Coley Central Goods




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Railway Rambles

Due to its proximity to the Coley Park estate and an added attraction for residents is the nearby railway known as Southcote Junction. Access is provided by a pathway from Wensley Road. This path runs alongside the railway line for a short time before passing under the railway via a brick bridge leading to the Southcote estate.

At Southcote Junction, the rail link from Reading diverges. One in a southerly direction to Basingstoke and the other westward towards Newbury. Until 1983 a branch line also diverged at Southcote Junction and headed east and then back around into the Coley Central Goods yard in Reading. Today, the remains of the Coley branch line provides an excellent path for ramblers.

Class 165 unit on a Reading to Basingstoke service passing Southcote Junction
©Graham Horn - 12 June 2009 CCL

LEFT: The former iron footbridge facing east towards Coley Park with the flats towering in the background.
April 1982

LEFT: Diesel Multiple Unit 1109 heads towards Reading. The Bath Road bridge is visible in the distance.
April 1982
RIGHT: A HST heads towards Newbury. The Coley Branch line tracks are clearly visible in foreground.
April 1982
RIGHT: Coley Branch Line junction looking towards Southcote.
April 1982

Southcote Junction is formed

In 1845 a new rail line from Reading to Westbury was commissioned with Isambard Kingdom Brunel as the engineer. The first 25½ mile (41 km) broad gauge section from Reading to Hungerford was opened on 21 December 1847 and was known as the Berks & Hants line.

On 1 November 1848 the line was split at Southcote and a 13½ mile (22 km) broad gauge line south to Basingstoke was opened and Southcote Junction was formed. By 1892 standard gauge track had been laid throughout the Great Western Railway, with the last broad gauge services ending on 21 May 1892. A new signal box was built at Southcote Junction in 1896 and in 1908 the Coley branch line opened to traffic.

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GWR built 4-6-0 4930 'Hagley Hall' passing Southcote Junction Signal Box in 1960. Photo taken from the steps of the signal box. Note the siding on the left and the Coley Goods branch line (double track at this point) sweeping away at the right.

Hagley Hall was withdrawn from service in December 1963 and has survived to this day, thanks to the efforts of the Severn Valley Railway Society.

It was around the early 1960's that the small steam engines on the Coley branch were replaced with diesel shunters. On the main-line, the steam locomotives were being phased out by diesel-hydraulic locomotives and diesel multiple units. Now High Speed Trains (HST's) rapidly snake their way through the junction.


Reading Central Goods branch line (1908-1983)

See also Reading (Coley) Central Goods page here

Reading Central Goods was opened on 4 May 1908. Located south of Reading adjacent to the Berkeley Avenue and the Kennet River, it could store 300 wagons in 12 sidings. Many types of traffic were handled including coal, beer, jams, bricks and timber. It was connected to the Berks & Hants main line at Southcote Junction. The branch line ran for approximately 1.61 miles (2.5 km) through open fields until heading under the Berkeley Avenue road bridge and into the goods yard surrounded by a vibrant industrial area. For more information please refer to the Reading Central Goods page.

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Ex GWR class '2251' 0-6-0 tender
locomotive No 2261 ran on the Coley Branch

A great vantage point to watch the trains (or for 'trainspotters') was from the footbridge that passed over the Coley branch line. When the bells rang from the nearby signal box and the semaphore signal arms dropped to the 'go' position, you knew a train would soon be approaching. Sadly, both the signal box and footbridge have long gone.

Western Region HST's passing Southcote Junction in April 1982
The Coley Branchline in the foreground was still in use.

There were two semaphore signals on the branch line located just prior to exiting the branch line and thus protecting the 'down' main line at Southcote Junction. The 'starter' signal was located 20 yards from the junction and a fixed 'distant' semaphore signal was located 618 yards from the junction. Just beyond the 'starter' signal were 'catch points', which would derail the locomotive if it passed the 'starter' signal at danger. The single track branch line was worked with a wooden Train Staff. Three further semaphore signals were installed at the sidings prior to the Central Goods Yard for control of shunting movements.

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This signal is the Coley branch Up Distant for Southcote Junction, and is ‘fixed’ owing to the speed restriction of 10 mph over the trailing junction ahead. The arm of the signal was fixed permanently in the ‘Caution’ position, the spectacle glass removed, and a single lamp showing an amber light substituted.

