Steam in Lights service 30th November 2019. Photo: Tom Clarke
Welcome to December's Branch Lines
We know that many Branch Lines readers will be visiting the Railway over the next month, whether it’s to bring children on a magical journey to meet Father Christmas, to experience the thrill of a Steam in Lights trip, or to recover from too many mince pies on board one of our post-Christmas festive services. With a virtual sell-out for our Santa Services, the SVR has now embarked on what promises to be an extremely busy lead-up to Christmas. It’s especially exciting for Bridgnorth station, which this weekend has hosted its first Santa Specials for 40 years!
During the past week we’ve said goodbye to one general manager and welcomed another. Helen Smith is now in role and will be here to experience first-hand the next few incredibly important revenue-generating weeks at the SVR.
A favourite VIP visitor was back again last month, as Tornado hauled a number of services along the Valley. Always a popular locomotive, there was huge ticket demand during its steaming days. We’ve a report on this, plus many other interesting goings-on from around the Railway.
We were delighted to hear from one of our readers, who’s unlikely to be joining us any time soon, by virtue of his geographical distance. Mike Ellis wrote from Whangamata in New Zealand: “Just to say – what an attractive and informative newsletter with excellent photos. Much appreciated, being some distance away.” Mike grew up Kidderminster and emigrated with wife Sue to NZ to be near his younger son and family. He added: “Occasionally I used to visit my grandparents in Little Hereford on the (smelly) diesel railcars W1 or W2 on the Woofferton line before it closed, and also often travelled on the line from Kiddy to Bridgnorth. I'm hoping to return next year to catch up with Chris Proudfoot at the Spring Gala and also to see my friend Clive's name on the Falling Sands Wall where I've bought a brick in his memory. I should of course say that the main reason for returning is to see our elder son and family which we left behind, not just to go to the SVR! “
We’d like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Lesley Carr & Patrick Hearn, co-editors
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Next edition 5th January 2020
Farewell to Nick Ralls
Photo: Nick in 2019 with the then-newly overhauled 75069.
After 12 years as the SVR’s general manager, Nick Ralls waved us a final goodbye earlier this week, and looked back on his time with the Railway:
“Working for SVR is not a normal job in any sense, it's all consuming. I’ve experienced many highs during my time here, including the visit of Prince Charles and Camilla, the crowds that came to welcome the Olympic torch, seeing Taw Valley pulling the Belmont Pullman up Eardington Bank, and Bob Lane shaking my hand after the 2016 Pacific Power event, saying we’d done well.
“It’s also been something of an emotional roller coaster. Being offered the job in 2007 was great but then being told the railway had been washed away about a week before I was due to start was interesting! The day of re-opening after the rain damage was so emotional and everybody was drained.
“As I leave, I take away the memory of all the people here. They make up a sum of many parts, and come together to achieve something quite magnificent. My best wishes to Helen, and I hope she will enjoy the ride.”
Paying tribute to Nick as he left, SVR (Holdings) chairman Nick Paul said:
“There is no doubt that the SVR has become more financially secure and more cohesive with Nick at the helm. It has been a real pleasure to work with him and I want to pay tribute to his unstinting support of my role as chairman. I wish him every success in his new venture.”
Deputy chairman Mike Ball added:
“I have thoroughly enjoyed working with Nick during the last 12 years. It has been a pleasure to watch him grow into the role from his start with ‘no railway’ after the terrible storm damage in 2007, just six days prior to his start date.
“Nick has managed to combine the demands of managing the business, which has expanded year on year during his time here, with the continuous need to work for the benefit of our many volunteers, without whom the railway could not operate.
The SVR’s company secretary and accountant Simon Hart added:
“Although I’ve worked with Nick for a relatively short period of his time, I’ve seen first-hand his 100% commitment levels and the dedication he has given to making a success of his role. Balancing the paid staff/volunteer dynamic is one of his success stories and it is a testament to how well he has managed this that he is equally popular with both.
"As a person, Nick has retained the human touch; always prepared to give time to anyone who wants to seek his advice or opinion. He leaves the SVR with significant cash reserves, a very different position to the one he inherited on day one in 2007. I know the SVR will miss Nick, and the paid staff in particular will miss his guidance - although perhaps not his loud shirts!”
