The Severn Valley Railway is a heritage railway in Shropshire and Worcestershire, England. The 16-mile (26 km) heritage line runs along the Severn Valley from Bridgnorth to Kidderminster, crossing the Shropshire/Worcestershire border, following the course of the River Severn for much of its route. Train services are hauled predominantly by steam locomotives; however diesel traction is also sometimes used on designated days and during periods of high fire risk.
The railway is one of the most popular heritage railways in the country as well as being the sixth-longest standard gauge heritage line in the United Kingdom. It hosts numerous special events throughout the year, including both steam and diesel galas.
The Severn Valley line was built between 1858 and 1862, and linked Hartlebury, near Droitwich Spa, with Shrewsbury, a distance of 40 miles (64 km). Important stations on the line were Stourport-on-Severn, Bewdley and Arley within Worcestershire, and Highley, Hampton Loade, Bridgnorth, Coalport, Ironbridge and Broseley, Buildwas, Cressage and Berrington in Shropshire.
Although the railway was built by the original Severn Valley Railway Company, it was operated from opening on 1 February 1862 by the West Midland Railway which was absorbed into the Great Western Railway on 1 August 1863. In 1878 the GWR opened a link line between Bewdley and Kidderminster. This meant trains could run direct from the Black Country to areas of Shropshire.
Most Kidderminster to Bewdley trains continued through the Wyre Forest line (dismantled in the 1960s and now forming part of National Cycle Route 45) to Tenbury Wells or Woofferton. At Buildwas Junction (now the site of Ironbridge Power Station near what is now Telford) Severn Valley trains connected with services from Wellington to Much Wenlock and Craven Arms.
Prior to preservation, the Severn Valley line was never financially successful. Freight traffic, mostly agricultural, and coal traffic from the collieries of Alveley and Highley were the principal sources of revenue. The line was strategically useful in the Second World War as an alternative and diversionary route around the West Midlands.
After nationalisation in 1948, passenger traffic started to dwindle. Whilst it is generally believed[by whom?] that the line was closed under the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, the Severn Valley Line was, in fact, already scheduled for closure prior to the publication of Beeching's report 'The Reshaping of British Railways' on 27 March 1963. British Railways had announced in January 1962 that the Severn Valley line was under review, and the B.T.C. published closure proposal notices on 1 October 1962 in advance of a meeting of the West Midlands Transport Users Consultative Committee which took place at Bridgnorth Town Hall on 8 November 1962. Objections to the proposed closure were unsuccessful and the line was closed to through passenger services on 9 September 1963 and to through freight services on 30 November 1963. Following closure, the track north of Bridgnorth was dismantled. After 1963, coal traffic survived south of Alveley until 1969, while a sparse passenger service continued to link Bewdley with Kidderminster and Hartlebury, until this too ceased in January 1970. Freight traffic between the British Sugar Corporation’s Foley Park factory and Kidderminster continued until 1982.
For much of its working life the Severn Valley line was operated by the Great Western Railway and subsequently the Western Region of British Railways. Today the Severn Valley Railway operates as a heritage railway.
The Severn Valley Railway Society was formed in July 1965 by a group of members who wished to preserve a section of the line which had closed in 1963. To achieve this, the Severn Valley Railway Company was incorporated in May 1967. Even at that early date, the objective of the company was to ‘preserve, retain and restore the standard-gauge railway extending from Bridgnorth to Kidderminster via Bewdley’.
The SVR initially acquired 5½ miles of the line between Bridgnorth and Alveley Colliery from BR at a cost of £25,000. In May 1970 a Light Railway Order was granted allowing services to begin between Bridgnorth and Hampton Loade.
The end of coal trains from the colliery in 1973 allowed SVR to acquire a further 8½ miles of the line as far as Foley Park, the purchase price of £74,000 being raised by the floatation of a public company initially under the chairmanship of Sir Gerald Nabarro. Services were extended to Bewdley in May 1974.
Following the end of freight traffic from BSC at Foley Park in 1982, the SVR purchased the final section of the line to Kidderminster at a cost of £75,000. The SVR also rented the former Comberton Hill goods yard at Kidderminster from BR, on which a new station would be built. This was achieved in time for services to Kidderminster to begin on 30 July 1984.
