Many people are surprised to find the large industrial complex that comprises Hope Cement Works with it adjoining quarrying operations located in the heart of the lovely Peak District National Park. However, it is precisely this location which means that today, when so many other major industrial facilities no longer have a rail connection, the Hope Works retains its own railway conveying intensive freight traffic to and from the Network Rail system.
Hope Cement works was opened in 1929 by the firm of G & T Earle, long before the National Park was even an idea. The choice of site was dictated by geology, being situated between large, easily quarried deposits of limestone to the south and west and of shale to the north and east, such that both these primary raw materials could be readily brought to the manufacturing facility without lengthy transport over public roads or railways.
Heavy road transport then being in its infancy, it was natural that a railway should be built to connect with the nearby Sheffield to Manchester line of what was then the London, Midland & Scottish Railway. The small village of Hope was greatly expanded with new housing to accommodate workers at the new plant.
Even at this early date interest in environmental conservation and countryside activities was growing (the famous mass trespass on Kinder Scout took place in 1932), but the complex negotiations that would ultimately lead to the formation of the Peak District National Park were delayed by the Second World War, and did not come to fruition until 1951. Hope Works has cooperated closely with the Park Authority through the years, and this has ensured things like landscaping and tree planting to minimise the visual impact of quarrying works, as well as various measures to reduce dust and emissions. One feature of the agreements with the Park Authority is that the greater part of the output of the Cement Works would be moved by rail, so reducing the impact of heavy road traffic on the local road system, and incidentally ensuring the survival of the branch line railway.
In the 1960s, the Works - by now a part of the Blue Circle Group - underwent a major reconstruction and capacity increase. In 2001, Blue Circle became part of the international Lafarge Group.
Hope Works today produces around 750,000 tonnes of cement annually. Over half of this leaves the works by rail, either bagged or in bulk. Over the course over the next few years, this is planned to increase to nearly 1.3 million tonnes, with nearly all the additional tonnage being moved by rail. To faciliate this extra tonnage, the rail loading facilities within the works are being considerably expanded.
In addition to the outward flow of cement traffic, there is a small amount of inward traffic by rail. The greater part of this is fuel to heat the cement kilns. Traditionally, this has consisted mainly of coal, but latterly alternative fuels from waste materials, such as used car tyres, are being used. In addition to reducing costs, use of such materials is environmentally friendly, being at the same time carbon neutral and reducing landfill.
Given the industrial nature of the traffic, the line is surprisingly rural in nature, running for 1½ miles (nearly 2 km) through attractive, leafy countryside.
Leaving the works site heading north west, the line begins to drop sharply, passing under Pindale Road before turning north. It crosses a small river, the Peakshole Water, before climbing again to pass over Castleton Road.
When first built, the bridge over Castleton Road was something of a showpiece for the new works and, naturally enough, was constructed in concrete. Its simple but elegant lines are immediately apparent. Closer inspection reveals an attention to detail and ornamentation that is quite typical of the time. Through the arch can be seen Hope Valley College. Beyond this, not visible in the photograph, both sides of Castleton Road are lines with some of the houses built in the 1920s and 1930s to accommodate the workforce.
Having crossed Castleton Road, the line turns north east and runs through another stretch of open coutryside before crossing Edale Road and the River Noe on a concrete viaduct.
The rural nature of the line is apparent in this view taken from a train on the viaduct over Edale Road.
After crossing the River Noe, the line turns sharply to the south east before entering the exchange sidings with Network Rail. To this day, these sidings retain the name of Earle's Sidings, from the original owners of the cement works. From here, cement trains are picked up by main line locomotives and taken to all parts of the country.
For many years, the line was worked by steam locomotives. One of these, Nunlow, has been preserved. Always turned out in immaculate external condition, it is still capable of being steamed on special occasions.
More recently, the line was operated by diesel shunting locomotives, mainly from the Sentinel company. One of these, Derwent, is seen here.
However, the need was felt for a more suitable locomotive for trip working of heavy trains to and from the exchange sidings. In 1989, the Scottish firm of Hunslet Barclay delivered the unique diesel hydraulic locomotive Blue John.
Well suited to the trip working, with two cabs and radio remote control it was equally at home moving wagons within the works, although the shunting locomotives have been retained to perform the latter duties.
With increasing traffic in the 21st Century, the need was felt for further trip locomotives. The first of these, Sir George Earle, is a former British Rail class 20 diesel electric locomotive, refurbished and repainted in Lafarge livery.
Further locomotives for trip work and shunting are now hired in as required. These are supplied by the Harry Needle Railroad Company.