This one of a series of articles which appeared in the 2003 editions of the Hayling Islander. These were to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the closure of the Hayling branch line. Reproduced here with the kind permission of Jill Belcher and the editor of the Hayling Islander.
EXACTLY 40 years ago this month, an Island legend finally ran out of steam.
A story which started with the formaton of the Hayling Railway Company in 1860 ended as crowds of railway enthusiasts and local people travelled for the last time on the Hayling Billy line, which had fallen victim to the infamous Dr Beeching axe.
Because of the condition of the railway bridge – the remains of which can still be seen – it was decided that the route had become uneconomical to maintain.
Many now believe that the estimated £400,000 cost of a replacement bridge to link Hayling and Langstone would have been money well spent, preserving a valuable transport link and tourist attraction which would have rrepaid the investment many times over.
Hopes were high when Havant was first linked directly by rail with London in 1859 and plans were mooted to link up with a new branch line to Hayling.
The original line was intended to run across an open pile timber viaduct parralel to the old road bridge. The viaduct would include a lifting section and its southern end would run out into the waters of Langstone Harbour on an embankment, following the shore-lineto its projected terminus at Sinah Point. This way engineers tthought, 1,000 acres of land could be reclaimed for Hayling.
In Spring 1863, contractor Frederick Furniss began construction, but almost immediately the scheme was beset with problems.
Although the line from Havant to Langstone opened for freight on January 19, 1865, the sea started to wash away the embankmentbeing built along the Hayling mud flats.
Delays cost money and the railway was in the financial mire when it was rescued by prosperous land agent Francis Fuller, who took over as chairman of the company the following year.
Under his leadership, the embankment scheme was scrapped and instead shoreline land was bought for the line.
Celebrations took place at the Royal Hotel on June 28, 1867 when the first experimental train, filled with VIP passengers, including the Mayor of Portsmouth travelled along the whole length of the new track, from Havant to South Hayling.
The public were able to get their first taste of travel on the line for the second day of the Hayling Races – which used to take place in front of the Royal Hotel – on July 17 that year.
Even then, problems of flood damage at North Hayling meant closure of the line for repair work the following winter.
As well as passengers, it opened up the opportunity for Hayling to export its wares, including oysters and salt, more cheaply to the rest of the country.
If you travel through West Worthing you’ll find more than a little bit of Hayling there – the island’s bricks were sent by the million on the railway to build homes.
In spite of many objections, after years of carrying goods and generations of passengers, the end of the line for the Terrier engines came on November 3, 1963.
Although at first hopes were high that electric tramcars could take over the route, the scheme came to nothing.
Instead, walkers, cyclists and riders who now travel the old steam train route on the Hayling Billy leisure trail can only ponder how different things could have been.