Major developments on the SVR since 1984 have included the commissioning of a newly constructed signal box at Kidderminster in 1987, the opening of a new boiler shop at Bridgnorth in 1990, the opening of a new carriage shed at Kidderminster in 2003, the completion of the east wing and canopy of Kidderminster Station in 2006, and the opening of the Engine House Museum at Highley in 2008. 2010 marked the Severn Valley railway's 40th anniversary since opening in 1970 and the 175th anniversary of the formation of the Great Western Railway. 2015 marked the 50th anniversary since the birth of the Severn Valley Railway on 6 July 1965. Special events were staged during both years to mark these anniversaries.
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SVR trains usually operate over the whole line length calling at most stations. The "halts" (Northwood Halt and Country Park Halt) are request stops. Passengers may use these halts during daylight hours only. Trains include the Severn Valley Limited and the Severn Valley Venturer which are the principal dining car trains (normally on Sundays). A diesel multiple unit is used to run an Evening Scenic Special fish-and-chip special train run on selected Saturday evenings between April and September, leaving Kidderminster at around 7pm and returning at 10pm after one hour in Bridgnorth.
Many special gala days are held, often with visiting engines and rolling stock from other heritage lines; these and other attractions have seen visitor numbers exceed 250,000 per year.
The SVR's rail connection to the National Rail network at Kidderminster permits various track maintenance, weed killing, track measurement and occasional through charter trains to operate from various parts of the country to Bridgnorth. An example of these visitors was that of the VSOE Northern Belle in 2006. Two direct trains to London Marylebone from Bridgnorth operated by Chiltern Railways ran in 2009, one on 15 August and one on 28 November. Some trackwork revisions have been completed at Kidderminster to improve ingress of incoming excursions.
The railway operated two revenue-earning freight trains in May 2007 which carried 6-metre-long pipes from Kidderminster to the Severn Trent water handling plant at Trimpley. Carriage by road of such long pipes would have been difficult because of the narrow roads in the immediate area of Trimpley.
During violent thunderstorms on the evening of 19 June 2007 the railway suffered major damage, much more extensive than any in its history. The line was damaged between Bridgnorth Outer Home signal and Northwood Halt, where the line suffered from numerous landslides with many sections of the line suspended in mid-air.(BBC photo) Many cuttings were filled with debris. At Highley the Up Starter signal and the embankment that it used to stand on were washed away. At Hampton Loade, the access road to the railway station – and indeed the only road to the village – was also washed away. (BBC photo).
A dozen other heritage railways pledged to help the stricken SVR, including Mid Hants Railway, Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway, West Somerset Railway, Avon Valley Railway, Dean Forest Railway, Great Central Railway, North Yorkshire Moors Railway and Bluebell Railway.
It was announced on 22 June 2007 that an emergency appeal would be started on 25 June to raise funds for the repair bill. The total cost of the damage was revised upwards as a result of further damage and a massive potential slip in the Northwood Lane area following more rain and flooding in late July. The final repair bill was put at approximately £3.7m; this was funded by an initial grant from the European Regional Development Fund of £750k, a grant from Advantage West Midlands of £500k, £250k from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £1m from the SVR's insurers (£500k for embankments, £350k for structures, signalling and track, and £150k specifically for Borle Viaduct), a further grant of £377k from the ERDF, £560k from the public appeal and the balance from SVR reserves.
These events damaged the summer tourist custom to the railway, the towns served, and the area as a whole. A spokesman announced on 22 June that the line was expected to reopen between Bewdley and Arley by the end of July and the section between Bridgnorth and Hampton Loade to be up and running by the end of August; however it became apparent in early July 2007 that these reopenings would be delayed by as much as a month, later extended to up to three months. On 19 July, another torrential storm caused further wreckage in at least 45 separate locations as rain fell on the already saturated ground, and at least ten of these spots damage was so serious major engineering work was required before reconstruction could get under way. It was also said later that the crucial link between Hampton Loade and Arley, including Highley station and the new Engine House museum, would probably not open until as late as Spring 2008.
