A look back at the spring steam gala on 24th March 2014. Photo: Mike Davies
Welcome to April's Branch Lines
It’s hard to know where to start with Branch Lines this month. The past couple of weeks have seen unprecedented changes for everyone across the United Kingdom, and for those in most countries across the world. The coronavirus pandemic means the UK is now in lockdown, with people unable to leave their homes except for essential purposes. The impact on the SVR is huge. We can no longer operate, and as a result our visitor income will be zero.
Branch Lines this month reports on the impact of the pandemic on the Railway and looks at what is being done to mitigate the damage. With a shortfall of £250,000 over the next three months, the three SVR family members have launched an Emergency Appeal to help soften the blow that the SVR is taking. We hope that everyone who can contribute will add their support to this appeal, so that the Railway will be in good shape to bounce back when the time is right.
The lack of trains this month means a consequent lack of photos, but we’ve come up with a plan, and hope it will add a little spark of joy in what is otherwise a very downbeat time. We put out a call on social media for photos from previous Marches. Thank you to all the photographers who responded, and the results are sprinkled throughout this edition. Hope you enjoy them!
A lovely message of support came through to us just before publication this month, from loyal Branch Lines reader Mike Ellis, who lives ‘down under’ and had received an email about the SVR’s Emergency Appeal: “I wish you and all the SVR team success with keeping it ‘on the rails’, and of course keeping well. Kind regards from NZ, which is also in lockdown; an eerie time.”
Wherever in the world you are, please keep safe and well. We’ll be back next month.
Lesley Carr & Patrick Hearn, co-editors
Next edition 3rd May
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Coronavirus impacts the SVR
The coronavirus emergency has escalated rapidly over recent days, and as we go to press on Sunday 29th March, the position can be summarised as below.
Our last public trains were on 16th March and we have suspended services until at least the end of April.
All events due to take place at the Railway until the end of May have been cancelled, namely the Spring Steam and Diesel Galas, Open House and 50th Anniversary events.
The Engine House, all stations, booking offices, refreshment rooms, pubs and gift shops will remain closed until further notice.
Some staff remain to ensure security of our sites and limited engineering work for which either we have funding or can for or can invoice for, along with others to develop our fundraising and recovery strategies. Wherever possible, staff are working from home.
Most paid staff have been ‘furloughed’ under the Government scheme to pay 80% of their salaries.
We are not expecting any of our 1,700 volunteers to be on site until further notice.
Things remain fluid but we will continue to follow Government and Public Health England advice. We have a frequently asked questions page on the SVR’s main website. Please keep checking the website and our social media for further updates.
General manager, Helen Smith, told Branch Lines:
“If anything is to come out of this crisis, then the strength of everyone working together has been inspirational. On every level we have been offered help and support and it is only by working as one team that we will get through this.
“The wellbeing of our visitors, staff and volunteers is our absolute priority and matters of health and safety have our complete attention. I strongly recommend that everyone keeps up-to-date on the latest Government advice and please stick to it. Stay in, stay safe and I look forward to welcoming everyone back when this is over.”
Photo: The last weekend of trains...for a while! GWR 5700 class 0-6-0PT 7714 on Sunday, 15th March. Ian Murray
How will the SVR get through this crisis?
As soon as it became clear that the Railway would have to close for an indefinite period, plans were put into place to ensure it will cope with the resulting disappearance of visitor income.
Working together, the three SVR family members, SVR (Holdings) plc, SVR Company Limited and SVR Charitable Trust, launched an Emergency Appeal for £250,000 to sustain the Railway for the next three months.
As we go to press on Sunday 29th March, over £92,000 has already been secured from generous donations. It’s hoped that a large-scale mailing campaign that went out on Friday 26th to members, shareholders, Charitable Trust donors and selected visitors will encourage further donations. This has been supported by an email campaign and social media posts to reach an even wider audience.
The chairman of SVR (Holdings) plc, Nick Paul CBE told Branch Lines:
“This crisis has hit the Severn Valley Railway very hard. With the Railway now closed, our income from visitors has disappeared. We don’t know how long this situation will continue. Furthermore, it comes on the back of the flooding a few weeks ago, and the fact that we had to close the line between Kidderminster and Bewdley because of essential repairs to Falling Sands Viaduct. The consequent 75% drop in passengers in our first weeks of operation this year meant we were already up against things.
