Lament for a Branch Line (The Preston to Southport Railway)

David Hindle

Review by Mark Bartlett

I felt an immediate connection with this book when asked to review it, as the genesis was a collection of hundreds of photos of the Preston and Southport railway collected by the late Roger Roberts. Roger was a respected former colleague of mine but, in addition to our professional relationship, I knew him as a man who was never happier than when hanging out of a carriage droplight window, goggles in place, on a steam excursion.

Before his untimely passing Roger bequeathed the collection to David Hindle who has turned them into another superb book, up there with the best from this prolific author. ‘Profusely illustrated’ is an oft used term but certainly applies to this volume with over 500 pictures, the majority of them never before published. These fascinating pictures range from the 19th Century through the operational years of the line up to closure and then to the sad dismantling of the railway and stations.

The book covers the history and operations of what was originally the West Lancashire Railway, including the separate terminal stations in Preston and Southport. later superseded by use of the present day main line stations, through the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway days, the LMS and finally BR services. It also covers associated branch lines such as the short, and short lived, Tarleton branch and the rural link to Downholland, worked by railmotors until 1938. As with his other books David covers the social stories of these lines in addition to pure railway history and this makes it much more than just another railway history or album.

The flat farmland through which the line passed meant there were many level crossings and these, and all the stations, are illustrated at various times down the years, as is the major engineering feature, the River Douglas swing bridge. As the main branch was steam worked right up to the last day in 1964, there are excellent photos of steam services at all stations on the line. One quirk of the line was that many of the later Black 5 experimental variants seemed to be frequently rostered on services and so a number of pictures feature Caprotti 5s and other oddities alongside the more regular LMS 2-6-4Ts.

Although the line only saw an occasional diesel train, on excursion duties, the section from Crossens into Southport was electrified and the EMU services are covered in the book too. What a shame these services through the Southport suburbs closed with the rest of the line as I am sure they would be valued today.

Despite some previous knowledge I learnt so much from this book. I will not spoil future readers' enjoyment of the wealth of information but, to whet the appetite for example, the West Lancashire Railway never had its own livery and ran locomotives in the manufacturer's own paintwork, or the livery of the railway company they bought second hand engines from, whether that was red, blue or green. This also included some engines bought from the LB&SCR which retained their distinctive yellow ochre livery!
So, another cracker from David J Hindle, once again in the Silver Link Silk Edition series. Heartily recommended.