On 26th June 50035 Ark Royal is the first loco across Falling Sands since December. Photo: Kenny Felstead
Welcome to your July edition of Branch Lines
You waited. You stayed at home. You hoped to hear some good news about the Severn Valley Railway. Now your patience has been rewarded, with the announcement that the SVR will be running public services again from Saturday 1st August. As everyone along the 16 miles of the line breathed a sigh of relief, preparations behind the scenes for reopening continued at pace, and will do so for the next four weeks.
Tickets go on sale at 11am tomorrow, Monday 6th July. Accommodation will be in compartment carriages, and for a set itinerary starting at either Kidderminster or Bridgnorth.
Yes, things are going to be different, at least for the initial period of service. Yes, it’s not going to suit everyone, be they visitors or staff. But the important thing is that we are going to reopen and we are going to generate some much-needed passenger revenue. Our article below on the SVR’s finances should leave you in no doubt of the necessity of this.
Along the whole length of the line, working members are now coming back, in a carefully managed way to ensure everyone’s safety. Huge efforts are being made to tackle the encroachment of nature on the line and at stations. The job of getting our rolling stock back into serviceable shape has already begun. Your July Branch Lines covers many of these aspects of preparation, and shows just what a fantastic team we have at the SVR.
Yesterday, Saturday 4th July, the SVR’s pubs at Kidderminster and Bridgnorth reopened. We very much hope that we will be able to welcome you back soon to travel with us, if not during the first few weeks of reopening then later in the season. After all these months of lockdown, it’s hard to believe that by the time you receive your August edition of Branch Lines, we will (fingers crossed!) be back in the game.
Please let us know your SVR-related news by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, and remember, we’ll need your contribution for the next edition by Thursday 30th July at the very latest.
Lesley Carr and Patrick Hearn, co-editors
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SVR to run daily services from 1st August!
We’re delighted to announce that the SVR is set to reopen on Saturday 1st August. It's planned that every train will be steam-hauled. Tickets for the first two weeks of August only will be released from 11am on Monday 6th July, and a decision on services after 16th August will be made in due course.
General manager Helen Smith said:
“We are hugely excited to be making this announcement after three and a half months of enforced closure because of the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve put a great deal of thought and planning into our offering and have been careful to balance the need for social distancing and other safety measures, with making sure our visitors enjoy a long-awaited and exciting day out.”
The railway will use compartment carriages to allow each group to travel separately. An all-in price of £75 per compartment will cover travel for up to six people. Two trains will depart from Kidderminster and one from Bridgnorth each morning, taking passengers the full 16 miles length of the line and back. There will be a stop-off at The Engine House Visitor Centre at Highley, and those who start their journey from Bridgnorth will also have the option of stop-offs at the Georgian town of Bewdley, and at Kidderminster with its Railway Museum. Pre-booked wheelchair accommodation is available on all services.
Visitors will be able to purchase food and drinks at Kidderminster, The Engine House at Highley, and Bridgnorth, and there’ll be a wide selection of heritage railway-related souvenirs on sale in the gift shops. The SVR’s pubs at Kidderminster and Bridgnorth will also be open.
It’s planned that each of the three daily services will be steam-hauled, and over the coming weeks the Railway’s engineers will prepare the locomotives and carriages that will be needed for service.
SVR shareholders and loyalty pass holders will receive a full discount on the £75 compartment charge, by using their pass or ID number, and SVR members will receive a discount of £7.50.
“At this early stage of reopening, things won’t be exactly the same as before, it’s true. However, we can promise our visitors the chance to get away from it all. You’ll enjoy a full day out, experiencing the thrill of heritage steam travel and you’ll have the opportunity to explore some of the other attractions of the beautiful Severn Valley. We recently carried out a survey of more than 4,500 visitors and many can’t wait to come back, so we’re expecting a large demand for tickets.
“It’s very important that the railway starts to generate some passenger income. These months of closure have had a devastating impact on our finances, and we want to make sure we have a sustainable future. Thanks to generous donations we’ve raised more than £750,000 for our Fight Back Fund, and this, together with that fact that we’re getting the railway back in steam, will help to see us through. We’re really looking forward to seeing everyone back at the SVR!”
The three SVR organisations, SVR (Holdings) Plc, the SVR Company Limited and the SVR Charitable Trust, have been working closely together to find a way through the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and have produced The Way Ahead, an explanatory leaflet that is being mailed to all members, shareholders and donors in the next few days.
For full details of travel times and itineraries, and to book tickets from 11am on Monday 6th July please visit svr.co.uk or phone 01562 757900. Pre-booking is essential and no on-the-day tickets will be available.
STOP PRESS: On Saturday 4th July 2857 and 7714, without numberplates, were test steamed at Bewdley. Matt Fielding recorded the event on his iPhone. Thanks to Matt,
Update on the SVR’s financial position
The news last month that HSBC had granted the SVR’s application for a £1.5million loan under the government-backed CBILS scheme was an immense relief to everyone connected with the Railway.
