Work started on Falling Sands Viaduct on 30th December with removal of track by SVR teams. See the article below.
Photo: Matt Robinson
Welcome to your latest edition of Express Points!
Welcome to your first Express Points for 2020, packed with news from across the SVR.
If you happen to have driven recently along the Hoobrook link road in Kidderminster, you may well have spotted some activity taking place on top of Falling Sands Viaduct. Yes, the much-anticipated start of civils work on the viaduct’s restoration is now underway! We’ve also managed to grab a cup of coffee and five minutes with Helen Smith, the new general manager, and are delighted to bring you an insight into her busy and exciting new role at the Railway. We have 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.
Please let us know what’s going on in your part of the SVR. Your news is important, and others want to hear it! Please email us at email@example.com, and please do include a photograph. The deadline for inclusion in our February edition is Thursday 30th January.
Each month we have a draw for a £20 voucher to spend on the Railway, and because it’s Christmas, this month there are four winners. Check to see if you’re one of them here.
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Lesley Carr and Patrick Hearn, co-editors
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Civils work gets underway on Falling Sands
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
Photos: Frankie Spickernell
GM pays tribute to #TeamSVR after a busy Santa season
Top image used with permission.
Below photo: an atmospheric image of Steam in Lights from 13th December. Credit: Simon Taylor.
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!”
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 Express Points readers.
Express Points: 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.
EP: 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!
EP: 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!
EP: 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.
EP: 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.
EP: 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.
EP: 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!
First visitor announced for Spring Diesel Gala
The Deltic Preservation Society has announced that 55019 Royal Highland Fusilier will be making a return appearance at the SVR. The locomotive will be one of the stars at the Spring Diesel Festival from 14th - 17th May, which will see four days of visiting heritage and modern diesel locomotives, home-fleet action, evening running and one or two surprises. Further visitors will be announced in the coming weeks. Chairman of the SVR Diesel Committee Jonathan Dunster commented:
“‘19’ is no stranger to the SVR and this will be its ninth visit. Most recently this ever-popular Deltic participated in the 2018 and 2019 Diesel Festivals. It is one of seven Deltics to visit the line in preservation.
“Royal Highland Fusilier will also be operating the usual highly successful Diesel Footplate Experience days, please see keep an eye on the SVR website for bookings as numbers are limited and are quick to sell out.
“We anticipate ‘19’ will also operate some normal service day operations and are grateful to the DPS for use of this locomotive.”
Photo: 55019 visiting the SVR in 2014.
Another milestone in the restoration of 4930 Hagley Hall
On 3rd December volunteers and paid staff lifted 4930's brand new cylinders into their final position on the locomotive frames.
As the Friends of Locomotive Hagley Hall celebrated this significant milestone, Andy Sweet told us:
“Following a delay in the production of valve liners we decided to reunite the cylinders with the frames before we fit the valve liners, to avoid delay in other areas of 4930’s restoration. The valve liners will now be fitted in situ when they become available. Earlier machining of the back faces should still ensure facilitate easier fitting of the valve liners.
“Meanwhile staff, volunteers and outside contractors have continued the refurbishment and replacement of many smaller, but still vital components.”
The new cylinder blocks were needed because 4930's original cylinder blocks were found to be beyond economic repair. Volunteer engineering co-ordinator Martin White explains: "No patterns or drawings survived, but fortunately we made contact with a local design engineer, Stafford Road Design Ltd., who managed to reverse engineer the new cylinder blocks."
The Friends of Locomotive Hagley Hall have raised over £115,000 towards the overhaul, and are now fully integrated into The Severn Valley Railway Charitable Trust. The Trust’s Shelagh Paterson added:
“Thanks to the ongoing generosity of many members, shareholders and supporters we’ve been able to help make sure the overhaul of the SVR’s flagship loco continues apace, for a planned return to steam later this year. We are also very grateful to The National Lottery Heritage Fund for their earlier grant of £95,000.”
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. 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 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.
Also, the Severn Valley Railway Charitable Trust's LMS 2886 six-wheeled passenger brake has been nominated for the Morgan Award for Preservation. 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 Express Points, the SVR is one of the nominees for the Steam Railway Magazine Award for Bridgnorth’s new refreshment rooms.
Photo: Ian Murray
3 photos from Ronan O'Brien, click on the gallery to show full-size images and the arrows to move to the next image.
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.
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.
SVR donates toys to children’s charities and 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
Continuing the charity theme, 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.
Update from the loco shed
Photo: Rob Green. 43106 heads for Kidderminster with a 'Christmas Cracker' train on 11th December
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. 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!”
1970 and all that….
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the reopening of the Severn Valley line, with trains commencing operation between Bridgnorth and Hampton Loade in May 1970. The Railway will be celebrating this momentous occasion later in the year.
But this month sees another important 50th anniversary. British Rail (as by then it was) ran the remaining passenger services from Bewdley. On 3rd January 1970 passenger services were withdrawn between Bewdley and Kidderminster over the loop line, along with the last passenger trains on the original Severn Valley line from Bewdley to Stourport and Hartlebury.