The Bridgnorth to Hampton Loade section eventually re-opened on 9 February 2008 for the school half-term. The first passenger train to Hampton Loade since 19 June 2007 departed on time at 10.30, comprising 5 LMS coaches hauled by 45xx Class no. 4566. The train featured the headboard carried by the first reopening train from Bridgnorth to Hampton Loade in 1970. Although other drainage work enhancements remained to be completed, the line between Kidderminster and Bridgnorth reopened fully to the public on Good Friday, 21 March 2008. The work increased to 144 the number of culverts under the line, where previously there were 44 before the 2007 floods.
The entire railway is one of the most comprehensively signalled heritage railways. With the exception of the connection at Kidderminster to Network Rail metals (which uses a colour light signal) the whole railway is signalled using GW style lower quadrant signals, of both metal and wooden pole/arm types (Exceptionally, the down starter at Highley has a rare concrete post). Each station (not including halts) has a signal box, with Bewdley having two boxes (North and South), due to the size of the layout there (Bewdley originally being a junction station).
All sections between Bridgnorth and Bewdley North operate using the Tyer's Electric Train Token. Both Arley and Hampton Loade signal boxes can be switched out when not required by the service, reducing wear on the mechanics and reducing the number of signalmen required to operate the line. Arley yard may be accessed with the signal box switched out due to the presence of an intermediate token instrument, which also enables a train to depart from or terminate in the yard when the 'box is switched out.
The Engineer's siding at Eardington is controlled by a ground frame. No intermediate token instrument is provided, with the Highley-Bridgnorth token directly unlocking the two lever frame. This means that Hampton Loade signal box must be switched out when Eardington siding has to be used, and also that a train cannot terminate or depart from there - unless the token is taken by road between Eardington and Highley or Bridgnorth signal box.
Bridgnorth also has a ground frame at the northern end of the layout allowing movements from the Hollybush siding (which also serves as the headshunt for locomotives running round their trains) into and out of the Boiler Shop. An Annett's key which unlocks the frame may be obtained by a member of staff when released by a lever in Bridgnorth 'box.
Between Bewdley North and Bewdley South the double track section through platforms 1 & 2 is signalled with absolute block. The single track through platform 3 is signalled with direction lever. The line furthest from the main station buildings, known as the Rock siding, is a double-ended siding. Whilst this means that the signalmen need not communicate with one another before arranging movements into or out of this siding from either end, in practice they would liaise before conducting any unusual movement.
The single line section between Bewdley South and Kidderminster is track circuited throughout and is signalled using acceptance lever. as the preserved SVR passes through the 480 yard long Bewdley Tunnel.
Most of the signal boxes on the line bear original cast iron GWR name plates, with the sole exception being at Bridgnorth which has a replica. The SVR Kidderminster's name plate was recovered from another signal box that formerly stood on the up end of the down platform at Kidderminster station (Network Rail). The lever frame from the same signal box was reused at Arley, which has an LNWR signal box, originally from Yorton after the original was demolished. The replica name plate at Bridgnorth is made of fibre glass, although it is not known if it was moulded from the original or even if the original still exists.
The SVR trains new signalmen at the Kidderminster Signalling School, located above the carriage works.
With the exception of the two request halts (Country Park and Northwood), all intermediate stations have the ability to pass trains on the single line. However, Highley's passing loop lacks a platform and facing point locks on points to attached sidings, a legal requirement for passenger-carrying line, meaning trains carrying fare-paying passengers may not use this loop. However, it is frequently used for works trains, demonstration goods trains and empty stock workings. Despite this, the Severn Valley Railway offers, possibly, the most intensive service on any single line heritage railway. A short section of multiple track exists between Bewdley South and Bewdley North signal boxes.
Kidderminster Town station is not an original station. It was created by the SVR, based upon the original GWR station at Ross-on-Wye (1892). Various projects have been carried out by volunteers and contractors to add to the general GWR ambience. Major projects include the porte cochère to the front of the station, the ornamental crestings on the two towers and the canopy over the concourse which was completed in 2006, along with the final, east, wing of the station.