The SVR has suffered significant losses because of the ongoing closure of the line and the lack of passenger income and secondary spend. The loan means the Railway’s future has been dramatically improved, as SVR (Holdings) Plc chairman Nick Paul CBE explained:
“This gives us the breathing space we need to turn our fortunes around again. It is important to understand that the loan does not mean we can go back to how things were. To survive the next 18 months, we will need to carefully restrict expenditure. Previously planned capital projects such as the new roof, lighting and crane for the locomotive shed at Bridgnorth, and preventative maintenance for both Wribbenhall and Borle Viaducts will remain on hold.
“The loan will be interest-free for the first year, and in the event that we haven’t needed to use all of it, we will repay the remaining balance straightaway to avoid incurring charges. For the subsequent five years, we will need to make monthly payments of around £27,000 to clear the full debt, including interest. This is a significant commitment for the Railway and will have long-lasting implications.
“It’s worth sharing with you that our relationship manager at HSBC said this was one of the strongest applications they’d received as part of the CBILS scheme, and they were happy to grant the loan based solely on the documented evidence we’d submitted. Our application was clearly a strong one and this was due to the sterling efforts of our application team. I would like to give my thanks to Helen Smith (general manager), Shelagh Paterson (Charitable Trust director of development), Jack Blazier (finance apprentice), Helen Bushell (financial accounting manager) and Chris Walton (director of SVR (Holdings) Plc).
“Since the Severn Valley Railway’s earliest beginnings well over 50 years ago, we’ve seen our fair share of highs and lows, and we’ve got through them all. HSBC’s agreement to our loan application was taken at a regional rather than local level, and this speaks strongly of the SVR’s external reputation as a robust and viable business proposition with a strong future ahead of us.”
Donations continue to come in to the SVR’s Fight Back Fund which now stands at an impressive £750,000, by the far the largest amount raised by any UK heritage railway. You can donate at svrtrust.org.uk.
The SVR Charitable Trust has applied for an emergency grant of up to £250,000 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and expects to hear in the coming weeks whether this has been successful.
Fight Back appeal – groups help the SVR
In June’s Branch Lines we thanked several SVR-based groups that have contributed to the Fight Back appeal and invited others to let us know. We want to extend our thanks to two more groups who have been in touch:
1501 Pannier Tank Association, itself a charity (thank to Brian Hill for letting us know)
30742 Railtours (see this month’s article by Martin Creese)
The SVR is deeply grateful to every single person and group who has come to the rescue, to help mitigate the immediate threat to the Railway’s future.
This image by Martin Creese shows 1501 on a photo charter while visiting the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway.
We’ll drink to that!
Both of the SVR’s pubs reopened their doors yesterday, Saturday 4th July, and welcomed customers for the first time since lockdown was introduced in March. Staff at The Railwayman’s Arms at Bridgnorth and The King and Castle at Kidderminster have worked extremely hard over the last few weeks to ensure new systems are in place for safety, ordering and movement around each location.
Customers enjoyed tasty street food with their drinks on the stylish Kidderminster concourse with a range of traditional sweets and railway-related merchandise on sale in the station shop, whilst Bridgnorth platform was transformed into a beer garden, taking advantage of extra space on the platform with no train services yet in operation. Dan Shorthouse, marketing manager, celebrated the reopening:
"We've been counting down the days until our pubs could reopen. Visiting both ends of the line and seeing so many smiling faces has been superb, especially after four months of closure on the Railway. Day one for our pubs has been a huge success.
"Everyone has worked very hard to get everything in order and introduce staff to new systems, and a huge thank you must go to bar managers Kevin and Andrea at their respective pubs for their hard work and dedication. Cheers to everyone involved in getting the pubs open and the beer flowing again!"
Dan Shorthouse’s image shows the staff at The King and Castle, Kidderminster, all ready to take orders. Bill Griffiths’ image shows a happy group at the Railwayman’s Arms in Bridgnorth, the various household groupings here are distanced by 1 metre.
Tables are still available to book for food at The King and Castle for next weekend, 10th-12th July at svr.co.uk.
Harry Potter and the Hogwarts Express Promotion Train
Taw Valley in maroon? All will be made clear! This July marks the 20th anniversary of ex-SR rebuilt ‘West Country’ Pacific 34027 Taw Valley’s train to publicise the launch of the fourth book of the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Each of the stories features the ‘Hogwarts Express’, a maroon-liveried steam-hauled train which takes children and teachers to wizarding school from the magical platform 9¾ at London’s King’s Cross.
