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Days of full steam ahead

PUBLISHED: 13:57 15 May 2008 | UPDATED: 09:10 11 August 2010

TODAY we have the luxury of the internet, mobile phones, high speed cars, and other such gadgets and gizmos that we all take for granted. But it wasn t long ago when a device as obsolete as the steam train was a novelty, and the year 1854 marks the time

TODAY we have the luxury of the internet, mobile phones, high speed cars, and other such gadgets and gizmos that we all take for granted.

But it wasn't long ago when a device as obsolete as the steam train was a novelty, and the year 1854 marks the time when Barking first gave home to these amazing pieces of machinery.

On April 13, 1854 the first completed section of the Forest Gate to Tilbury Line, which travelled through Barking, was officially opened.

The London Tilbury and Southend railway left the capital before branching right just past Barking and heading towards Tilbury, before returning inland and heading to Southend.

Just two years later a new off-shoot was agreed which was to run between Bromley St Leonard and Barking. The extension now forms part of the direct route to Southend.

But disaster hit the track close to Barking in 1875 - brought about by the ever-growing number of people using the train for day trips to Southend.

Five packed passenger trains were travelling along the route in quick succession when one crashed into the back of another near the station, killing one person and injuring many more.

An inquiry blamed the driver for recklessness, but also said that the people who manufactured the long and heavy 'specials' were at fault.

It said that sending 18 small carriages behind one engine with one crew was foolhardy.

Compensation to the injured passengers totalled what was then a massive £20,000, and put heavy strains on the company's finances for years to come.

Nearby Upminster still did not have a station until the direct Southend line was built years later.

In 1882 the government authorised three new lines to be built, including the direct Southend line, heading east after Barking, through Upminster and joining the old line at Pitsea.

Work begun on the Barking to Pitsea section late in 1883, and it was constructed quickly with services to Upminster starting in May, 1885.

The section was extended to east Horndon within another year, and Pitsea was finally reached at the end of May 1888.

The line allowed passengers a straight run through to the seaside town and nearby developing towns, Leigh-on-Sea and Westcliff.

The number of routes running through Barking was ever growing, and to ensure that the town could handle this level of business the station was rebuilt in 1889 to give more spacious accommodation to trains and passengers.

Further improvements were made to the station between 1905 and 1908.

Excursions to Southend were very popular among Londoners before the First World War, particularly as cheap fares only cost half-a-crown (12 and a half pence).

On New Year's Day, 1923 a new train was introduced between Southend and London's Broad Street. This travelled through Upminster, Hornchurch, Dagenham, Barking, and Bow.

However with the popularity came problems - residents living near the Barking line weren't happy with the seaside travellers who often woke them up singing songs on the carriages as they passed.

Gradually electrification cured the noise problems and made for a faster more reliable service.

Many stops were phased out as the system slowly grew.

The last steam passenger train ran along the Southend line in June, 1962, almost 50 years after electrification was first proposed.


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