The Norfolk Orbital Railway is a proposed circular, mixed use (heritage, public transport and freight) railway route conceived and promoted by Melton Constable Trust.
Norfolk Orbital Railway, promoted by Holt, Melton Constable and Fakenham Railway Company
Running clockwise from Wymondham, the route proceeds through Dereham, County School, Fakenham, Melton Constable, Holt, Sheringham, Cromer, North Walsham and Norwich before returning to Wymondham.

The western section, from Wymondham to Sheringham, uses infrastructure owned by two heritage railway operators, Mid-Norfolk Railway (Wymondham – County School) and North Norfolk Railway (Holt – Sheringham).

Land for new infrastructure between County School and Holt is being acquired by Melton Constable Trust.

The eastern section, from Sheringham to Norwich and onwards to Wymondham, uses Network Rail infrastructure.

The constituents

There are clearly close ties between the three main constituent bodies of Norfolk Orbital Railway: Melton Constable Trust, Mid-Norfolk Railway and North Norfolk Railway.

Trevor Bailey and David Bill MBE, who are among the directors of The Melton Constable Trust, were co-founders of what is now the North Norfolk Railway (source: About Us, on Norfolk Orbital Railway website).

Companies House records reveal that John Hull is a director of The Melton Constable Trust and also a director of The Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust. This is confirmed in the About Us article.

An agreement has been signed with the North Norfolk Railway covering the extension of the railway into Holt and the principle of a through transport service from the Bittern Line.

Source: Norfolk Orbital Railway (Melton Constable Trust) website.
Norfolk Orbital Railway – constituents

Mid-Norfolk Railway

The Mid-Norfolk Railway (MNR) is a 17½ mile (28.2 km) preserved standard gauge heritage railway, one of the longest in Great Britain. Preservation efforts began in 1974, but the line re-opened to passengers only in the mid-1990s as part of the ‘new generation’ of heritage railways. The MNR owns and operates most of the former Wymondham-Fakenham branch line of the Norfolk Railway.

Regular steam and diesel services run 11½ miles (18.5 km) through the centre of Norfolk between the market towns of Wymondham and Dereham via Yaxham, Thuxton and Kimberley Park, and occasional sightseer services continue north of Dereham passing the nearby village of Hoe, where there is no station, to the limit of the operational line at Worthing. The line is periodically used for commercial freight operations and staff instruction for mainline railway companies. The company owns the line to a point just beyond County School railway station, which will make it the third longest heritage railway in England once restoration is complete. The Mid-Norfolk Railway has had a long-term, published ambition to restore the railway as far as Fakenham.

The MNR is owned and operated by the Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust (MNRPT, a charitable company limited by guarantee), and is mostly operated and staffed by volunteers.

Source: Mid-Norfolk Railway – Wikipedia
Mid-Norfolk Railway official website

Mid-Norfolk Railway – Wikipedia

Wymondham railway station – Wikipedia

Dereham railway station – Wikipedia

Beeching Reversal – Reopening Wymondham-Dereham line, on The Anonymous Widower website

Melton Constable Trust

Melton Constable Trust is the originator and promoter of Norfolk Orbital Railway. It is in the process of acquiring plots of land between County School and Fakenham, between Fakenham and Melton Constable, and between Melton Constable and Holt, in order to lay track, build stations and form the missing link between the Mid-Norfolk Railway and the North Norfolk Railway.

Norfolk Orbital Railway – official website

Norfolk Orbital Railway – Wikipedia

Norfolk Orbital Railway – Colonel Stephens Society

Melton Constable Trust – Companies House

North Norfolk Railway

North Norfolk Railway operates heritage services over the former Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway (M&GNJR) route between Sheringham and Holt, which closed in 1964. Holt is a new build station located about a mile from the town centre. The original Holt station was demolished to make way for the construction of Holt Bypass. North Norfolk Railway uses the former MG&NJR station in Sheringham, which is connected to the newer Sheringham station on the National Rail Bittern Line by means of an ‘occasional use’ level crossing. There is an intermediate station at Weybourne.

North Norfolk Railway official website

North Norfolk Railway – Wikipedia

Network Rail

Network Rail owns the track between Sheringham and Norwich (Bittern Line), and between Norwich and Wymondham (Breckland Line).

Network Rail website

Abellio East Anglia Limited

Abellio East Anglia is the train operating company providing Greater Anglia branded services between Sheringham and Norwich, and between Norwich and Wymondham.

Greater Anglia website

Bittern Line website

Wymondham to Sheringham in four sections

Section 1: Wymondham to Dereham (fully operational heritage line) and County School (currently special events only)

Operator: Mid-Norfolk Railway.

