Post memories: History of the railway in Barking and Dagenham

Railway Loco Thundersley London-Tilbury-Southend Railway

Railway Loco Thundersley London-Tilbury-Southend Railway - Credit: Archant

In November 1956 Mr Munn, chief public relations officer of the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway, walked into the office of the Barking Advertiser, where I was a reporter.

Barking Station 1959

Barking Station 1959 - Credit: Archant

He produced voluminous plans and astounded us by announcing a massive scheme which, he said, would totally transform Barking Station and the whole railway system there. It would cost £1.7 million – peanuts in today’s money, but in those days it sounded like the national debt.

The wreckage after the crash

The wreckage after the crash - Credit: Archant

As the rebuilding programme unfolded we were to see an end to the congestion caused when steam-hauled boat trains from St Pancras had to cross District Line rails in order to proceed to Tilbury docks.

Barking Station 1950

Barking Station 1950 - Credit: Archant

Passengers arriving at Barking on steam trains from the Shoeburyness or Tilbury lines, and wishing to change to the District Line, had to traipse up the staircase and down to another platform. But the new system enabled passengers to make same-platform changes to the District Line.

Fare dodgers almost instantly took advantage of the opportunity to cheat the system until revenue protection officers netted scores of them when trains from the Southend line were suddenly switched from platform 5 to platform 8, where same-platform changes could not be made.

Travel on the old LTS – now the C2C – had always been a special treat for families from Barking and Dagenham, and from the East End.

In 1956 a day return from Barking to Southend cost five shillings, or 2s 6d for children. You can have the same treat now at today’s prices – £13, or, again, half fare for children. So seaside trips nowadays are about as much in money’s worth.

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A major disaster in the steam age came in February 1958 when the 6.20pm, carrying city workers home from Fenchurch Street, ran into the back of the 6.15pm, which was halted just beyond Dagenham Heathway. There was a thick pea soup fog – the sort which happily we see no more. You could barely see your hand in front of your face.

Ten died, and 87 were injured, in the crash.

The Post reported how residents of Blackborne Road threw open their homes to assist the rescue, adding: “No sleep for them on disaster night.” The horrifying story unfolded at the inquest, packed with survivors, families of the dead, and press, before South Essex coroner, Dr Harvey Kenshole.

The driver of the 6.20am train, a Dagenham man, was asked to explain how he failed to see the red signal and also the red light on the end of the 6.15am train.

But the fog was one of the thickest ever and what limited vision he had was further exacerbated by the smoke from his loco. When his fireman screamed: “Red light ahead!” it was just too late for him to pull up in time.

That was, happily, the only major accident on the line in recent years.

While many trains were modernised the Barking to Gospel Oak line was, for many years, neglected, with slam-doors existing until 2007. Such was the Cinderella status of this line when it was run by Silverlink that its multiple unit diesel stock was a throw-out from that which had previously operated between Bletchley and the Bedfordshire brick works.

The changeover to London Overground six years ago saw the introduction of modern trains with sliding doors, thanks to campaigning by the Barking-Gospel Oak Line Users’ Group. But the trains are still diesels. The group is petitioning to bring electrification to the line so as to achieve faster, longer and cleaner trains.