Leighton Buzzard Railway

Leighton Buzzard Railway steam locomotive

Leighton Buzzard Railway is a very popular narrow gauge railway in Leighton Buzzard that is enjoyed by visitors and steam enthusiasts from all over the world.

Originally opened in 1919 as the Leighton Buzzard light Railway Ltd to transport sand from the local quarries it is now a not for profit organisation run by volunteer members of the Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway Society (LBNGR) providing a unique steam hauled passenger service through Leighton Buzzard on a 70 minute round trip to and from the north of town running on a 2 ft (610 mm) gauge.

The Leighton Buzzard Railway is unusual in that it was not originally built as a tourist attraction but for the Leighton Buzzard sand industry and has been running without a break since 1919.

The 4.8km line is very interesting as it runs through a mixture of town and countryside and crosses a number of busy public roads and footpaths. The route includes steep gradients and sharp corners making it an unique journey for both rail enthusiasts and families looking for a great day out.

Leighton Buzzard Railway also has one of the largest and most important collections of narrow gauge stock in the country including steam, petrol, diesel and battery-electric locomotives. The fleet of steam locomotives is particularly extensive and include engines that originate from Germany, USA, Scotland, England and Wales. They spent their working lives all over the world from slate mines in Wales to chemical works in Spain and even sugar mills in India.

It all started with sand

The only reason the railway is in Leighton Buzzard is because of the sand industry. Leighton Buzzard sand has been extracted for over 150 years and is exported all over the world because of its high silica content and excellent quality. The sand was originally transported from Leighton Buzzard by canal but when the mainline railway arrived in 1838 this made distribution to more destinations possible.

The sand was originally taken from the quarries to the mainline station and the canal by horse and cart but this resulted in wear and tear of the roads, this was made worse when steam wagons were introduced. Eventually, the council instructed the sand companies to find an alternative method of moving the sand through the town or it would make them responsible for repairing the damaged roads. This resulted in the formation of the Leighton Buzzard Light Railway in 1919 in order to carry the sand to the mainline railway and the canal. As trucks became more prevalent they gradually took over from the light railway for moving the sand until the 1969 when the small trains were no longer used.

During the first world war, narrow gauge railways were used to supply the front lines. Steam engines were used at first but were not practical under fire, they were slower and easier to spot so these were replaced by armour plated, petrol engined locomotives. After the war many of these were sold to industry including the Leighton Buzzard sand companies where they were used to transport sand until the 1950’s. There are still a number of these in the Leighton Buzzard Railway collection today.

In 1967 a group of rail enthusiast formed the The Iron Horse Railway Preservation Society and was given permission from the sand companies to run a passenger service on the railway on condition they repaired and maintained the system. Passenger trips started in March 1968 and initially ran on the weekends. The society was set up as a non profit organisation staffed entirely by volunteers, this grew to become the Leighton Buzzard Railway that operates today.

The first trains acquired by the society were purchased from St Albans Sand & Gravel Company which included four Simplex diesel locomotives.

At first the society shared the line with the sand companies who still operated a few trains at the northern end of the system but these were gradually replaced by trucks and the last commercial use was in June 1981. This means that the railway is one of the few to have operated without a break while changing from a commercial to pleasure use.

Events and Facilities

The main station is in Pages Park, Billington Road on the southern edge of Leighton Buzzard. Here you will find free parking, toilet facilities, the main ticket office and a shop containing souvenirs, gifts, toys, books and DVDs. Refreshments are available at ‘Dobbers Buffet’.

For visitors with mobility requirements most facilities have ramp access and two of the coaches can be adapted to allow wheelchair access. There is also a wheelchair available if required but it is recommended to call ahead with your requirements. Dogs are also allowed on the trains.

The line goes from Pages Park to Stonehenge Works Station where further hot drinks and snacks are available in addition to a craft shop and a collection of industrial sand machinery. The trains are topped up with coal and water here before the return journey.

The Railway runs regular services between March and October plus special events such as Santa Specials at Christmas. Trains can also be hired for special occasions.

This is a great day out for families and steam enthusiasts alike.

Quick Links
Leighton Buzzard Railway
Loads of information including, Events, Timetables and Route Maps
My Time with the Sands of Leighton Buzzard
Memories of working on the Leighton Buzzard narrow guage railway in the 1940's.
Sand Museum
This is a fascinating website about the Leighton Buzzard sand industry. Contains old photographs, history of the local sand companies descriptions of the lives of those working in the industry and also includes audio extracts from local people describing their memories.
Sand and Motorcycles
Held each year to commemorate the fitters who maintained the sand equipment, riding around the town on second world war motorcycles.

About Leighton Buzzard