Saturday, 31 August 2019

Marston Vale Line (The D Train)

26th August 2019

Some of London Underground's former D Stock trains which were retired from the District line in 2017 have been "up-cycled" by Vivarail to become the new Class 230 main line trains, the first of which in service are operated by West Midland Trains on the Marston Vale Line between Bletchley and Bedford. They're been running since April, I finally got around to checking them out today.


I first came to Bletchley in 1979 for the first of three Post Office Telecommunications engineering apprenticeship courses. These were held at Bletchley Park a short walk from the station, then just a PO and CAA training school but shortly afterwards to become famous for it's previous use as the centre of code breaking in the second world war. Few knew then about "Station X" and those who did mostly didn't talk about it.

Now of course everyone knows and it is the home of Bletchley Park Museum

It's also the home of the National Museum of Computing which is on the same site but now a separate entity with it's own entrance and admission fees. I understand there was some kind of falling out between the two. I last visited when it was all one (and there were still people working there who'd been there when I was an apprentice!) and for my money I'd say the most interesting bits - the Bombe and Colossus machines - are in what's now TNMOC.

Ah yes, the train. The Class 230 arrived in the blazing sunshine. I am told (by @AMinorMuddle) that locally the Class 230/D Train is called the Penguin, I can see why 😀

Inside the new trains are very different from their District Line days. Clean and modern with a mixture of sideways and fore and aft seating, lots of charging points, cycle and wheelchair spaces, and toilets! At the same time they were also familiar. The sounds of the doors and of the traction motors, supplied with current in this version of the train from a diesel generator set under the floor but a battery pack version is also available, and they even smelled like D stock. I might have been hallucinating about that last bit because it was a very hot day and the ventilation system was only just coping, especially when stopped in a station.

Fenny Stratford

The town name is Old English meaning 'marshy ford on a Roman road'. The Roman road in this case is Watling Street. Fenny Stratford should be more famous than it is.
The world's first successful heavy oil engines were invented and built by Herbert Akroyd Stuart in Fenny Stratford. These engines were precursors to what is now known as the Diesel engine: Rudolf Diesel based his designs (1892) on Akroyd Stuart's proven inventions (1890) of direct fuel injection and compression ignition. An experimental model was used at the offices of the Fenny Stratford Times Newspaper, and the first production models were installed at the nearby Great Brickhill Waterworks where they were hard at work from 1892 to 1923. Perhaps we should call them Akroyds rather than Diesels?

Bow Brickhill

In spite of the brickmaking history of the area the village name is a combination of Brythonic (breg) and Old English (hyll) words for 'hill'. The 'Bow' comes from an Anglo Saxon personal name, Bolla. 

Caldecotte & Tilbrook should be a TV detective duo.

The railway station, about half a mile from the village, opened in 1905.

Woburn Sands

The village once had the unfortunate name of  Hogsty End until they changed it. The modern name is credited to a schoolmaster unable to attract business to his "Hogsty End Academy", and was one of the first to promote the use of the new name.

It doesn't have a beach but it does have some nice colourful murals arranged by the community rail partnership and apinted by local schools.

Aspley Guise

Famously the Least Used Station in Bedfordshire - at least it was in 2017, I have a nagging feeling that may have changed now but I'm not sure.

Built as one of seven new halts for a steam rail motor service between Bedford & Bletchley inaugurated in the autumn of 1905 it was initially constructed of old sleepers; it temporarily closed from January 1917 until -May 1919 as a World War 1 economy measure.


The former station house, built in 1846 in the Cottage Orné architectural style, underwent a total refurbishment in 2014 managed by the Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity with funding from the Railway Heritage Trust. 

A tea room, gift shop, disabled access and toilets, additional car parking, three small 'start-up' offices and a meeting room have been provided. 

The former Victorian booking office has been restored as a small heritage centre.

By way of contrast the station also serves the big warehouse nearby.


No, it's not named after the supermarket, it's been around much longer - long enough to get a mention in the Domesday Book when it was held by the Abbess of Barkway. It appears next in the historical records in 1247 when the Abbess (likely not the same one) erected a gallows to deal with the lawless, presumably so they could find christian forgiveness at the end of a rope.
Lidlington Station has been modified to have staggered platforms either side of the level crossing in order to reduce the time the barriers spend down, as with a number of others on the line.


Opened as 'Marston' in 1846, changed to 'Ampthill (Marston)' in 1850 and the to 'Millbrook for Marston' in 1877 to avoid confusion with the Midland Railway Ampthill station, and shortened in 1910 to just Millbrook. The station had much coal traffic and served the nearby brickmaking industry, via a siding opened in 1928.

The Millbrook Proving Ground vehicle test facility is nearby but brickmaking is now history.


Opened as 'Wooton Pillinge Halt' until 1928 when the 'Halt' was dropped the village was the site of a thriving brick making industry. In 1926 the London Brick Co. began to build a "garden village" for its employees at Wootton Pillinge. The village was named "Stewartby" after Sir Halley Stewart, former Liberal Party MP and the first chairman of the Wootton Pillinge Brick Company. Following the building of the village, the London, Midland and Scottish Railway renamed the station to Stewartby. The old boys network in action.

Kempston Hardwick

One of three halts opened by the London and North Western Railway in 1905 between Stewartby and Bedford. All three closed as a wartime economy measure during the First World War and two were closed during Second World War, never to reopen, leaving Kempston Hardwick as the only survivor. Its survival can be attributed to its convenient location for the nearby Eastwood's Brickworks which was served from 1928 by a private siding on the up side of the line. Bricks however were the downfall of the station buildings which were demolished after being hit by a lorry carrying the things. In 2003 only 38 passengers a month used the station though by 2017/18 that had risen to around 410 due to the creation of more local jobs.

Bedford St. Johns

St. Johns is was the first station in Bedford, on the Oxford to Cambridge line. After that line closed the station declined and in 1984 a new chord line was built linking the Marston Vale Line to Bedford Midland Station, and a new single platform Bedford St. Johns was built in the former freight yard. The old station site was abandoned, although some of the furniture, such as lamp posts, was not removed. The site has now been reclaimed by nature.


Formerly 'Bedord Midland Road' this is where the line from Bletchley now terminates, meeting the Midland mainline from London St.Pancras to the East Midlands. 

Having suffered badly from the attentions of the Luftwaffe a replacement Bedford station 110yds North was opened in 1978 and the lines were re-aligned. This is the station that in 1984 the Marston Vale line was connected to and the old St. Johns station abandoned.
It's a half mile walk from the station to Bedford town centre and bus station, signposted and marked on the pavement with signs and big yellow footprints. The route takes about 10 minutes via marijuana-scented residential streets of Victorian and Edwardian houses and is light in road traffic at least until it emerges at the big roundabout by the Police Station and opposite the Bus Station.

Bedford town centre is an "interesting" place to visit on a Bank Holiday afternoon. At least it still retains it's post-war architecture, reminiscent of Bracknell town centre before it was destroyed and replaced by yet another giant privatised shopping mall.

I got a window seat in the Hallows Cafe & Restaurant, got coffee and cake (table service too) and was entertained by various locals shouting, swearing at, and threatening each other. The cast of this impromptu street theatre included a bus driver, a drunk, and a fat, pallid knuckle-dragger who really, really shouldn't have been allowed out in public shirtless and wearing white knee-length nylon shorts tight around his navel. The cake was nice, the coffee average. I walked back to the railway station and caught another Penguin back to Bletchley.

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