Although passenger services ended, goods continued between Kidderminster and British Sugar Corporation sidings at Foley Park and between Hartlebury and Stourport Power for coal, Bewdley then lacked regular traffic, as this 1970 image from David Cooke shows.
Bewdley again saw regular passenger trains in 1974 with SVR services from Bridgnorth, though it was another decade before regular services resumed southwards from Bewdley to reach Kidderminster.
Regent Oil & Texaco 345 Aviation Fuel Tank Wagon No. 345.
Above: at Arley, April 2017. Photo Robin Childs
Below: following repainting at Bewdley, 14th December 2019. Photo Graham Phillips
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.
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 credit: Alan Campbell
John Whitcomb In mid-December, we received the very sad news of the untimely passing of John Whitcomb. John, as many will know, has been involved in numerous projects, primarily concerned with all aspects of rolling stock preservation, since becoming a volunteer over 50 years ago. His constant presence on the Railway during this period demonstrated his total commitment to the many tasks placed before him. We offer sincere condolences to his sister Brenda. His funeral will be held at Wyre Forest Crematorium (DY13 8DE) on Friday 24th January at 11.30 am, followed by a celebration of his life at Stourport Manor Hotel. Brenda looks forward to meeting all his friends and requests that those intending to join the celebration should please notify Dave Kilner of their interest, in order to assist with planning the event. Barry Moreton, VLO.
John Wood-Smith News reached us shortly before Christmas that John Wood-Smith had passed away after a long illness. John joined the Railway as a volunteer many years ago, primarily to work in the administrative offices, at the time situated at Bewdley. Although involved in with most departments he was primarily concerned with assisting former marketing manager John Leach.
The funeral will be held at Wyre Forest Crematorium (DY13 8DE) on Tuesday 7th January at 11.30 am. It is hoped that the many friends John made during his time with us will be able to join the ceremony. Barry Moreton, VLO
“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 credit: Beamish
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 the Sharp Stewart 0-4-4T locomotive. 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.
Bewdley buffet amended opening hours
Assistant stationmaster Dave Phillips has asked us to pass on that Bewdley buffet will open to feed volunteers (and any visitors) from 10.00am to 1.00pm daily.
These amended times apply until train services recommence for the February half-term holiday.
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 that’s currently being used as a buffet.
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.”
Above: Robert Smallman with 6045. Credit: Dave Massey
Right: 6045 outside Carriage & Wagon. Credit: Richard Herington
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 repaint 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
Totally tropical – a visit to Australia’s Kuranda railway
14 photos from Bob Mitchell, click on the gallery to show full-size images and the arrows to move to the next image.
SVR volunteer gardener Bob Mitchell can usually be found tending the plants at Kidderminster station and in the commemorative garden at Highley. Recently he visited the Kuranda railway in Queensland, Australia, and shares this account of his amazing experience.
"A trip on this heritage railway gets more breathtaking with every 50m you climb, eventually reaching the tropical rainforest station of Kuranda, 327m above sea level, and the recipient of 60 inches of rain a year.
"Michael Portillo gave a succinct explanation of the railway’s origins during his recent Great Australian Railway Journeys TV series:
“The Kuranda is described as a Scenic Railway but when it was built in 1891 it wasn’t with a view of being spectacular. If the engineers braved the hostile terrain and the appalling climate it was because the railway was needed. There is a danger we look back now on this enormous engineering feats and regard it as purely picturesque.”
"Today’s railway engineers would shy away from the prospect of building such a railway; 23 people lost their lives in its construction, with many buried on the trackside or even under the track itself. The fatalities were caused through explosions, skull fractures, falls into the deep gorges and snake bites.
"In 1873 the cry of ‘gold’ echoed through the mountains, but the supply routes were slow and perilous. In 1882 a devastating wet season brought misery. Impassable supply routes left thousands of people close to starvation. A reliable supply route had to be found. Construction began in 1886 on one of the most ambitious railway projects ever undertaken, and in June 1891 the Cairns - Kuranda Railway line was opened.
"The journey begins at Cairns Station on a train of 15 carriages pulled by two 1720 class locomotives. It’s a steady climb up the Barron Gorge, and around the impressive Horseshoe Bend, a 180 degree bend with a five chain (100.58m) radius curve. After this, the climb gets steeper.
"There’s a series of 15 hand-carved tunnels. One of these hit the news in 1973. In what sounds like a tale from the American wild west, masked bandits held up a railmotor here as it transferred wages to businesses in the Tablelands. The robbers escaped on trail bikes and have never been brought to justice.
"The railway becomes more spectacular as you approach Stoney Creek Falls bridge, the most outstanding feature of the railway line. The iron lattice construction was completed in the mid-1890s and stands on three trestle piers.
"Shortly after the Barron Gorge Hydro Electric Station, Australia’s first underground power station, are the impressive Barron Falls, with a drop of 265 metres.
