What’s hap­pen­ing at the ‘GlosWarks’

Steam Railway (UK) - - Contents -

Surely all hope of ever restor­ing the Honey­bourne Line has evap­o­rated…”. These words ap­peared in The Rail­way Magazine back in 1979, just af­ter Bri­tish Rail ripped up what re­mained of the Chel­tenhamHoney­bourne route af­ter a coal train de­railed at Winch­combe three years ear­lier, which led to BR fi­nally clos­ing the rail­way. Such a stark procla­ma­tion wasn’t with­out foun­da­tion. In 1981, when vol­un­teers on what would be­come the Glouces­ter­shire War­wick­shire Steam Rail­way started work at Tod­ding­ton, with the in­ten­tion of restor­ing the line be­tween Chel­tenham and Broad­way to its for­mer Great West­ern glory, all that re­mained of the cross­coun­try route were the goods sheds at Tod­ding­ton, Winch­combe and Broad­way; the much-van­dalised sta­tion build­ings and sig­nal box at Tod­ding­ton; Gother­ing­ton sta­tion build­ing, which had been sold as a pri­vate res­i­dence, and the weigh­bridge at Winch­combe. Ev­ery­thing else had been razed to the ground. So when ‘Mod­i­fied Hall’ No. 7903 Fore­marke Hall rolls into Broad­way with the of­fi­cial re­open­ing train on March 30, it will mark the ful­fil­ment of a dream 37 years in the mak­ing, and firmly place the GWSR in the ‘premier league’ of pre­served rail­ways.

un­deR­dog to top dog

The story of the Glouces­ter­shire War­wick­shire Steam Rail­way is a story of preser­va­tion against the odds. Stand­ing on the plat­form at Broad­way, now the line’s north­ern ter­mi­nus, it’s hard to be­lieve that the sta­tion was a brown­field site un­til not so long ago. So faith­fully has the sta­tion been recre­ated that it looks and feels ut­terly time­less (SR476). The long-awaited re­open­ing will un­doubt­edly be a poignant mo­ment for the GWSR vol­un­teers who, for the last 13 years, have toiled to com­plete the five-mile ex­ten­sion from Tod­ding­ton. In­deed, it will be even more mean­ing­ful for those pi­o­neers who helped start restor­ing the rail­way from a derelict Tod­ding­ton yard back in the early 1980s. The nascent GWSR pur­chased the 15 miles of trackbed be­tween Chel­tenham and Broad­way in Fe­bru­ary 1984 and, lit­tle by lit­tle, re­opened what was one of the last ma­jor trunk routes built in Bri­tain. They worked south­wards from Tod­ding­ton, reach­ing the site of Hayles Abbey Halt in 1986, then Winch­combe a year later. It wasn’t un­til 2003 that the first public trains ran to what is now the line’s south­ern ter­mi­nus at Chel­tenham Race­course, a full ten miles from Tod­ding­ton. It was two days be­fore Christ­mas last year when the last piece of the puz­zle fi­nally fell into place and Broad­way was, at last, linked to the rest of the rail­way for the first time since 1979. Since those early days, the GWSR has en­dured tri­als and tribu­la­tions aplenty, both in get­ting to Broad­way and ce­ment­ing its sta­tus as a big-league player in preser­va­tion, and deal­ing with two se­ri­ous land­slips within the space of nine months; at Gother­ing­ton in April 2010 and Chicken Curve (just north of Winch­combe) in Jan­uary 2011. The lat­ter sev­ered the line in two and nearly fi­nan­cially crip­pled the rail­way. Also, un­like the Blue­bell or Sev­ern Val­ley rail­ways, which started early enough to have the ma­jor­ity – if not all – of their re­quired in­fra­struc­ture still in place, the ‘GlosWarks’ pretty much started with a blank can­vas. In the last 37 years, it has built two new sta­tions (Chel­tenham Race­course and Broad­way), one halt (Hayles Abbey), re­stored one sta­tion (Tod­ding­ton) and moved an­other (Winch­combe) stone-by­stone from Mon­mouth Troy. Nearly all its lo­co­mo­tive, car­riage and wagon and sig­nal and tele­graph fa­cil­i­ties have been built from scratch, and all of its rolling stock and mo­tive power has re­quired

sig­nif­i­cant restora­tion to put it back in work­ing or­der. To put the mag­ni­tude of this achieve­ment into per­spec­tive, nearly ev­ery­thing has been achieved through the ef­forts of vol­un­teers – the rail­way only has five paid mem­bers of staff.


