The railway started in 1992 on temporary track with a more permanent track the next year following the granting of a three year lease. In 1998 after considerable negotiations with Eastleigh Borough Council a long lease was obtained and permission granted for the construction of Parkway and Monks Brook Halt stations opened in 1999. Major extensions in 2000 brought the route as it is today, although the tunnel wasn't constructed until 2003. Double track almost throughout gives a continuous journey of 1¼ miles. Lakeside café and extended station complete with full toilet facilities were completed in February 2005. To make room for the new shop and café the workshop was moved and greatly extended giving perhaps the finest facilities for a railway of this size in the country. Apart from the usual machine tools there is an overhead crane and wheel drop.
Taking the train from Parkway station we immediately bear left beneath the impressive signal gantry with its pneumatically operated semaphore signals. This, like the turntable and traverser, were all constructed within the railway's own workshops. This type of signalling is very prototypical of former London & South Western Railway practice with the Basingstoke to Woking line retaining it until electrification in 1966/7.
The locomotive has an easy start downhill, the track levelling out at the junction. Automatic colour light signals conforming to full size practice protect the trains from now on. As the top curves are approached the gradient increases substantially as we bear left again through the trees. On clearing said trees on a winter’s day one can sometimes appreciate the term Wind Chill Factor! There are also fine views back towards the station as the train has turned through a full semi-circle. Look out for our resident green woodpeckers. Our locomotive will be eased somewhat as the gradient reduces but the summit is not breasted until we are level with the roof of the tunnel. There are magnificent views across the lakes from this high point. A brisk downhill run brings our train into the curved platform of Monks Brook Halt, station for the children's playground.
With the sharp minimum radius curve, three foot crossings and an up gradient our driver will be taking it slowly until the junction and the change of gradient. The train can now coast downhill before slowing again for the tunnel with its opening date set in stone above the portal. The tunnel is 355 feet (108 metres) long and built by cut & cover methods using standard mining sections. With children squealing with delight the instruction for drivers to Sound Whistle can be a little superfluous at times!
A steady climb brings our train level and parallel to the track used on our outwards journey. Soon we diverge right down a short but steep gradient to level out at the railway's lowest point giving our driver chance to ensure his fire is in good shape with sufficient steam and water for the considerable climb up to Parkway station and journey's end.
The locomotive fleet consists of 19 steam locos all but 4 belonging to the railway; 2 diesel hydraulic and the battery powered Eurostar. Steam locos nos. 1001 & 1002 were built in 1932 & 1933 respectively and are quite important historically, no. 1908 is also pre-WWII. The two diesels were built by the railway likewise Eurostar, although in co-operation with Southampton University.
The carriage fleet steelwork, bogies and general assembly were completed by the railway. Despite our narrow tracks our railway has been used as a test track for a pair of unique plastic bogies. Strictly speaking they are constructed of fibre glass with only the wheels, bearings and axles of steel. The coach body is identical to the fleet but easily recognised by the large white plaques affixed to the sides. Sponsored by the Department of Transport in conjunction with the University of Reading and Sciotech Project Ltd. track testing involved virtually the same procedure as in full size and gave very much the same results commensurate with the smaller sizes involved. Even the Office of the Rail Regulator got involved by getting the track parameters.
You will have noticed that in keeping with the Southern we too have a 3rd. rail, but apart from a few volts for signalling purposes, it is quite harmless! By this means we are able to run 7¼" gauge locos on what is now essentially a 10¼" gauge railway.
Incidentally with the demise of Alstom's Eastleigh Works we are proud to uphold the tradition of railway engineering, albeit in miniature, within the Borough of Eastleigh.
Eastleigh Lakeside Railway is funded from private sources and staffed by enthusiasts and volunteers.