STATIONS
Wymondham Abbey
Kimberley Park
Hardingham (no public access)
Thuxton
Yaxham
Dereham
View Threat of Closure on BFIPLAYER
The former North Elmham station, situated between Dereham and County School, is now a private residence

County School

The station is owned by Norfolk County Council.

Section 2: County School to Fakenham

The track was lifted in the 1960s following the closure of Fakenham East station. Land for the new formation is being acquired by Melton Constable Trust. The alignment is protected although it is obstructed at Ryburgh.

Norfolk Orbital Railway, proposed stations | Source: Norfolk Orbital Railway official website | norfolk-orbital-railway.co.uk
Ryburgh

The former station has been demolished and the land sold to Crisp Malt. It has been suggested that Crisp Malt might allow a tramway to be built through its yard. A new alignment will be sought if this is not possible.

Great Ryburgh, Norfolk, showing Crisp Malt site and location of former Ryburgh station

Source: OpenRailwayMap | © OpenStreetMap contributors | OpenStreetMap copyright notice
Fakenham

It is unclear how the line from County School – Fakenham section will connect with the Fakenham – Melton Constable section. The trackbeds almost converge but they are at different elevations, as you can see on the next two maps. Even if this issue can be resolved, a dead-end station seems inevitable regardless of location, which means arriving trains will need to reverse before departure.

Location of former Fakenham East and Fakenham West stations, and proposed Fakenham station

© OpenStreetMap contributors | OpenStreetMap copyright notice | View context map of proposed location
Fakenham | Google Satellite

Credit: Google Satellite | view source
We speculate that a route running round the west side of Fakenham Racecourse may be under consideration as this would enable the provision of a through station at Fakenham.
A speculative route from Great Ryburgh to Fakenham

© OpenStreetMap contributors | OpenStreetMap copyright notice | View context map of proposed location
Melton Constable Trust has acquired land close to the site of the former Fakenham West station. This is one option for the location of the new station. If the western approach from Great Ryburgh were to be chosen it would be a through station.

Melton Constable Trust also owns the formation south of the demolished Fakenham East station. This stretches across the alignment of the former Midland & Great Northern Junction Railway (bridge 1715) and ends just south of the three brick arches (bridge 1714) spanning the River Wensum.

Wikipedia (see here) suggests that the new Fakenham station might be built to the south of the former Fakenham East station, as shown on one of the earlier maps.

Both options are being assessed by Melton Constable Trust and North Norfolk District Council in consultation with the local community.

Fakenham East railway station – Wikipedia

Fakenham West railway station – Wikipedia

Section 3: Fakenham to Melton Constable and Holt

Melton Constable

Melton Constable Trust intends to build a station between Fakenham and Holt in the small Norfolk village of Melton Constable.

Melton Constable in context

© OpenStreetMap contributors | OpenStreetMap copyright notice | View the map on OpenStreetMap website

Melton Constable was a railway station on the Midland and Great Northern Railway which served the North Norfolk village of Melton Constable from 1882 to 1964. Notwithstanding its rural location, the station became an important railway centre with lines converging from all directions providing connections to key East Anglian towns such as King’s Lynn, Norwich, Cromer, Fakenham, Yarmouth and Lowestoft. Although long since demolished, there is a possibility that the station may yet be resurrected as part of the proposed Norfolk Orbital Railway.

Melton Constable is today a rather smaller village with around 500 inhabitants. The station was demolished in 1971, to be replaced by a telephone exchange. Two of the ornamental spandrels that held up the station roof are incorporated into the bus shelter on the B1354 Briston Road. The land of the old railway works is now an industrial estate and the sidings an artisan bakery, but a number of the old buildings have been retained.

Source: Melton Constable railway station – Wikipedia.
Ordnance Survey map of Melton Constable, 1952, annotated by Reopen | Credit: National Library of Scotland

Ordnance Survey map of Melton Constable, 1952, annotated by Reopen | Credit: National Library of Scotland

Section 4: Holt to Sheringham

Holt

The original Holt station was demolished and the alignment erased in order to construct Holt Bypass.

Holt, 1952 | Source: Old-maps.co.uk

Holt, 1952 | Source: Old-maps.co.uk
Holt | OpenRailwayMap / OpenStreetMap

View this map and the wider context on OpenRailwayMap | © OpenStreetMap contributors

The Trust’s immediate intention is to secure the land for the route, so that nothing can physically block the building of the railway the construction of which will be subject to the normal statutory permissions and standards. The plan, drawn up by expert railway engineers, takes the railway for part of its route onto the wide area of land alongside the Holt bypass, the road having taken the original trackbed. There are detailed design issues but the County Council has made it clear that it has no objections in principle.