The GWSR is pretty much a ‘com­plete’ rail­way. It has ev­ery­thing both en­thu­si­asts and the public want – a de­cent length of run­ning line (15 miles, mak­ing it the sixth-long­est stan­dard gauge rail­way in preser­va­tion), de­light­ful scenery, idyl­lic way­side sta­tions, a tun­nel (at 693 yards, Greet Tun­nel is the sec­ond-long­est on a Bri­tish pre­served rail­way) and a 15-arch viaduct. In fact, the only thing the rail­way lacks is a de­cent gra­di­ent to chal­lenge a lo­co­mo­tive – the line never ex­ceeds 1-in-150 be­tween Chel­tenham and Broad­way, a legacy of its ori­gins as a dou­ble-track main line rail­way. Most rail­ways would be fairly con­tent with a 15-mile line wend­ing its way through the Cotswolds, link­ing two tourist des­ti­na­tions and boast­ing an im­pres­sive lo­co­mo­tive fleet. Job done, surely? Not quite… The rail­way was started with the in­ten­tion of restor­ing “as much of the Chel­tenham to Strat­ford-upon-Avon line as pos­si­ble”, an in­ten­tion be­trayed by the rail­way’s name; un­til Oc­to­ber 2016, the GWSR had yet to break out of the first county in its name. With the open­ing of the Broad­way ex­ten­sion, the line now runs into Worces­ter­shire. War­wick­shire beckons.

With that in mind, it’s not sur­pris­ing that thoughts have al­ready turned to ‘where next?’ Honey­bourne, on the Worces­ter-Ox­ford main line, is of­ten cited as the rail­way’s next ob­jec­tive. The ma­jor at­trac­tion of ex­tend­ing to Honey­bourne is to ex­ploit the po­ten­tial main line con­nec­tion for in­com­ing rail­tours and gala vis­i­tors, and Net­work Rail has al­ready made pas­sive pro­vi­sion for GWSR trains to use one side of the sta­tion’s is­land plat­form. Richard John­son, the GWSR plc’s re­cently ap­pointed chair­man and com­pany sec­re­tary, says: “Honey­bourne has fre­quently been high­lighted as a po­ten­tial north­ern ex­ten­sion. The ad­van­tage of that is that it could, po­ten­tially, give us a main line con­nec­tion. “On the other hand, most of the trackbed and re­main­ing in­fra­struc­ture – in­clud­ing bridges that are in a poor state of re­pair – is owned by Rail­way Paths Ltd (Sus­trans), not us, and the route is through pleas­ant but – com­pared with the line south of Broad­way – less in­ter­est­ing coun­try­side. “It would add an­other four miles to the length of the line, tak­ing it to al­most 20 miles. Is that too much in terms of cost and time for the av­er­age fam­ily look­ing for a pleas­ant out­ing? And even if the land was gifted to the rail­way, it would still cost at least an es­ti­mated £10 mil­lion to re­store and re­in­state at to­day’s prices. “Could vol­un­teers man­age a rail­way of that length and com­plex­ity? Would such an ex­ten­sion add com­mer­cial value? Those, I think, are de­ci­sions that won’t be taken any time soon.” “In­ter­est­ingly,” adds GWSR Press Re­la­tions Of­fi­cer Ian Crow­der, “BR put paid to us buy­ing the trackbed north of Broad­way by re­fus­ing to al­low a pre­served rail­way to pass un­der the Worces­terOx­ford line, but the route was sup­pos­edly kept for us should it ever be needed, and in­deed the Wy­chavon Coun­cil struc­ture plan in­cludes the route for rail­way use. “How­ever, it seems that BR Prop­er­ties sold a whole batch of for­mer lines to Rail­way Paths Ltd and in­cluded Broad­wayChel­tenham in that batch, thus reneg­ing on their com­mit­ment. Rail­way Paths did ap­ply for plan­ning per­mis­sion to con­vert the route to a cy­cle way, which in­cluded re­moval of the bridges, but it was turned down – that was about 15-20 years ago.” The sec­ond op­tion is to ex­tend into Chel­tenham it­self. The rail­way owns the trackbed as far as the Prince of Wales sta­dium, and there is al­ready track down as far as Hunt­ing Butts Tun­nel, al­though it is cur­rently used to store out-of-use rolling stock. At the launch of the ‘Broad­way: The Last Mile’ share is­sue back in April 2016, the GWSR’s then-chair­man Alan Bielby stated that Chel­tenham would be next af­ter Broad­way, and that the rail­way would ex­tend at least as far as the sta­dium, three quar­ters of a mile be­yond Chel­tenham Race­course sta­tion. How­ever, ex­tend­ing be­yond there and link­ing up with the na­tional net­work presents se­ri­ous prob­lems, not least of which is the trackbed which has been breached in sev­eral places, and a cy­cle path that oc­cu­pies the for­ma­tion.


