Not so very far from me is the port of Newhaven. In the early part of 2009 I lived just north of it, at Piddinghoe. Newhaven is in fact an old place, and is so called because centuries ago the River Ouse changed its course. It then carved out a direct line to the sea instead of reaching it at Seaford, and a new port sprang up. What you see now is a slightly down-at-heel town that was once an important place for crossing the English Channel by boat.
It still has a twice-daily ferry service to Dieppe in northern France, at 11.00am and 11.30pm. The return cost at this time of the year, on a Monday, as a foot passenger, is £30. It's possible to leave Newhaven on the 11.00am ferry, arrive in Dieppe four hours later, spend two hours there, and then return on the 5.00pm ferry from Dieppe. So you'd be back at 9.00pm after a rather pointless day out - unless cruising on the Channel for eight hours altogether is your aim. Let's face it, you can't do much in Dieppe with only two hours at your disposal. However, I might do the day trip sometime during 2014, just for the hell of it!
As a car ferry, with a week in France in view, the service makes more sense. Newhaven is the only ferry port between Portsmouth and Dover. It's very convenient for Brighton, Lewes and Eastbourne residents.
In the days when most people and goods travelled by train, Newhaven was a busy port. It was well-served by the railway. It was on a branch line to Seaford, but whereas Seaford merely had its humdrum terminus station at the end of the line, Newhaven had a complex of quayside sidings and no less than three passenger stations, all within easy walking distance of each other. The main one (then and now) was Newhaven Town station, closest to the town centre (and adjacent to the new passenger terminal. So it is well-used). Then there was Newhaven Harbour station, a quarter of a mile to the south and near both the original passenger terminal and a passenger hotel that has long vanished (this second station is still open, but not at all busy). Then, two hundred yards further on, off on its own siding, was Newhaven Marine station (technically still open, but in fact now disused). The Marine station was for boat trains.
There is some further information on Newhaven Marine station (as it is right now in 2014) at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newhaven_Marine_railway_station, and http://www.railforums.co.uk/showthread.php?t=34630, and on this link you can learn the Department of Transport's 2012 view on why the station continues to exist: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/newhaven_marine_station.
For most people interested in stations, and the train services using them, the 'ghost train' of Newhaven Marine is the attraction. Not literally a spectral train, but an empty train that enters the station, waits, and then departs again. Just so that it can be said that the station is still 'in use'. But no passenger can get on it.
Long before I heard of this train, I would drive down to the station and have a look around, and I have photos from as early as 1991. Here are some from May 2008, two years after the station saw its last ordinary train that passengers could use. First, a view looking back towards the Harbour station, so very close by. It's where the blue footbridge is, visible beyond the signal box:
The Marine station itself - rebuilt as recently as 1983 - was already looking somewhat forlorn in 2008. The decayed and supposedly hazardous platform roof panels had been taken away, leaving just the support struts, and the platform edge had been fenced off to prevent anyone falling onto the line - or boarding a waiting train not intended for them!
Then on 4 June 2008, after discovering the existence of the famous 'ghost train' on the Internet, I actually managed to see it - an untimetabled 6.52pm departure. Here are some shots. First, the train waiting at a halt signal for its regulation ten minutes:
Then it gets the right away, and moves off:
Show's over, folks! Strange that this train had nothing at all to do with the Transmanche ferry boat that could be seen close by on the quay:
Of equal interest to me was the passenger terminal itself, incorporated into the station building. By then a new terminal was in operation a few hundred yards away, and this one was closed. But, looking in through the window, it seemed as if a magic wand could bring it all back to life again:
May 2008 was only just before my transition kicked off. I thought no more of Newhaven Marine and ghost trains for some time. But I went back there on 29 December 2013. Just out of curiosity. And by now I didn't care two hoots about 'railway stuff' being 'ungirly'. I was prepared to deal forthrightly with any person who questioned my presence there. After all, I was only going to take a few shots with my camera.
Access was as simple as before. I parked in a nearby street, walked onto the Harbour station (little used and usually deserted), walked over the footbridge (fine views), and out onto the expanse of empty tarmac that stretched over to the Marine station. Nobody was about. On the way I passed the signal box, still immaculate:
The Marine station wasn't so good though. It was in a sad state. The former passenger terminal was boarded up. A plaque next to a security door with peeling paint announced that the UK Border Agency was now officially in residence, but only one upstairs room was showing a light. Creepy. The platform was much as before, but distinctly more decayed:
The track was rusty, as if 'ghost trains' still ran, but not nearly so often:
I got onto the platform edge by squeezing through a gap in the fencing that someone else had made. Naughty me! All this decrepitude was rather depressing. But the Marine station's semaphore signal was still in good nick:
Let's end on a brighter note, with two videos from 2011 and 2012 that show the 'ghost train' in action.
The 9 August 2012 video first, which shows the train arriving and departing, but without a commentary. Click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1-Eh4opA_w.
Now the 1 June 2011 video, which is light years better, and has a lively commentary. Click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTmumbrKohs.
The engaging young woman narrating the 2011 video is called Vicki Pipe, and her unseen friend (I should say, boyfriend) and video-making professional is Geoff Marshall - see http://www.geofftech.co.uk/index.html. His interesting YouTube channel is at http://www.youtube.com/user/geofftech2/videos. At the time, and on into 2013, Vicki Pipe was a Learning Officer at the London Transport Museum (see http://blog.ltmuseum.co.uk/author/vicki-pipe/), and for all I know still is. It perhaps explains her interest in transport matters, and proves that a fascination with trains and stations is not inevitably the preserve of middle-aged men. Ignorant sexist folk who think they 'know' what is appropriate for women should take note!