“The SVR is fighting for its survival, and we need to ensure the SVR can stay afloat in the weeks and months to come, so that when the restrictions are lifted, we’ll be able to re-emerge as one of the country’s leading heritage railways.
“At this time of national emergency and widespread worry, it is difficult to ask for your help. However, without it our SVR may not survive. Please will you donate to our Emergency Appeal to protect the Railway during this crisis, and to make sure it’s in good shape to become operational again as soon as possible?
Alternatively, you may wish to buy SVR shares, or add to your existing shareholding.
In addition, we're selling Loyalty Passes ready for when the Railway reopens - details may be found here.
How to donate
Through www.svr.co.uk using a credit or debit card
Phone 01562 757902 to make a phone donation
Make a bank transfer to SVR (Holdings) Plc
Sort code 40-26-08
Account No 01330608
(please let us know you have made a bank transfer by phoning 01562 757902 or email firstname.lastname@example.org)
Send a cheque made payable to SVR (Holdings) Plc to SVR, One Comberton Place, Kidderminster, DY10 1QR (please include your name and address)
How to purchase shares
To purchase SVR shares, please download the form and follow the instructions.
Alternatively please request information from email@example.com or 01562 757902
We're selling Loyalty Passes ready for when the Railway reopens - details may be found here.
The SVR’s financial position
SVR accountant and company secretary Simon Hart explains more about how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting on finances:
“During this time, we have no visitor income. This follows a start to the year when the essential major repairs to Falling Sands Viaduct and the flooding in February saw a 75% drop in visitors. We need to control our cashflow, pay our suppliers, pay employees and collect any outstanding debt. We also must continue to satisfy HMRC obligations. We, like many other businesses, are not insured for business interruption caused by the pandemic.
“We have been working to ‘furlough’ as many paid staff as possible in order to mitigate the losses we are making from the closure of the Railway. The good news for us is that the Government will pay up to 80% of their salaries until 31st May.
“The Board and Senior Management Team have put an immediate stop on recruitment, non-essential expenditure, non-funded capital works and non-essential infrastructure works. We are also working on cost savings around the Railway.
“On the plus side, our bank, the HSBC have been extremely supportive in the work we are doing and offered further help and support when needed. Some Government funding is available, such as ‘holidays’ for business rates, PAYE and National Insurance, additional sick pay and VAT repayments. Although these are welcome, they won’t be enough to cover our costs.
“In addition, the Government is making loans available. Whilst this may sound appealing at first, it would involve a long-term debt that we want to avoid if possible.
“Overall, we are faced with the most serious financial challenges we have had in years with an uncertain period of disruption. Please do support our fundraising efforts.”
Words of support from the SVR’s Patron
The Duke of Gloucester is Patron of the Severn Valley Railway, and asked his private secretary to convey his support to everyone connected with the Railway:
His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester has asked me to convey his best wishes to all your members, staff and volunteers while we enter this unprecedented period of uncertainty and worry. He is very much aware of the concerns that your people will have at the moment as this pandemic develops and would want you to know that you are all very much in his mind.
The Duke last visited the SVR in October 2019 when he opened the new refreshment rooms at Bridgnorth and met many volunteers and paid staff from across the Railway.
Photo: The Duke meeting former SVR apprentices last October (Jane Preece)
A change of signal head
An initial restructuring of the signal engineering department has seen the appointment of Matthew Morgan to team leader. The role co-ordinates the department's activities, reporting directly to infrastructure manager, Chris Bond. Chris told Branch Lines:
“Matthew took up this position from 16th March. He has been working in the department previously, in addition to passing out as a volunteer signalman. Matthew will now designate volunteer leads for the various elements that make up signal engineering. He brings great enthusiasm to the signal engineering discipline and, with the support of his volunteer team, the SVR will continue to lead the way in this area of the heritage movement.”
