The Nickey Line

Hemel Hempstead - Harpenden

Part of the Lost Rails project

Click to enlarge this route map
© Stephen Wragg
Midland Road Station, Hemel Hempstead, early twentieth century.
Lent by Ken Allen
A former train cleaner and fireman describes a typical working day on the Nickey Line in the late 1960s
A description of one incident when sheep got onto the Nickey Line
Problems were sometimes caused by lorries striking a bridge between Harpenden and Redbourn
Another collision is described here, involving a tractor coming out of a farm near Redbourn
Timothy Collier, born in 1941, recalls some of his childhood memories of the Nickey Line
Mr Collier talks about another game played by the Nickey Line - racing against the train up the gradient near Hemel Hempstead Midland Station
A video showing parts of the modern day Nickey Line - a popular walking and cycling route

No one remembers how the Hemel Hempstead to Harpenden railway became known as the Nickey Line. Although now a favourite walking and cycling route, it was one of the less rational branch lines in respect of its route and purpose.

The Nickey was expensive to build and, most agreed, too steep for a railway with a 1 in 37 gradient near Roundwood, and 1 in 39 near Cupid Green at Hemel. There are many accounts of locomotives struggling to climb them – or not to run away downhill with goods wagons. Tight curves and numerous bridges added to its difficulties.

A more serious problem was that only local passengers used the line – why go to London from Hemel via Harpenden (or vice versa) when you could go direct? To increase demand the Midland Railway tried light locomotives – a railmotor in 1905 and the hybrid Ro-Railer in the 1930s. But there were only two services a day, and growing competition from motor coaches. In the summer of 1947 the Nickey ran out of coal, and never re-opened to passengers.

Goods traffic was far better – straw plait for the Luton hat trade, jam and boiled sweets at Redbourn, grain, watercress (1½ tonnes per day), coal to the Boxmoor gasworks, gravel, bricks, and finally breezeblocks, made by Hemelite Ltd, and privately transported by diesel goods trains for fifteen years after general closure.

The line has been preserved as a 7½ mile footpath and cycleway, actively maintained by the The Friends of the Nickey Line.




View a gallery of photographs of The Nickey Line, or scroll down to see a video and listen to audio memories of the railway route.

This page was added on 01/03/2011.

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