Published 5th November 2012
No. 7903 Foremarke Hall worked a packed train away from Toddington station at 10.30 on October 30 heading for Winchcombe and Cheltenham Race Course, heralding re-opening of the full length of the railway. The G-WR had been severed when the embankment at what is known as Chicken Curve collapsed in January 2011. This celebratory train carried contributors to the appeal fund launched to repair the railway, invited guests and press.
Following the catastrophic failure of the embankment on the Toddington side of the approach to Winchcombe station, the railway had been restricted to operating in two sections. Steam services were maintained between Winchcombe and Cheltenham Race Course, while DMUs worked out of Toddington to Laverton (the temporary terminus of the lines northern extension which opened in April 2011) and back towards Winchcombe as far as Hailes Abbey, short of the severance.
The collapse at Chicken Curve was bad enough in itself, but followed a serious embankment failure at Gotherington in spring 2010 which had also severed the line. Repairs at Gotherington were finally completed in March 2011. The double blow to the railway resulted in the launch of a £1million Emergency Appeal.
As the October 30 celebratory special headed by No. 7903 Foremarke Hall arrived back at Toddington, a Class 37 diesel came on to the tail of the train, which then proceeded to Laverton – the first steam-hauled passenger train to run to the new northern railhead. Although there is a loop at Laverton it has yet to be commissioned for running round, hence the class 37’s presence to lead the train back to Toddington.
Further steam-worked trains ran for the public on October 30, supplemented by DMU shuttles to Winchcombe – and over the full line to Cheltenham Race Course. This was the first time the three-car DMU had run right through to either Winchcombe or Cheltenham beyond.
Completion of repairs to the Chicken Curve embankment followed by track laying to reinstate the through line came just as the Emergency Appeal met its £1million target. The figure was reached when a visitor asked G-WR chairman, Malcolm Temple, how much more had to be raised to reach the magic £1m. After a quick mental calculation, Malcolm said "About £7,000." The anonymous visitor wrote out a cheque on the spot! Although the target has been achieved, the railway still has to recover from three awful years and further donations will be welcomed.
Although the line is complete again, it is so late in the season that the basic timetable operated hitherto will remain applicable (steam Winchcombe-Cheltenham, DMU Toddington-Laverton) except the DMU will henceforth continue to Winchcombe station to connect with the steam service.