Martin takes over from John Phillips who has retired. Chris added:
“John has loyally served the SVR over many decades as our chief signal engineer and head of department, regularly driving from his home in Wales. He delivered numerous signalling projects, the most complex of which at Kidderminster in the 1980s is still going strong today.
“John and his department put in a huge effort after the 2007 storms in restoring the damage to signalling infrastructure. This was necessary to get the SVR back to an operational railway.
“The SVR has benefitted from John’s extensive technical knowledge, especially in mechanical signal box locking which is essential to the safe working of trains. His passion for design has allowed us to create one of the most impressive arrays of GWR heritage signalling in the UK, including the large gantry arrangement at Kidderminster. John will be leaving the role with a much-admired signalling legacy for the future.”
John hopes still to be involved with the SVR both as a volunteer signalman and as a source of knowledge for maintaining the high standards he has set over the years. We wish John well in well-earned retirement.
Two photos from March 2019 show Kidderminster signal box, both by Jason Hood. Click on the gallery for full images and descriptions.
Cylinder blocks cast for 7802 Bradley Manor!
March has been another busy month for the Erlestoke Manor Fund (EMF), with the news that the castings for the new pair of cylinder blocks for 7802 were poured, inspected, cleaned up and fettled. This is an important step to completing the repair on Bradley following its mishap last year (Branch Lines, August 2019).
One of the images in the gallery shows the first block to be cast, with fettling nearly completed. It took nearly two weeks to get to this stage from breaking out of the mould. The Fund believes that these are the first 7800 class cylinder blocks to be cast for 70 years!
New piston rods and piston head castings for both 7802 and 7812 have also been delivered. The EMF’s Adrian Hassell told Branch Lines:
“7802 requires these as part of its repair. In addition, we have prudently decided to replace the existing British Railways era piston rods on 7812 while under overhaul. These did not fall under the insurance payment for the failure of 7802, and it is components such as these that the Two for 2020 Appeal has helped fund.”
Meanwhile progress with the reassembly of 7812 at Tyseley Locomotive Works has focussed on refitting the locomotive’s brake rigging and fitting new copper stays supplied by ESMP Bridgnorth to the firebox.
Despite the good progress made, the current COVID-19 situation means the EMF has suspended regular volunteer working parties and closed the Fund’s Sales Coach at Bewdley Station until further notice. Adrian added:
“We are keeping the situation under regular review and, in the meantime, we will try and sustain contract work on both locomotives as and when we can. We will provide regular updates on our website and Facebook pages when possible and hope that all associated with the EMF, SVR and Tyseley stay safe and well.”
Please click on the gallery for full view of the images and descriptions. The EMF’s March news update, written shortly before the latest ‘stay at home’ advice was issued, contains further news and photos.
5164 Preservation Group – notice to shareholders
Paul Fathers has been in touch with Branch Lines regarding GWR Prairie locomotive 5164.
"Due to the outbreak of Coronavirus the meeting of shareholders in the '5164 Preservation Group' due to be held at the Kidderminster Railway Museum on the 25th April 2020 is cancelled. A proposal for the future of the locomotive will be sent to shareholders.
If you are a shareholder in the locomotive and have not already contacted the Chairman of the Group, please do so before the 25th April on 01275 543560.
Ian Whitlam - Chairman"
Photo: 5164 is a GWR Collett 5101 class 2-6-2T 'Large Prairie'. It is seen at Bewdley North on 27th March 2012. Photo: Jed Bennett.
The new normal at Bridgnorth MPD
Volunteer shed master Martin White tells us about the impact of the pandemic on the Motive Power Depot.
Those people who have known me for a year or two will tell you that I am seldom stuck for anything to say and when I say something it’s often at loud volume! However, when contemplating what to write in these notes this month, I really didn’t know what to say because we are all living in a situation the likes of which we have never seen before, nor that we could probably have ever imagined. So I’ll try and give you a status update on where things stand from an MPD and workshop perspective right now.
If you were allowed to travel to Bridgnorth and were to stand on the station footbridge looking into the loco yard you wouldn’t see a single steam loco. I doubt it’s ever looked so forlorn since 3205 arrived in 1967.