In 2000, Taw Valley was working on the main line. She was painted into maroon livery as ‘Hogwarts Express’ to publicise the Goblet of Fire, carrying author J K Rowling to book signings at stations from London to Perth in the Hogwarts Express promotion train. The tour dates were:
8th July Kings Cross-Didcot-Kidderminster-Crewe
9th July Crewe-Manchester-Bradford-York
10th July York-Newcastle-Edinburgh
11th July Edinburgh-Dunfermline-Perth-Stirling-Carlisle-Preston
On the first day the book signing was undertaken at SVR’s Kidderminster Town station, the train being brought onto SVR metals for the purpose. There is a black-and-white photo of Taw Valley in SVR News 133 with a very brief description of what was apparently a two-hour visit, but no mention of J K Rowling and nothing in the following edition! If you know more, we’d love to hear from you.
The film series followed, with the first day of filming for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone just a couple of months later, on 29th September 2000. Was Taw Valley set for fame and fortune? Unfortunately not, as West Coast Railways’ Sam Hewitt explained in the Railway Hub last year:
“Taw Valley had been discounted for the movie by the director, Chris Columbus. Warner Bros felt it was “too modern” and were looking for a more classic British steam loco. Their spokesperson added, “What the director really wants is something like this”, and pointed at a photo of a GW ‘Hall’”.
So 5972 Olton Hall was cast, and the rest is cinematic history!
Taw Valley’s association with the SVR started in August 1985 when her then owners, Bert Hitchen and Brian Cooke, moved the partially restored loco to the SVR. She entered service in June 1988 on the SVR and the following year on the mainline. After September 1992 she left the Railway, and at the time of the Hogwarts tour was not based on the SVR.
34027 returned to the SVR in 2001, acquired by long-standing SVR benefactor Phil Swallow with colleagues Nigel Barnes and Mark Younger. Phil has kindly supplied a photo of the Hogwarts Express nameplates from the tour, which remain in his family. TV did retain the maroon livery for some time, being photographed on a rail tour in December 2001.
The maroon is now long gone, and Taw Valley is currently in BR green livery. A heavy overhaul from 2006 was completed by 16th May 2015, in time to haul an incoming "British Pullman" rail tour consisting of 12 coaches and a Class 67 diesel from Bewdley to Bridgnorth.
In preservation she has disguised herself as scrapped sister engines 34022 Exmoor, 34045 Ottery St Mary and 34036 Westward Ho. In The Engine House Visitor Centre at Highley, when it reopens in August, you can see one of the overhaul plates, and name and number plates from her disguise.
Taw Valley remains an important part of the SVR fleet, and we hope will soon be hauling passengers once again through the Valley. How many will connect her with those books, and that time 20 years ago?
Taw Valley is one of the locomotives in our ‘Adopt an Engine’ scheme which supports the SVR’s Fight Back Fund.
Thanks to Phil Swallow and Robin Childs for their help in producing this item.
Click on the photos for full screen, uncropped images, descriptions and photo credits.
SVR Junior Club, the first 30 years
Thirty years ago, the SVR Junior Club was formed with a launch weekend on the 7th-8th July 1990. Sadly, the Covid-19 restrictions mean a muted celebration, although a 30+1 year celebration is being planned for next year. We asked club secretary Pat Heap to help us look back. Over to Pat...
I can hear the original members who are still with the Railway asking, “is it really that long since I first started with them?” and the answer is yes, it is.
It all came about because the LNER group thought that we should have something to encourage youngsters, so that there would always be someone to take over when the time comes, and so they organised a poster competition. As a result of its popularity, Doris Gunning, Derek Simpkiss, Roger Hobson and Jack Beaman discussed how this wider goal could be achieved. John Garth also gave a lot of support to the idea and was club president in the early days.
After many discussions, in 1990 the board gave the go-ahead for the club to be launched, and this coincided with the 25th anniversary of the SVR. A girl, who had applied to a popular BBC programme to ask if they could arrange for her to drive a steam train, was invited to perform the opening ceremony and became member number 1.
Youngsters have always left us at 14 to go on to different areas of interest In the Railway. There are some who can’t join their preferred teams at first because of age restriction, but that does not mean there are not many places that can spark their interest.
“The interest in the club is such that we tell parents to have their children’s names down by the age of nine or they may not be able to start at 11.
Although they were not amongst the original senior members of the Junior Club, Roger and Mary Jordan joined soon after the club had started and went on to be a driving force for many years, and the club has a lot to thank them for.
We needed a place that we could call our own, and Mary Jordan came up with the idea of using a coach that was not in use. One was found at Kidderminster and after some arm twisting by the then club chairman Don Wilcox, it was moved to Bewdley where it could be updated to meet our needs. This is what you see to this day. It needed a lot of work, so we must thank the willing hands that gave us our special place.
Over the years we have had many interesting people from different departments come and talk to the juniors about what they could do at a later date if that is where their interest lies, we also had some very good film and slide shows.
We have supported various charities, initially by organising a fund-raising train, and nowadays with a bi-annual sponsored walk along the track from Kidderminster to Bewdley. And over the years, there have been numerous special days out for the members on the Railway.
Fifty locomotives for SVR’s 50 years
Martin Creese is well-known as an operator of photo charters on the SVR. He has been looking back on previous charters, and counting. Take it away, Martin.
