HISTORY OF THE BISHOPS STORTFORD TO BRAINTREE RAILWAY
In 1859 an unexpected proposal was submitted to Eastern Counties Railway by a
group of Hertfordshire businessmen who were anxious to obtain easy transport for
malt and barley from towns and villages in West Essex.
Their proposal was for a railway line, 18 miles long, linking the towns of
Bishop's Stortford, Dunmow and Braintree. They readily agreed to the proposal,
offering to have the route surveyed and donating £40,000 to help with
construction. The application was put to parliament and permission was given for
the branch line to go ahead.
In 1862 the ECR was amalgamated with the Great Eastern Railway (GER) but
directors were adamant they would continue with the branch line. Despite poor
local backing and the shortfall in subscriptions, the GER decided to fully
finance the line themselves and absorb all of the shares of the local company.
The first turf was ceremonially cut at Dunmow on the 24 February 1864 and
contractors began work the following. Virtually the entire length of the branch
line's 18 mile route was single track, except at Dunmow and one or two other
stations where dual track allowed trains to pass each other. The line was
finally opened for passenger use on 22 February 1869.
With hindsight, it is now apparent that the branch line was never going to
succeed as a profit making passenger service. The branch line's saviour came in
the 1880s. The sudden demand for agricultural produce in London combined with
new industries that were starting up in Braintree, both required a freight
service and it was this that was to provide important revenue for the railway.
Freight traffic continued to grow, especially at the Braintree end of the line,
but by the end of the 19th century passenger traffic to Bishop's Stortford
When the GER finally amalgamated with the London & North Eastern Railway
(LNER) on 1 January 1923, the new company made every effort to increase
passenger traffic on the branch line by doubling the initial three passenger
trains a day running in each direction, to six. But all to no avail. It was
still the carriage of freight that supplied the revenue.
During the Second World War the line was used to transport thousands of tons of rubble for the construction of Saling airfield, 5 miles from Braintree and, later, when it became operational, massive loads of bombs were carried to the same destination under cover of darkness. The United States Air Force bases at Stansted and Easton Lodge were also regularly supplied with armaments and stores arriving via Bishop's Stortford and Takeley station. After the invasion of Europe in June 1944 the line was used by ambulance trains to bring back wounded soldiers.
After the war the public's use of motor cars and competition from bus
transport increased, the passenger service between Bishop's Stortford and
Braintree ran virtually empty and inevitably, closure of the line for passenger
traffic was announced. Despite public protests, the last train to run between
the two towns was on 1 March 1952.
Despite the loss of the passenger service after 83 years the line was kept
open for freight traffic, which was still an important source of revenue. But by
1968 more and more freight was being transported by road and the branch line now
became uneconomical to keep open.
By the end of 1971 all freight traffic had ceased, and on 27 July 1972 a
final enthusiast's trip ran from Bishop's Stortford to Easton Lodge and back. By
the autumn of that year most of the track had been taken up, apart from the last
mile out of Bishop's Stortford. British Rail were considering the possible role
this section of line might play in carrying additional traffic to a growing
Stansted Airport, but proposals came to nothing and in 1974 the remaining track
Much of the old track bed now forms the Flitch Way, a walking and cycling path from Braintree to
Bishops Stortford along the 15 mile course of the Bishops Stortford, Dunmow
& Braintree Railway line
Rayne Station was on the down side of the line with substantial brick buildings comprising station
masters house, booking office, waiting room, porters room, lamp room and toilets. A shunting spur gave access to the goods yard with a goods shed. Other sidings served a cattle dock and coal yard. There was a signal box on the up side of the line.
Rayne station was the visitor centre for the Flitch Way but the Discovery Centre is now the working base for the Essex County Park Rangers who maintain the Flitch Way. The waiting room is now the seating area for the cafe and the stationmasters' house is now lived in. A Scout hall now occupies the far end of the site where the goods yard was.