March - A Railway Town

Photo:March coaling stage and locos
Photo:March Station c1961
Photo:Engine sidings, Norwood Road Bridge

How the railway came to March

The first railway line across the Fens was to be built by the Eastern County Railway (E.C.R.) from Peterborough to Ely but George Hudson, Chairman of the E.R C. asked for a deviation northwards via March where it was intended to have a junction for a line to Yorkshire so that Hudson could unify his railway interests. This was approved but permission for the line to Yorkshire was denied.

The new line

The Ely to Peterborough line was built in ten months despite the problems with the soft fen soils and opened to goods traffic in 1846 and to passengers in 1847. The Wisbech, St Ives and Cambridge line crossed the Ely- Peterborough line and opened in two sections in 1847/8 and March then became an important four-way country junction.

Development

As traffic developed a small engine shed was built in the fork of the Peterborough and Wisbech lines at the end of the two platform station. By 1862 the E.C.R. had absorbed most of the other railways in East Anglia and adopted the more grandiose name of the Great Eastern Railway (G.E.R.).

Beginnings of Whitemoor

In 1862 a line to Spalding via Thorney and Crowland was rejected in favour of an alternative route via Guyhirn and Murrow; this line was built and opened in 1867. At this time sidings began to be laid on Norwood Common, later to be known as Whitemoor. Permission was not given for a line south from March to join the existing Hitchin to Cambridge line as an alternative to the London route via Peterborough.

Access to the north

The G.E.R. was not deterred and 1882 after expensive and protracted legal battles they persuaded the Great Northern Railway into the joint ownership of the lines from Huntingdon via March and Lincoln to Doncaster giving the G.E.R. access to the coal fields of the north. Thus March came to prominence as a railway town and in the 1880s saw a large increase in the town’s size to provide for the influx of men coming to March to work and a huge programme of work began.

Expansion

In 1885 a new seven platform passenger station was opened to the west of the original station; the first station remained as the Station Master’s house until demolished in the mid 1990s.The building of the new station meant the removal of several old buildings; new facilities for locomotives were built alongside the marshalling yards at Whitemoor and part of the Wisbech branch line had to be realigned further to the west.

New infrastructure

The level crossing at Norwood Side was replaced with a bridge and the west curve from the Whitemoor junction to the March West junction reconstructed with a new public goods yard and shed built to the east of Station Road. In 1923 the G.E.R. and the G.N.R. were both absorbed into the new London and North Eastern Railway that then controlled all the lines at March.

Highs and lows

The zenith of the railway at March was during WWII when, after the bombing of Hamburg in Germany, the Whitemoor Marshalling yards became the largest in the world. After the war came nationalisation and Mr Beeching and the facilities at March began to decline until all that remained was the Ely - Peterborough route and a few bulk services.

New beginnings

All was not lost however, as a new route from the Channel Tunnel to central London was proposed and this meant the relocation of Network Rail's depot at Temple Mills. After a thorough search, Network Rail concluded that the former Whitemoor site, then up for sale, was the only suitable place where a new large supply depot could be built. Plans were put forward to Cambridgeshire County Council in June 2003 and after lengthy consultations and surveys the Government, in November 2003, approved the plans. The depot was officially opened in May 2004, a truly remarkable achievement and March was once again a railway town.

Hopes for the future

In 2009 it was suggested that the March to Wisbech line may at some time in the future be reopened.

 

This page was added on 22/03/2010.

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