Explore the Railway
The Berks & Hants (B&H) line through Hungerford was opened in three stages. Originally a single track branch line along the Kennet Valley from the GWR main line at Reading, passing through Newbury to Hungerford and opening in 1847, it was continued up the Dun Valley by the B&H Extension Railway over the watershed at Savernake to Devizes in 1862. By 1900 the GWR had used the branch as the basis for a new direct route to the West Country via Westbury, bypassing Devizes in the process and upgrading the branch line to mainline standards.
The route was famous in the steam era for its expresses to holiday destinations in Devon and Cornwall, promoted by effective GWR marketing and hauled by a range of their 4-6-0 locomotives including the famous King Class. Engineering the B&H to support the axle loading of these powerful locomotives enabled it to handle the even greater requirements of the heavy freight traffic which was to become feature of the line today.
In time modernisation on British Railways saw steam locos give way to the distinctive classes of diesel-hydraulic locos adopted by the Western Region of BR. Rationalising the network saw the branch to Devizes closed as well as the connection to Marlborough. Passenger services concentrated on the long-distance trains to the West Country and local services became part of the Network SouthEast sector focussed on commuting to London and Reading. In recent years the new GWR have catered again for local journeys westward beyond the previous turnback point at Bedwyn, making possible day trips to Pewsey, Westbury and beyond.
Passenger services are reviving after the Covid pandemic but they have to contend with the use of the route by heavy freight trains, mostly from the Mendip Quarries beyond Westbury. One of these heavy and slower-moving trains is seen crossing Hungerford Common on the line of the original branch, a short walk to the east of the town. The line curves following the contours of the valley, limiting the speed of passenger trains to 75mph through Hungerford: