Winter activities

Expectations have always been high that major infrastructure work and other repairs and improvements will take place on heritage railways and centres during the winter months. But the popularity of such events as Santa specials has given less time for the work to take place as Peter Brown found when beginning this exclusive survey just before Christmas 2017.

Although the railway preservation movement was busy, with many organisations reluctantly telling us they had no time to take part in our survey, what has stood out is the amount of major work taking place on what can only be described as headliners of the movement. They are the extension to Broadway on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway and the bridge linking that has taken place recently on the Great Central Railway.

“We are going flat out to ensure that everything is ready for trains to run into Broadway for March 30 and there is still much to do there and the effort will be continuing apace at the site,” GWSR spokesman Ian Crowder told us just before Christmas as the tracklaying was nearing completion and the railway’s closure from Monday, January 1 until Saturday, March 10. “There is a fair bit of work to be done during the ‘closed’ season.

Track slewing in progress at Thame Junction on the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway. PHIL MARSH

“At Toddington, a turnout will be reinstated at south end at the end of the year that will provide a direct connection once again between the yard and the running line. The turnout was taken out a few years ago. This will significantly improve flexibility at Toddington, especially given the much busier timetable we will be operating during 2018 and provide a second means of access to the yard. In addition, around a quarter of a mile of the running line is being relaid at Toddington.”

Longest steel spans

Further south, significant repair work will be undertaken on the ‘skew’ bridge at Gotherington, which, because of the acute angle of the line over the road beneath, has the longest steel span on the GWSR. The track was due to be lifted at the beginning of January for access to the steel deck to repair damage caused by water ingress at a cost estimated at £122,000.

“We also need to repair the newly-refurbished bridge over the B4632 Station Road/Evesham Road at Broadway,” Ian revealed. “The bridge has been struck a few times by overweight vehicles, one strike being particularly serious with a collision from overweight earthmoving equipment on a low loader. The work entails a road closure of the main B4632 (formerly the A44) road into Broadway from the Evesham direction. Fortunately this work will be paid for by the lorry owner’s insurers and it is expected to cost around £58,000.

“This is, of course, highly topical given that Network Rail recently announced that over the past year it had suffered almost 2000 bridge strikes and that’s just the national network, never mind other bridges carrying roads, footpaths, heritage railways and so on. The subsequent disruption to road and rail traffic is estimated to have cost the taxpayer £23 million over the past year.”

He added: “We are considering ways of protecting the bridge – for example, collision protection beams on either side, but this would cost around £60k as it is our bridge and thus our responsibility. The irony is that as part of the bridge refurbishment three years ago, paid for with the successful Bridges to Broadway share offer, the local authority installed several new signs warning drivers of the 4.4m (14ft in) headroom and, as suggested, the main culprits are low loaders carrying skips, JCBs or other equipment that is over-height, rather than conventional vehicles that are more likely to have the vehicle height prominently displayed in the cab sat nav that steers drivers away from height-restricted routes.”

Each bridge strike causes disruption to the railway, for just as Network Rail has to suspend its service, so too do the heritage railways such as the GWSR.

Read more in Issue 238 of HR – on sale now!

Enjoy more Heritage Railway reading in the four-weekly magazine. Click here to subscribe.