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
Happily, the drama concerned is nothing to worry about, as we’re talking about a production of The Railway Children, which is running at Kidderminster’s Rose Theatre this coming week.
Not only did the cast visit the Railway for some publicity shots, but Kidderminster station master Geoff Smith is also supporting the production by lending the theatre various heritage artefacts, such as trunks, milk churns and trolleys.
What’s more, the production’s sound designer Amy Baker (who also volunteers for the SVR Charitable Trust) made the most of her railway connections to record various heritage sound effects, all of which she’s using to bring the play to life! Click on the left for full size images.
The Railway Children runs between 2nd and 7th December, and tickets are available at www.rosetheatre.co.uk or by phoning 01562 743745.
Review of recent gala events
Just before he left his role as the SVR’s general manager, Nick Ralls gave feedback of two of the Railway’s recent events, starting with a vote of thanks to volunteers:
“I’d like to pass on the sincere thanks of the directors who fully appreciate the contribution made by so many working members in the planning and delivering key events such as the Autumn Steam Gala and the Autumn Diesel Gala.
“The four day Steam Gala had a very impressive roster of visiting locomotives this year and there was confidence that we would reach our budget of 5,850. The event was successful, just beating budget by 24 people. We did see some down turn in our secondary spend areas during the Gala which will be looked at before the next Spring Gala.
“The Autumn Diesel Gala attracted 2,427 passengers against a budget of 3,000. Unfortunately the Sunday was not as well supported as we hoped.
“In general terms the performance against budget in 2019 has been mixed, but we have had a good summer and are looking forward to a near sell-out Santa season this year, which is very pleasing considering that the Santa offer is all new.”
Photo: The unique Class 17 visited for the diesel gala, seen here at Arley on 3rd November. Matt Robinson.
Lottery players peek behind the scenes at C&W
Kidderminster Carriage & Wagon hosted a special behind-the-scenes tour on Thursday to say ‘thank you’ to National Lottery players. The event, organised by the SVR Charitable Trust, was part of national #ThanksToYou week, with free and exclusive offers taking place at hundreds of different venues across the country.
National Lottery players have helped fund over £7 million on a number of major SVR projects, including the restoration of Falling Sands Viaduct, the overhaul of 4930 ‘Hagley Hall’, and the establishment of the Charitable Trust’s Future Fund investment to help secure the Railway in the long term.
Falling Sands activities are well underway
The Falling Sands Viaduct project continues at pace. The on-site civils begin in earnest later this month, and regular behind- the-scenes meetings are taking place to ensure that the strict timetable of works will be adhered to, once boots are on the ground.
Meanwhile, things have been very busy on the activities side of the project, as Laura Hines explains:
“The second part of our school project took place in September, where pupils from Sutton Park Community Primary School spent the day at The Engine House. As well as learning lots of interesting facts from our education team, they were also able to see their artwork exhibited – do make sure to take a look next time you are at The Engine House.
“We’ve trained our oral history volunteers to record people’s memories; the first interviews are due to take place in December and will run through until early spring. Although there is a limit to the number of recordings we can make for this project, there are so many SVR memories and stories that we hope these first few recordings will just be the beginning. At the end of the project, we’ll deposit all the recordings in The Engine House archive with Peter Darkin and Rob Whale.
Photo: pupils from Sutton Park Community Primary School at The Engine House, September 2019.
“Our budding researchers had their first training session in mid-October. Over the next few weeks, they will be learning new ways to integrate an archive, including searching newspapers, census reports and other historical documents. In mid-2020, we’re planning some more general ‘one off’ sessions to provide a few top tips to anyone with an interest in local history.
“On the interpretation side, 2886 (the Stove R) has been measured up for the exhibition install in early 2020. We will continue to work closely with Ronan O’Brien and Hugh McQuade from the Carriage Works team to ensure minimum impact to the skillful restoration work by the Bridgnorth and Kidderminster volunteers. In early January, we will be looking for volunteer guides to learn about the Viaduct, the Loop Line and the history of the Stove R in order to share it with our visitors – look out for more information in the new year. “
Other activities to date include a drawing competition that took place in Brinton Park as part of the Kidderminster Arts and Food Festival – the winning entry will be turned into a postcard. Meanwhile, students at Kidderminster College are competing to design a Falling Sands Viaduct computer game. For more information and updates, please visit the dedicated website.
Everything but the kitchen sink…
As our photo shows, great progress is being made with the new wash/mess shed at Bewdley MPD, but it’s missing one very important component – a sink!
Bewdley’s James Cooper has got in touch to ask whether you might have an unwanted hand washing sink, either domestic or industrial, that you’d be willing to donate. Please contact James directly.
Autumn Special heralds a special day
On 16th November diesels 67004 and 67006 hauled a splendidly turned out Rivieria Trains' blue and grey Mark 1 and 2 set on UK Railtours' 'The Severn Valley Autumn Special' from Euston to Kidderminster Town and the Bridgnorth-Euston return.
The train (top and tailed with the Class 67s) arrived on the SVR a little after 11.30 and reversed into platform 1 at Kidderminster Town for the passengers to alight, where the Stourport-on-Severn brass band were there to greet them. An amended and augmented public timetable was in force to accommodate the Railtour passengers and the Christmas Gift Fayre at The Engine House. Passengers were able to board an 11.55 relief service steam-hauled to Bridgnorth.
