The latest GWR news.
The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway is a heritage line which punches way above its weight – but a series of blows over the last 15 months have left it reeling. This line is remarkable for being a premier league standard gauge railway by any standards, yet, incredibly, is still run wholly by volunteers with no paid staff.
The first punch to land came in April 2010 when a major landslip at Gotherinton severed the railway. Bad enough in itself, but this was just weeks before its mega gala celebration of the 175th anniversary of the formation of the Great Western Railway was due to start. The event went ahead despite the severance and was a roaring success – followed by setting about dealing with the landslip.
In the manner of a left-right combination to follow that first blow, before the line could reopen over its full Toddington to Cheltenham Race Course length the G-WR’s Santa season was practically written off by exceptional snowfall, then in mid-January an embankment at ‘Chicken Curve’ (just on the Toddington side of Winchcombe) collapsed. With the railway’s finances shattered by loss of Santa Special income and repair bills for work in progress at Gotherington - and the line now severed in two places - the G-WR was on its knees.
Fighting to get up off the canvass, a £1 million Emergency Appeal was launched, heritage lines around the country rallied to hold events to help raise cash.
As repairs at Gotherington approached completion for the start of this season there was additional good news. The G-WR had been working on a northern extension and managed to also open over this as far as Laverton for the start of this season. This means that the G-WR has been, and will be for the rest of this year, operated in two sections. Toddington to Laverton is worked by DMUs, while a temporary steam base has been set up at Winchcombe to enable GWR 2-8-0 No. 2807, ex-Turkish 8F 2-8-0 No. 45160 and No. 7903 Foremarke Hall to work trains from there to Cheltenham.
Could it get worse? Indeed it could, a well-organised raid by scrap metal thieves on the line’s Toddington HQ during the night of July 18-19 resulted in almost a ton of metal being stolen with a market value of the haul estimated as being at least £60,000.
The thieves gained access to the site across fields, broke down a fence and crossed the tracks, by-passing the GW-R’s security measures, even apparently being aware of the location of CCTV cameras and keeping clear of them. It also seems they were aware of where the most valuable items were stored. The initial targets were the main David Page locomotive shed and the former goods shed, now a machine shop, and the raiders used the railway's own oxy-acetylene flame cutting equipment to burn their way into secure steel storage containers. The thieves ignored a lot of valuable equipment and concentrated only on non-ferrous metals such as copper, brass and bronze.
The worst losses were components, the production of which involved hundreds of hours of machining and incorporating intricate moving parts. These included the theft of the brake ejector produced for the 35006 Locomotive Society’s ‘Merchant Navy’ No. 35006 Peninsular & Oriental SNCo, approaching the final stages of a 25-year restoration at Toddington.
The ejector has a value of around £15,000, but is probably worth little more than £60 as scrap metal. The problem now is not simply the cost, but the time it will take to produce a replacement. Other items stolen included copper pipework, bearings, valves and historic fittings that will have to be manufactured again from scratch. "It's not as if you can just go to a parts store somewhere to buy replacements," observed G-WR operations director, Neil Carr. "This loss is heartbreaking and it will deeply touch volunteers who devote thousands of skilled hours of their spare time restoring a vital aspect of Britain's transport heritage. It's going to involve a huge amount of work to replace everything.” The gang also caused considerable damage in finding what they were looking for.
There is a reward of £1,000 for any information that leads to the return of the brake ejector or other components. Information can be passed to Gloucestershire Police on 0845 090 1234 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.
Despite all these sickening body blows, a separate team of volunteers (the Friends of Broadway Station – see http://broadwaystation.co.uk/friendsofbroadway.htm) have been working hard at the site of the long-demolished station at Broadway. A new platform is being constructed ready for the day when the G-WR has recovered sufficiently for the railhead at Laverton to be pushed onwards to enable trains to once again arrive at Broadway. The team has also excavated the foundations of the old station structures and marked out which building was where. All of this can be seen from publicly accessible land.
The thefts are another dispiriting setback, but the railway is still fighting and every enthusiast can support these determined volunteers. Maintaining ticket and appeal income is vital for repairing the 'Chicken Curve' embankment collapse and to rebuild the railway's financial stability, so at very least, make every effort to visit the line.
At Toddington there is the opportunity to travel on the new extension across Stanway viaduct to the present railhead at Laverton by DMU. On selected dates (check http://www.toddington-narrow-gauge.co.uk/ ) the 2ft gauge North Gloucestershire Railway is also in operation, often employing steam.
Then, go to Winchcombe or Cheltenham Race Course station and travel on a steam-hauled service behind a prestige locomotive.
Two different rides by differing traction (three if you include the narrow gauge!) through the glorious Cotswold countryside is a major pleasure to be enjoyed, while also helping and encouraging the railway in its fight back.
You can also help by donating to the Emergency Appeal fund – see http://www.gwsr.com/appeal.aspx.
The photographs accompanying this article give a taste of what the line has to offer, all being taken on a single day in late July, including a call at Broadway.
Now go and see all this for yourself!