I have a vague childhood recollection of being taken to visit my uncle’s riverside cottage. What sticks in my mind more than anything else is standing on a set of crossing gates and watching a steam train go past. I would realise later that this was the crossing at Trimpley, but one thing was certain, the Severn Valley Railway had entered my life. Sundays as I grew up were often spent with an impromptu trip to Bridgnorth and a wander round the engine shed with my father.
Fast forward to 1997 and I wrote to then then general manager Alun Rees asking him if I could run a photo charter. To Alun’s great credit he wrote back with an available date and a price, and in early April 1997 ‘30742 Charters’ ran its first-ever event with Gresley K4 3442 ‘The Great Marquess’ on the LNER set. The sun shone and a magnificent day was enjoyed. The Ordnance Survey map of the area for many years featured a scene from Victoria Bridge from that day on its front cover. The photo charter organising bug had well and truly bitten.
For the SVR’s 50th anniversary of running public services in preservation, I listed the engines that have featured since 1997 - a very proud 50 engines! I included several class 50s from the 2018 ‘Fifties at fifty’ evening shoot and confess to including 70000 Britannia as it was parked up at Bewdley and featured in scenes! The honour of being the 50th engine was GWR large prairie 4144 in March 2019 which, reflecting on it, was just the perfect recreation of early nationalisation on the line, and so the perfect engine to mark the milestone.
So, what is a photo charter? To quickly explain - a loco, set of stock and the line are hired on a day the Railway is usually closed to traffic. The day is run to allow the photographers to be in the best locations, at the right time of the day for the light and run pasts allow multiple variations of the scene, or more than one opportunity to get the image right and, hopefully, to generate unique and memorable images. The cost is split between several photographers with the monies raised going to SVR-related causes. Our events for many years have benefitted 4930 Hagley Hall and, more recently, Erlestoke Manor Fund, D9551 and 82045.
The SVR has become something of a spiritual home for 30742 Charters and whilst I’ve run events on many railways, the most have been run on this rather special line. I have also been incredibly fortunate with successive railway general managers and operations managers, who along with brilliant crews have made us so welcome and brought my visions for events to life. Many of these have become firm friends and any SVR event feels like home.
Auto trains have always been a highlight, just perfect combinations not only to travel on the SVR but also to photograph. At the other end of the scale, 60163 (Tornado) and 4464 (alongside 3442) looked magnificent on the teak set. The one thing we can never control is the weather and we have enjoyed everything from snow, to storms, to rain and glorious sunshine.
The recent Covid-19 lockdown has brought all our activities to a halt, but the time was used to run an appeal to our participants, which raised £5,500. This was distributed to over thirty preserved Railways including the SVR. We also compiled a book on Blurb using images from over 40 photographers and covering the last ten years of events, in which the SVR features heavily.
Finally, I must mention Matt Fielding who has kindly helped me in running the events and of course is a charter organiser in his own right. We look forward to running an event on the Severn Valley again soon.
Click on the photos for full screen, uncropped images, descriptions and photo credits. If you would like to see images from SVR events and any of the other events we have run, have a look at 30742charters on Facebook.
Fifty posts in 50 days to celebrate 50 years of preservation at Eardington
Steve Downs and the Eardington team have been compiling a fascinating pictorial record of preservation at the station. Steve explains more.
As titles go it’s not that catchy, but it sums up what has been a fascinating project. As part of the now postponed SVR 50 celebrations, the team at Eardington hatched a plan to commemorate the ups and downs of the last 50 years via social media. The idea was to create a photographic record of half a century of preservation and to share it using Facebook and Twitter, starting on the actual anniversary day, 23rd May. As Branch Lines goes to press we’re approaching the 50th post. Over the past weeks we’ve managed to unearth some fantastic material to record happenings at Eardington since regular services started in 1970.
The first decade of SVR services was a turbulent one for Eardington, with the station going from the ‘only intermediate station’, to ‘proposed northern terminus’, to abandonment, in just a few years. Thanks to the generosity of some of the finest photographers around during that period, including David Williams and David Cooke, we’ve been able to document the changes using some fantastic images. As well as photographs, we’ve been able to collect information and stories from the period. For instance, Martin White passed on what is probably the most complete record of the ill-fated loop, which along with David Cooke’s photos paint a fascinating picture of the time.
The images we’ve been posting have come from a variety of sources, very often with no details of date or photographer. We have had photos left behind the bar at Bridgnorth (people know where to find us!) or handed to members of staff at galas, some have been bought on eBay, and others found on the internet, as well as those which have come from known sources. Thanks to help from David Williams and Tony Bending we’ve been able to date and credit some of the mystery photos in the collection.
As well as happenings in the distant past, we’ve also featured the activities of the present team as we move chronologically through 50 years. For instance, Eardington is the only oil-lit station on the SVR, and recent posts have recorded this.
If you’d like to take a look, search for the new Eardington Station Facebook page and or Eardington Station Twitter (@Eardingtonstn). And if you have any interesting Eardington images, please get in touch with email@example.com!