For now, the GWSR will un­dergo a pe­riod of con­sol­i­da­tion rather than ex­pan­sion, and build upon the suc­cesses of re­cent years which have in­volved record-break­ing pas­sen­ger num­bers year-onyear for the last five years, higher rev­enue, greater op­er­at­ing profit and a swelling of the vol­un­teer ranks. Vol­un­teer Fi­nance Di­rec­tor Chris Bris­tow says: “Last year, the rail­way car­ried just un­der 101,000 pas­sen­gers, the sec­ond year that we have ex­ceeded the magic 100,000 mark and, over the year, the rail­way gen­er­ated £1.7m in rev­enue and £300,000 in profit!” Chris sees the rail­way’s suc­cess be­ing built on four fun­da­men­tal fac­tors.

“Firstly, all of this comes from a rail­way that has only the equiv­a­lent of five em­ploy­ees – but 950 vol­un­teers; a re­mark­able state of af­fairs. Thus, the ma­jor­ity of our op­er­at­ing profit is ploughed back into the rail­way to progress cap­i­tal projects. “Sec­ondly, the rail­way owns all of its in­fra­struc­ture and will shortly be com­pletely debt-free. “We also don’t own any lo­co­mo­tives and, un­like most rail­ways, they are hired from own­ing groups based on the rail­way. That means we can in­vest in ex­cel­lent fa­cil­i­ties that are at­trac­tive to own­ing groups and, hap­pily, we are in the en­vi­able po­si­tion of hav­ing suf­fi­cient mo­tive power not only to han­dle all of our ser­vices but hire out to other rail­ways too. “And fi­nally, all of our spe­cial events – of which there are many – are well or­gan­ised, suc­cess­ful and prof­itable.” The profit will be rein­vested back into the rail­way, which has ap­proved a £900,000 ex­pen­di­ture pro­gramme dur­ing 2018/9, in­clud­ing the con­struc­tion of a two-road car­riage shed and a wagon shel­ter at Winch­combe, as well as new fa­cil­i­ties for the steam lo­co­mo­tive de­part­ment. Chris says: “There are sev­eral things that re­ally must be done – not least of which is a brick-built ex­ten­sion of the for­mer goods shed at Tod­ding­ton to house ad­di­tional work­shop fa­cil­i­ties, as well as the kind of fa­cil­i­ties the lo­co­mo­tive de­part­ment de­serves: show­ers, toi­lets, mess fa­cil­i­ties, class­rooms, chang­ing rooms. For years they have made do with a Mk 1 coach and Por­tak­abins – the sort of fa­cil­i­ties many pre­served rail­ways started off with – and it’s about time it was brought up to date.” Ian Crow­der ex­plains: “We have lots of other pri­or­i­ties that need at­ten­tion. For ex­am­ple, our car­riages rep­re­sent a con­stant main­te­nance bat­tle be­cause they are never un­der cover. “We need more ser­vice­able car­riages as it is, for Broad­way and in­creased train lengths to cope with the ex­pected greater de­mand, never mind in­creas­ing the rail­way’s length still fur­ther.” One ur­gent need will be ful­filled dur­ing 2018 with the pro­vi­sion of a car park at Broad­way. In Jan­uary this year, Wy­chavon Coun­cil agreed to fund the £650,000 cost of build­ing the 99-space car park, which will be si­t­u­ated at the foot of the em­bank­ment be­tween Eve­sham Road and Childswick­ham Road. Chris says: “It un­der­lines the en­thu­si­as­tic sup­port of the coun­cil, which spoke in very glow­ing terms about the rail­way at the meet­ing when the de­ci­sion to fund the car park was unan­i­mously ap­proved. It’s likely that the car park will be com­pleted by the end of Au­gust this year.” Also in the pipe­line is a ma­jor pro­gramme of bridge re­pairs, with many of the line’s steel deck bridges re­quir­ing at­ten­tion. Dur­ing the first few months of 2018, the skew bridge at Gother­ing­ton – the largest span on the rail­way – has un­der­gone over £120,000 of re­pairs, and the rest of the line’s bridges are suf­fer­ing in a sim­i­lar way. More ex­cit­ingly, it would be pos­si­ble to re­in­state at least a sec­tion of dou­ble track, which will re­store some­thing of the ‘Honey­bourne Line’s’ main line sta­tus and pro­vide greater op­er­a­tional flex­i­bil­ity, and there is also the po­ten­tial to build a halt serv­ing Bishop’s Cleeve, just north of Chel­tenham Race­course. Ian Crow­der says: “There is enough room for a plat­form, de­spite the fact that the for­mer sta­tion was sold long ago for hous­ing de­vel­op­ment – even be­fore BR closed the line.”