Nick is joining the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust as chief executive officer, but will retain his connections with the SVR as a volunteer guard.
And hello to Helen Smith
Newly appointed general manager Helen Smith has been able to start in post earlier than expected, and joined us at the Railway last Wednesday (27th November). She has spent the first few days familiarising herself with the place and the people, and has been out and about meeting as many new colleagues as possible.
Helen joins us from her previous position as deputy director of the Tank Museum, Bovington.
Blow away the Christmas cobwebs
After all the excesses of Christmas, what better antidote could you wish for than a trip along the Severn Valley?
Festive season services operate between Kidderminster and Bridgnorth on 26th, 27th and 28th December.
After a day’s full closure of the line on 29th December, services resume between Bewdley and Bridgnorth between 30th December and 5th January. The closure of the line between Kidderminster and Bewdley is to allow work to commence on the restoration of Falling Sands Viaduct, our major winter (and spring!) works.
Bridgnorth now has a large car park as part of the development project, funded by the 2016 share issue, and visitors may find it a good place to start their journey. Bewdley too has car parking, for those travelling from the south.
We need your vote!
As our minds turn to the impending general election, we’d like to encourage you to elect the Severn Valley Railway as the winner! Ok, this is for another election, but we still need your vote!
Bridgnorth Station's all-new Refreshment Room is one of ten nominees for the Steam Railway Magazine Award in The Heritage Railway Association annual awards.
The competition is tough, but with your help, we can win. All the nominees have achieved something special during the last 12 months. The Refreshment Room is a fine recreation of a 1910 station building extension with the highest attention paid to detail and finish throughout the building, and it has transformed the visitor experience at our northern terminus.
This is the only HRA award decided by the public, so do please make your voice heard, and remember, voting closes on 16th December!
The awards ceremony will be in February 2020.
Historic archive donated to the 813 Fund
Last month the GWR 813 Preservation Fund received a donation from the late David Rouse’s family of a large portion of his photographic archive. David had been a preservationist since the 1960s and was principal trustee of the 2251 Fund, the owner of Collett 2251 Class 0-6-0 No 3205. This locomotive was resident on the SVR and hauled the inaugural reopening train in 1970.
Nick Baxter of the 813 Fund writes: “We’d like to thank the family for their generosity. It will take some time to go through the collection, but an early discovery is this image of GWR Dean Passenger Full Brake No. 933, thought to have been taken at the SVR. This vehicle came to the SVR in 1968 and was bequeathed to GWS at Didcot, leaving in 1976.”
EDIT: Bob Massey writes: "That photo was taken in Bewdley station car park ( I have an identical colour slide). The vehicle next to it is toplight third 3930. 933 was used as our C&W stores. It was in excellent condition having come from storage at Hockley Goods Depot in 1968".
David was based on the Longmoor Military Railway for National Service and a further undated image shows LMR 600 Gordon, now SVR-owned and residing in The Engine House at Highley.
Photographs: The late David Rouse. © Copyright the David Rouse Collection/ The GWR 813 Preservation Fund
Santa and Steam in Lights services are snapped up
This year has seen changes to the SVR’s Santa services, with departures from both Bridgnorth and Kidderminster, and Father Christmas visiting children in their seats on the train. And for the first time ever, we’re running Steam in Lights experiences. We spoke to visitor services team leader Karen Bromell, who told us:
“We’ve seen huge public interest in our Steam in Lights services, with the Friday and Saturday services selling out within 10 minutes! We even added some extra services on 30th November and 7th December, and these have all been sold.
“The new Santa experience, with Santa on the trains is clearly appealing to our customers as well, and apart from some limited availability on the weekend Santa Premiums departing from Bridgnorth, we are completely booked up. Our Carol trains and Christmas Dining trains have been sold out for some time now, and we’re heading for what promises to be a very busy December!”
Bridgnorth MPD update…..Steam in Lights
Photo: 2857 at Bridgnorth 28th November 2019. Rob Maynard
Something different this month…..Steam in Lights.
This is our new service offering, which itself presents new challenges to MPD and footplate staff on SVR. For MPD, the loco fleet is now more or less at full strength ready for the Santas and 5 days per week Steam in Lights running. Everything is available except for 1501 which is undergoing its valve & piston work. It is unlikely that we’d use 1450 or 813 on our Santa or Steam in Lights services, but they are in theory available if needed.
