The railway was originally brought to Calne by the inability of the once-prosperous Calne branch of the Wilts & Berks canal to cope efficiently with the requirements of local industry. As demand grew across the country for products from the Harris Bacon factory, Calne’s main employer at the time, it became clear that a modern transport system was needed.
On November 8th 1859, the first meeting to discuss opening a branch line from the GWR at Chippenham to Calne was held. The Calne Railway Company was formed and Parliament granted the necessary Act on May 15th 1860.
With no tunnels required, the construction of the line was simple and was built in the broad gauge of 7’ 0½” opening to freight traffic on October 29th 1863.
The line was then opened to passengers from November 3rd 1863, an unofficial holiday in Calne. From the start the service was operated by the Great Western Railway on behalf of the Calne Railway Company.
In August 1874, the line was converted to standard gauge. The independent Calne Railway Company was absorbed into the GWR in 1892. Both freight and passenger traffic was good and continued to improve through the later years of the 19th century and in 1895 the terminus at Calne underwent extensive renovations and enlargement.
The platform at Calne was on the north side of the line. New sidings and a loading platform were added during World War 1 and the passenger platform was extended up to the water tank during 1942.
There was a milk dock with a loading gauge opposite the passenger platform and behind this, a stone built goods shed. A loading platform with wooden animal pens ran for much of the length of the goods yard.
A private siding was built at the rear of the goods shed in 1927 to serve the Harris bacon factory; this had its own loading platform. At one time 20 loaded trucks were dispatched on a normal working day. The siding gave access to Harris’s private goods yard.
Pigs would be brought into the station by train and transported to the factory, before the products were taken back to the station and sent to destinations across the UK.
The passenger station was used during World War 2 to transport both servicemen and equipment to R.A.F. Compton Bassett and R.A.F. Yatesbury. You'll find R.A.F. Yatesbury Remembered, another geocache of ours, a few miles east along the A4.
The goods station also saw increased trade with an increase in coal traffic, fuel for RAF stations and animal feeds and grain for local millers. The line had two near misses during German bombing raids in the Second World War, when bombs fell close to the station and tracks.
The line was still producing a good profit in the 1950’s. Figures for the year ending September 1952, showed an income of more than £150,000, with 300,000 passengers. However, as the Harris factory began to use the roads to transport more of its products, the railway began to see a drop in revenue.
Following the closures of the RAF stations at Yatesbury and Compton Bassett, passenger numbers diminished rapidly and by late 1963, freight services had been cut to one a weekday, while Sunday passenger services had been withdrawn. Freight services were withdrawn on November 2nd 1964 and the end was inevitable with Calne finally losing its passenger service during the Beeching cuts, closing on September 18th 1965.
Most of the track was lifted between Easter and June 1967, leaving just a short section near the junction which was used as a siding. By 1972, a section of the track had been opened up to the public as the Marden Nature Trail and today most of the 6 mile route between Chippenham and Calne is part of the National Cycle Network and known as the Chippenham/Calne Railway Path. Sadly, nothing remains of the station and goods yard. The site is now a modern housing estate.
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