Click on the photos for full screen, uncropped images, descriptions and photo credits.
AGM dates for your diary
The Severn Valley Railway (Holdings) Plc Annual General Meeting will take place on Saturday 12th September by proxy only, due to Covid-19 restrictions. Full details will be posted to all shareholders in due course. The Plc is the public company that owns the Railway’s infrastructure, operates the trains and runs its pubs, refreshment rooms and The Engine House.
Applications to stand as a director are invited from all. The UK Corporate Governance Code recommends a pipeline promoting “diversity of gender, social and ethnic backgrounds, cognitive and personal strengths”. Anyone wanting to stand must be a shareholder and should contact firstname.lastname@example.org with the following:
Notice in writing by a proposer (who also must be a shareholder) of his/her intention to propose the candidate for election; and
The candidate’s notice in writing of his/her willingness to be elected, signed by the candidate; and
The candidate’s address and CV of approximately 200 words to be distributed with the notice.
These must be received between 17th July and 7th August. The minimum shareholding required of a director is £250 in their sole name.
Also, due to the uncertainty arising from the coronavirus pandemic, the Severn Valley Railway Company’s 52nd Annual General Meeting has been postponed. It is proposed, subject to whatever restrictions might still be in force, to hold it on Saturday, 10th October. Members will be notified of the arrangements nearer the time. The Company is the SVR’s membership arm and provides the volunteers who help to operate the Railway.
There is currently a vacancy on the board, following the resignation of Duncan Chandler back in March. The board are looking to co-opt a director to fill this vacancy, ideally someone with good IT/social media skills and knowledge in order to continue to drive improvements in the area of members’/working members’ communications. The person co-opted will be subject to ratification at the AGM.
Board meetings are held monthly at Kidderminster (in normal times), currently by conference call, on Friday evenings with a 7.00 pm start. There are four sub-committees reporting to the Board which meet regularly, and participation in one of these is also expected of the successful applicant. Each sub-committee covers one of the following areas: staffing; presentation; finance; and communications.
Any other member wishing to be considered for co-option should submit a written nomination (maximum 200 words) signed by both the proposer and the nominee. It should be received by Friday 24th July 2020 and should be sent in a secure envelope, clearly marked ‘SVRG Nomination’, to the SVR Company Secretary, David Mellor, 3 Frederick Road, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, B73 5QW.
You’d ‘Arley’ recognise the place!
Assistant station master Catherine Martin writes from Arley, where volunteer staff have been ready and willing to pitch in and get the station in good shape for reopening.
During the long and often difficult months during the stricter lockdown for Covid-19, all we could do at Arley was keep in touch with staff, check everyone was OK, and keep folks’ spirits up whilst praying that everyone would remain safe and well.
In the run-up to when we thought we’d be allowed to reopen to small groups of volunteers, Ian Latimer and I spent many hours working on plans and sifting through paperwork. We worried about how to get people back safely, and wondered if they would even want to return to volunteer.
Now a few short weeks later we can honestly say it was all worth it. The response has been terrific from right across our wonderful staff! A huge and heartfelt thank you to everyone who has taken on board all the rules and safety precautions, and worked with us as we slowly and cautiously get back to work.
I can’t keep up with the quite remarkable turn-around and huge effort that has been put in by everyone. The grass was above my knees; the whole station looked like it was a long-forgotten victim of the Beeching-axed era, and we thought it might take months to return Arley to its former glory. Now, from some of the photos here you will see that Arley is quite quickly returning to be, what we believe, the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the SVR.
Click on the photos for full screen, uncropped images, descriptions and photo credits. Thank you to everyone, and we all look forward to a time when we can share our station once more with all staff and visitors. In the meantime we’ll provide more photos and updates next month!
Bridgnorth looks its best for the reopening of The Railwayman’s Arms
As soon as the go-ahead was given to restart after the long closure, all-day working parties resumed at Bridgnorth station, to ensure it would look its best for reopening of The Railwayman’s Arms yesterday, Saturday 4th July. The working parties were held each Tuesday and Saturday from 9th June, under the supervision of station master Chris Thomas.
Volunteer Sue Thomas told Branch Lines, “We have had a good turnout with between eight and 12 people at the sessions. We’ve been careful to ensure compliance with all regulations in force. Everyone has completed Covid-19 training and presented a completion certificate. We also welcomed a new volunteer, Tony Ashling.”
A priority has been preparing for the reopening of the Railwayman’s Arms. Chris Thomas explained:
“Benches and tables have been rearranged to provide maximum seating and two marquees erected for use by outdoor bar patrons. Clearing and levelling the car park outside the bar allows for temporary use as beer garden, and we’ve moved planters to form a barrier to separate car parking from the pedestrian area. Decoration within the bar has been patched up where there had been damp ingress and there’s been some painting in bar lobby. In the ladies’ and gents’ toilets, all cisterns were flushed, the hot water systems run at 60C+, then reset to normal temperature.”
