Today, Epping Station is the last stop on the eastbound section of the TfL Central Line tube, but years ago there was a branch line that went on to North Weald-Blake Hall and then Ongar stations.
Back in the early days of steam rail travel, the Great Eastern Railway operated a network of lines in the northern and southern areas of ‘outer’ London. These network often had numerous small additional ‘branch’ lines that transported freight and passengers to and from the sleepy villages.
In 1853 an Act of Parliament allowed the construction of a main rail line from Stratford in the heart of East London – out to Loughton in Essex.
This line was opened to passengers in 1856, and stopped at Leyton – Leytonstone – Snaresbrook – Woodford – Buckhurst Hill.
In 1859, an extension of this line was opened that took passengers to and from Loughton to Ongar.
In 1865, the line was extended further to Theydon Bois and to Epping – and stations were also added to North Weald and Blake Hall.
The ‘branch’ line between Epping and Ongar developed even further by 1888, with the introduction of new signal boxes at Ongar, Blake Hall and North Weald stations.
Usage of these newly extended lines increased rapidly by the late 1800’s / early 1900’s – with the journey time into central London being around 1hr to 1.5hrs.
Because these lines were serving what was then a ‘rural’ area – the use of freight trains was prevalent – delivering fresh milk, eggs, vegetables and other farming produce, into the City where there was obviously big demand.
The railway sidings at Ongar and Epping stations were continually being built up – to deal with the many cattle trucks that were being used at that time – and engine shed and water towers were constructed to cope with the increased usage of the line.
With the intr4oduction of electrification – sub-stations were built – and by 1948 the line from London out to Epping and then Ongar, had become fully electrified. The overall steam service was finally withdrawn in 1957.
By the late 1960’s the ‘branch’ line from Epping to Ongar station, started to be used less and less.
By 1970, the branch line was running at a loss of roughly £100k per annum.
Quite simply, this once busy branch line between Epping and Ongar was becoming less and less cost effective as the years went by – and in 1994, the branch line between Epping and Ongar sadly closed completely – leaving the track and stations to fall into disrepair.
However, in recent years, this old branch line has been taken over by the ‘Epping Ongar Railway’ heritage group, who have put a lot of time, effort and money into restoring the entire route and all its old buildings.
They now run old steam and diesel engines and classic carriages, to and from North Weald and Ongar, and the whole operation is run by volunteers.?
At the start of the “Steam Heritage” tour an old Routemaster bus takes you from outside Epping tube station, to North Weald station, where you then board a steam train that takes you to Ongar.
When you reach Ongar, you can spend time strolling around this old Essex town – before heading back to the station where an old diesel engine will be waiting to take you back to North Weald.
Having had a cuppa in a stationery vintage buffet car, you can then board an old open-top single decker bus, that takes you on a 45min sight seeing trip through all the country lanes, back to Epping tube station.?
You don’t have to be a steam train enthusiast – This great day out for any age group