Chocolate and cream slam-door coach number 80969 rests at the end of the Kidderminster station platform - 10 May 2005 William Slim.
The Severn Valley Railway is located in the heart of England. Its southern terminus is at Kidderminster, 15 miles southwest from the city of Birmingham. It is a sixteen mile long steam tourist railway operating on trackage of the defunct Great Western Railway. All photograph locations with this article were reached by train or by walking from various station stops. You don't HAVE to drive a car to railfan in Britain!
Today's SVR was built between 1858 and 1862 to connect Shrewsbury to Hartlebury. Sometime during the 1870s it was taken over by the Great Western Railway which built a line from Bewdley to Kidderminster. Passengers, agriculture products, and coal were the prime commodities but financially the line was unsuccessful.
Truck transport spelled the beginning of the end for the line in the 1930s. At the time of nationalization of British railways in 1948 single-unit diesel rail cars, and later diesel multiple-unit cars, were introduced to reduce costs and stop the loss of passengers. Just like the North American experience they were ineffective in the long term. The car was, and still is, king.
Mr. Beeching entered the picture in 1963 with his axe, chopping off trackage north of Bridgnorth. Some passenger and coal traffic continued on the remainder until 1970 when discontinuance was total. Shortly after the future looked much brighter when the Severn Valley Railway Society opened service between Bridgnorth and Hampton Loade.
During violent thunderstorms on the evening of 19 Jun 2007 the railway suffered more extensive damage than in any in its history. Numerous landslides occurred between Bridgnorth and Northwood Halt with track suspended in mid-air in places. A signal's embankment was washed away, access to Hampton station washed out, and many cuttings were filled with debris.
As a result the washouts closure of the line impacted tourist visits to all the towns along the route of the railway. The total cost to repair the railway came to £2.5 million after further flooding happened in July 2007. Although a portion of the line was operable by early Spring of 2008 the line between Kidderminster and Bridgnorth wasn't fully open to the public until 21 Mar 2008.
Two terms commonly heard in England are the words "up train" and "down train". This refers to the direction a train is taking. If the train is moving towards London then it is an "up train". Conversely, "down trains" travel away from London, but not on the Severn Valley! For some reason the practice is reversed on this railway. Anyone who can explain this to me please pass along your comments, I'm curious.
My examination of this railway began at Kidderminster. A small city, probably best known for it's carpet manufacturing, but now the southernmost station on the SVR. SVR trains operate out of an old red brick Victorian station on tracks paralleling Central Trains line connected to all the other rail lines in Britain. A small modern commuter station rests on the east side of their shared parking lot. SVR trains depart Kidderminster in a southwesterly direction turning in a large arc northwesterly to reach Bewdley, a small community west of Kidderminster, and the first station stop after leaving Kidderminster. From there, SVR tracks run generally northwest from Bewdley through Arley, Highley, Country Park Halt, Hampton Loade, and terminate at Bridgnorth. Yes, that's the correct spelling for Bridge North.
The day of my trip from Kidderminster to Bridgnorth was an anniversary of a Second World War event. The train was met by a large group of young children upon arrival at Bewdley. Some were obviously wearing 1940's clothing, or caps, with hand printed signs tied with string about their necks. They were re-enacting the dispersal of children from London to the countryside during the bombing raids. An interesting and appropriate way to teach history to today's children.
Between Bewdley and Bridgnorth the railway follows the Severn River Valley crossing the Severn once on the Victoria Bridge. This large cast iron bridge, constructed in 1861 and in remarkable condition, still sees daily SVR traffic over it. Lettering on the side of the bridge reads: "Victoria Bridge 1861 John Fowler Engineer - Messrs. Brassey & Company Contractors - Cast and erected by the Coalbrookdale Co." There is a pleasant three-quarters of a mile long walking trail from Arley station, mostly beside the river. If you wish to photograph trains crossing the bridge the east side of the river offers the best photo opportunities.
Arley station itself is the epitome of an English heritage railway station. It is built on a side hill with a country road leading downhill to a pub within easy walking distance. Constructed of light brown coloured bricks the station roof is comprised of slate, typical of many older buildings in the United Kingdom. Railway posters adorn the exterior walls by a raised platform lit with gas lamps. The station has four chimneys and would guess it is heated with coal. Milk cans and trolleys are scattered about the platform. Sitting on a bench watching steam powered trains pass by is a time warp into the past.
Highley station is the next stop with its large steel water tank and typical British semaphore signals near the platform. This is also a heritage station, but built of stone.
Country Park Halt was seen from the coach window on the trip north. This is a request stop and with no requests the train breezed straight through on this trip.
Hampton Loade (There's that peculiar spelling again.) is the last station stop before reaching Bridgnorth. Here, like several other locations on the railway, signals are controlled by a Leverman from a signal box. Large levers mounted in a heavy base frame are physically connected by metal rods and bellcranks laid along the ground to reach the signals. Levers are painted different colours to distinguish their purpose. Besides changing a signal's aspect they can also be used to change a track turnout or switch. One common thing I've noticed is the top portion of a lever is never painted and there is usually a cloth rag hanging off one of the levers. The Leverman always grasps a lever using this cloth before throwing the lever. Since the top handle is unpainted steel the cloth keeps the Leverman's sweaty hands from tarnishing the handle. In most signal boxes the handles shine because they are so highly polished from use.
Shortly after departing Hampton Loade the tracks cross over Mor Brook, a tributary to the Severn River.
The final stop on this trip is Bridgnorth station. Constructed of a grey stone it is of a somewhat different design than the previous stations mentioned here. It may be described as two, story-and-a-half, ornate buildings connected by a central structure of only one story with a sloping slate covered roof. Viewed from above, the entire building is "H" shaped. The station is serviced by the typical high platform seen throughout this line and along most others in the UK.
But there are more interesting things at Bridgnorth, the engine sheds for one. Four tracks located to the west side of the station platform lead to the sheds. While access to the sheds is not permitted there is a pedestrian overbridge joining both station platforms. This gives a tantalizing glimpse into the sheds. Locomotive servicing is carried out here on the tracks outside the shed next to the platform. Several water columns are strategically placed to provide water for locomotive tenders and thirsty boilers.
During my brief visit to the site, two teenagers, Alex Wriggles and Peter Kneen, were photographed removing grease from the running gear of Stanier 2-8-0 number 48773. They told me they were participating in a school work experience program. One look at their filthy work clothes, dirty faces, and lack of enthusiasm gave me to believe they might appreciate their class room education more because of this, "work experience".
On a final note, no mention has yet been made of one other feature well worth visiting. There is a museum full of railway artifacts in one wing of the Kidderminster station. Your ticket to ride also includes entry to this museum. The Platform Ticket Machine was photographed in the museum. Many years ago railways charged 1 shilling to enter a station's platform just to view the trains. Another source of income one would guess, or perhaps to keep the riff raff off the platforms?. Museum artifacts include such things as sign boards, communication devices, token or staff machines, and models to name just a few.
The Severn Valley Railway... add it to your list of sites to visit when in England!