Meanwhile volunteers have held a delayed spring clean. Again, much work has been undertaken to repair, fill and repaint life-expired windows. Further paint has gone on the canopy, station doors, blackboards, signage, rain guttering and downpipes. Other work included the never-ending task of bench refurbishment. More mundane work involving weed clearance and putting hanging baskets in place under canopy. The work has greatly improved the ‘cared for’ feel of the public realm.
Chris added, “Station improvements have not been forgotten either with cable trenches dug and ducting installed for two more lamp posts. The miniature CCTV has been relocated, the latter saving £500 from the estimate.”
Twice weekly sessions will continue. If you’d like to join the happy crew, please contact Chris Thomas. Thanks to Sue Thomas for the enclosed photos of the work, and to all the Bridgnorth station volunteers.
Click on the photos for full screen, uncropped images, descriptions and photo credits.
Getting back on track at Foley Park and Falling Sands
In April’s Branch Lines we left you with the tantalising vision of just six panels of track to relay to connect Kidderminster to the new turnout at Foley Park. Then the permanent way paid staff were furloughed and volunteers instructed to withdraw. And so, the ‘winter works’ halted with a significant amount of work required to complete the project to reconnect the Railway, encompassing relaid track across Falling Sands Viaduct, relaid track from Bewdley tunnel and a new ground frame at Foley Park, plus associated signalling.
As lockdown began to ease, works restarted in the week of 19th June in accordance with distancing and other restrictions. The last rail went in on 25th June in very hot weather, as Brent Cleeton’s photo shows. On 26th June 50035 ‘Ark Royal’ became the first train across Falling Sands Viaduct since December, albeit a movement at walking pace over some very roughly laid track, delivering S&T equipment for Foley Park ground frame.
Subsequently Ark Royal and 33108 have since shared duties on ballast, works and stock movement trains. A remarkable run (after dark unfortunately) involved the ‘33’ taking 19 coaches from Bewdley to Kidderminster for maintenance and reforming into compartment sets for reopening. Other trains have involved positioning of equipment for works at Sterns (see separate article).
The SVR’s infrastructure manager, Chris Bond explained, “The section between the new Foley Park ground frame and the up home signals has been relaid as jointed track and the S&T will be working on this in the weeks to come to install the bonding between the joints to allow electrical continuity for the track circuiting system.
“Additional track relaying is now also to take place between the Foley Park ground frame and the Stourport Road bridge. This section will be started next week (commencing 6th July) and will be welded.”
Between now and the start of services in four weeks’ time will be much ballasting, welding and S&T work. Thanks to all in the PWay, S&T, Diesel and Ops teams for a terrific effort!
Our furry ‘friends’ at Falling Sands Viaduct
Following our report last month that bats had been sighted under one of the arches at Falling Sands Viaduct, work halted pending a series of surveys by Worcestershire Wildlife Trust.
Infrastructure manager Chris Bond told us:
“The bat report has identified a number of bat roosts in several arches of the viaduct. Our ecological consultants are applying for a licence from Natural England to allow work to be carried out on the viaduct arches affected, under supervision from an ecological clerk of works. In the meantime we are discussing with the contractor when they will be able to remobilise the site to work on the unaffected arches.
“The upside is that we don’t believe that the presence of bats on the underside of the structure will prevent us from running trains at any point.”
Remedial work underway at Sterns
We have been reporting for some months on the land movements at two locations on the line. Infrastructure manager, Chris Bond, gives us an update.
At Sterns, the latest readings from the boreholes show that the movement has slowed significantly, probably due to the prolonged dry weather throughout April and May. We are proceeding with a drainage scheme to take water from the wooded area to the west at Sterns into our drainage ditch, and thence to the river. This will reduce the amount of water going into the ground and ‘lubricating’ the slip plane, which hopefully will reduce the movement to an acceptable level. The SVR has agreed a price with Walsh Construction to install the drainage network in the wooded area to the west of the line and has also agreed permissions with the landowner. Plant and machinery have been moved to the site. Contractors have started tree clearance, in preparation for the excavation of the drainage trench this coming week, commencing 6th July.
The SVR are planning to provide logistical support with an engineering train that will export the excavated material and import the stone to create the drains. The programme for the scheme is extremely tight so let’s hope for good weather so that the job completes in time for the re-opening.
At Alveley Woods we haven’t yet started remedial works. The movement is still taking place, albeit at a slower rate than earlier in the year. A small-scale drainage scheme to do more or less the same job as at Sterns is required and negotiations are taking place with the landowner to arrange this. The second part of the remedial scheme will involve the use of the soil nailing technique that was used at County Boundary, along with removal of part of the track bed’s ash base, which will be replaced by more robust imported material. This will probably take place in January to February 2021.
Both sites will require track fettling before passenger trains recommence and of course will be closely monitored especially when the weather worsens towards the winter. We are also working with our insurers to determine what will or will not be covered.
