THIS year marks the 150th anniversary of the Portland branch railway.

Brian Jackson has very kindly supplied Looking Back with a potted history of the railway taking a look at the days when you could reach Portland by train.

The railway reached Weymouth in January 1857 but there had been little progress with a line to the island, where the stone industry and the evolving naval base needed a rail connection.

Brian said: "The railway between Weymouth and Portland Victoria Square opened on October 9 1865, built and owned by the Weymouth and Portland Railway Company, it was worked jointly by the GWR and LSWR and was of mixed gauge construction.

"An intermediate station opened at Rodwell in June 1870 and the Broad Gauge removed in June 1874. Early in 1878 a short extension railway known as the Admiralty Railway was opened to the Breakwater.

"Further improvements took place with the opening of the first signal box at Portland in July 1877, a ground frame to control the road crossing at Westham in 1891 and in December 1892 an intermediate signal box was provided at Rodwell, (although not a passing loop)."

During 1867 the Easton and Church Hope Railway planned to construct a railway from quarries north of Easton via an incline to a pier on the east side of the island.

Brian said: "Having little success with that scheme the company opted to construct a railway descending around the east side of the island to join the Admiralty Railway. "Eventually opened to goods traffic in October 1900 and passengers on September 1 1902, this was also worked by the GWR and LSWR.

"After this a number of improvements took place, replacement viaduct over the Fleet 1902, a new station at Portland 1905, Rodwell upgraded to a passing loop 1908, new station and viaduct at Melcombe Regis, and halts at Westham and Wyke Regis 1909."

The First World War saw heavy traffic over the branch, a small halt constructed to serve Portland Naval Hospital and ambulance trains working into the Dockyard.

During 1921, buses began to run from Weymouth to Victoria Square, and by 1927 serving Tophill, an additional halt was added at Sandsfoot Castle in 1932 by which time buses were having an impact on traffic.

Brian said: "The Second World War saw the branch closed 13 times owing to enemy action, Portland signal box was bombed on 11th June 1940 killing the signalman.

"In August 1940 a raid severed the Easton line just on the Easton side of the junction into the dockyard, fortunately the junction was not damaged although the Easton section remaining closed for a considerable time.

"Rodwell station was bombed on April 15 1941 killing the porter on duty, other closures were mainly damage to track and unexploded bombs.

"During the build up to D Day it was necessary to make alternative arrangements in case the road bridge over the Fleet was attacked for traffic to use the railway bridge, this was achieved by constructing a temporary road to run on the seaward side of the track line past Wyke Regis Halt before crossing the railway bridge on level crossing type decking before re-joining Beach Road, fortunately it was never put to the test. "

Following the war, petrol rationing and a demand for stone kept the branch busy until the end of fuel rationing in 1950 allowed for an improved bus service serving all parts of the island and Weymouth town centre, resulting in passenger services being withdrawn from March 31952.

Apart from a few naval specials, the Royal Train and a number of enthusiasts specials, only the goods traffic remained, until the branch closed from April 9 1965, just over five months short of the centenary of its opening.

*The Portland Island Museum Supporters have organised an illustrated talk on the exact date, 50 years later, it being a fitting way to commemorate its passing.

Brian Jackson will be talking on The Portland Railway at St George’s Centre, Reforne, on Thursday April 9 from 7 pm.

Doors open at 6.30pm and admission is £5 or £4 (PIMS members £4), to include refreshments and a free raffle ticket. Entry on the door on the night.