The man who drove the last train to stop at Lea Bridge Station for 31 years said he was “chuffed to bits” to see it reopen.
Trains again began serving the station in Lea Bridge Road on Sunday 15th May following a £12million refurbishment – and a party was held to celebrate on Monday morning.
Dave Nwell MBE, who now drives Chiltern trains from Marylebone in west London, told the Echo: “I drove the last train at Lea Bridge and it is absolutely fantastic to see them running again. I was hoping I would live to see it.
“The station should never have been closed in the first place, it was run down by stealth and when it closed in 1985 they had just two trains in the morning and two in the afternoon.
“The reason this station will be successful now is because there are regular trains. Privatisation, whether you like it or not, has given more political impetus to make it happen, as well as the realisation that you can’t go everywhere by car.
“I am chuffed to bits to see the trains stopping here again.”
Abellio Greater Anglia now operates trains from Lea Bridge to Stratford and Tottenham Hale, with services every half-hour and as quick as five minutes. These journeys by bus from Lea Bridge can take 40 minutes.
At the reopening ceremony children from Sybourn Primary School sang songs alongside a jazz band, and welcomed passengers with a rendition of O When the Saints Come Marching In.
Another musical act that performed were Aunt Fortescue’s Bluesrockers, who had played on the Lea Bridge platform on the day of the last train in July 1985.
The group had unsuccessfully campaigned to save the station in 1980s, and although the band broke up in 1987, lead singer Graham Larkbey said they made a promise to play again on the day it reopened.
After performing a specially-written song for the occasion Graham told the Echo: “It was our first time playing here for 31 years, having played on the last day the trains ran. We’d said we come back if it reopens so here we are.
“It was daft to have a traffic-congested road up there and a disused train station down here, it made perfect sense to reopen it. Having it open again is a massive boost for the area.
“They were beset by problems but they have pushed it through. The motto with transport projects has to be: ‘Don’t give up’.”
Waltham Forest Council, which contributed £5.3m toward the cost of reopening the station, claims it will help “kick-start ambitious regeneration plans” for the Leyton area. Around 3,000 homes are already being planned on various sites within walking distance of the station.
Council leader Chris Robbins said the promise of a new railway station had helped get some redevelopment schemes started: “The station forms a central part of our vision, which will include a mix of desperately-needed housing, retail and leisure space, and employment opportunities. We’re already in talks with investors.”
Next to the station’s new entrance in Argall Way a new cycle hub has also been opened, as part of the council’s Mini Holland cycling programme, to help commuters park their bikes safely. A segregated cycle lane is currently being built along the length of Lea Bridge Road.
A further £1.1m of the cost of reopening Lea Bridge came from the government, and the remainder was financed by contributions from developers granted planning permission in the area over the past few years – including the Westfield Stratford City shopping centre.
As a plaque was unveiled and a train-shaped cake cut to celebrate the return of the railway station, speakers did their best to make themselves heard over the sound of tannoy announcements and rumbling trains.
Richard Schofield, a managing director for Network Rail, said: “There are 2,500 stations in the UK, and this is now the newest. Railways really do help open up local communities. I hope you’ll enjoy using it.”
The government’s rail minister Claire Perry was also in attendance. She said: “To me it is absolutely obvious we should be opening new stations. Lea Bridge will save people so much time, not having to take a bus to Stratford.
“This is part of a railway renaissance and it is a really exciting day.”