DevIl In tHe De­tAIl

One thing that high­lights the GWSR’s growth and ma­tu­rity is the level of def­er­ence to au­then­tic­ity in re­cent years, some­thing best dis­played by Broad­way. As de­tailed in SR476, the sta­tion build­ing is a re-cre­ation of a typ­i­cal early Ed­war­dian Great West­ern main line sta­tion build­ing, and the sig­nal box – a copy of the ’box at Shirley, larger and in a dif­fer­ent po­si­tion to the orig­i­nal – looks like it hails from the turn of the cen­tury. Broad­way is at the op­po­site end of the spec­trum – and the line – to Chel­tenham Race­course which, by the rail­way’s own ad­mis­sion, isn’t the most at­trac­tive of sta­tions. But un­like Broad­way, ‘CRC’ is there only to serve the epony­mous race­course – in­deed the sta­tion comes into its own on race days, for which the rail­way runs spe­cial steam-hauled trains – and it isn’t a des­ti­na­tion in its own right. It’s merely a gate­way onto the rail­way, and few pas­sen­gers spend any mean­ing­ful time there. Broad­way is ev­ery inch a Great West­ern sta­tion, and the

vol­un­teers be­hind the re­build­ing project have gone to painstak­ing lengths to recre­ate the sta­tion as ac­cu­rately as pos­si­ble. Broad­way is not the first sta­tion to be com­pleted this way. In Fe­bru­ary 2016, the ‘GlosWarks’ Her­itage Group started work on re­build­ing Hayles Abbey Halt, which serves the nearby Na­tional Trust-owned Hailes Abbey. And last year the sta­tion was fin­ished, wel­com­ing its first trains on June 6. The re­quest stop is a replica of the orig­i­nal, al­beit po­si­tioned slightly fur­ther north to avoid hav­ing a lo­co­mo­tive stopped un­der­neath the ad­ja­cent over­bridge, and the plat­form has been length­ened to ac­com­mo­date the first two coaches of trains that stop there. How­ever, the cor­ru­gated iron plat­form shel­ter is a gen­uine GWR ar­ti­cle (it was re­cov­ered from Usk), and the halt boasts grav­el­topped plat­forms and oil lamps, like the orig­i­nal. The plat­form it­self has been built with con­crete blocks, but is faced with cre­osote-treated tim­ber, as per the orig­i­nal. Its re-cre­ation was recog­nised in a nom­i­na­tion for last year’s Na­tional Rail­way Her­itage Awards. On a more prac­ti­cal level, the rail­way has just com­pleted a

new vis­i­tor cen­tre at Winch­combe, which is mod­elled on South Devon’s Ash­bur­ton goods shed. Funded with money from the Glouces­ter­shire War­wick­shire Rail­way Trust and a £25,000 AVIVA com­mu­nity award, the build­ing was first used as a re­cep­tion cen­tre for the line’s re­cent Santa spe­cials, and has rooms avail­able for both rail­way and com­mu­nity use. The GWSR has come a long way since it took over the derelict trackbed of the for­mer Strat­ford-Chel­tenham route in the early 1980s, and to­day the rail­way, which was once seen as the ‘new kid on the block’, is now up there with the likes of the Blue­bell, North York­shire Moors and Sev­ern Val­ley rail­ways. It may be a ‘com­plete’ rail­way by other lines’ stan­dards, but one gets the im­pres­sion that this is only the be­gin­ning.


The end of the line… for now. The head­shunt at Broad­way, look­ing to­wards Honey­bourne. Could the GWSR re­con­nect with the main line there and reach Strat­ford-upon-Avon in years to come?


A 99-space car park will serve Broad­way by Au­gust this year – the sta­tion was in the fi­nal stages of con­struc­tion on Jan­uary 18. Broad­way en­cap­su­lates the GWSR’s Great West­ern main line at­mos­phere.


FAR LEFT: Glouces­ter­shire War­wick­shire reg­u­lar ‘Small Prairie’ No. 5542 emerges from Greet Tun­nel on March 13 2016.


The most im­pres­sive struc­ture on the GWSR is the 15-arch Stan­way Viaduct. ‘Small Prairie’ No. 5542 crosses with a one-coach au­to­train on May 24 2010.


The GWSR’s car­riage shop oc­cu­pies part of the for­mer Winch­combe goods shed. As part of the rail­way’s ex­pen­di­ture pro­gramme, a new car­riage shed is to be built to house the line’s en­tire pas­sen­ger rolling stock fleet.


Nom­i­nated at the 2017 Na­tional Rail­way Her­itage Awards, Hayles Abbey Halt is a sym­pa­thetic re-cre­ation of the orig­i­nal.


‘Cas­tle’ No. 5021 Whit­ting­ton Cas­tle passes through the same spot on July 25 1959.

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