The Trust’s first concern is to restore train services to Holt and beyond in order to provide efficient and environmentally friendly public transport. “The North Norfolk Railway has already been reconnected to Network Rail’s Bittern Line at Sheringham. We want to see Holt linked back into the national rail system, with travel opportunities to all parts of the country. At the same time, we shall be very happy to see the North Norfolk Railway’s heritage services running to Holt. In many senses it will complete their railway. Those services provide huge car-free tourism benefits and could be of great economic advantage to Holt itself”, said one of the Trustees. An agreement has been signed with the North Norfolk Railway covering the extension of the railway into Holt and the principle of a through transport service from the Bittern Line.

Source: Norfolk Orbital Railway (Melton Constable Trust) website.

The lockdown has served to emphasize the need for people to help with all the challenges which lie ahead so please let us know if you are able to assist in any way. We particularly need help with the fundamental issue of proving that the railway and a central Holt station can be built on the land alongside the by-pass to the satisfaction of the County Council. Relevant surveying, planning and engineering skills will be of great value. This work is essential if we are to confirm that we will definitely be permitted to build the railway into Holt.

Source: Latest News, on Norfolk Orbital Railway (Melton Constable Trust) website, January 2021.

The project faces several challenges, even if landowners on the original route reach an agreement. The route would need to skirt the Holt bypass, before tunnelling under the A148 to reach Melton Constable. The station there was built over, as were the ones at Great Ryburgh and Fakenham. As it nears the town, the track bed runs straight through Pensthorpe Wildlife Park, and a link between two old lines would need to be made to join the old track beds.

Source: Keeping plans to bring back the railway on track, by Matthew Farmer, on Fakenham & Wells Times website (August 2019).
Recent meeting with the Office of Rail and Road at Holt, on Norfolk Orbital Railway website (2017)
Weybourne

Weybourne station is owned and operated by North Norfolk Railway.

Weybourne railway station – Wikipedia

Sheringham

Sheringham has two stations linked by an ’occasional use’ level crossing. The original M&GNJR station is part of the North Norfolk Railway. The newer station is the terminus of the National Rail Bittern Line from Norwich.

Connection to the National Rail network

Between 2007 and 2010, work was undertaken to reinstate the original level crossing across the road to allow trains from Norwich to run onto the North Norfolk Railway heritage line tracks. BBC Look East reported on 17 December 2007 that Network Rail supported the level crossing plans to allow occasional use for trains to cross between tracks. It was announced by the North Norfolk Railway on 16 December 2008, that work was going to start on the new level crossing in January 2009. These plans were later delayed until 2010 due to various problems, including: lack of funding, electricity cables needing to be moved, the county’s highways department concerns with the implications of road closure to create the crossing.

Work began on 8 January 2010, with the moving of the NNR headshunt to slew into line with the Network Rail section. The link was reinstated on 11 March 2010, when the first passenger carrying train over the new crossing was steam locomotive ‘Oliver Cromwell’ hauling a train from London Liverpool Street. Occasional uses by charter trains and visiting rolling stock are anticipated to not exceed 12 times a year.

Source: Sheringham railway station (North Norfolk Railway) – Wikipedia
Sheringham railway station – Wikipedia

Some questions remain

For potential users of the Norfolk Orbital Railway for public transport purposes, how acceptable will a line speed of 25mph over the heritage-owned track be?

At Great Ryburgh, how will the Crisp Malt site be circumnavigated?

Are senior Crisp Malt managers mostly in favour of, opposed to, or ambivalent about the possible return of the railway?

Considering the local geography, how will the line from Dereham to Fakenham join the line from Melton Constable to Fakenham?

Where will the new Fakenham station be located?

Will it be a through station or will trains need to reverse?

Will a village with 600 residents (latest estimate) generate enough traffic to justify a new station in Melton Constable?

How will a new railway line be threaded through Holt?

Where will the new Holt station be located?

If a new station is opened in Holt, will it replace the one owned by North Norfolk Railway or supplement it?

Without succumbing to optimism bias, how will the ‘occasional use’ level crossing linking the two Sheringham stations gain Office of Rail and Road approval for regular use?

If Norfolk Orbital Railway trains, perhaps operated by The Holt Melton Constable & Fakenham Railway, are to reach Norwich, they will need to use Network Rail infrastructure. What is the likelihood of a track access contract being awarded?

Capacity is constrained between the former Trowse station and Norwich station. How might this be addressed?