For loco crews Steam in Lights presents some fresh and unusual services. Firstly, all trains are top and tailed with a steam loco at each end. Whilst not completely unheard of on SVR it is not an every-day occurrence. Observant folks may have noticed that all the
LMS/BR/SR designed locos are working off Bewdley this Christmas season, whilst all the GWR origin locos are at Bridgnorth. This is not a fluke, it was arranged specifically, because GWR locos operate the brakes using ’25 inches’ of vacuum whilst all other railway companies ’21 inches’. Mixing the two on one train can cause all
sorts of complications, especially if it’s 21 at one end and 25 at the other. Hence the top and tailed services will have the same vacuum at each end.
The Lights service operates non-stop between Bridgnorth and Highley and is timed to take 35 minutes each way, with a 5-minute turnaround at Highley. This may seem generous for six and a half miles, but the Lights services must slow down to walking pace at three locations for the entire length of the train (6 carriages) in order that the passengers can see the various displays. These locations are Hampton Loade station, Sterns and Crossing cottage. The first two are relatively straightforward, but Crossing Cottage is on the Eardington Bank gradient meaning that trains have to be well managed/controlled to maintain walking pace. Usually loco crews are either coasting past downhill at line speed or making a bit of noise working hard in the other direction. Walking pace, means that the drivers going downhill are trying to gently rub the brake to maintain walking pace, whilst going up hill the lead loco is working relatively gently, hopefully not slowing down or accelerating and the driver will usually be having to work the brake ejector to maintain the 25 inches of vacuum.
All of this should be will within the capability of a steam loco driver, but, it’s very different from the usual station to station working that they are normally used to. Then there is the fact that they have a very colourful train in tow, casting strange shadows and lighting effects, plus the appearance of illuminated reindeer, foxes, cacklers and magic mushrooms (!) at the lineside. And lastly, the crew on 2857 have to contend with the distraction that their loco is illuminated with blue rope lights. Well……I said it was something different!
Martin White, Bridgnorth Shed Master.
Last month saw the return of LNER Peppercorn A1 Pacific 60163 'Tornado', the A1 Trust’s ‘new build’ locomotive, which worked passenger trains on 9th, 10th 17th and 24th November. The engine is no stranger to the SVR but a well-known machine, popular with the public.
Matt Robinson, Operations Manager, said: “Tornado operated coupled with the SVR’s teak carriage set ‘N’, including Gresley Kitchen Composite 7960 supplying additional reserved first-class seating and packed lunch hampers for passengers. Unfortunately, both 24068 (Composite Corridor Brake) and 43612 (Open Third) are currently out of service so we only have the six teak carriages from the normal set. These were bolstered by maroon M25771 (BR Corridor Second (SK)) coupled between the main set and 7960. For the first three days Tornado operated facing ‘North’ so when ‘chimney first’ it had the six teak carriages behind it before the Mark 1 carriage.”
Lewis Maddox, Marketing & Events Coordinator, added: “The appearance of this iconic machine has bolstered ticket sales and , we sold over 1500 tickets in advance for reserved seating behind Tornado (mix of normal and first class). The loco’s trains were well filled on each trip as many visitors specifically wanted to travel behind Tornado. Some seats were available to reserve in advance and initially the seat reservations loading caused a few issues, which were resolved after the first weekend. “
On 23rd November 'Tornado' departed early doors to Gloucester to work a mainline Pathfinder railtour to Shrewsbury and return, arriving from National Rail late that evening at Kidderminster and moving up to Bridgnorth ready for its SVR duties the next day! Matt continued: “For the last Sunday Tornado operated south facing. This gave photographers a different angle, but at 22.30 on Saturday night in the rain after a long day none of us wanted to turn it anyway!” As Martin White said in last month’s MPD notes, whoever thought that being mainline support crew (or indeed, SVR operations) was glamorous?
A number of contributors took photographs of the locomotive. Unfortunately, the weather was not kind, being often murky or wet during her trips on the SVR. An exception was Remembrance Sunday, as the image from Roger Smith shows. Please click on the gallery for descriptions and credits.
Thanks are due to the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, its support crews, and to the SVR staff and volunteers who helped make this happen.
The SVR gets involved in a bit of a drama