The Pandemic shook up modern life as we know it, almost everyone was effected. On the shores of Willen Lake, one family run business seems to be in a state of limbo and possibly may never return, despite the structure and support for it still existing.
The Willen Lake railway was opened in 1989, originally operating three locomotives, local Facebook groups remember this railway fondly, even I have a very vague memory of riding the train as someone who was raised in the area. I have a more vivid memory of seeing the railway in operation nearby whilst on a bike ride in the late 00s, but I digress.
Around the same time as my memory, the railways started operating two diesel locomotives. From there, the railway seems to have entered a stable state of existence, charging everyone £1.50 for short but highly enjoyable rides.
As the pandemic brought the world to a standstill, the line was forced to close, along with the rest of the world. However, as life slowly started to restart and adapt to a Post-Covid world, the railway stayed closed. 2021 came, then 2022 and as 2023 comes to its close, the line still remains shut.
So, what happened?
Short answer: no one’s entirely sure…
The line is well suited for the area it’s located in and nostalgic comments for the railway online seem to suggest there’s still demand and support for the miniature railway. So why hasn’t it reopened?
The only clue to the complete answer comes from the MK Citizen in August 2023, which reported that the volunteers at Caldecotte Lakes miniature railway reached out to the Willen Lake owners: The Parks Trust, to restore the locomotives of the railway, but had no reply. When the Mk Citizen themselves reached out to the Parks Trust to ask about the state of the railway, the Trust replied that the railway itself was family owned and the family weren’t in a position to run the railway, but discussions about the line were ongoing.
And that’s it…
That’s all we know.
Knowing this information, as I rocked up to the railway, I was in a state of disbelief. Everything was accessible, no ‘keep out’ signs, just an abandoned family-run project. As I normally walk around a location, I enjoy looking for signs of the places former history, little nuggets that tell the story, but this place was different as the railway line was just… closed, everything was there, there was nothing more to tell. I decided as I walked the length of the circuit to see how dilapidated the line looked and what sort TLC would be needed to restore it.
I started at the station, the autumn weather had covered the entire station with leaves, but the tracks were still clearly visible, along with a turntable at the end of the line. I gave the turntable a gentle nudge and it turned, so clearly, the infrastructure wasn’t beyond repair.
I followed the tracks down to the end of the station as the line started to head off around the lake edge. The two tracks at the station converged to a set of points which were buried under leaves, I pulled the leaves away to find the points, still looking in a good condition.
A few metres further and the line crosses a footpath around the lake, the crossing still marked with ‘Caution’ signs.
On the other side of this path, the line forked off in three different directions. The most right set of points headed over to the railways sheds, nothing more than a graffiti covered container. Outside the sheds were three cars that passengers would sit on for their rides around, I took a close look at them and they were in a very sorry state, all three in a varying state of decay with vegetation growing through and out of them. My mind wondered if the locomotives were in the container, although the sight of holes cut into the shed door seemed to suggest others with poor intentions had been down and scoped the area out. With the shed door still intact, it’s likely nothing was inside.
Going back to the fork, the middle rail was the one I found most interesting, as it led past the sheds and then the track quickly became buried under dirt and mud. Clearing the mud away quickly revealed the tracks, which themselves still looked in a dirty but good condition, the tracks led through to an area of built up vegetation before they just disappeared entirely.
Researching the railway, it seems that the railway had to adapt when the aerial course next door was built right next door, it’s possible this buried railway could have been an old operational rail from before the aerial course was constructed, that then became buried as that line was decommissioned and the aerial course constructed.
Heading back to the three-way fork again, the left most rail snaked around and led over towards the edge of the aerial course, the railway brushed the front fence before coming to another set of points, but these points were different because at this point, the line looped around, underneath a main road underpass and back to the points.
Interestingly, the line crosses another footpath twice during this loop, but the ‘caution’ signs have been removed.
It was at this crossing I found the ONLY part of the track that needed repair as the track was slightly sunken at the footpath crossing and submerged in rainwater.
As I slowly meandered back to the station, I considered the big question of why: WHY WAS THIS TRACK ABANDONED?
The line appears to be in good condition aside from a couple of TLC points (at least it appears like that from the surface), being located in the middle of a city and having the backing of a nostalgic following that spoke highly of the railway. It seems almost impossible for this project to fail and yet… here we are.
As an enthusiast of railways and steam myself, I can only keep my fingers crossed that one day, Willen Lake with either have miniature steam trains or diesels running around it again. Under then, I hope the railway itself doesn’t fall into too much disrepair and the family that owns can find a way to restart operations.