History of Hayling Island rail line steams into view with unveiling of new panels

New interpretation panels have been unveiled detailing the historic route of a former steam railway on Hayling Island thanks to a partnership project between Havant Borough Council, Hampshire County Council and Hayling’s BEST volunteer group to secure funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)

Mar 22 2017

Hayling Island Billy Line

The Hayling Billy Heritage Project has produced five panels along the five-mile route which provide information on the railway’s history from its heyday to its decline, and the revival of the route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.

Councillor Andrew Gibson, Hampshire County Council’s Executive Member for Culture, Recreation and Countryside, said: “The Hayling Billy project is a great example of partners working together to enhance a trail which is historically and environmentally important. The new interpretation panels make that special connection with the past, reviving memories of the old Hayling Billy railway whilst creating new memories for those strolling along the shores of Langstone Harbour - one of the country’s most beautiful and internationally important habitats.”

Councillor Faith Ponsonby, Mayor of Havant, said: "I was delighted to attend and unveil this new information panel which tells the story of the trains that took so many people down to our lovely Hayling beaches.  It was good to meet members of the community who have been involved in caring for the trail, as well as County Councillor Gibson who has encouraged the County Council to invest in this part of the Shipwrights' long distance walk. Many people from across the borough walk or cycle down the Billy Line Trail, and the information panels are a fantastic way of extending the enjoyment and sharing the history of the trail, as well as the wonderful views over the harbour, and all the wildlife just a short distance from the bustle of Havant Town.”

The Hayling Billy railway opened in 1865, linking rail stations at Havant and Hayling Island. In its heyday, steam locomotives transported freight and passengers, particularly to Hayling Island beach during the summer. However, over time it became expensive to run, until 1963 when the last train steamed across it.

The rails were torn up and the sleepers moved elsewhere, leaving the route overgrown with weeds and bramble before volunteers started to clear the route in the 1980s. Hampshire County Council has maintained it as a coastal trail since 1988, resurfacing sections over a number of years.

In 2013, 50 years after the last train, HLF awarded £89,000 to the Hayling Billy Heritage Project, which included resurfacing, drainage works, new interpretation panels and the restoration of a former Hayling Billy Line signal from around 1950. Today, the Hayling Billy Trail is a popular five-mile combined footpath, bridleway and cycleway - part of route 2 of the National Cycle Network.

The County Council has also commissioned a series of wildlife panels to complement the HLF panels which will be erected later this spring along the trail.

For more details on the project visit http://haylingbillyheritage.org/