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Pete Waterman launches £1m Emergency Appeal to repair Gloucestershire Railway embankment collapse

Pete Waterman, music industry statesman and railway enthusiast, launched the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway’s (GWSR) £1 million emergency appeal on Tuesday 7th September 2010.

This follows the collapse of one of the railway’s embankments, cutting off three miles of one of the UK’s leading heritage railways.  Described as one of the worst earthwork failures on any railway, over 250 metres of line is affected, repair of which will cost in the region of £900,000. It has left some track hanging in the air.

Meanwhile, services have been curtailed to seven miles between the railway’s Toddington, Gloucestershire headquarters station and Gotherington station, close to where the railway has been severed.

GWR Peter WatermanGWR Peter WatermanWaterman, the GWSR’s President, says that getting the railway’s full length reinstated is vital.  “That’s not just for the future of the railway which has been steadily been rebuilt by its entirely-volunteer workforce over the past 30 years, but for the local tourist economy as well.

“Heritage railways are big business in Britain and the GWSR – or Honeybourne Line – is no exception.  People who visit it use local facilities and go to other tourist attractions.  When it suffers, they suffer too.

“This £1 million appeal will not only finance repair of the devastating landslip to the highest possible standards, but will enable the railway to take steps to ensure nothing similar happens again.

“One of the wonderful features of the line is that long sections run along embankments which afford some fantastic views of the Cotswolds and over the Vale of Evesham to the Malverns and Black Mountains beyond.  That’s one of the railway’s maintenance headaches, too, so it’s important that we ensure these attractive, century-old earthworks remain in good condition.” 

The Honeybourne Line owns 15 miles of trackbed (closed by British Railways in 1976) between Cheltenham and Broadway, of which 10 miles has been re-opened.  The railway is on target to open the line to Broadway in five years time, and expects to continue north to Honeybourne and form a junction with the upgraded Worcester to Oxford line.

GWR Gotherington SlipGWR Gotherington SlipThe collapse occurred because of a combination of circumstances including the local geology on the edge of Cotswolds; the way water has affected the embankment over the 105 years since being built and a legacy of ongoing repairs carried out by British Railways in the 1960s and 1970s. 

A geotechnical survey has provided vital information about the makeup of the embankment , the land on which it is built and the way the soil has moved (and continues to move).  A design for repair has been produced which involves seven separate sections of work, ranging from stabilising the existing embankment to complete rebuilding of the earthwork, which at its highest is about eight metres high.

The Appeal is seeking both donations from well-wishers as well as issue of shares in Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway Plc. Blocks of £50 share are available while the ‘300 Club’ is open to people prepared to invest £1,000 or more – for which they will earn a ‘golden pass’ entitling them to unlimited travel on the railway for life.

Even before the appeal has been officially launched, around £70,000 has already come in from well-wishers.  “The Honeybourne Line is much loved both by local people and the railway movement as a whole,” says Waterman.  “That so much money has already come in, even before this major launch, underlines that affection.”

What was originally a double-track high-speed main line opened between Stratford-upon-Avon and Cheltenham in 1906  It provided a vital link for the Great Western Railway between existing railway networks of the industrialised West Midlands and Cheltenham for routes to South Wales and the West Country.  The section between Honeybourne Junction and Cheltenham was brand new, one of the last main lines built in Britain, following a route along the edge of the Cotswold escarpment.  This 20-mile stretch involved significant civil engineering works, including a large viaduct and two tunnels, as well as long stretches of cuttings and embankments.  The line was heavily used by both through freight and express passenger trains as well as local passenger services.  Most of the local stations were closed by 1960 and services continued to decline until the line was closed completely in 1976.  Three years later, the track was removed and most buildings had been demolished.

The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway was formed in 1980 to re-build as much as possible of the former Stratford-upon-Avon to Cheltenham route.  It started running a modest service over 700 metres of track at Toddington in 1983.  Since then the railway has grown at an average rate of about half-a-mile per year, rebuilding lost infrastructure.  It reached Cheltenham Racecourse in 2003.  It expects to open a new two-mile extension to Laverton in 2011 and four years later, to Broadway where construction of a new station has already started. The route is protected in local structure plans.

The landslip is close to Gotherington station, just under three miles north of Cheltenham Racecourse station.

The railway is entirely built and operated by volunteer staff.  GWSR Plc has an annual turnover of about £1m and carries about 75,000 fare-paying passengers per year.

Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway: www.gwsr.com

Source: Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway 

 

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