January 2020

On 22nd December 7714 is working a top and tailed Santa Special up Eardington bank, with no assistance needed from 6960 Raveningham Hall at the rear. Photo: Alan Campbell

Welcome to January's Branch Lines

A very happy New Year, and welcome to the first edition of Branch Lines for 2020.  There’s lots to share with you this month, and lots to look forward to in the SVR’s 50th anniversary year since train services commenced on the line in preservation. 

 

Hands up if you’ve spotted some unusual activity taking place on top of Falling Sands Viaduct? You might have seen a flurry of hi-vis jackets and plant machinery busy at work if you happened to drive along the nearby Hoobrook link road recently.  It’s all good news, as we’ve now commenced civils work on restoring the viaduct and you can find out more in this edition.  Also, our new general manager is firmly in place, and we managed to grab a cup of coffee and five minutes to chat with Helen Smith, to get an insight into her busy and exciting new role at the Railway.  There are also restoration updates on ‘Hagley Hall’, wagon No 345, Dunrobin and GWR Collett No 6045. And spreading our net further into both time and space, we delve back into the newspaper archives to discover the extent of the Victorians’ railway mania, and we travel down under to discover a tropical heritage railway in the company of an SVR volunteer. 

 

We love to hear your views and comments on SVR-related matters, so please do get in touch by emailing branchlines@svrlive.com. And if you, or someone you know, would like to subscribe (free!) to Branch Lines, please drop us an email request at branchlines@svrlive.com. The only qualification is that you have to love the Severn Valley Railway, and that’s not too difficult, is it? 

Lesley Carr & Patrick Hearn, co-editors 

Next edition 2nd February

Civils work gets underway on Falling Sands 

Photo gallery: please click for full-size images and use the arrows to navigate.

Work is now underway in earnest on the restoration of Falling Sands Viaduct.  As many readers will already be aware, the last few days of our Festive Season services have been running between Bewdley and Bridgnorth only, as the line was closed between Kidderminster and Bewdley to allow the works to commence on the viaduct. 

On the last two days of 2019, the paid permanent way team was supplemented by more than a dozen volunteers to carry out the task of lifting the track from above the viaduct. Volunteer p/way administrator Keith Brown was one of working party:  “After a few initial problems, we got off to a great start with the job, and by the end of the first day we’d lifted more than half the track.  We completed the task the following day.  The sun was out – and that’s not something we often see when we’re starting on winter permanent way work! It was a thoroughly productive couple of days, and very satisfying to be kicking off this important restoration project.  Thanks to everyone who turned out to help.” 

The appointed contractors for the project, Walsh Construction, have now started to remove ballast from the structure of the viaduct. 

This major project is being funded by a £925,000 grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, along with almost £400,000 of donations from individuals, community organisation, companies and other grant-making bodies.  For more information and updates on the project please visit www.fallingsandsviaduct.org.uk  

 

Meet the new GM

Our new general manager Helen Smith joined us at the end of November, and has spent her first few weeks getting to grips with the intricacies of this many-faceted organisation, and meeting as many as possible of the thousands of people who make the SVR tick.  During what's been a very busy festive season, she found time to answer some of the burning questions that we wanted to ask on behalf of Branch Lines readers. 

 

Branch Lines: Helen, your arrival coincided with our busiest month - the Santa season.  What's that been like for you?  

Helen Smith: I really wanted to see the busiest month of the year in action so I could help prepare for the next year.  I made every effort to attend as many of the main events as possible so I could observe what was happening.  I’ve been impressed with the efforts put in by the whole team especially considering the changes that have been made this year.

   

BL: We understand you've already spent some time here at the sharp end of customer service? 

HS:  Yes, I worked with the on train buffet team on Christmas Eve and I fully intend to spend time working with each department over the next few months. I started my career as a team leader on the information desk at Eureka! The Museum for Children in Halifax and I worked my way up from there.  I am definitely a people person and I think it’s really important for me to gain an understanding of every aspect of the business to be able to empathise with the team, be approachable and actively listen to what people have to say.  I am quite creative and I love to problem solve but I am not the holder of all the best ideas and I think we will achieve much more working together.  I am also pretty practical and can turn my hands to most tasks and I am happy to roll up my sleeves up and get stuck in when required.  I will do anything as long as there’s Earl Grey tea!  

BL: One of the first things you've done is initiate a visitor survey.  Why, and what have you found out? 

HS: Coming from a visitor attraction background I think it is important that the decisions we make are fully informed.  At the Tank Museum we monitored all social media and used Survey Monkey to find out what our visitors thought about what we were doing so we could learn and improve.  

