|This article does not cite any references or sources. (December 2009)|
|Birmingham to Stratford Line|
|Type||Suburban rail, Heavy rail|
West Midlands (region)
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge|
The Birmingham to Stratford Line, also known as the North Warwickshire Line is a commuter railway line in the West Midlands region of the United Kingdom. It runs from Birmingham to Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, now the southern terminus of the line, although the line originally continued to Cheltenham as part of the Great Western Railway route from Birmingham to Bristol. Services on the line are currently operated by London Midland.
The line is one of the Snow Hill Lines.
The line between Shirley and Stratford was resignalled by Network Rail in 2009/2010, replacing the Semaphore Signals in place, and improving platform access at Stratford. This resignalling saw Shirley terminating services extended to Whitlocks End station, to serve the Dickens Heath community. In May 2013 Stratford-upon-Avon Parkway station was opened north of Stratford. This allows commuters to use the train without driving into Stratford.
Origins and importance
The line originated as the Birmingham and North Warwickshire Railway. This was promoted as an independent railway company under the auspices of the Great Western Railway, and opened in 1908. It provided a link between Tyseley and Bearley, giving an alternative and slightly shorter route between its ends than the existing route via Lapworth, which latter was single track between Hatton and Stratford (and on to Honeybourne).
The line was of particular significance in that it formed part of a final surge of what was effectively main line railway building in Britain (as distinct from the ongoing opening of branch lines) which eventually terminated with WWI. The Great Western's contribution to this surge included other route-shortening projects on the London-Birmingham and London-Taunton routes. Taken as a whole, these projects were designed to counter the description of the Great Western Railway as the "Great Way Round".
The line provided a new service to Henley-in-Arden, rendering redundant the original Great Western branch from Rowington Junction to Henley, which closed to passengers in 1915.
The North Warwickshire Line was effectively Great Western from the start, being adopted by that company because, in conjunction with the newly opened Honeybourne to Cheltenham line, it provided a much shorter link between the company's West Midlands heartlands and the South West of England and South Wales than existing routes via Oxford and Hereford. It thus placed the Great Western in a position to compete with the Birmingham to Bristol route of the Midland Railway.
The line placed Stratford-upon-Avon firmly on the railway map. Long distance express trains now linked the town with most parts of Britain, whereas previously it was served only by the single line between Hatton and Honeybourne. The single line between Hatton and Bearley was not in fact doubled until 1939.
Local services were operated initially by rail motors. Between Wootton Wawen and Wilmcote, these services were routed via Bearley on the line to Hatton (then a single line), where they reversed. Bearley also acted as the terminus for the branch line to Alcester on the Barnt Green to Ashchurch via Evesham line of the Midland Railway.
Moor Street station
Moor Street station was opened more or less simultaneously with The North Warwickshire Line. Unlike the current station, it was a terminus, and served some local trains on the Leamington Spa line as well as those to Stratford. It was closed on Sundays, when all trains ran instead to and from Snow Hill.
The line as a main line - 1908 to c1967
From the start, the line carried long-distance services from the West Midlands to Bristol, South Wales, and the South West of England. These were suspended during WWI, then developed in the 1920s and '30s, were suspended again in WWII, finally reaching their peak in the 1950s, at which time three or four such trains traversed the line each weekday. The doyen of these services was always the daily train from Wolverhampton to Penzance, latterly named "The Cornishman".
A pioneering diesel railcar service with buffet commenced running in 1934 between Birmingham and Cardiff, running non-stop through Stratford. This was so successful that it had to be expanded to a three car train consisting of a standard carriage sandwiched between two railcars. Even this was insufficient for demand, and led rapidly to replacement by a normal locomotive hauled composition. However, during the wartime suspension, the railcar service was reinstated at times before the steam hauled service finally took over after WWII. At that time, two such trains ran to and from Cardiff daily, and a stop at Stratford was introduced.
The North Warwickshire Line played a significant role in the huge summer Saturday exodus (and return) of Midlands holidaymakers to the South West of England, a traffic which built up during the 1920s and reached its peak in the 1950s. In the published public timetables, the regular "Cornishman" ran in up to four sections, and these were supplemented by many others. On the two or three peak Saturdays in July/August yet more special trains were added. This yielded a procession of very long express trains along the line, at intervals sometimes as short as 10 minutes or less, for two or three hours, and was regarded as something of a local phenomenon. Moor Street station was called into use for some of these services. A similar situation arose during the late afternoon and evening, this being less intensive being spread over a longer period.
Current daytime service levels between Stratford-upon-Avon and Birmingham are one train per hour, and a further 2 trains per hour between Whitlocks End and Birmingham, meaning a 3 trains per hour service exists between Whitlocks End and Birmingham. On summer Sundays, a steam service is operated by Vintage Trains between Birmingham and Stratford. From January 2014 one train an hour from Birmingham to Stratford-upon-Avon runs via Acocks Green, Olton, Solihull and Widney Manor reducing the overall journey time by ten minutes.
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