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Just the ticket for romantics

Searching for somewhere to bring up your own railway children? Look no further than an old station house
QUAINT rural railway stations are a stock feature of film and television evoking an idyllic English past. That's the picture postcard image. But the Beeching era and subsequent decades saw many of these stations become redundant. Some were snapped up by sharp-eyed buyers with vision who converted them into covetable homes. Others fell into disrepair or were taken over for commercial use.

These buildings are now in growing demand as homes as the supply is not as plentiful as it was. Railtrack, which owns the track network and signalling, says it still has some such properties, but the company tends to be interested in their commercial uses as workshops or offices. Ken Burgess, the marketing manager, said: "We do have some that have received planning permission specifically for residential use, but they are the exception rather than the rule."

One property on Railtrack's books was built in 1860 and is Grade II listed. However, prospective residents should bear in mind that, like many of Railtrack's properties, it is available for rent rather than sale, and requires an electricity supply which must be installed at the tenant's cost. New tenants will also often be required to pay a contribution towards documentation and surveyors' costs.

Apart from station houses, properties such as former stationmasters' homes can be available. Some stations had accommodation on their upper floors, but in many others there was a decent-sized semi-detached or detached master's home nearby.

Railway Property Limited is now the body that acts as agent for redundant properties for sale. "We have operated a very successful sales scheme, so properties of this sort are becoming more rare," said Alan Pett, estate manager. Prices vary according to the property's location, its condition - which often depends on what it has been used for since it was closed - and factors such as whether it is listed.

RPL advertises locally, and nationally in Estates Gazette or Property Week. Other ways of tracking down these properties include keeping an eye open for sales boards or contacting auctioneers that may keep lists of clients searching for particular properties.

These houses, unlike many older properties, have perhaps not suffered as much of the enthusiastic removal of original features over the years. Mr Pett said: "The Shorthold Tenancy Act of 1988 helped in the retention of character as it meant that a viable rent could be charged and helped promote domestic use of the buildings. The retention of original features was often a key element of this."

It can be all a matter of luck. Marlene Kenworthy and Andrew Prill, her partner, bought a station-master's house several years ago. The house still has an original enamelled bath, and their sitting room features the old railway cupboards with LNWR (London North Western Railways) on the handles and hinges.

The rest of the house had, sadly, largely been gutted. "It really is a crying shame what happened over the years. The original fireplaces, for example, were all taken out," says Ms Kenworthy. "However, on the plus side it is a good-sized detached house, and we felt it had potential at a good price."

One feature the house does have may be hard to beat. The view from the back of the house is over the very platform where Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard played out some of their poignant scenes in the film Brief Encounter.

If you have no time or inclination for restoration yet still yearn for a railway-linked property, you can simply try to locate one as it comes on to the market after restoration and is sold through the usual estate agent channels - but expect to pay more this way.

You don't necessarily have to be looking for a large home. Bairstow Eves, the estate agent, is selling a one-bedroom flat in a station building that now houses four converted flats near Lancaster. Trains still run by the building. For some buyers this is an advantage, but others can be put off, chiefly on grounds of noise. However, in many cases trains run on a limited service.

John Jenkins bought his former station house in Kent for a very modest outlay. "No-one else seemed to want to buy it, mainly because trains still run past the property. In fact, there are only four trains a day, which is no big deal." In the case of the converted flats near Lancaster, only three trains pass the property each day.

There are also plenty of cottages that were first built to house those who worked on the railways. There were far more of these workers than there were stationmasters, so the chances of finding one of these smaller cottage properties are much higher.

q Contacts: Bairstow Eves, 01524 733418; Railtrack, 0800 830840; Rail Property Ltd, 01717 904 5100.