Sunday, December 19, 2021


Map showing the Fareham-Gosport line, 1910

Here are the facts: my home town of Gosport, Hampshire, has an estimated population of eighty-five thousand people. It is a dormitory town, so most of its inhabitants work outside of it, making the main A32 Fareham Road and the B3334 Rowner Road gridlocked at least twice a day. The last passenger train left Gosport on 8thJune 1953, a whole decade before the Beeching cuts that severely reduced the UK’s rail network, but the first motorway in the UK, the Preston bypass, now forming part of the M6, opened on 5th December 1958. Rowner and Bridgemary, two major areas of Gosport, were built into suburbs in the 1960s without any further major roads being built in and out of the town. 

The train line continued to be used for freight until 1969, and while the southern half continued to be used to move naval ordnance until 1991, the rest was converted to a cycle track. Eventually, public transport returned to the northern half in 2012, the tracks replaced by a busway removing one type of vehicle from gridlock – an extension to this busway opened in December 2021, using up part of the converted cycle track, reducing the length of the average bus journey by two minutes. Gosport Train Station was redeveloped into housing in 2010, having been left derelict for fifty years.

The reason any of this has been on my mind is because, having rolled around local history in my mind for so long, the fact there was a gap between the end of passenger trains in Gosport and the opening of the first motorway meant that no-one would have thought to plan for when reliance on roads would continue to increase: the nearby M27 motorway between Southampton and Portsmouth did not begin to be constructed until 1972. 

It doesn’t necessarily mean I think a motorway needs to be cleaved into the town to reduce the time taken to get in and out, because the upheaval caused by attempting something like that now would carry its own cost over that of the concrete, tarmac and labour. While there is a bypass nearing completion in nearby Stubbington, where the land is available to build one, it serves to highlight the reliance on cars in Gosport, as I have mentioned previously on how a number of industries have left the town in the last thirty years [link].

I am not certain if trains should be reintroduced to Gosport, especially now that buses have taken over the track, but this is only because I am not sure trains were the answer to begin with. Gosport Train Station was opened in 1841, outside the town walls when they were still there, because it was less of a security risk to build there than in the home of the Royal Navy at Portsmouth Harbour, a situation which had changed by 1876. Branch lines to Stokes Bay and Lee-on-the-Solent had died out by 1914 and 1930 respectively – the former is now also a cycle track, while Lee-on-the-Solent station has been used an amusement arcade for so long that any indication of its previous use is almost accidental. If it wasn’t used so much for naval ordnance, the track probably would have closed to passengers before World War II.

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