A PERFECT STOP. AT TODDINGTON. AND BROADWAY. AND HONEYBOURNE?
article by: Ian Crowder
Modified Hall 4-6-0 no. 7903 Foremarke Hall is taken by Ian Crowder on an imaginary journey from Toddington to meet a scheduled Paddington-bound FGW service at Honeybourne Junction. Photo Steve George
Broadway station as it was and will be again one day. (Photograher unknown, from a post card. Courtesy of the Railway Archiving Trust)
Ian Crowder, trainee driver, takes us on a journey with
an up train on the Honeybourne Line - all the way to Honeybourne
Junction. That will give the Gloucestershire Warwickshire
Railway a 17-mile run. Will it happen? You
A perfect stop.
Most of the trains on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway
(which is re-branding itself the 'Honeybourne Line'), are six Mk 1
coaches in length. The platforms at Toddington are 400 ft
long - not much longer than six coaches so stopping in exactly the
right place is vital.
It's getting towards the end of the 2009 season and, as a
trainee driver, I'm pretty pleased with that stop, the second
perfect one of the day: as one senior driver told me: "anyone can
make a locomotive go. It's stopping in the right place that's
the skilful bit." I hope to 'pass out' in the Spring!
The lovely thing about Toddington - which featured in the recent
BBC wartime drama 'Land Girls' - is that the station has hardly
changed over the years. It's the only original station building
remaining on the entire 'Honeybourne Line' (the GWR 'flatpack'
structure at Cheltenham Racecourse excepted).
Look at a 1930s picture and apart from the trees being taller,
the station itself looks pretty much as it does today. The
only obvious omission is the 12,000 gallon water tank that once
stood imperiously next to the down platform and even that omission
is being rectified. A replacement tank, kindly provided by
the Cholsey & Wallingord Railway, is well on the way to being
restored while the original foundations for the four steel legs
that held it aloft have been found and strengthened ready to take
the replacement. The incoming water will pass through a
reverse osmosis plant (one has already been installed at Cheltenham
Racecourse) and the tank will supply water to the columns (already
acquired), which will also appear on the platforms where the
originals once stood, providing perfect water for locomotive
But I digress.
My locomotive - let's say it's no. 7903 Foremarke Hall
- is sitting neatly beneath Stow Road bridge and the track
tantalisingly stretches ahead, past what will become the outer home
for southbound trains arriving at Toddington and through a cutting
towards the majestic, 15-arch Stanway Viaduct.
It's not difficult to imagine waiting for the right away, past
the recently-re-sited starter standing at 'off' and taking the
train towards the viaduct that will carry it loftily over the
fields and on to Laverton; to Broadway and perhaps on to Honeyboune
Junction to meet a scheduled connection with a First Great Western
Similar idle thoughts must cross the mind of countless footplate
crews on heritage railways as they reach their terminus, perhaps
with just a head-shunt ahead where their truncated line once
progressed for miles but is now lost forever under housing estates,
felled embankments and long-gone bridges, or buried under new
roads. Think of Bridgnorth. Or Loughborough (yes, there
are prospects here, though). Or Pickering, or Alresford.
But on the GWR, it's not just idle dreaming. The dream
is becoming reality!
Whether you're sitting at Toddington or Cheltenham Racecourse,
the road ahead is very much a probability.
In fact the track north from Toddington already runs a further
two miles, at present just a sinuous siding that is the domain of
the PW team whose eclectic and well-laden train regularly
disappears over territory being reawakened, to practice their dark
arts of laying sleepers, welding joints, dropping ballast, digging
out the cess or tamping the track. Next year it is highly likely
that the first revenue-earning trains for over 50 years will be
running as far as the site of Laverton Halt - whose wooden platform
and tin shelter have long since disappeared. And the railway
is very much on target to continue north over a brand new bridge
that is being replaced at the expense of the National Grid, whose
predecessors removed the original (with the railway's agreement)
for heavy plant to access a new gas pipeline.
Next station, Broadway!
Only months ago, the site of Broadway station, two miles further
on, had pretty much disappeared beneath Nature's smothering blanket
of nettles, small trees and brambles. Now it is a huge, clear
site with the original foundations of the platforms, station
buildings and signalbox exposed for all to see and basic works
progressing well. 'The Broadway Pioneers' are hard at work
preparing the way for the future.
Fast forward four or five years.
Hands on brake and ejector, ever so gently my train comes to
another perfect halt at Broadway, the shunt signal already 'off'
ready to run round. What sight will greet me, my fireman and
the passengers starting to disgorge from the busy train? What
will our customers expect to do once they have arrived?
Well, it's hard to be precise. But yes, there will
eventually be two platforms, likely to be about 550 feet long to
accommodate eight coaches instead of the original standard platform
length of 400 feet. And yes, my fireman will have surrendered the
staff to the signalman from the timber-built signalbox just beyond
the line-over bridge on the down side; standing on the old
foundations. In fact, it will be the 'box that once stood at
Exminster, similar to the original but a bit longer.
Yes, there will be a station building here too. While the
former Bourton-on-the-Water station building was a well-publicised
contender, that's not now going to happen.
To be frank, the Bourton building is a bit too small for what
will be an important station and moving it within a tight deadline
imposed by its owner, Gloucestershire County Council, would be a
serious financial challenge. There's a growing view, too,
that a replacement building should, externally at any rate, look
like the original, which was in fact brick-built. Indeed, that
wouldn't be out of place as most of the nearby homes and other
buildings are brick built too - they are much later than the
Cotswold stone-built town centre.
Take a look at Toddington station, and you will have a
reasonable idea of what the original looked like, although the
Broadway building was longer. The original drawings have been
obtained and the building could be built of genuine GWR brick from
an earmarked-for-demolition station building elsewhere on the
national network. Indeed, the GWR's buildings department has
its eyes on a couple of possibilities. Then it would 'simply' be a
case of recycling the brick and hey presto, you have a building
that to someone coming back from 60 years ago, would be a familiar
and heart-warming sight. Another option is to use new brick to the
GWR pattern - the original brick supplier is still in business.
Certainly, Broadway is the golden goal. It is a popular
tourist haunt with its mellow assortment of Cotswold-stone houses,
shops and pubs lazily lining the wide, picturesque main
The local council, frankly, can't wait for the first train to
arrive. They see it as a great enhancement to what Broadway
has to offer and would like to run a bus link over the mile between
town centre and station. That means the passengers that have
just alighted from my train of the future can easily and
comfortably enjoy all that Broadway has to offer - and bring in
useful tourist income, too. They see the railway acting as a
link from here to another vital tourist town, Cheltenham.
They believe the railway could help relieve some of the traffic
congestion that so tarnishes the peaceful pastiche of this
quintessential Cotswold town.
So, I sit waiting to run round our train at Broadway. But
tantalisingly, stretching ahead, is the head-shunt disappearing
north towards the cutting that once carried the line on to
Weston-sub-Edge station a couple of miles north. For a moment, I
imagine that we have collected the staff for the section ahead.
Fast forward a few more years…
The train accelerates north and under the bridge thoughtfully
built over the vacant trackbed when the A44 Broadway by-pass was
built, and on towards what was originally Bretforton and
Weston-sub-Edge station. There's nothing left of the station
now except the former station master's house. Some distance from
the villages it was meant to serve, it was never going to be a
runaway commercial success. But it was where the late Audie
Baker, author of the definitive historical work on the Honeybourne
Line and who lived nearby, first fell in love with the railway, its
trains and the people who worked them.
I imagine my train chattering through the green, sylvan
countryside, the engine laying a pure white vapour trail over the
broad landscape of productive green fields. Leaving the station
site behind it's pretty easy going as the line is straight and
almost level. This was once a racetrack for the Castles that
bore happy holidaymakers aboard heavy expresses such as The
Cornishman, between the Midlands and West Country
Past the former Honeybourne Airfield on the left, the fixed
distant for Honeybourne is coming in to view and beyond, the line
plunges beneath the Worcester-Oxford line and takes a sharp curve
left over what used to be Honeybourne West Loop Junction.
Regulator open, the engine barks as it lifts the train up to run
alongside the main line for a couple of hundred yards. We
come to another perfect stand alongside the island platform on the
left of the train. Looking ahead, the headlights appear of
one of First Great Western's venerable HST's on a Hereford to
Paddington service. It's slowing to stop at the opposite side
of the platform, refurbished and lengthened by Network Rail as part
of the re-doubling of this increasingly busy line.
A well-timed connection. Some of my passengers are
changing here. Others will change from the FGW train for the
ride behind Foremarke Hall south to Cheltenham. Some
alight to take a picture of the HST and the steam locomotive, a
BR-built Modified Hall which, soberingly, is exactly the same age
as me. Momentarily, I reflect that the locomotive, unlike me,
is probably immortal. Over the decades to come, how many more
drivers will enjoy the journey I have just taken?
Even this imaginary vision isn't pie-in-the-sky. Network
Rail is making passive provision for future Honebourne Line trains
and to accommodate them, are shortly to modify the junction with
the remains of the Stratford upon Avon line that diverges here and
runs as far as Long Marston. Work started in earnest with a
blockade during summer of 2009 and the same will happen during 2010
to enable the doubling work to crack on. Already considerable
trackside clearance has opened up new panoramas along the route and
stockpiles of concrete sleepers and other materials are building
up, while double track once again runs through Chipping Campden
Enough…back to reality with a bump. All this is, of
course, possible, indeed probable. It is just a matter of
time and - inevitably - money.
What's on the shopping list?
There is a lot to do. The extension as far as Laverton is
largely funded but the railway aspires to see Broadway station
functioning by 2015. And the 2009 reality is that while
income from ticket sales and other retail activities is
significantly up on previous years, investment income (in other
words, people buying shares) has, frankly, bombed. This
reflects perhaps the economic situation: people choosing to find
their holiday entertainment at home and being careful about what
they spend their money on. Buying shares in a railway, it
seems, has slipped down the priority list.
And it is share income that largely fuels the railway's capital
projects. Apart from the need to build a station from
scratch, along with all the associated infrastructure such as car
park, toilets and refreshment facilities as well as track and
signalling, some of the steel bridges are in a poor state and there
are parts of the formation that require remedial work to bring them
up to scratch. So where is the money going to come
from? What's it all going to cost?
Lets tackle the costs first. Getting to Broadway and
provision of the bare minimum station facility will cost an
estimated £1,565,000 which is about half of the total cost of the
various projects that are either under way or planned elsewhere on
the GWR. Also on the 3 million-plus shopping list are:
- Land drainage to reduce the risk of future landslips, following
last winter's slip at Cheltenham. This is long-term and is
costing the railway around £25,000 per year.
- Carriage shed at Winchcombe to protect the
increasingly-precious Mk 1 coaches that are the mainstay of the
GWR's services - likely cost at least £200,000. This is at
the design stage
- Expansion of the David Page shed at Toddington, to improve
locomotive engineering facilities and build a separate facility for
housing and overhauling the heritage diesel fleet. Design for
all of this work is complete and costed at around £205,000 - indeed
some of the work is already completed, including the south
extension of the David Page shed and two, wonderful, new locomotive
- Amenities block at Toddington - doubling the size of the
existing former goods shed to provide on the ground floor, an
extension to the machine shop and at first floor level, staff
amenities including showers and changing rooms. This will
cost a further quarter-million.
- Replacement of the 'lost' up platform at Cheltenham Racecourse
station. This had to be removed because ground movement was
causing the platform retaining wall to lean ever further towards
the track. The station improvements will include provision of
a footbridge as well as the platform, in total costing around
- Waiting room on the up platform at Winchcombe (work is
progressing on this project at a cost of about £20,000)
- And there is plenty more not on this list - including working
with the local Cheltenham authorities to develop a transport link
in to the town as well as growing beyond Broadway and on to
The GWR remains resolutely volunteer-run (although earlier this
year it advertised internally for a marketing manager; a post that
wasn't in fact filled). For the size of the railway, currently 10
miles and about to become 12.5 miles, this is an extraordinary
Being volunteer-run has its benefits and drawbacks.
On the plus side of course, every penny of profit from revenue
is invested into the improvement and extension of the
railway. There are no salaries to pay. Bit by bit, it
is slowly fulfilling the aspirations of those volunteers who, 25
years ago and with such hope, saw the diminutive Avonside tank
locomotive Cadbury No. 1 set off with a single coach from
Toddington station, carrying the first fare-paying passengers on a
journey of just 700 yards. The aspiration - which is as relevant
and alive today as it was back in the 1980s - was 'To restore as
much as possible of the former Stratford upon Avon to Cheltenham
That's not just the length of the line. It includes
stations, signalling and, perhaps, double track: after all, this
was a well-engineered main line, with gentle gradients and
curves. The possibilities are endless. There is
absolutely no doubt that the Honeybourne Line offers more potential
for future development than any other heritage railway in the
On the minus side, the railway is entirely dependent on the
goodwill of volunteers to come in to operate the railway, to run
trains, to maintain it when trains aren't running. That
curtails the number of services that the railway can run but to
date, it has always managed to staff the railway on operating
days. True, there has been the odd occasion when there have
been frantic emails and phone calls to find a replacement for
someone whose 'day job' has taken them away or have been taken
ill. But the railway's people have always risen to the
Applications are being prepared for grant income and there is a
strong possibility that significant sums of money could come from
this direction but, of course, such income is stretched to the
limit by the recession and major projects such as the 2012
Grab a share of the action - literally!
Although there is a fall-off in share income, this remains the
key to completing the railway's immediate and medium-term goals: so
it has re-launched its share appeal.
What better way to enjoy the growth of a railway than by owning
a piece of it? What better gift for Christmas? Some
people get train-sets - but here's a chance to gift a piece of the
The railway has completely revised its share incentives,
too. While you won't get a dividend in the true PLC sense,
you will see a real dividend in terms of travel benefits and, of
course, the satisfaction of seeing your investment and hundreds
like it being transformed into a tangible and worthwhile heritage
railway that will bring education and joy to future
generations. And be a part of capturing a little of what life
was once like on the Honeybourne Line of old.
For instance, invest in a single unit of 100 shares - total £100
- you will get three pairs of travel tickets each year. So in
terms of ticket value, that investment will have been repaid in
three years - much better than any Stock Exchange return!
Invest £5,000 and you get free travel for life.
Can't dig out £100? Then set up a direct debit for £10 per month
- and once each 100-share unit has been built, your certificate
will arrive. Simple. See the panel for full information
and how to obtain a share brochure.
You should have gained the impression from this story that the
Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway is growing - and will continue
to grow. That means more members, and thus volunteers, are
needed as well.
The railway prides itself on being the 'Friendly line in the
Cotswolds' and that message comes back to us time and again from
travellers. Many people decide they would like a 'piece of
the action' and join up to volunteer. Although the railway
counts around 600 people who regularly give of their time to the
railway, it has to be said the railway's 'volunteer retention rate'
hasn't been the best and steps are being taken to ensure that
future volunteers receive the warmest of welcomes, top-quality
training and the best possible introduction to life on the
railway. It doesn't matter what your 'bag' is - steam,
diesel, rolling stock, building, track, signal & telegraph,
station staff, gardening, catering, guards and TTI's - think of a
job and there is one that will suit.
Again, if you fancy a shot at not just investing, but helping to
make your investment grow by volunteering, the panel tells you
more. Or go to www.gwsr.com for the full low-down; or write
to Garry Owen at Toddington station for a brochure.
We're here for the journey. We've made a perfect stop for
you, dear reader. Hop aboard. You're welcome to come along
with us for the ride of a lifetime…