In the absence of 40106 Atlantic Conveyor (see November’s Express Points) with steam-heating generator repairs, visitors had a choice of steam-hauled service trains by 6960 Raveningham Hall, 7714, 43106 and 34027 Taw Valley. 67004 in DBS red livery and 67006 Royal Sovereign Royal Train livery added colour to the occasion. Visitors could also view in the yard at Bridgnorth visiting LNER Peppercorn A1 Pacific 60163 Tornado and LMS 4-6-0 46100 Royal Scot. The day was busy, giving the feel of a ‘mixed traffic’ event rather than an end of season Saturday!
The blue and grey set gave rise to some comments; those with longer memories may recall the SVR put several Mark 1 coaches into service immediately after arrival around 1989 while still in that livery.
The railtour’s coaches were serviced at Kidderminster, cleaned and water tanks refilled. The Class 67s then took the train empty up the Valley to Bridgnorth where passengers rejoined the train for a 16.32 departure. Unlike the inbound train this did not go via the SVR’s Kidderminster Town station but joined the national network direct, taking its passengers home to Milton Keynes, Watford and Euston.
Close relationship brings Royal Scot to SVR for testing
Photo: The Royal Scot is seen at Little Rock with a test run on the 20th Nov 2019. Ian Murray
Three items of news this month show the SVR’s close co-operation with The Royal Scot Locomotive & General Trust and its group of companies.
Firstly, last month LMS No. 46100 ‘Royal Scot’ spent time at the SVR for testing following heavy repairs by London & North Western Railway Heritage Co Ltd (LNWRH), who needed to prove its refurbished and replaced bearings and accrue some trouble-free mileage before sending the locomotive out on the main line. The
testing comprised two days light engine between Bridgnorth and Highley, followed by four days of running with stock between Bridgnorth and Highley, and also incorporated some footplate crew training. Longstanding SVR volunteer driver Ian Walker, who also happens to be LNWRH’s divisional manager, supervised Royal Scot’s testing and explained why they’d brought the loco to the SVR:
“This is the ideal venue for us for a number of reasons. Not only is it close to our base at Crewe, and comes with mainline access, but we also have a good working relationship with the SVR, following Royal Scot’s previous testing here in 2015, and 70000 Britannia’s last year.”
...while ‘Ratbag’s’ stay is extended…
Back in the July and September editions we had recollections of why our seasonal visitor 6960 Raveningham Hall got its nickname of ‘Ratbag’. We now have the opportunity to make more memories!
A further example of the close relationship follows the conclusion of the temporary summer hire agreement of 6960 Raveningham Hall. Duncan Ballard, locomotive coordinator, writes:
“I’m pleased to announce that 6960 is staying on the Severn Valley Railway until 2021, at which point the locomotive’s boiler certification will have expired. We are grateful to Locomotive 6960 Ltd for negotiating this further period of operation with the SVR.”
Since returning to the line in May 2019, ‘Ratbag’ has clocked up 4118 miles in 59 steaming days – this included featuring at the highly successful Autumn Steam Gala event.
Photo: One from August, 6960 crosses Oldbury Viaduct. Ian Murray
…and to sleep, perchance to dream?
On 25th November, 47593 delivered eight Mark 3 Sleepers for temporary storage in CS1, the siding outside Kidderminster Carriage Shed, for Locomotive Services Limited (‘LSL’). This arrangement makes good commercial sense for the SVR. The storage period will be until the end of March whilst the Kidderminster - Bewdley section is closed for the Falling Sands Viaduct repair work to be completed and some of our coaching stock is stabled at the north end of the line.
The 47 also brought BR Brake Corridor Second 35451, operated by LSL as a support coach. The following day 46100 Royal Scot took to the main line with to return to Crewe with the support coach and Class 47 in tow. You can see a video of this run too, from SharposWorld.
The inbound trip seems to have caught our contributors on the hop as we haven't received any photos! This video from YouTube, however, shows the sleepers on the way to the SVR.
Editors’ note: The Royal Scot Locomotive & General Trust owns both LSL (which as Icons Of Steam operates and promotes locomotives on the mainline and heritage railways) and LNWRH (which undertakes overhauls and repairs). Locomotive 6960 Ltd and LSL are under common control. We are continuing to work with the Trust and these companies, to our mutual benefit.
A new face at Comberton Place
Lisa Palmer joined the SVR recently as sales manager. She’s responsible for the front-of-house team at Comberton Place, and on train catering. We stopped by the office to ask her a few questions.
What are your main areas of focus in terms of sales?
“My role is to focus on revenue generation, I want to promote the railway as much as possible, to encourage new visitors to our amazing attraction and to come up with offers that are interesting, cost effective and most importantly add to the bottom line. My main priorities are re-designing and launching the Corporate Partnership offering as well as the Annual Pass, amongst many others.”
What are the most exciting things about the SVR that have struck you in the short time that you’ve been here?
I have only been here a few weeks however it feels much longer! Already I have fallen in love with the Railway. The people are some of the nicest I have met in my life and I have met a few! The dedication, commitment and loyalty people have here is something else. I admire the volunteers for their tireless efforts in keeping the Railway running and I am very fortunate to have an amazing team here in Kidderminster.”
What’s surprised you about the railway?
It would have to be the amount of time and effort that goes in to keep things running, along with how much we rely on the kind nature of the volunteers. I’ve never worked anywhere before where you meet such lovely genuine people who care so much about what they do, I am truly inspired by everyone’s energy and enthusiasm and just love working here!”
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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.