Photo: 50035 Ark Royal delivers a third digger to site on 29th June. Matt Robinson
Sweeping, shovelling and tidying – the first steps to the SVR’s return
Shed master Martin White reports from Bridgnorth motive power depot where some of our early returning volunteers have been tackling the less-than-glamorous tasks that are the key to getting us back up and running. Check out the first of the SVR’s behind-the-scenes preparation videos, filmed recently at Bridgnorth MPD, and showing some of work that’s been taking place there. Please also click on the photos for full screen, uncropped images, descriptions and photo credits.
Towards the end of March, with the Covid-19 lockdown tumbling down upon us, the serviceable steam locos were put into storage at Bewdley and Bridgnorth, and the majority of the loco engineering staff at Bridgnorth were put on furlough. Any tools and equipment which normally reside outside in the loco yard at Bridgnorth were hurriedly dumped in between the locos inside the locked workshops.
And that was how it stayed until the middle of June. The behind-the-scenes planning had determined a date of 1st August as the target for the resumption of steam-hauled services, with a number of test services planned to take place, during the week of 25th July. It was estimated that three weeks of work would be required to awaken the locos from their ‘hibernation’; to inspect them, test them, carry out any repairs and sign them off as fit to run again. So, working backwards that brought us to more or less the beginning of July as a date for the paid staff to resume work. But that assumed that the loco shed and works would be ready for their return.
To ensure everything was good to go, Bridgnorth loco shed reopened to volunteers on 20th June, a little later than some of the SVR station maintenance gangs. Almost perversely, those folks who had volunteered to attend in the shed and yard on this, and subsequent days, barely touched a loco! There was far too much housekeeping to do. Tidying, broom-pushing, shovelling, emptying loco pits and rubbish bins. They put up new signage, such as ‘Keep Your Social Distance’, they pulled up weeds, that had managed to grow in places they normally don’t, undisturbed by locos, by steam from cylinder drain cocks, or by the tramping of shed staff feet. They cleared out sticky points in the loco yard, and some intrepid souls tightened up some loose fishplates that somehow had become much more noticeable, having had nothing run over them for a few months.
During the next weekend, the firewood pile was replenished, with grateful thanks to one of our regular volunteers who not only had a good supply of scrap wood, but a vehicle with which to move it. And there was some coal to shift. You can’t test steam locos without these raw materials to make a fire! And all the stuff dumped inside the shed back in March was brought out into the loco yard and put back where it normally belongs.
Simple and mundane tasks, but all done with gusto and with a smile on the faces of those who undertook them. They had missed the place during their enforced absence, which I am sure is common amongst us all, no matter what we do or where we do it along the SVR.
So, when you see an SVR train again in early August, spare a thought for the folks who ‘pushed the broom’, whether that be on a station platform, inside the loco shed or anywhere else. Thanks are due to all our volunteers.
Imitation is the best form of flattery
Stewart Clark has been in touch to comment on the title of Branch Lines. Stewart is a former chairman of the now closed London and South East branch which was formed in Tonbridge in Kent in 1971, before moving to London in late 1974. He advises the use of Branch Lines as a title is not the first example in the history of the preserved SVR! Over to Stewart:
At the time I joined, the branch met at Brunswick House in Vauxhall at what was then Brunswick British Railways Staff Association Club. Alone in the area, the building still stands. My second attendance was to hear former SVR general manager Michael Draper, causing me to become a regular and in time chairman for a period.
Dave Baker and Rene Skeats (pictured) were the motivators of the branch and it was always a pleasure to receive the monthly edition of Branch Lines as a reminder of the oncoming meeting. For years Dave was editor with Rene helping, no doubt sharing the task of winding the foolscap pages through a succession of duplicators until the last failed, well into the time when more advanced methods of production were available.
Beaten at last by the non-availability of 'skins' Dave was persuaded to use a PC and even worse I expect, A4 instead of foolscap. This process continued for all but the last year of the branch when Mick Willis took over after Dave had been taken ill during a journey to Southend in support of SVR. The total number of issues was 391 - more than 32 years, with never a press day missed. During a postal strike, the issue was hand delivered by the committee!
The railwaymen's association sold Brunswick House in 2002 and the branch latterly met at The Bishop’s Finger pub in West Smithfield, London. With Rene passing earlier, Dave now too ill to travel, and the branch declining as members retired from central London employment, Mick took on the task for a year of controlled decline until the last meeting at Christmas 2014.
Dave now lives quietly in north London. He is on record as saying that he only missed one meeting, although in fact he was merely late for it because he’d been present a slide show about the SVR earlier in the afternoon! By way of tribute, and on behalf of others, I would wish to thank him for all the years of service he devoted to the Railway, in the same tradition that has seen our Railway prosper for so many years.”
The branch had raised several thousand pounds for SVR and at the time of closure the shares record at Companies House shows the branch had 15,000 shares in the SVR. It donated to many of the funds caring for locos and coaches, a last activity being the transfer of its interest in one of the Kidderminster diesel shunters.
