Fifty years ago this year, an icon of Hayling Island finally ran out of steam.
For almost a century, locomotives had ‘choo-chooed’ their way on to Hayling, bringing hundreds of workers from across the south to enjoy the glorious beaches and sea air.
But in 1963 the dream was over. Along with dozens of other smaller railway routes, the line from Havant to Hayling fell victim to the infamous Beeching axe.
The £400,000 cost of replacing the crumbling railway bridge was deemed too much in an age when the motor car was exploding in popularity.
Today this one-time beacon of the industrial revolution is a product of the green revolution.
The old railway line has become a nature trail, teeming with rare bird species, and more eco-friendly modes of transport – namely walking and cycling.
But along the Hayling Billy Trail, its remains can be seen, including the weathered bridge, the railway signal, and the former goods shed, which has been converted into the Hayling Island Amateur Dramatics Society (HIADS) Station Theatre.
It was seeing these relics that inspired Peter Drury, a rail enthusiast, to kick-start a bid to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the closure of the Hayling Billy.
His idea has attracted widespread support from islanders and a diverse programme of events, including exhibitions and shows, will take place to mark the anniversary.
The Hayling Billy 50 Group, led by Peter under the umbrella of Hayling’s Best Community Group – in partnership the local authorities – are also vying for a £100,000 slice of Heritage Lottery funding to enhance the trail and its nature reserves.
‘The 50th anniversary provides a great opportunity to both commemorate the passing of the railway and to celebrate the legacy that remains,’ explains Peter, who lives in Widley.
He said that the project aims to improve the two Local Nature Reserves by upgrading part of the trail surface and provide a new viewpoint at the oysterbed lagoon.
Plans are afoot to provide seating in the two nature reserves and provide panels giving information on flora and fauna.
‘These measures will increase awareness and footfall in the area and will increase the opportunities for volunteers,’ said Peter.
Subject to funding, the remaining signal would be restored under the plan.
Whether funding is successful or not, there are a bumper line-up of events to celebrate this long-lost railway of Hayling, with contributions from The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre, The Hayling Seaside Railway, HIADS, and Cycle Hayling.
Peter adds: ‘This is such an exciting opportunity to remember the past and celebrate the future through the legacy of the railway.’