The visitors are the means and the ends to everything that we do, without them there wouldn’t be a Railway.  I see every visitor as a potential volunteer, donor, shareholder or advocate to tell their friends and family to visit.  Fundamentally we need to know that we are fulfilling their expectations when they visit and that they are receiving the messages about how much it costs and how important it is to preserve the Railway for future generations to enjoy.  With better intelligence on what people think about what we do, we can focus our efforts on what will make the biggest improvements for the visitor in the future. I have found out lots of things and will be distributing a presentation in due course so everyone can see the results so far! 

 

BL: How is the Railway different from the Tank Museum, Bovington, where you previously worked? 

HS: The biggest difference will no doubt be the weather, which won’t be quite as good as I have become used to in Dorset! Seriously, the differences have been the reason I applied for the job. The SVR is a bigger business with more complexity than the Tank Museum.  I am looking forward to learning more about how the business runs over the next few months.  My experience from The Tank Museum, The Fusilier Museum, Magna Science Adventure Centre and Eureka! The Museum for Children will come in handy ensuring that the SVR remains at the top of its field.  I am competitive and I want SVR to be the best it can be.  I am privileged to have such an enthusiastic team and impressive railway to work with set in stunning countryside.  I am really excited about the future. 

 

BL: Are there any similarities between the Tank Museum and the SVR? 

HS: Definitely! Both are showcasing British engineering heritage. Both are challenged with raising the money to display, preserve, operate and maintain themselves.  Both are regional tourist attractions that celebrate innovation, heritage and technology.  Both are leaders in their own fields. 

 

BL: Can you share any of the plans and ideas that you'd like to see happening at the Railway in 2020? 

HS: I think it will be important for me to maintain the areas of success that the Railway currently has in order to maintain our excellent reputation.  I will also be looking at the areas I think can be developed but I will be discussing that with the teams involved.  I would also like to look at better ways of communicating with everyone, getting volunteer and staff feedback and generally improving team work and collaboration. 

 

BL: How do usually spend Christmas and New Year? 

HS: Sometimes I’m with my family in Yorkshire, other years I see friends and occasionally I have been on holiday over Christmas.  I am a French horn player so I usually end up playing in lots of concerts over Christmas and I have missed that this year. I expect that I will be spending next Christmas with you all at the Railway and by then I will have found a band or orchestra to play with.  For those of you who haven’t met my dog Bertie, he is a miniature Schnauser and he has been coming to work with me since he was a puppy.  He is soft as a brush so feel free to come along to the office to say hello if you are a dog fan! 

 

GM pays tribute to #TeamSVR after a busy Santa season

At the culmination of a very busy and successful Santa season, which has seen significant changes to the way events have been run, general manager Helen Smith has paid tribute to staff across the SVR: 

“I have been truly impressed with how hard working and enthusiastic the team is across the Railway. Every single person I have met since I joined you a month ago has enthused about their role and the work they are doing to make SVR the success it is today. That feeling of passion and commitment to the future of the Railway is something you should all be very proud of. There are businesses out there paying consultants lots of money to try and get their teams to care about what they do and they are finding it very tough. You all have it in bucket loads!” 

Helen also commented on how the new-style events have gone down with the public:  

“As you are aware the Christmas team headed up by Diane Malyon and Lewis Maddox has introduced some well needed changes to the experiences we have been hosting at the Railway this year.  

“Steam in Lights was an innovation that [former general manager] Nick Ralls was passionate about bringing to SVR and it has been a resounding success. Visitors have really enjoyed exploring the beautiful scenery along the Railway in an explosion of colour and music. With the introduction of ‘Survey Monkey’, an online questionnaire tool, we have been proactively collecting more balanced feedback from our visitors this December rather than only relying on Trip Advisor or Facebook comments.”  

Our Santa Trains have seen dramatic changes this year too, and Helen is pleased at the way these have gone down with visitors: 

“Our totally different approach this year has been well received as we have worked our way through the teething problems. [Staff] have all pulled together and made it work! I am sure we have more suggestions of improvements that could be made next year but we are all in agreement that the grotto at Arley had to change and the new Santa experiences are working much better now!” 

Steam in Lights photo: Simon Taylor. Santa and photo used with permission.

 

A frosty day, back in the day 

SVR enthusiast Alan Campbell got in touch to share this photo of LMR 600 Gordon, looking very seasonal and undaunted by the cold. He can’t remember exactly when he took this, only that it was “early one Sunday morning. On waking up and seeing the heavy frost I dashed out taking pot luck on what locos would be moving (way before internet and SVRlive!) ready for the days Santa Specials.” 

