BROADWAY AND BEYOND
What’s happening at the ‘GlosWarks’
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.
NORTH OR SOUTH?
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.
LOOKING AFTER THE PENNIES
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.