Central Line



Deep in the Essex countryside, at the sleepy far eastern end of the Central Line, lies this branch with a history more interesting than the line itself. The bucolic qualities of the line, serving a sparse local population, would have made it a prime candidate for closure under Dr. Beeching's axe but it survived a bit longer having been taken over by London Underground. However, a loss making line was never going to last forever (or to quote Lewis Cox, it was closed "...because no-one used it.").

Brendan Ratcliffe has argued however that the circumstances that made closure inevitable were caused by the railway and political authorities of the time and that closure of the line was actually avoidable:

"I believe that at that time the population of Ongar was in the region oftwenty thousand. Much of the working population worked in London. The lack of passengers was not due to a lack of demand, but because of spiralling cost of using the service and its increasing infrequency. This was particularly acute when the GLC withdrew its subsidy for the service on the grounds that it was not in Greater London. Most folk in Ongar used to drive to stations from Epping to South Woodford as the cost of using the service became uneconomic. The resultant traffic congestion was quite noticeable."

David Burrows subsequently argued that the problems started long before that:

"The use of the line declined immediately it was electrified, presumably so that London Transport no longer had to pay the Eastern Region to provide engines, stock and crews which enabled Epping engine shed to be closed. The wonderful new electric service started on a cold, foggy November day in 1957, when the passengers, formerly used to a delightfully warm (steam-heated) train, which being a push-pull set had the engine attached and providing heat all day, found that the replacement underground train had absolutely abysmal heating, made worse by the fact that the train stood for some time at the end of each journey with ALL the doors open.  Not only that but the minimal heat produced between stations promptly left as soon as all the doors opened at each stop. Winter was not the best time to introduce such 'improvements'. The riding of the electric trains was very poor when compared to the steam-worked stock, the motion being akin to a small boat in a storm, bouncing up and down and from side to side. There was much adverse comment in the local newspaper 'Express & Independent' at the time.

"Since the line was electrified 'on the cheap' only single units could be used as there was insufficient electricity available beyond Epping to run 8 car (two unit) trains through to London.  There were allegedly sometimes even problems when two trains passing at North Weald tried to set off simultaneously, each attempting to draw maximum power. At such times accelerations was less than rapid! Thus all passengers had to transfer at Epping via the footbridge for London trains, and with car ownership increasing at that time, many former passengers chose to drive to Epping to catch trains to London.

"There was also the London Transport operated 339 bus route, every 30 mins for most of the day between Epping station and Ongar via North Weald village (and passing Ongar station), although this took rather longer than the train. Alternate journeys continued to Warley, passing Brentwood station with its electrified regular suburban service to London. With this bus service being operated by LT there was obviously not a great incentive for them to encourage use of the train service.

"The decline in train passengers was used as an excuse to remove the passing loop at North Weald as an economy measure, thus only one train could shuttle between Epping and Ongar, giving a maximum service of every 40-48 minutes even in the peak periods, approximately half that which previously operated. This led to even more people using alternative transport as, unless they managed to catch the right train from London to connect, they could have a long wait at Epping for a cold train forward. It was soon time for the service to be reduced to peak hours only, with LT claiming that at other times there was the 339 bus! There was a brief period when trains were restored between the peaks but by then enough passengers had found alternative transport so it did not last long."


After closure, London Transport sold the line to the EOR (Epping and Ongar Railway) who in 2004 finally opened some sort of service on it (Sundays only, from Ongar to North Weald).

For up to date information about the current status of the line, click here for the Epping and Ongar Railway's website.

From a neutral's point of view, stopping at North Weald (i.e. not connecting with the Central Line at Epping) and running on Sundays only, may not seem particularly useful but at least it's a start. It also provides quite an entertaining day out, especially given that there is now a bus link from Epping station. The staff (volunteers) who run the line are ridiculously friendly as well.


Epping station with London bound train waiting to depart. The chap standing in the train is the guard - remember them?

Trains to Ongar departed from platform 1, accessible via the footbridge.





Move your cursor over the following images to see then & now (i.e. London Underground and Epping Ongar Railway) images.



North Weald station building around the late 1970s /early 80s and [moving your cursor over the image] in December 2004, not really looking much different.




This station had two platforms: the second one provided a passing point but is pictured here after having lost its track (obviously a passing point is no longer needed when there is only one train running the line!). The EOR plan to re-open the passing point when the line resumes service (under their stewardship and not LUL's) in 2009.

(2nd image: Dec 2004)




The rural nature of the line is evident here. Out of shot though is North Weald itself - a small town.

(2nd image: Dec 2004)






One agreeable extra to a day out on this line is a visit to the Kings Head, virtually next to the station: a genuinely olde-world pub (450 years old) built from the timbers of an old ship. Click here for photos of it.

(2nd image: Dec 2004)




Facing back toward Epping. Move your cursor over the image to see the December 2004 version.


For additional photos of this line, click here (opens in new window).



Ongar Branch Pt. 2 (Central Line)


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Photos taken between 1977 and 1981, except where stated.