Shropshire Railways History Past and present

                  Shrewsbury to Llanymynech

This line was known locally as The Potts Line as the plans came to reality when the North Staffordshire Railway Company backed the venture, thus creating the Potteries, Shrewsbury and North Wales Railway. It first opened on Monday 13th August 1866 and ran as a double track between Shrewsbury and Llanymynech. There was also a six mile spur added to the line to serve the quarries at Criggion over the border in Wales, the branch coming off the mainline at Kinnerley. The stations on the line were the following after leaving Shrewsbury: Hookagate, Edgebold, Ford, Shrawardine, Nesscliffe, Kinnerley, Maesbrook and Llanymynech. There were also two stations, Melverley and Crew Green, on the branch down to Criggion from Kinnerley. The Potts Line literally lived up to its name as it had a lively up and down potted history.  Many felt it was doomed even before a single sleeper had been laid; the plan was to build a route over very sparsely populated areas dominated by farmlands and small villages. The area was also prone to heavy flooding, leaving many questioning the logic of risking large amounts of money in a venture that was unlikely to prosper. However, the lure of money to be made from minerals at Criggion and several Welsh quarries near to Llanymynech was enough to see the project going ahead. Those who questioned the financial prospects of this line were quickly proven correct. Problems began right from the start; not being given permission to use the main Shrewsbury General Station was a serious blow to its prospects that haunted its existence from the very start to the end. Setting up a separate terminal station down by Shrewsbury Abbey with no connections to other lines was hardly the way to start a new railway. To rub salt into the wounds the company had to report losses after just one week of operations. After less than four months of passenger business the bailiffs moved in on 3 rd  December 1866. Traffic was suspended on 21 st  December 1866 while several rescue plans were considered. This included the possibility of amalgamating with a number of Welsh railway companies and a plan to join the line to a proposed link to Market Drayton (so on into the Potteries); neither plan came to fruition. The line eventually re-opened two years later in 1868, but in a much reduced capacity, including going down to a single track. Some increased profit was initially received from the various quarries it served, including the new branch down to Criggion which opened in 1871. Unfortunately passenger use on this new branch was thin on the ground, partly due to concerns about the wooden bridge at Melverley which many locals described as ‘rickety.’ Therefore the hope of increasing the number of passengers using the Potts Line didn’t materialize and profits continued to slide in the wrong direction. In a somewhat desperate measure fares were reduced to encourage more to take to the rails, alas this didn’t stop an official receiver being appointed. The line just about managed to keep running at this point in time, but in 1888 the speed limit was reduced to 25mph until the standard of the track was improved. Not surprisingly the money for improvements was not forthcoming and for the second time in its history services were suspended on the route. In 1881 the line West of Llanymynech was taken over by The Cambrian Railway Company and they operated a short section of the line. In 1890 another new railway company, ‘Shropshire Railways,’ arrived on the scene bringing with it some very over ambitious plans to re-open the whole line up once again. Seemingly oblivious to the lines recent history they re-laid the whole track from Llanymynech to Shrewsbury. To the surprise of the company (but no-one else) the project was a financial disaster and receivership quickly followed. For the third time in its history passenger services on The Potts Line came to an abrupt halt; and if things couldn’t get worse the wooden bridge at Melverley collapsed into the river in 1902. (The local’s fears about this ‘rickety’ bridge were well founded!) Just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be another reincarnation local pressure saw a new company have a stab at running it as a successful business. The newly formed Shropshire and Montgomery Light Railway Company took over, although much of the funding came from local councils keen to promote local businesses. The engineer was H.F.Stephens (later Colonel Stephens) who was a well-known light rail entrepreneur. The mainline to Shrewsbury re-opened on 13 th  April 191 with the spur to Criggion re-opening the following February. Amazingly services then ran for over twenty years at a time when passenger numbers didn’t increase. The Colonel Stephens era was characterized by the appearance of a number of unusual trains, none more so than the ‘Coffee Pot’ as it was known locally. This was more like a car than a train running on tracks, its downfall though being the incredible noise the heavy steel wheels made on contact with the rails. This vehicle, along with much of the other rolling stock, proved very unpopular with passengers and many refused to travel in them. (Refer to the book ‘The Lost Railways of Shropshire,’ by Leslie Oppitz for picture references and more information) When Colonel Stephens died in 1931 this fourth reincarnation of the line was about to come to an end. In 1932 passenger trains stopped travelling over Melverley Bridge amidst fears that it would once again collapse. In 1933 all passenger services ceased leaving only special excursions to run at various times of the year. With the total closure of the line becoming inevitable another savior came along, the Second World War!  In June 1941 the Shrewsbury to Llanymynech section of the line was requisitioned by the War Department. The main role of the line during these war years was to serve the extensive ammunition depots which had been set up in the Kinnerley area. The old track had to be replaced (again) as it wasn’t seen as safe enough or reliable enough for war time traffic. Most of the loco traffic was military, but some passenger services existed, although these were infrequent and unreliable. Structural problems on the line continued, the bridge at Shrawardine had major repairs carried out towards the end of the war by the Royal Engineers and after the war the bridge at Maesbrook was washed away during a heavy storm. The line returned to civilian status in 1960 and promptly closed completely on 29 th  February 1960; alas bringing down the final curtain on its eventful and turbulent history. The track was pulled up and Melverley Bridge was converted into a road viaduct. Sadly the long and impressive bridge at Shrawardine was dismantled as it remains today.
The spanning of two countries