 

Gordon was withdrawn from service in 1999, after a boiler tube blew, and it was deemed not cost-effective to repair.  It’s been on display at The Engine House, Highley since 2008, following a cosmetic repaint, awaiting its place in the overhaul queue.  In the same year, it was handed over to the SVR by the British Army. 

Photo: Alan Campbell.

 

2020 Dates for your diary 

A look back to the popular Spring Diesel Festival in May 2019. Photo: Jonathan Dunster

The SVR has a packed year of events ahead, and in this edition we take a quick look at those in the first part of the season. 

  

Back with a bang – Spring Steam Gala, 16th-19thApril  

Running in an all-new four day format, the Spring Steam Gala will see up to three star visiting engines and the launch of the Charitable Trust’s Stove-R, housing a mobile exhibition about the SVR’s early history. The move into April will allow us to run trains later in the evening and we should benefit from better weather – no snowstorms please!  

 

Little engines rule - Open House Weekend, 2nd & 3rd May

Open House Weekend moves into May, with model railways in The Engine House at Highley and Kidderminster Diesel Depot, and a number of areas to peep behind the scenes.  

 

The BIG diesel bash - Spring Diesel Festival, 14th-17th May  

The Spring Diesel Festival continues to prove popular, so with our sights firmly set on increasing passenger numbers and revenue, the event will continue into Sunday. As reported elsewhere in this edition, the first visiting loco has been announced as the 55019 Royal Highland Fusilier.  

Long live the SVR – 50th Anniversary Celebrations, 23rd-25th May  

May 23rd 1970 was the first day the SVR ran trains, and in 2020, we’ll mark this important anniversary with a commemorative event to celebrate the past, and more importantly, the future of the SVR. The event will concentrate on Bridgnorth, Eardington and Hampton Loade, and it promises to be very exciting!  

 

Bewdley buffet amended opening hours 

Assistant stationmaster Dave Phillips has asked us to pass on that Bewdley buffet will open to feed visitors and volunteers from 10.00am to 1.00pm daily. These amended times apply until train services recommence for the half-term holiday on 15th February. 

 

Dave has also shared the news that a new wood-clad building will be installed onto the plinth of the old buffet.  This is expected to be in place by the end of this month but will require electrical work before it can be used. 

 

It will replace the coach (BR Mark 1 Tourist Standard Open no. 4593) that’s currently being used as as seating for staff and the public. 

 

Restoration is rarely a short-term game 

Forty-seven years ago, Robert Smallman paid £200 for a GWR Collett bow-ended corridor composite, saving it from being cut up for scrap at Long Marston yard. The price included delivery. It came to the SVR and languished in storage for more than four decades. Recently, Robert had the pleasure of visiting coach 6045 at Kidderminster Carriage and Wagon, to see the transformation that’s taken place over the past three years, courtesy of the GW (SVR) Association, which now owns the vehicle.  

Robert’s been monitoring progress at regular intervals and was delighted to see 6045 in the very last stages of its restoration at Kidderminster. The restored bogies are being fitted, and some final adjustments being made.  Robert told us: 

“Over the past three years, I’ve marvelled at the wonderful work being done, a lot of which has taken place outside, in the open. I am very excited to see 6045 in pristine condition and would like to thank everyone who has been involved. I was simply in the right place at the right time to buy the vehicle originally, and all the kudos must go to the group volunteers who’ve produced this superb and unique coach.” 

 

Originally built at Swindon in 1928, 6045 is indeed unique, as it’s the only survivor from the 51 that were constructed. You can read the story of its £50,000+ restoration and get the latest updates at http://www.gw-svr-a.org.uk/6045-restoration.html 

 

Robert shared some further memories of his early days at the SVR with us, “I have been a member almost since the start – back then we paid 2/6 per week!  At the time I scraped together the money for 6045, we were also raising funds to buy an engine.” 

Photos: Dave Massey and Richard Herington. Click on the images to see full-screen.

 

SVR donates toys to children’s charities and Birmingham Children’s Hospital 

Last month, the Severn Valley Railway donated £4,000 worth of toys to Birmingham Children’s Hospital and a range of children’s charities across the West Midlands. The toys included a range of board games, notebooks and more. 

 

Sporting their Santa hats, the SVR’s marketing and events co-ordinator Lewis Maddox and sales manager Lisa Palmer delivered the sack-loads of toys to Birmingham Children’s Hospital, Barnardo’s, Home-Start, Crackerjacks, Acorns Children’s Hospice, Green Hill Lodge, Bewdley Baptist Church and St Michael's C of E School. 

