to generate the expected revenue. On 18 January 1896 a new company, The Jersey Railways and Tramways was registered and took over all the assets of the ailing railway from 1 February.
One of the first improvements the new company made was the provision of a new and much grander station building at St Helier, completed in 1901; some of the intermediate stations between St Helier and St Aubin were also improved. The line’s finances began to improve, and the first dividend (3%) was paid on ordinary shares in 1897. At this time electric traction was discussed, along with an extension of the line from La Moye Quarries to a new terminus in the grounds of the Corbière Pavilion. In order to do away with a severe curve to the west of St Aubin station, a new tunnel was excavated and brought into use on 26 December 1898.
Although electric traction was never introduced - although it was discussed in detail in 1906 - the Corbière extension was built and was opened to traffic on 1 July 1899.
On 1 January 1912 Millbrook station was relocated a short distance to the south to accommodate road improvements, and in 1920 Bel Royal was relocated to the south for the same reason.
In 1922 the board considered using railcars to reduce running costs. The company accepted an offer from Sentinel-Cammell to try out two, on the condition they were delivered to Jersey free of charge. This was agreed, and two railcars of different sizes were ordered for delivery by 1 April 1923.
On 2 April 1923 a new bus company, the Jersey Motor Transport Company, started operations with routes to all parts of the island. This was to have a huge impact on potential revenue, with direct competition coming from routes from St Helier to St Aubin, St Brelade’s Bay and Corbière. A week before the new routes were introduced, the railway company board decided to reduce fares and open a series of new stopping places, to coincide with the introduction of the new railcars, at Bellozanne Halt, Millbrook Halt, Bel Royal Halt and Beaumont Halt. In order to further lessen the effect of the new competition from buses, they started their own bus service between St Aubin and St Brelade's Bay, timed to connect with departing trains.
The two experimental Sentinel-Cammell steam railcars were delayed for some months, but the first finally arrived and was assembled ready for an inaugural run on 18 June 1923. Unfortunately one of the leading axles snapped. After repairs and other changes had been completed a further successful trial took place on 28 June, and a new summer service was quickly introduced with 32 weekday trains between St Helier and St Aubin, nine of them running on to Corbière. The second railcar was delivered in January 1924, and a third arrived in March 1925.
The railcars soon proved a good investment, and, despite competition from buses, the railway had its most profitable year in 1925 when the total revenue was £23,475, with a dividend of 7% paid on ordinary shares. This upturn was to be short-lived, however. By 1928 the company was already feeling the impact of a dramatic increase in car ownership in the island. The bus company was also suffering from this competition, and from August 1928 the railway took over Jersey Motor Transport, with interchangeable tickets between trains and buses being available, although the two concerns continued to run as separate companies.
In 1929 the directors decided that there was little point in running a parallel road and rail service between St Aubin and Corbière in the winter months, as passengers preferred to travel by bus. A petition was sent to the States on 5 January 1931 allowing the company to suspend its rail service between St Aubin from 1 October to the beginning of May. After receiving official sanction, the Corbière service was suspended from 1 October 1931; no ordinary dividend was paid that year. A further Bill to suspend the winter rail service between St Helier and St Aubin was passed in 1932 with the service being suspended from 1 December until 30 April 1933.
The company made a small profit in 1933 with a 1½% dividend paid. Similar winter arrangements were made in 1934/5, but the winter suspension of service between St Helier and St Aubin was brought forward to 1 October. There was a half hourly rail service for three days before Christmas in 1934, which was never repeated.
1935 was a better year, with a modest profit and a dividend of 2½% paid on ordinary shares. In March 1936 the company requested an inspection of the permanent way before reopening for the summer, and this was undertaken by an engineer from the Great Western Railway. His report concluded that the railway was adequately maintained, and, after some repairs had been made, the line could reopen to traffic after the winter closure; this it did on 1 May 1936, closing again for the winter from 1 October.
Almost all the rolling stock, except the railcars and locomotives, was stored at St Aubin. On 18 October 1936 a fire broke out in a butcher's shop at the front of St Aubin station. Fanned by a strong breeze, the flames quickly spread, engulfing the station and the Terminus Hotel. The hotel was badly damaged, and five shops were destroyed, as were the station roof, carriage sheds and 16 carriages, including some recent acquisitions.
The board immediately decided that rebuilding the station was not a financially viable option, that the railway should close permanently, and that the States should take over all the property and concessions. The remaining rolling stock, rail, sleepers etc. were offered for sale by tender on 5 July 1937, the winning bidder George Cohen paying £5,915; the track was lifted shortly afterwards. In order to ensure that the Jersey Motor Transport Company was not part of the impending liquidation, the JMT was transferred to the newly formed company Jersey Road Transport. An extraordinary general meeting was held on 28 October 1937 to pass resolutions that the railway company should be wound up and that the directors be authorised to sell all the land to the States for £25,000. Outstanding debentures and notes were redeemed and transferred to Jersey Motor Transport, its first directors being the former directors of the railway company.
During the Occupation much of the Jersey Railway was brought back into use by the occupying Germans, being re-laid in metre gauge. The first section of line to be laid was from St Helier to Millbrook in May 1942 to transport sand for the construction of fortifications around St Aubin Bay. The sand was brought by rail from Grouville Common to Gorey harbour, where it was loaded onto barges for the short trip to St Helier, to be discharged into wagons on the newly re-laid railway. The line was later extended to Corbière, running from a shunting spur near the old St Helier terminus. There were several branches along its length, one running the length of Albert Pier, another serving an ordnance depot at Millbrook, and a third running north from a point midway between Bel Royal and Beaumont to an electricity generating station at Tesson Mill. The bore of the tunnel at St Aubin was enlarged, with storage galleries excavated at right angles to the tunnel. At Pont Marquet there was a new junction, with one line continuing west to Corbière, and a new line headed north for 6 miles to Ronez Quarry.
Following the Liberation all the track was quickly removed. The only German track that remains today is embedded in the floor of St Aubin tunnel. Once the track had been removed the line between St Aubin and Corbière was retained for pedestrians, and a programme of planting was begun at the sides of the track. The Railway Walk, as it is known, is still popular with walkers and cyclists today. There is little evidence of any of the former stations along the walk, except at Blanches Banques where part of the platform remains, and at the Corbière terminus, which is largely intact. A number of bridges also survive along the route, as does the tunnel at St Aubin.