The NVR is a standard gauge railway, which runs for seven and a half miles between Yarwell Junction and Peterborough in Cambridgeshire. NVR's headquarters are based at Wansford beside the A1, the old Great North Road, and are easily accessible from a large part of the country. With a 1¾ mile branch (Fletton Branch) between Orton Mere and the East Coast Main Line giving the NVR a connection to the main line.
The first railway to arrive in Peterborough came from Blisworth, via Northampton, Thrapston, Oundle and Wansford with the very first passenger train along the Nene Valley arriving in Peterborough on Monday 2 June 1845. The Nene Valley Railway of today is the eastern section of this line. The original line was built by the London and Birmingham Railway and in 1846 became part of the London and North Western Railway (LNWR).
The LNWR ran Peterborough-Rugby and Peterborough-Northampton trains along the valley until the 1923 grouping took the line into the London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS).
In 1948 the railways were nationalised but it was not until 1964 after a steady decline that passenger services ceased between Peterborough and Northampton. The Rugby service ended in 1966.
In 1972 British Rail closed the line completely putting the 127-year story to an end.
In 1968 the Rev Richard Paten purchased BR class '5' 4-6-0 No 73050 for £3,000- its scrap value. His intention was to display it on a plinth outside the local technical college. Because the locomotive was found to be in good condition there was resistance to the idea of 73050 being 'stuffed', with many suggesting it be restored.
On 28th March 1969 the Peterborough branch of the East Anglia Locomotive Preservation Society was established. The aim was to purchase and restore the BR Pacific No 70000 Britannia. By 1970 the local branch was sufficiently strong to form its own association- the Peterborough Locomotive Society (PLS).
In 1971 73050 was moved to a new home at the British Sugar Corporation's Peterborough factory sidings where it was joined by a Hunslet 0-6-0 Locomotive 'Jacks Green'. The PLS held its first steam day in Easter, 1971.
In 1971 the PLS changed its name to the Peterborough Railway Society (PAS) and in March held a well attended meeting at the Town Hall at which the idea of the Nene Valley Railway was formally launched.
In 1974 the Peterborough Development Corporation (PDC) bought the Nene Valley line between Longueville and Yarwell Junctions and leased it to the PRS to operate the railway- a major milestone in the society's history.
Why go continental?
Many visitors ask this. The answer is part planning and part chance. In 1974 the task facing the society was enormous. BR had neglected maintenance on the line, most of the stations had been demolished, Wansford station and yard had been sold into private use. There was no connection with BR or to the British Sugar Corporation factory where the society's stock was kept, no passing loop and only a head-shunt for a siding. The line had to be built virtually from scratch.
The initial idea had been to use former BR locomotives and stock. However by the time NVR arrived on the scene the only available locomotives were rusting hulks and BR carriage stock was in short supply.
The PDC who had paid out a considerable sum of money were anxious that passenger services should commence as soon as possible and certainly before the opening of the Nene Park in 1978. The society at that time only had one main line locomotive and several small ex-industrial locomotives, which were unsuitable for the 5 1/2 mile service. This posed a major problem.
In 1973 PRS member Richard Hurlock had approached the Society about providing a home for his ex-Swedish Railways 2-6-4T Class S1 oil fired No 1928. Because the engine was higher and wider than British stock it was to be a static exhibit only. During 1974 it was realised that the use of foreign locomotives might be the answer to NVR's prayers.
Could the Nene Valley Railway loading gauge be extended to the International Transit or 'Berne' loading gauge? If so, the NVR would be able to provide the public with the unique spectacle of seeing British and continental locomotives running alongside one another in Britain.
It was concluded that a single bridge demolition, plus platform alterations at Wansford, would allow operation to continental loading gauge. A decision was made to operate to the Berne gauge.
In 1973 BR gave PRS permission to use the Wansford signal box. In September the first items of stock arrived.
However, before stock could be moved from the BSC base, the missing section of the Fletton Loop had to be re-laid. The 1200ft track was completed in March 1974 and stock was moved to Wansford for the Easter weekend, when for the first time 'Wansford Steam Centre' opened to the public.
Between 1974 and May 1977 the line was upgraded to passenger standards. On 24 May the Railway Inspector passed the railway as fit for passenger carrying operations. The line between Wansford and Orton Mere was officially opened on 1 June 1977. The first train was hauled by the 'Nord' and Swedish No 1178 and used the Southern ElectricGroup carriages.