Page last updated: 28 December 2015

The Sheepcote Lane curve - in its present incarnation - was (re-)constructed principally to provide empty Eurostar trains with a direct route between their North Pole (Old Oak Common) depot and Waterloo International station; it links Latchmere No. 3 Junction and West London Junction and had been commissioned prior to the start of its use by empty Eurostar trains for their unadvertised Eurostar demonstration ("shake down") service which began on 17 August 1994.

The curve was used by scheduled passenger trains between the West London line and Waterloo main (not International) station from 24 October 1994 when Great Western began a Waterloo - Cardiff round trip (in advance of the public opening of Waterloo International station, be it noted), as an "experimental" service under the provisions of Section 48 of the Railways Act 1993 (this enabled a speedier withdrawal process if the "experiment" was deemed to have failed). Eurostar's own connecting Eurostar Link services - worked by CrossCountry under charter to Eurostar with diesel High Speed Trains (HSTs) - from Manchester Piccadilly and Edinburgh ran via the curve, into the main rather than International station at Waterloo; these, too, were designated as an "experimental" service under same provisions - which was just as well as they were relatively short lived: from 29 May 1995 (from Manchester) / 3 July 1995 (from Edinburgh) to 4 January 1997 (incl.). Great Western (later First Great Western) Night Riviera (sleeper services) between London and the West Country were amended to use Waterloo instead of Paddington - using the curve - from 29 May 1995. These outlived all the daytime trains but reverted to Paddington from 27 September 1998, to be replaced by an early morning diesel multiple unit (d.m.u.) round trip. Its western extremities varied but it was usually at Waterloo between about 0400 and 0500 on Tuesday to Friday mornings and was operated - by Wales & West, Wales & Borders and finally Arriva Trains Wales - until the timetable change of 23 May 2004; the last such train ran round the curve on the morning of Friday 21 May 2004. There being no booked train on Saturdays, Sundays or Mondays, the service has to be classed as withdrawn either with effect from Tuesday 25 May or after last train running on Friday 21 May 2004 (take your pick!).

By this stage, the "experimental" designation of 1994 could no longer be invoked (it had expired in 1999) and the proper line closure formalities had not been set in train in time; to cover the obligation to maintain a "passenger service" while the Minister "considered" the proposal (which, perhaps needless to say, he eventually approved), a rail replacement taxi service operated on Tuesdays from 25 May to 7 December 2004 (inclusive) as follows:- Kensington Olympia dep 0345, London Waterloo arr 0413, dep 0505, Kensington Olympia arr 0535. Curiously, although latterly the operator of the trains had been Arriva Trains Wales, it was Silverlink who were charged with operating and arranging the withdrawal of this curious rail replacement service. Their website stated that the "road services will be withdrawn from 14 December 2004 (last day of operation 7 December 2004)"; they clearly favoured the "with effect from" convention (while quoting the "last day" just to make sure!).

Copies of the public notice of proposal to discontinue the service, the Statement of reasons accompanying that proposal, the Minister of State's letter of 4 November 2004 approving the closure, and Silverlink's webpage announcing the demise of the rail replacement taxi service can be found by following this link.

The line between Latchmere No. 1 and No. 3 Junctions was not closed, for - at that stage - a notional passenger service survived - initially in the shape of Virgin CrossCountry's 0515 Saturdays only Gatwick Airport to Manchester train - a relic of their erstwhile summer Saturday service to the Thanet coast, presumably to save going through the closure rigmarole for the line between Factory Junction and Latchmere No. 1 Junction and also to provide train crew with the opportunity to retain their route knowledge of the diversionary route via Herne Hill. Eventually, after the demise of the Cross Country services to and from Brighton, this transmogrified into a Monday to Friday round trip by Southern between Kensington Olympia and Wandsworth Road / Clapham High Street, which was finally withdrawn from 17 June 2013.

Richard Maund

An earlier version of this article also appeared in Railway & Canal Historical Society Railway Chronology Group Co-ordinating Newsletter no. 41, January 2005.

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