Originally opening in 1953, the Park Railway was the first post-war attraction to be built at Alton Towers. Its course ran from what is now Mutiny Bay, around the edge of the gardens ending at the far end near the Chinese Temple.
Over the years the course of the railway was much altered until eventually in 1996 the railway closed, though even now remnants of the ride can still be seen littered throughout the forest.
Here we track the rise and fall of what was once the premier attraction of the park, from its inauguration in the fifties right through to its closure in 1996 and its eventual removal at the turn of the century.
The Railway was constructed at Alton Towers shortly after the park reopened to the public following the Second World War. It was a shuttle system so the train, which had originally been built in the 1920s for use in the coal mining industry, would travel backwards and forwards along the same section of track, with a driver at each end.
Its route carried passengers a short distance between what is now Mutiny Bay and the Chinese Temple in the Gardens, however over the years the route changed substantially, being both shortened and lengthened at various times.
The Park Railway was highly successful, so much so that in the 60s the Cable Car system was added to the park in order to complement the railway line. Following much the same route as the train, the Cable Cars enabled guests to travel into the gardens on one of the transportation systems and then make the return journey on the other.
The railway survived through several different reincarnations of Alton Towers, from its days as a country park, to it becoming an amusement park under John Broome and then finally a theme park when Tussauds took over, however eventually it came to the end of the line.
In 1996, when the railway had become less popular, its early success became its undoing when it was closed in favour of the Sky Ride, which had replaced the earlier Cable Car and had become a more popular route from, what was then, Merrie England to the far end of the gardens and Forbidden Valley. An announcement in Merrie England mocked the rides absence, stating leaves on the line as the reason for its closure.
Over the years it was in the park the railway’s route altered quite a few times. Below is the 1990 park map with the route the train took over the years marked.
When it was first operated at the Towers in 1953 the railway stretched from the current Tea Cups site (6) through to the end of the gardens, beyond the Chinese Temple (1).
It was later shortened at the gardens end with the new station being close to what is now Gloomy Woods (2).
Then when the Log Flume was built in 1981 the train line was shortened at the Ingestre Centre end so it stopped near the Swan Boat Lake (4).
The ride appears to have then been lengthened slightly during the 90s and the station which can still be seen in Merrie England (5) today seems to have been built in 1993 on the site formerly occupied by the Mississippi Showboat.
So roughly the train ran between the following points:
- 1-6: 1953 – 1960s
- 2-6: 1960s – 1980
- 2-4: 1981 – 1992
- 2-5: 1993 – 1996
After the ride closed in 1996 the track stayed for many years and so did the train in the station, but in 2000 they were all removed. And now even though the route has been left empty, with bushes and trees taking over remainders of the ride are still visible throughout the woods between Merrie England and Gloomy Woods.
The Stations at both Gloomy Wood (2) and Merrie England (5) are still in place. Also from the Flume queue line, the corrugated roof of the Railway tunnel can be seen below the first drop of the ride (3). And while riding the Flume itself you get an excellent ariel view of the old train route, which runs between it and the Gardens.
From the Sky Ride it is also possible to see the route the train took through Merrie England. Looking down onto the roof of the complex of buildings in Merrie England it is clear to see that there are in fact three buildings built alongside each other: The stable building (currently a restaurant), the old Blacksmith (now hold games and food stalls.) and a building in between them (the toilets and Sepia Photo Shop). This middle building is built on the area the train track used to run in between the Black Smiths and Stables.
We sent our intrepid reporter to see what the Railway line looked like after its removal: