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SOUTH DEVON RAILWAY runs ‘Steam Aid’ branch-line specials this weekend to help stricken Gloucestershire railway

And the result of our efforts was...
GWR 7903
Modified Hall 4-6-0 7903 Foremarke Hall accelerating away from WinchcombePhoto © Paul Stratford

The scenic South Devon Railway (SDR) is putting on three extra steam trains this coming Saturday (19th March) in addition to the scheduled diesel Bubblecar service to help support another heritage steam railway in Gloucestershire that has suffered catastrophic damage from two serious embankment collapses that will cost around £1million to repair.

The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway (GWSR), suffered a serious embankment collapse in January, splitting the line in two near its Winchcombe station. This was the railway’s second major earthworks failure in less than a year.

Last April, the GWSR launched a £1 million Emergency Appeal to repair its first disastrous embankment failure, closing its southern terminus at Cheltenham Racecourse. Both failures occurred following two successive severe winters. On top of that, the railway lost over £70,000 of income from its important ‘Santa Special’ season because of heavy snow. These events have combined to present the railway with what GWSR Plc chairman, Malcolm Temple, describes as its ‘gravest challenge ever’

Mr Temple said: “The support shown by the South Devon Railway is wonderful and, on behalf of every member of our staff who are all volunteers, I can say that we are deeply grateful for this exceptional gesture.

“Without doubt, this is the gravest challenge our railway has ever faced and its future depends on success of our £1million appeal - every penny of which we desperately need. This is a really imaginative idea and a great encouragement to the railway’s staff as well as being great boost to our fundraising effort. I can promise that this is something we will never forget.”

The cost of the Gotherington embankment repair, which is now approaching completion, is just under £1 million of which £500,000 has been met by insurance. The most recent failure of the so-called ‘Chicken Curve’ embankment will cost a further estimated £500,000 for which no insurance funding is available. This means that public support is vital to secure the future operation and development of this major heritage steam railway, which is operated entirely by unpaid volunteers over the last 30 years.
Chicken Curve
February this year - a desolate, Beeching-esque scene with
the signal standing sentinel over the collapsed track-bed
Photo © Paul Stratford
Chicken Curve
Slip with sleeper indicating where the track should be.Photo © Ian Crowder

SDR General Manager Dick Wood said: “I realised we had a chance to use some of our planned steam auto crew training runs this weekend to help raise some funds for the GWSR. It’ll be a wonderful opportunity for people who come to ride on our diesel services to pay a little bit more to also go on a steam trip too and help another stricken railway with whom we have enjoyed a close relationship for many years.

“It’s an unusual chance for the public to enjoy travelling on trains from two eras on the same day - the steam auto-trailer working so typical of Great Western branch lines, and the ‘Bubblecar’ diesel railcars that followed them in the early 1960s. Now even the Bubblecars have disappeared, but you can see both at work on our ‘Steam Aid’ day at the South Devon Railway.

“Everyone at the SDR has great sympathy for the predicament the GWSR finds itself in and I hope this special fund raising day will generate some useful money to help get them over their troubles. The three extra steam auto trains will run at 11.30, 1.00 and 3.00 from Buckfastleigh and 12.15, 2.15 and 3.45 from Totnes on Saturday 19th March. The special round trip fare of £5.00 per person will ONLY be available to passengers who have already bought tickets to travel on the scheduled diesel services.”

The oddly named ‘Auto trains’ will be pulled by million-mile engine No. 5526 which will share the spotlight with the SDR’s diesel ‘Bubblecar’ amidst glorious spring scenery along the River Dart.

This double billing will show the changes that took place on West Country branch line railways during the 1950s & early 60s when the ‘new technology’ diesel railcars started to gradually replace steam on the rail network.

The name ‘Auto-train’ comes from the way in which the driver operates the locomotive’s controls ‘automatically’ from the end cab of the leading carriage instead of from the engine. This happens via a clever system of rods and cables. Authentic 1950s passenger coaches complete the scene.

Auto trains would usually consist of just one or two coaches worked in push-pull mode by a small locomotive. A few of the GWR 55xx Class 2-6-2 "small prairies" were also equipped to work auto trains, and the South Devon Railway fitted 5526 with the necessary auto gear to allow the sights and sounds of a genuine auto train at work to still be enjoyed.

In direct contrast is the Bubblecar, a type of diesel train which replaced ‘auto-trains’ on West Country branch lines. Restored to its original green livery last year, the diesel Bubblecar W55000 used to operate in the West Country and worked services to places such as Kingsbridge and Brixham - now of course long removed from the railway map.

At Buckfastleigh the museum, which is being fully refurbished, will be open. Displays for the 2011 season include an 0-4-0 saddle tank which once worked at the Gas Works in Exeter. Painted blue and named "Ashley", the locomotive is very popular with the younger visitors to the museum many of whom enjoy the chance to visit the footplate. Also housed in the museum is the last surviving locomotive that ran on Brunel's famous Broad Gauge system, the 0-4-0 vertical boilered "Tiny" that is part of the National Railway Museum collection and on loan to the S.D.R.

Refreshments will be available at Buckfastleigh, from the main refreshment rooms, and souvenirs, together with an extensive range of model railway items and equipment, can also be purchased from Expressway Models.

The SDR’s Bubblecar train services start this Saturday (19th March) at 10.45 from Buckfastleigh and at 11.30 from Totnes. The South Devon Railway will also be running steam auto trains this Sunday, 20th March, and then steam and diesel services EVERY day from Saturday 26 March until the end of October.

And the results were..

Following the weekend's activities our General Manager, Dick Wood, has made the following comments:

“Despite really short notice, Saturday's little foray was successful and has raised £350 so far for the G&WR landslip appeal.
“More funds are to come with luck via the shop selling the rest of some prints Sarah Ann Harvey supplied of the auto and Bubblecar at a fiver each.
“We carried 70 people on the Bubblecar on Sat, plus another 66 on the three Autos in aid of G&WR, plus the museum made some money from blowing the whistle on Ashley.“

So thank you to all who helped.

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© South Devon Railway Association 2011

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