Plans for a significant redevelopment of Bridgnorth station were approved by Shropshire Council in August 2016.
For many years, the SVR official website has confirmed that 'the railway land north of Bridgnorth has been long since sold, and there is now no possibility of Severn Valley trains reaching Ironbridge and Shrewsbury ever again' The 559-yard-long Bridgnorth Tunnel is still in existence, as is the old trackbed between Bridgnorth and Coalport.
Former stations, most of which were closed with the Severn Valley line as a whole in 1963, after 101 years in use:
Between Hartlebury and Bewdley:
Between Kidderminster and Bewdley:
North of Bridgnorth:
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The plan to expand North was mooted by groups within the SVR as early as the mid-1970s, the first plan was dismissed as impossible by the then board of the SVR. However, recent successes by others in obtaining large sums of money from the likes of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the European Regional Development Fund have caused this view to moderate. Telford Steam Railway have recently announced aspirations to operate into the Severn Gorge, leading a group to suggest extending the SVR northwards.
The SVR have been offered first refusal by BRB (Residuary) Ltd. on the all-important tunnel under Bridgnorth as the first essential part of the plan. If the Telford Steam Railway were to expand and cross the river Severn via the Albert Edward Bridge and operate to the original site of Buildwas Junction station, it would operate over a very short part of the former Severn Valley Line. The closure of Ironbridge Power Station in 2015 further adds to the debate because this covers the site of Buildwas Junction station. However, there are several obstacles to overcome, not least of which is that all of the land north of Bridgnorth tunnel is in private ownership. The Holybush Road was widened and raised after closure, impeding access to the southern portal of Bridgnorth tunnel. The group currently promoting such an extension has identified a viable technical solution to this and other difficulties.
Bridgnorth tunnel was relined in two separate places during operation and was a source of some trouble over the years, but the most recent regularly scheduled inspection by Network Rail has found it to be in general good order. Both portals are currently blocked off and the southern end has been encroached onto by the garden of the house located adjacent to the former bridge abutment. The northern suburbs of Bridgnorth low town block the trackbed around 100 yards north of the tunnel, with 22 houses and a new road on the original alignment. The proponents have identified solutions that would avoid much of the existing housing. The next section to the north is covered by a golf course that regularly suffers flooding in the winter. There are no sizable populations in the valley above Bridgnorth before Coalport.
Beyond this point the area is at present geologically less stable. This instability was corrected with a circa £100M project co-ordinated by Telford & Wrekin District Council, repairs intended to safeguard the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage site for the next 100 years, although these repairs are not designed to cope with the extra loads imposed by the reinstatement of the railway through the gorge civil engineering consultants[who?] opine that these additional loads are insignificant in relation to those to be carried by the present design. At present a road occupies the route of the railway formation for a distance at Jackfield, built to replace the original road damaged as a result of the 1954 land instability. At this point utility services for the area are carried on runners beside the road as the instability makes it impossible to maintain them underground. For all these reasons, reopening is not being actively pursued by the SVR itself, particularly since recovery from the effects of the 2007 floods damage will take time. The promoters recognise that investment for any extension will need to come from outside sources since the SVR feels any funds it has are required for improvements to existing visitor and staff facilities in order to achieve the standards expected nowadays.
On 14 July 2010 the Shropshire Star reported that councillor Eric Carter of Telford and Wrekin Council was keen to make such a scheme a reality as a way of relieving traffic congestion in the Severn Gorge. Two days later, the paper published a video interview with Councillor Carter, where he discussed the proposals by Telford Steam Railway to provide a link to the Gorge via the existing line to Ironbridge Power Station, which would become redundant on the proposed closure of the power station in 2015. On 8 November, the paper reported that part of the route from Bridgnorth to Coalport would become part of the National Cycle Route 45, and opened to the public in 2011.
The former Tenbury Line trackbed is substantially intact as far as Newnham Bridge station before it is hemmed in by modern development. However, several underbridges are missing, including the substantial Dowles Viaduct over the river Severn, a span over the Bewdley to Bridgnorth road and a brick span at Cleobury. Added to this are the same problems relating to land ownership, realignments of roads at former bridge sites and probable lack of custom at the Newnham Bridge end.