"The end of the line is the picturesque and heritage-listed Kuranda station, constructed in 1915. I can wholeheartedly recommend the ‘old world’ ambiance amongst the station’s tropical gardens and outside patio. As the volunteer gardener at Kidderminster Station I would have given anything to transport the lush green vegetation and exotic plants to my station. Sadly the weather on the Severn Valley Railway would not sustain the exquisite plants of Kuranda!"
DMU anniversary in 2020
2020 marks 30 years since the DMU arrived at the Severn Valley Railway! The first two cars, M51941 and M52064 arrived from Doncaster via Tyseley in October 1990, initially on loan from BR’s Regional Railways. We spoke to DMU Group West Midlands volunteer Mark Miller who told us:
“We hope a three-car unit will be back in use by mid-2020 to celebrate our 30th anniversary year. We have some interesting plans currently in planning stages for later in 2020 – watch this space!
“The DMU vehicles have been undergoing bogie refurbishment at Kidderminster Carriage and Wagon works. Good news is that car M52064 has now been completed and has moved under its own power for the first time in a number of months, and it returned to Bewdley on 29th December.”
Unfortunately works have been slowed by other issues. The next vehicle to be worked on will be M51941 with work likely to start between February and April. Mark added: “we’d like to thank both the staff at Kidderminster Carriage and Wagon and members of the DMU Group for their continued hard work on our unit.”
Photo: Kenny Felstead's image of the DMU vehicles at Kidderminster on 18th December.
Disappointingly, in the absence of a working unit for the main season the Group’s signature Evening Scenic Specials will not be worked by DMU vehicles in 2020.
You can keep up to date with the Group’s activities on the Blue Square Blog
New faces at the SVR
Chris Bond has announced two new faces to the SVR team.
Firstly, Steven Caws is joining as Permanent Way Team Leader. Steven will effectively become the head of the PW department, reporting to Chris as the infrastructure manager.
Chris told us: Steven has previous involvement as a volunteer at both the Mid-Hants and IOW railways. He comes to the SVR from the Gwilli Railway where he was the responsible officer for locomotives and track. He is looking forward to working with his new colleagues to improve all matters related to the SVR’s track assets."
Steven will be introducing himself to volunteers as he familiarises himself with the workings to the SVR. Chris added: "I hope we will all support Steven in his endeavours to improve and expand the PW department."
The second is Ian Smith, our new fire safety officer.
Ian is based in the West Midlands Fire Service HQ, and in 23 years has served at all ranks from firefighter through to station commander. He succeeds Mel Cook.
Ian told us: "I’m very much looking forward to joining the SVR team and eager to meet you all in person. I hope to continue the great work that Mel has been undertaking for many years and please say hi if you see me at one of the sites over the new year. If you have any fire safety questions or queries, please do send me an email."
Chris Bond added: "I’m sure all of the SVR will welcome Ian’s appointment and working with him to ensure the SVR remains fully compliant with current fire safety regulations.
"Mel has put in years of sterling work in this important area and we are grateful for his remarkable service and support from his wife Julia. We wish Mel and Julia all the best for the future and hope to still see them out and about on the SVR."
In the November issue of Express Points we reported that Wagons team volunteer Graham Phillips has been researching SVR history in The British Newspaper Archive, and had uncovered a wealth of stories of the navvies who built the SVR.
Graham, with additional research from Robin Childs, has continued the research, shifting his focus to the the unsuccessful proposals for railways in the Severn Valley,and connecting this to the information in ‘The Severn Valley Railway’ by John Marshall*.
Their ongoing research is being summarised in a page on the SVR Wiki, which to date shows over 20 railway proposals in the area. In 1845 alone, at the height of ‘Railway Mania’ 10 such proposals emerged. Later, the Wolverhampton and Bridgnorth Railway was 87th of 380 railway Bills before parliament in 1862.
Graham commented: “It's really confusing. The March 1846 railways selected for ’reference to distinct committees’ includes the ‘Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Dudley’, the ‘Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Stour Valley (Dudley Line)’ and the ‘Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Dudley (Stour Valley Line)’."
Robin added: “The whole thing at times resembles the‘"People's Front of Judea’ scene!”
Graham has posted the newspaper cuttings in the 'Early history of the SVR on the British Newspaper Archive' thread in the SVR-Online Forum. If you want to know more, it’s just the thing to delve into on these long winter nights…
*‘The Severn Valley Railway’ by John Marshall' (1989, ISBN 0946537453), a history of the pre-1963 railway and early days of preservation.
Photo: Extract from Birmingham Daily Gazette - Monday 28th December 1863.
A reminder that all images are © Copyright The British Newspaper Archive with strict restrictions on use.
2020 Dates for your diary
A look back to the Spring Steam Gala in March 2019, with visiting ex- GWR 0-6-0PT No. 6430 on an autotrain service. The Gala will be held in April this year, after the works at Falling Sands Viaduct. Photo: Ian Murray
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-19th April
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
23rd May 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!
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