But don’t panic....... if you were able to peek inside the shed you’d find it jam-packed with steam locos, safely stored under cover and hidden away from view. And, some of the working fleet, a mixture of big and small locos, are ‘on shed’ at Bewdley, ready and waiting for services to be restarted. For one brief evening this week, the shed at Bridgnorth apparently resembled a real steam shed, with 75069 and 43106 stabled inside with steam issuing from drain cocks after being moved from Bewdley.
Engineering Services at Bridgnorth are ‘open for business’ just about, in a greatly reduced manner to normal. Almost all of the works staff have been sent home on furlough (paid leave in simple terms.) Only the boiler-shop remains open, where a seven-days-a-week shift pattern is being followed to enable a further significant reduction in numbers at work at any one time. People are carefully keeping two metres apart, as per the Government guidelines. The boilersmiths will predominantly be carrying out contract work, including the SVR-based 4150, in order to earn some money for the Railway.
The first of the new Isle of Man boilers, built as a contract job is now finished, tested and certified, and just awaits customer collection. Apart that is, from the signwriting that proudly states ‘Built By Severn Valley Railw……’, which wasn’t quite completed before the furlough. The second new build is ready for hydraulic test examination by the insurance company. It should have taken place on 24th March, but the UK lockdown caused it to be cancelled by the examiner, at less than 24 hours notice. New build 3 is well advanced, and the barrel of number 4 is in there too. The guys are trying really hard, as this is one of the precious few ways the Railway can earn anything at the current time.
It’s absolutely pointless predicting what MPD will plan to do for the rest of 2020, because we simply don’t know what will happen next, nor when it will happen.
Dig deep everyone……… our Railway is too good to let slip away.
Gallery: Martin's image of a full Bridgnorth MPD this month, plus visiting Taff Vale Railway 0-6-2T No 85 and ex-GWR 0-6-2T 5637 in March 2003 (Paul Sharpe). Click on the gallery for full view images.
Since the item in October’s Branch Lines and following the return of Regent Tank 345 to traffic, work has been focusing on GWR Mica 105873 inside the goods shed and GWR Open 98480 outside.
Wagons department volunteer Graham Mitchell told us:
“The Mica features a double skin body for insulation, with tongue and groove boards inside and out, screwed to heavy timbers, which are in turn bolted to the steel framework of the body. One end is almost complete now, including refitting the zinc lining and internal ice tank, and work is progressing on making the bolt-on timbers, which involves cutting round numerous odd corners and rivets.
“98480 has had one headstock replaced and the other is now cut and drilled and almost ready to fit. The Dean Churchward brake gear was in a very poor state and much of it is in the process of being repaired or remade.”
As with all other SVR groups, work is now interrupted by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Click on the gallery for full view images
Passenger numbers in 2019 – a ‘game of two halves’
Last year the SVR recorded 239,723 passengers, down on the 245,031 for 2018, and the lowest number of passengers since 2003, except for the storm-affected years of 2007 and 2008.
Company secretary Simon Hart, gives more detail:
“This headline number reflects a planned reduction of Santa visitors to support the more sustainable arrangements, as explained by Helen Smith in December’s Branch Lines.
“2019 was very much a ‘game of two halves’. We started off the year slowly - the Spring Steam and Diesel Galas and the Step back to the 1940s weekends all had lower attendances than 2018. This was followed up by the reluctant decision to cancel the Family Fun Weekend due to lack of pre-sales.
“Things improved for the second half of the year. Our ‘A Very British Summer’ concept brought in families who otherwise might not have visited, and passenger numbers were strong. While the Autumn Steam Gala attracted fewer passengers than 2018, the Autumn Diesel gala attracted 2,427 passengers, as a lower key ‘home locos’ event. Some additional events, Tornado and Wizards, helped replace some of the lost Family Fun event numbers and our Ghost trains continue to be popular.
“Then in December and January the weather behaved itself for the Christmas services. Our all new Santa trains ran from both Kidderminster and Bridgnorth for the first time for many years, and for these we had planned to reduce passenger numbers but with similar revenue to 2018. Special mention should be made of the ‘sold-out’ Steam in Lights trains carrying 8,508 very satisfied passengers; rest assured these trains will return!