No extension eastwards towards Wolverhampton was ever built, although several schemes were proposed. These included:
The SVR owns the trackbed of the former Bewdley to Hartlebury section through Mount Pleasant Tunnel to a point 302 yards beyond its southern portal, approximately mid-way to the former location of Burlish Crossing. In late 2015 the Railway announced that Rail Safety Solutions had taken a lease on the portion as far as Mount Pleasant Tunnel, which they will use to provide training to Network Rail apprentices.
Between Burlish and Stourport station, the alignment of the former Bewdley to Hartlebury section has been redeveloped for housing. However, from the Hartlebury direction the trackbed is intact as a bridleway from Mitton (the eastern throat of the original station), with only a span over the A449 Worcester to Kidderminster main road missing. The abutments are intact. Almost all of the trackbed is in Council ownership and in 2007 they expressed an interest in reopening as a commuter line. The goal of this proposal was unclear.
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The General Manager, Nick Ralls has confirmed that Chiltern Railways have approached the Severn Valley Railway with a view to extending a number of its peak-time Marylebone to Kidderminster services to Bewdley to alleviate road congestion in the Kidderminster/Stourport/Bewdley area. This has raised questions regarding car parking limitations near Bewdley station. Should this go ahead the distinction between a heritage railway and a contemporary railway operation would be blurred. In conjunction with this there have been suggestions for locating a Park and Ride facility near Foley Park Halt. Investigations are in-hand to construct a station to serve a conference centre and hotel to be located at the West Midlands Safari Park.
The railway can call on a large fleet to operate its services. Only a core of vehicles actually belong to the railway company, the remainder being owned by associated groups, such as the Great Western (Severn Valley Railway) Association, and individuals. The SVR is also the base of the DMU (diesel multiple unit) West Midland Group. Locomotives and stock from the railway do not now often operate excursions on the National Rail network, but they have in the past been seen from Mallaig to Plymouth.
The main locomotive works are located at Bridgnorth. It is not normally open to the public but conducted tours and open days are arranged from time to time. Major features of the locomotive works include the boiler shop equipped with overhead crane, Noble and Lund wheel lathe, ex-LT lifting jacks and a Wheeldrop recovered from Leicestershire, installed in 2010. Works to enclose the southern end of Bridgnorth locomotive shed with roller shutter doors, improve natural illumination and waterproof the building more effectively were completed in early 2009. This forms the first of a number of phases to improve the Bridgnorth site both for staff and for visitors.
Although carriage repair and restoration is carried out at a number of locations on the railway, the main carriage works is located in the former goods shed at Kidderminster. This building, lying adjacent to the main national railway line, is known as the North Star Carriage Works thus perpetuating a typical GWR name. As well as having a machine shop and fabrication equipment to carry out a full range of body and bogie repairs the carriage works boasts equipment recovered from former BR works to calibrate and adjust dynamo voltage regulators and to thoroughly overhaul and test vacuum brake equipment, a facility that is almost extinct elsewhere. In common with the locomotive works it is not normally open to the public due to health and safety legislation.
The Engine House, built on land adjacent to the station at Highley provides covered accommodation for locomotives currently out of service, displays of other rolling stock, and an education/interpretation centre. Although it was due to be open mid/late 2007, the planned opening dates were affected by the flood damage at Highley station with rail access to the site finally being installed in March 2008. The first exhibits arrived by rail on 14 and 16 March 2008, allowing the museum to open in conjunction with the full line reopening. In late 2008 access was not possible by rail as passenger trains did not stop at Highley station whilst footings and parts of a new footbridge were built. Highley station reopened in 2009 and the new footbridge was completed during October 2009.
Although the Engine House was due to be formally opened by Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester on 28 April 2009 he was unable to attend due to illness; Algernon Heber-Percy, Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire deputised in the Prince's absence. It was formally opened by the Duke during a rescheduled visit on 21 October 2009.
The land on which the Engine House stands was originally the sidings for Highley Colliery and was later used as the 'Landsale Yard' for Alveley Colliery. It was acquired by the SVR in 2005.
LMS Stanier Mogul no.42968
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