 

Lisa explained: “Christmas is meant to be a happy, joyful time – especially for children, so we wanted to spread some festive cheer and give something back this year. All of these organisations do such amazing work and we hope that this will bring a smile to the faces of children and their families this Christmas.” 

 

Miranda Williams, Public Fundraising Manager at Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity, said: “Last year, over 180 children spent at least one night in our hospital over the festive period. That’s why we’re so grateful to Severn Valley Railway for its toy donation, as these special gifts will help make Christmas magical for our patients who are too poorly to go home.” 

Santa train charity special 

Also in early December, the Railway put on a very special event to celebrate the return of its Santa services to Bridgnorth after 40 years. More than 170 passengers enjoyed a free magical ride with Santa.  The complimentary tickets were distributed to eight different charities, including Home Start, Clic Sergeant and Barnados.  Each family had their own compartment or table, and Santa handed out gifts to all the children, along with a decoration for the family Christmas tree.  

 
 

We need your vote, again! 

Now the general election is behind us, we’d like to encourage you to elect the Severn Valley Railway! This is for another election, but we still need your vote!    

 

The SVR is one of the nominees for the Best Visitor Attraction in the ‘What's On Readers' Awards 2020’ in both the Worcestershire and Shropshire categories.  

 

Click here to vote 

 

The SVR was a runner up in 2016 and a winner in both 2017 and 2018. The competition is tough, but please nominate the SVR to be part of the top 5 shortlist which will be announced in February 2020. With your help, we can win again.

https://www.whatsonlive.co.uk/readers-awards-2020/

 

Update from the loco shed 

Bridgnorth’s volunteer shed master Martin White reports on how some rapid adjustments to the loco roster saved the day during December. 

 

“There is always a danger, when putting any sort of prediction or forecast in writing, that events will conspire against you and things will turn out differently. Last month I wrote in my monthly update that it was ‘unlikely that we’d use 1450 or 813 on our Santa or Steam in lights services, but they are in theory available if needed’. I was wrong in multiple ways! 

 

“Firstly, within hours of writing my last notes, 1450 was declared unfit for traffic. Whilst its boiler was being prepared for washout and insurance examination, one of the ESMP staff noticed some damp patches on the two large tubes that this loco is fitted with. Further, more detailed investigation by one of our boilersmiths, showed that these tubes were close to failing altogether. 

43106 on 3rd December at Trimpley Reservoir.  Photo: Keith Wilkinson

The 10-year life of the boiler on 1450 was due to expire in spring 2020, although it had been hoped that the insurance examiner might give an extension to the end of the calendar year. There was no way that this could be achieved with the large tubes in this condition and hence some quick thinking and discussion with the loco owner was required. It was agreed that the tubes should be removed, which would enable the insurance inspector to have a much better view of the current condition of the boiler, with the hope that they would approve an extension until the end of 2020 once the large tubes were replaced. Happily, this is what has happened, albeit with an absolute limit on the number of steamings that can occur this year. So, if everything goes according to plan, 1450 will be able to run until December 2020. Enjoy seeing it in action whilst you can! 

 

“813 meanwhile, had to be called upon to work some of the Bridgnorth Santa trains. At Bewdley loco depot, a broken bogie spring on 34027 ‘Taw Valley’ and a collapsing brick arch on 75069 meant there were insufficient locomotives for the requirements at the south end of the SVR. Therefore 6960 ‘Raveningham Hall’ was sent from Bridgnorth to Bewdley as a substitute. This meant that 813 was pressed into traffic at Bridgnorth in place of 6960, to work the top and tailed Santa service with 7714. However, by the end of that weekend there was a considerable blow of steam emanating from the foundation ring (the bottom of the firebox) into the ashpan of 813. More boilersmith examinations showed that some welds had failed. It was a relatively easy repair, but to access the area for repair, the ashpan had to be taken off, which itself required much of the brake rigging to be removed. Once that was done and the boiler was drained, the job was quickly completed. The boiler was refilled and successfully steam tested, and the fitting staff re-assembled the ashpan and brake gear, making the loco fit for traffic again in less than five days. 

 

“Just goes to show; don’t believe everything you read and always expect the unexpected!” 

 

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“This old broom’s had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in its time” 

Progress on Dunrobin’s boiler with the front angle ring riveted onto the barrel. Photo: Beamish Transport Online

Unseen by most, except during open days, is 'Dunrobin', a little engine in the MPD at Bridgnorth that has been on the Valley since 2012, firstly for assessment and then for contract overhaul. 

