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U.K. Field Trip Part 1: Severn Valley Railway Steam Gala

Click on each image for a closer look!

The Severn Valley Railway Steam Gala

In September of 2011, TRHA volunteers Stephen Gardiner and Heather Meger took a trip in September to the UK to visit family, but as part of the trip, we made time to visit the Severn Valley Railway for its Autumn Steam Gala and partake in some railfanning at the Gala. The Severn Valley Railway in England is one of the major preserved lines, linking the towns of Kidderminster and Bridgnorth, the 16 mile line follows the Severn River, running along a former Great Western Railway Branch line through the scenic West Midlands. The line with its two major termini at Kidderminster Town Station (a completely new station built in the 1980’s) and Bridgnorth (opened 1862), an original Great Western Railway station also serves four intermediate stations, the country junction at Bewdley and intermediate stations at Arley, Highley and Hampton Loade. Highley is the home of the “Engine House”, a new museum opened in 2008 which houses the lines out of ticket steam locomotives in an enclosed setting to protect them until their time in the queue for overhaul arrives. A separate report will follow on the Engine House.

The Autumn Steam Gala at the SVR is one of the major events in the UK Gala Season, in no small part because of the scope of the operations, from 8am on Friday morning, until around 7pm on Sunday evening, the railway operates non stop, with intensive all-steam services through the day, down to a limited service all through the night, with many choosing to forego accommodations and sleep on the cushions through the night on the trains. For the Gala, the railway turned out no fewer than 11 steam locomotives, 10 scheduled for service and a spare (which would be needed throughout the weekend). Included in the group were locomotives dating from 1899 for the Caledonian Railway 828 visiting from the Strathspey Railway in Scotland, to the new build A1 Pacific Tornado which was completed in 2008 visiting for a break from mainline railtours. Operations include local services at the north and south end of the line, full line main passenger services, and a demonstration goods train service, complete with shunting at either end of the line as the train is re-made to return the other direction.

One of the more interesting experiences we enjoyed was the chance to ride the line in luxury in a Great Western/British Rail inspection saloon at the end of the train being hauled by new-build pacific Tornado. This afforded a fine view of the line, along with food and drink, and the opportunity to talk shop with the owner of the carriage, who is the owner of a Bullied Pacific Locomotive 34027 Taw Valley. His locomotive is based on the Severn Valley and undergoing a £1,000,000 plus (north of $1,700,000 Canadian) overhaul to service at the current time. He was working as the VIP Steward on the Saloon Coach, and provided an interesting history on the coach, the line, his locomotive and along with some of the other passengers on our trip, on the state of the Heritage Railway industry in the United Kingdom in terms of the many railways and their ability to meet their motive power needs while funding future overhauls and maintaining safety standards. There are growing concerns that there are too many preserved lines, and that they are not all going to be capable of being financially self sufficient to keep running without risking safety standards or relying on the government for heritage funding to keep going. These are not dissimilar issues to those facing museums around the world, and how heritage railways and museums deal with them will become more important in the coming years.

Description of images:

#1 - Caley 828 approaching Highley
#2 - King Edward 1 Departing Highley
#3 - Saloon Car Style
#4 - Photographers Gallery
#5 - Caledonian Climbing Eardington Bank
#6 - 9F on the Goods Train
#7 - Locos in Service Board

Click here to read the next posting in this series.

Posting and Photos by Stephen Gardiner and Heather Meger

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