Maintaining and growing the number of passengers to the Railway is vital to our continued financial success. Many people ‘front of house’ and ‘behind the scenes’ make this happen. Thank you to everyone who contributed to the excellent experiences of our passengers in 2019.
Visiting and home locomotives in 2019. Please click on the gallery for full view of the images and descriptions.
Winter works and Falling Sands Viaduct
Infrastructure manager Chris Bond tells us about progress on the winter works and the impact of the pandemic.
This year the Falling Sands viaduct project had given the Permanent Way department an unprecedented 12-week period in which to carry out a major track relaying project. The project was broken down into four discreet sections and programmed around the need to lift the track from the viaduct and of course put it back! The sections in the programmed order were:
From the existing flat bottom rail at the Kidderminster end across Falling Sands to the Foley Park yard turnout.
The turnout itself – a flat bottom CV 9 ¼ for those more technically minded.
From the existing flat bottom rail in the tunnel to just beyond the Stourport Road bridge (Bridge No.5).
Bridge No.5 to Foley Park turnout.
The initial track lifting across the viaduct took place over two days starting 30th December 2019 and went as planned. This allowed the viaduct contractors unfettered access in the new year when the viaduct project was due to start. On the tail of this, the new turnout into the proposed yard sited on the original sugar beet sidings, was laid out and constructed. The reason for the timing of this was to allow the Signal Engineering dept., to have the maximum time to carry out all their necessary tasks required to make the turnout ready for traffic. There will be a new ground frame controlling this sited more or less on the position of the original.
The next stage was track lifting from the tunnel to Bridge No.5 in somewhat cramped conditions within the steep sided cutting. Once cleared, track relaying took place using the materials donated in 2019 by Network Rail although as supplied in 30ft lengths as opposed to the normal 60ft, this look a little longer than expected. As track laying took place, contract welding teams have been following behind gradually turning the 30ft rails back into a continuous length. Once the bullhead track just beyond Bridge No.5 was reached and access to the viaduct had been reinstated, it was decided to rearrange things a little and switch to filling in the gap across the viaduct starting at the Kidderminster end. The intention was that once the turnout was reached, the length in between the turnout and Bridge No.5 would be relayed using assistance from our friends at Rail Safety Solutions as a live training exercise. However, as we are all now acutely aware, the SVR and the nation has been plunged into a crisis, the speed of which has bought proceedings to a rather sudden halt.
With just six panels of track to relay to connect Kidderminster to the turnout, the decision was made on Monday 23rd March to furlough (or put on government paid break from work) the entire PW full time staff. Volunteers at risk were advised that they should withdraw from volunteering on the relay with immediate effect. Within 24 hours the whole job ground to a halt were there remains a significant amount of work to complete the project.
In the short term, this is not going to cause a problem as the SVR is effectively closed for business at least until the end of April and maybe beyond. The trick is now going to be to establish when the railway will re-open again so that we can re-engage the PW full time staff and volunteers in sufficient time to carry out the work required to restore the Bewdley to Kidderminster section to passenger carrying standards. In the meantime, the only activity likely to be seen is the completion by contractors of the remaining 41 welds outstanding between the tunnel and Bridge No.5 which is currently planned for next week (30th March). However, this could change at a moment’s notice.
So, at present, we have a still have an incomplete railway pending an easing of the current national crisis. We must be patient and draw our plans for the glorious day we can carry on and complete this large project (by SVR standards) and once again see our wonderful trains steaming down the Severn Valley once more. Keep the faith and stay safe!
Click on the gallery for full images, descriptions and credits.
Land movements identified on the SVR
Following the extremely wet weather and flooding that took place in February, general manager Helen Smith has updated us about issues that have arisen as a result:
“We routinely monitor the condition of the Railway, and as waters receded, we identified land movements at two locations; Sterns (between Bridgnorth and Hampton Loade) and Alveley Woods (between Hampton Loade and Highley.)”
Infrastructure manager, Chris Bond, added: “We engaged appropriate professionals under our consulting engineer, Jonathan Symonds. They are seeking to determine the cause and they have fitted monitoring equipment, been producing a topographic survey and drilling trial boreholes. We do not want to anticipate anything, and once we have the facts, we can communicate the cause and repair work necessary.”