Note from Lesley and Patrick: we’re delighted to learn that the latest version of Branch Lines follows such an esteemed forebear
Three new ASMs for Bridgnorth
Bridgnorth station master, Chris Thomas, has announced the appointment of three assistant station masters.
John Lefley joined the SVR following his retirement as a director of Volvo UK and has been a valued and regular member of platform staff for more than ten years. His expertise in public speaking and public relations has been evident over this time and his lifelong involvement in the Caravan Club provides helpful tourism experience to the station team.
Chris Murr is a local resident and has grown up with us through school and university. Chris is one of those who started in the Junior Club (see Pat Heap’s article in this edition of Branch Lines.)
Chris works as an area maintenance engineer with Bridgnorth Aluminium, and his other hobby is taekwondo where he is described as 'dedicated, loyal and humble'. We would add that he has a great sense of humour, which is essential with some of our customers!
Tony Fielding works at HM Land Registry and has always been interested in railways. He joined us in 2013 as he enjoys the variety of work at Bridgnorth. His attention to detail means he always makes sure the dog water bowls are filled in summer and there’s a fire in the waiting room in the winter. He juggles his SVR duties with 19th century redcoat re-enactment (‘Coldstream Guards 1815’) and tries not to get them mixed up.
John and Chris will be leading on training and procedures, to help ensure all our platform team carry out their duties to the standards expected by our visitors, and Tony will be leading on special events planning and organisation.
Welcome John, Chris and Tony, to your new roles!
New mainline station building at Kidderminster
The new glass-fronted Kidderminster Railway National Rail station building came into use on 7th June. Work however continued through June on the forecourt, drop-off, taxi and disabled parking areas. When visitors are again able to use West Midlands Railway or Chiltern services to visit the Severn Valley Railway, they will use a building that is double the size of the old one with improved facilities, reflecting its role as the second busiest station in Worcestershire, with nearly two million passengers a year.
There was no opening ceremony due to Covid-19 restrictions, although Worcestershire County Council hope to hold an official opening when restrictions allow.
This is the third 'permanent' station on the site following two early timber structures. The first, a mock Tudor design, opened in 1852 as part of the Evesham to Stourbridge section of the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway. Due to dry rot, British Rail replaced it with a brick building in 1968. This in turn was demolished in 2019 to make way for the new building.
The latest incarnation does however mean that the adjacent SVR Kidderminster Town station is no longer the ‘new’ station! Our building was constructed from 1984 and modelled on GWR’s Ross-on-Wye building. Its Victorian design belied the fact that it was more than 15 years younger than its BR compatriot on the main line!
Click on the photos for full screen, uncropped images, descriptions and photo credits.
SVR volunteer ‘moonlights’ down under
We were intrigued when an email dropped into our inbox the other day from the Puffing Billy Railway in Australia. Their lineside attractions assistant manager Ben van der Linde was keen to share some news that’s relevant to the SVR:
“We’re very lucky to have the volunteer services of Bob Heath at our railway here in Victoria, and we know that Bob also volunteers at the Severn Valley. He and his wife Jeanette spend UK winter months in Melbourne where the weather is a bit warmer. During his time here Bob has contributed a significant amount of volunteer time to the Puffing Billy Railway. Much of this time has been towards the construction of our new museum, part of the lineside attractions department. He’s also contributed to lineside clearing and is a regular fireman on the locomotives.
In true heritage railway tradition, Ben wears more than one hat, and is also president of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society. He added:
“Last year Bob was nominated for and awarded our highest honour, a Gold Pass for Meritorious Service. The photo shows Bob receiving his award at Menzies Creek station. We cannot speak highly enough of the work Bob has performed and value the friendship we have built over the years he has visited.”
Bob has volunteered at the SVR since 1997, and has passed through the ranks to become a steam driver, 08 driver, JCB driver and duty shed master. Along with other volunteers he’s initiated and managed numerous projects, such as enlarging the coal storage area, building a compound for the ash, and creating much-needed level land with concrete sleeper retaining walls.
Bob and Jeanette are still in Australia, so all we can say is please don’t forget the SVR – it will be great to have you back here!
Click on the photos for full screen, uncropped images, descriptions and photo credits.
The defibrillator at Bridgnorth station
Safety Committee chairman Martin White has provided an update on the defibrillator at Bridgnorth station.
This has been installed in its proprietary cupboard on the back wall of the signal box, accessible from the car park and is ready for use. It is secured against unauthorised use by a keypad, access is gained by keying in the code and turning the handle downwards. Like all publicly accessible defibrillators, the instructions to access the device are shown on the cabinet.
Simply call 999, to speak to the emergency services and quote the cabinet number/post code shown on the front of the cabinet. The ambulance service will provide the access code to open the door.
If the machine is used it is important that its use is reported please so that it can be checked, and any supplies replaced.
V1 4th July 2020
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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.