 

Neil Taylor’s notes in the Winter 2019 edition of SVR News briefly mention progress on the boiler for Sharp Stewart 0-4-4T ‘Dunrobin’. The owners at Beamish have provided a comprehensive update on progress and look ahead to developments over the next 12 – 16 months on this project.  

 

The locomotive itself has a fascinating history, being both a close relative of a Highland Railway design and a private locomotive that operated under running powers on the main line, before nationalisation put an egalitarian end to the arrangement in 1949. You can find a short summary of the locomotive on the SVR Wiki and view it at this year’s Open House Weekend on 2nd & 3rd May. 

And the reference to Trigger’s broom? Paul Jarman at Beamish comments how much of the locomotive is new metal: “Very little of the original boiler [is] left, and what components there are left over have been very heavily rebuilt […] A new cylinder block and new coupled wheels were not in the plan!”  

However, the objective at SVR has always been to produce the very highest quality and the work provided by Engineering Services team is certainly that. 

 

Waiting at Arley 

As we’ve already reported in this edition, Santa Specials have seen a totally different approach this year, one of the principal changes being at Arley which did not feature Santa’s grotto for the first time in many years.  

 

So, what to do while the trains pass through Arley? The station staff decided to use the opportunity of the longer closure to repant the waiting room. Leonard Warrington explains more: 

 

“The Station Master, Ian Latimer, put me in charge of this project. The green colour we selected is the same shade as the Stationmaster's Office and is a very close match to how it was in the 1930s. Still to do is the ceiling which will be repainted in the closed season, to finish the project.”  

 

Leonard wishes to thank Ian and all who helped. 

 

Well done the Arley team! 

Photo: Leonard Warrington

 

And the nominations are… 

Both the SVR and one of its preservation groups have been shortlisted for the Heritage Railway Association's 2020 Awards. The winners will be announced at the HRA Awards Night in London on 8th February 2020. Fingers crossed! 

Firstly, The Class 50 Alliance has been nominated for the Coiley Locomotive Engineering Award for the restoration of Class 50 no. 50033 Glorious at the SVR. The Award is for an outstanding overhaul or restoration of a locomotive. 50033 was delivered for preservation at the National Railway Museum in 1994 but delisted and sold in 2003, ending up at Tyseley Loco Works in open storage.  The C50A took Glorious on loan in February 2018 from Tyseley for an initial three-year period, and moved it to Kidderminster Diesel Depot Work for Fifty Fund volunteers to restore it to use. It returned to traffic at the Class 50 Golden Jubilee in October 2018 in mostly green undercoat, with the public invited to 'tag' the locomotive with graffiti in marker pen in exchange for a contribution towards its repaint. That repaint took place at Eastleigh in 2019 and Glorious lived up to its name in its return for the October Diesel Gala, resplendent in BR Large Logo livery. 

Please click on the images to see full-screen, descriptions and credits.

The Severn Valley Railway Charitable Trust has been nominated for the Morgan Award for Preservation for LMS 2886 Six-wheel Passenger Brake 2886. This award is made for an outstanding achievement in the restoration of carriages or rolling stock.  Withdrawn for repairs around 1975, the scale of the task became apparent and on more than one occasion work petered out. In 2009 work recommenced with the Bridgnorth Carriage and Wagon team and ownership transferred to the Rolling Stock Trust. Extensive work meant it was not completed until February 2019, finished in the ornate 1932 livery, which provided an excellent training opportunity for apprentice Ronan O’Brien.  2886 is about to be fitted out as a mobile exhibition vehicle in connection with the Falling Sands Viaduct project and will make its debut at the Spring Steam Gala in April. 

Finally, as mentioned in last month’s Branch Lines, the SVR is one of the nominees for the Steam Railway Magazine Award for Bridgnorth’s new refreshment rooms. 

Wagons roll!

The SVR Wagons team at Bewdley has outshopped ex Regent Oil Aviation Fuel Tank Wagon No 345. It was 'red carded' when inspected for the demonstration goods train in Spring 2019 due to a faulty Oleo buffer. While it was in works, the team took the opportunity to repaint it, and 345 returned to service on 17th December. The two photos show ‘before and after’ images and the usual excellent job. 

You can read about 345’s history on the SVR Wiki page. 

345’s place in the overhaul queue has been taken by 1914-built GWR Mink 93045, which is now inside the goods shed so it can dry out before painting and any repairs needed. 

Meanwhile a 'big shunt' on 30th December prepared the way for work on Falling Sands Viaduct. The wagons normally residing at Bewdley are on holiday in Arley yard 'for the duration', as this image from Graham Phillips shows.