Brief History of the EWYUR

The East & West Yorkshire Union Railway (E&WYUR) was born during the period of rapid coal expansion near the end of the 19th century. The line was built to aid in the transport of coal from the collieries in a triangle bounded by the River Aire, River Calder, and Great Northern Railway (GNR). The largest of these collieries was owned by J&J Charlesworth & Co Limited, who had experienced various problems handing their coal to the neighbouring railways. The creation of the Hull & Barnsley Railway (HBR) created an opportunity. Shipment of coal could be greatly simplified by building a new railway from Rothwell (south Leeds) to a junction with the HBR at Drax. Shipments to the docks at Hull would only have to pass over two railways, one of which was part-owned by the colliery.

The Act of Parliament for the new railway was passed on 2nd August 1883. This called for a mainline from Drax to Lofthouse, and a Leeds branch to Rothwell and Stourton. Unfortunately, the new railway had trouble raising capital, and much of this original plan was abandoned. An abandonment Act was passed in 1886. This abandoned the line to Drax, but added a junction with the GNR at Lofthouse. Capital was not the only problem for the new railway. The combination of both bureacracy and disorganisation appear to have been another factor in the slow building - some of the abandoned lines were re-abandoned again in a new Act of 1889. There was also a dispute with the GNR about the Lofthouse junction which only subsided after the GNR were granted running powers. Although the final E&WYUR was a short railway, it had a high number of earthworks, and these almost certainly contributed to the some of the costs and delays. The E&WYUR finally opened on 20th May 1891.

Cutting near the Leeds-Pontefract Road nears completion in October 1894

The line was extended to Stourton in April 1895 with the South Leeds Junction Railway, This ran from Rothwell to a point near the Midland Railway's bridge over the Leeds and Pontefract Road. A further branch was authorised on 14th December 1897 from Robin Hood to Royds Green Lower. This branch was only the second railway granted under the Light Railways Act of 1896. A third branch was the Thorpe Branch which was built in 1899. The final result was a railway that had numerous small branches serving colleries in a small area. This railway replaced a number of waggonways, some of which had existed since the early 19th century.

The original plans of 1883 had included a passenger service. This was not very practical without the line to Drax, but the concept was re-born with the building of the South Leeds Junction Railway in 1895. The service lasted only eight months, and is possibly the shortest-lived regular passenger service that has ever been run. With hindsight, it is easy to criticise the passenger service, but many of the factors that applied to passenger services also applied to the existing coal traffic. However, the changes required to make the railway suitable for passenger traffic were extremely expensive for the potential traffic. Initial competition consisted of horse-drawn trams, but a competing electric tramway was being built by the time the service was operating.

The daily passenger service started on 4th January 1904 and ran from Stourton Junction to Rothwell. The Sunday service was withdrawn in August 1904. The remaining services did not last much longer and ended completely on 30th September 1904 - eight months before the competing electric tramway was fully open. This was not the end for passenger trains on the line though. After Grouping (1923), occasional excursion trains operated from the E&WYUR to locations such as Bridlington and Cleethorpes.

The E&WYUR had an odd way of working. No system of block working was used, and only the Royds Green Lower Branch used a staff and ticket method of control. Therefore all train movements had to use extreme caution. Even though the 'one training working' system was theoretically in use, in reality colliery locomotives often appeared in unlikely places.

The matter of land and rail ownership was also a grey area. Sometimes E&WYUR lines were built on Charlesworth property, and vice versa. This was something that the LNER learnt to its cost in the 1930s. The E&WYUR purchased land from Charlesworths in 1899, but Charlesworths retained certain reservations. Unfortunately E&WYUR records passed to the LNER failed to mention this, and it took much of the 1930s for the respective solicitors to find a solution!

Sloppy colliery working led to a couple of recorded accidents in the 1950s. One of these on 20th May 1952 led to the collision of J52 No. 68790 with NCB 0-6-0ST Joe. Luckily no one was seriously hurt, but these accidents finally led to the installation of safety points.

During the early 1960s, Thorpe Branch was truncated by the new M1 motorway. British Railways finally closed the remaining E&WYUR network on 3rd October 1966. The land was sold off, and much of the trackbed has been built on.