The middle of a traffic roundabout isn’t the place you would expect to find a railway. And railways are normally longer than a couple of meters. But in the middle of the Viables Roundabout in Basingstoke, this is exactly what you can find.
While it only runs for a few meters now, the railway once stretched from a station at the town center to a station in the nearby town of Alton. While Alton still has a railway station, there is no longer a railway between the two towns.
The Light Railways Act 1896 enabled railway companies to propose the construction of connections without having to apply under different Acts of Parliament. There was fierce competition between two rival railway operators to build and run the line between Basingstoke and Alton. The London and South Western Railway won the contract against competition from the Great Western Railway, who were trying to open up a line to Portsmouth.
Except for a passing place just outside of one of the stations on the line, the line was entirely single track. Only one station on the line was provided with two platforms. The line had an overall speed limit of 25 miles per hour, and the journey from Basingstoke to Butts Junction took typically 45 minutes.
The line was the first railway authorized by the Light Railway Commission, and as such attracted considerable attention. The line opened in 1901, and in 1909, a private platform was opened to serve the Lord Mayor Treloar’s hospital near Alton. In January 1917, much of the track was removed and transported to Northern France, where it was put to military use during Worl War I. After the war, the track was relaid and re-opened in August 1924, largely because of pressure from local landowners who needed to transport goods from one town to the other and against the wishes of the LSWR, as the line was unprofitable. Passenger services ended in 1932, although a goods service from Basingstoke to the stations at Bentworth and Lasham continued until 1936. After services stopped running, most of the line was then lifted for a second time.
For a time, the two short stretches of the track at either end of the railway were left in place for shunting goods traffic, until this too was stopped in 1967. The northern section was from Basingstoke railway station to the Thornycroft motor vehicle factory. The southern end ran from Butts Junction to Alton Park.
In 1976, the Viables Roundabout received its short stretch of track as a memorial to the railway. It is publicly accessible, and an information plaque is sited nearby. As well as the section in the roundabout, 100m of track is left near the site of the old Thorneycroft factory. This is stilled owned by British Rail, and cannot be accessed, although it is visible from footpaths that run alongside.