Photograph taken in 1944 by the famous railway photographer M.W. Earley, who was born in Reading in 1900. M.W. Earley founded the Railway Photographic Society in 1922 and in doing so, raised the standard of railway photography. One of his specialties was in capturing images of trains traveling at high speeds. He lived all his life in Reading and died in 1982.

Today, the remains of the Coley Branch Line provides an excellent path for a short ramble with a starting point at Southcote Junction near Wensley Road, ending at Rose Kiln Lane at Coley. There is a clinker and granite chip bed, with grassy and scrubby barks raised above the surrounding meadows. Unusual plants include Alexanders, small toadflax, thyme-leaved sandwort, and poughman's spikenard. Butterflies, moths and dragonflies abound in season and the area provides excellent nesting spots for birds. A number of original Great Western railway bridges can be seen along the way, built in 1908. Apart from the odd piece of rail used as fence posts, there is nothing remaining today of the original railway.


A rare sight on the Coley Goods Branch is this Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) three-car set 474 on a railway enthusiast's special to Reading Central Goods depot c1968.

This special working has the headcode 2Z18 and the destination board showing 'SPECIAL'.

Photo: D.E.Canning



Southcote Junction Signal Box (1896-1965)

Southcote Junction Signal Box, 2½ miles south-west from Reading station, was opened in 1896 replacing an earlier box. In 1908 it was upgraded to provide signalling and interlocking apparatus for the new Coley Branch Line. It provided service for 69 years and was closed on 26 April 1965 (and dismantled soon after) when the track signalling was updated from semaphore to electric aspect lights controlled by Reading Signal box.

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Southcote Junction Signal Box 1896-1965
©1961 - Mr A.H. Spring

The signal box was a classic Great Western Railway design built in a red-brown brick with the interlocking signal equipment located on the ground floor and the signal cabin with its row of 35 levers located on the first floor reached by a set of exterior wooden steps at the left hand side. Wooden window frames were painted white, as were the gables. The cabin had a small standard fireplace and chimney. A water tap was located at the right rear of the building. Entry was gained via an iron-railing gate from the walkway between Coley Park estate and Southcote estate.

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Unidentified 'Hall' running tender first on the Newbury to Reading West Junction 'pick up' goods
at Southcote Junction. The Basingstoke lines are in the foreground. Dated June 1963.

©Ian Nash (used with permission)


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Inside Southcote Junction Signal Box. The MAIN line is to Newbury and the BRANCH is to Basingstoke.
The GOODS was to Reading Central Goods Depot. A spur off the BRANCH line was to the old
Pumping House. The track diagram is dated September 1947

RIGHT: A Basingstoke DMU heads towards Reading.
May 1991
BELOW: Two trains pass where the branch line used to connect with the main line.
May 1991
LEFT: Looking over to Southcote Estate from the footbridge.
May 1991

The footbridge is no more ...

The iron footbridge over the Coley branch line was removed on Tuesday 17 April 2001 and replaced with a low-level footpath (see story below). The old track-bed today is used by ramblers. The recent A33 relief road now cuts through the old embankment as it runs towards Berkeley Avenue.

THE dangerous bridge linking Coley and Southcote was demolished on Tuesday to make way for a safer alternative. Campaigners have battled for five years to have the walkway behind Wensley Road flats replaced. The old bridge was a main route from Coley to the Circuit Lane doctors' surgery, but was blamed for causing a number of accidents.

It is hoped that a new sloping version of the walkway will soon be in place so everybody can use it safely. Glen Major, from contractors JGD services, said: "The work going ahead depended a bit on the weather being nice. It wasn't too much of a big job, but I think people will be glad it's going to be replaced."

Excerpt from the 'Reading Chronicle' - April 20 2001


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A modern Class 66 (66570) on a Freightliner
run though Southcote Junction

©2007 Adam Dunne

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Class 66 (66535) heads towards
Reading in March 2007

©2007 Adam Dunne

Tales from the Steam era on the Coley Branch Line

The Coley Flyer - An extract from an acticle titled 'Reading Fireman' by Colin Churcher

Driver Edward (Eddie) Price
- An engine driver on the Coley Branch.





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