The SVR has a responsibility to look after the public, our staff and volunteers and Helen said:
“We will not prejudice their safety, should we be advised not to run trains over these sections when public services eventually restart following the lifting of Coronavirus restrictions.
"There will be a cost to the railway, but until we know the cause we don’t yet know what that will be. Fundraising will be essential, and we will be making further announcements shortly. I again want to reassure people that the three SVR organisations and the work of the SVR family will see us through this difficult period. Your support and understanding are much appreciated.”
Photo: drilling rig at Eardington, awaiting movement (Matt Robinson)
We’ve had a lovely email from Eardington station’s volunteer lampman Phil Harris, on the March 2020 edition. Take it away Phil:
“I’d like to congratulate the editorial team for an excellent newsletter, one of the best I’ve read. It also displayed perfectly on my smartphone, for the first time! Have you made some changes? All the photos and links worked perfectly. Many thanks and I look forward to future editions!”
Yes, Phil, we’ve made quite a few changes in recent months. We were aware that pages didn’t always display correctly on all browsers and the page colours were causing problems with legibility. Two changes were made quickly, the first was changing the page background to make the contrast greater and improve legibility. The other addressed difficulty in navigating, so each article is now in its own box and we’ve added a contents box with a click through function to each article.
Reader Geoff Leigh has asked: “Please would you, where possible, put the text in columns instead of right across the page. It makes it so much easier to read.” Yes Geoff, where possible we will.
As Phil mentioned, we also became aware of an issue with smartphones, and in particular articles overlapping. It’s been frustrating and we seem to have it fixed, albeit by re-editing for desktop and mobile views, but we’re pleased that it now works for you, Phil!
All this gave us a chance to refresh the newsletter. We have widened the range of material, with the March 2020 Branch Lines having 17 articles from 12 a year previously. Within articles we now Include hyperlinks for reference. Increasingly, news is first appearing in social media from right across the Railway, and this often forms the bases of articles. In turn our editors are regularly prompting managers and groups to contribute articles, and assisting in their production.
You may also have noticed a big expansion in photographs and the regular use of video. We’re using galleries to show multiple images and this allows us to showcase photographers’ work, such as Mike Catton’s atmospheric portfolio of three of our stations at dusk in February. It promotes competition; in fact regular contributor Alan Campbell contacted us to say he’s now got to rack his brains to top that!
We’re aware of some things still to sort and we’re indebted to Bill Griffiths, who continues to help with these as time permits. We know that articles in the mobile feature display in a different order to that intended, and some pictures can display incorrectly. We use low resolution images (to save bandwidth) that are fine for viewing on screen but not for members who wish to print.
We are open to suggestions, and always grateful for positive comments too! Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos: March brought snow in 2013 and 2018, Click on the gallery for full images and credits.
GBRf 2020 to visit the SVR, and ‘This Time it’s Personal’
Rail freight company GBRf is organising ‘This Time it’s Personal’, a four-day charity adventure from 24th to 27th September which will include a stopover on the SVR, assuming the Railway is once again running following the lifting of Coronavirus restrictions.
On Day 3 (Saturday 26th September) the train, hauled by a Class 37 and Class 33 in multiple, will arrive from Scotland and North East England via Stourbridge to Kidderminster. It will run onto the Valley and terminate in the Severn Valley platform at circa 11 pm.
Day 4 (Sunday 27th September) will start from the SVR platform at Kidderminster at around 8.15 am with two Class 50 locomotives provided by the SVR-based Class 50 Alliance. The train will head to South Wales before returning to London.
Wolverhampton branch meetings
The Severn Valley Railway Wolverhampton Branch 27th April and 11th May meetings are cancelled.
Alan Davies, Branch Chairman.
V2 04.04.20 Typo
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Any opinions or views expressed in this newsletter are entirely the opinions of the contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Directors of Severn Valley Railway (Holdings) PLC. which owns the Severn Valley Railway, Severn Valley Railway Company Limited, the members of which are responsible for its operation, or the Severn Valley Railway Charitable Trust.