GWSR scheduled to reopen on 7th March - despite a further landslip
The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway (GWSR) has again suffered two further earthworks problems on its 14-mile railway between Cheltenham Racecourse and Broadway.
The first is an embankment slip south of Gotherington station and the second affects the cutting at the north end of Greet tunnel, close to Winchcombe station.
The railway suffered devastating embankment slips in 2010 at Gotherington and in 2011 at ‘Chicken Curve’ north of Winchcombe station, both of which closed the line for several months at those points while repairs were effected. The railway has since invested considerably on improving drainage and embankment stabilisation throughout the length of the line.
The latest slip first manifested itself before Christmas and a precautionary 5mph speed restriction was put in place for the rest of the running season. Since then the slip, which fortunately is on the Malvern or ‘up’ formation (the running line is on the ‘down’ formation of this formerly double-track line) has worsened, exacerbated by a particularly wet winter.
The cause is thought to be the incessant rain which followed a very dry summer. Contractors are currently on site working to repair the slip with a combination of soil nailing, a technique that has been used to great effect to stabilise embankments elsewhere on the route, and sheet piling to contain the earthworks.
Richard Johnson, the volunteer chairman of GWSR Plc, says: “We expect the work to take until April or early May and unfortunately, this will make a £500,000 dent in the railway’s finances although the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway Trust has made a substantial contribution towards the cost. We are very fortunate that we were able to both secure the services of specialist contractors at short notice and that an appropriate supply of soil nails could be secured.
“The line south of Gotherington is closed to rail traffic at present although we expect, and the civil engineers are working towards, stabilising the embankment sufficiently for trains to pass from 7th March: inevitably, with a speed restriction.”
March is an important month for the railway. Not only is the line scheduled to reopen for public services on Saturday 7th March following the winter maintenance break, it is also host to Cheltenham Festival National Hunt services operated by Classic Hospitality, with two trains departing Toddington each day 10-12 March and on Gold Cup day, Friday 13th, three trains: two from Toddington and one from Broadway.
In the cutting between Winchcombe station and Greet tunnel part of the cutting side has slipped towards the track. This is again, on the ‘up’ side of the line and has not affected the running line.
The cause has been established as the siting of rainwater soakaways from new houses, built on the site of the former ‘Harvest Home’ pub, being placed at the bottom of the house gardens, close to the top of the cutting. Thanks to the rain the soakaways have become overwhelmed, saturating the top of the cutting and causing them and part of the gardens to collapse and slide down the slope towards the line. A temporary repair has been effected using contractors who were working on improving the River Isbourne channel where it passes beneath the railway north of Winchcombe station.
Says Richard Johnson: “The problem has been stabilised by removing all the loose spoil and installing large concrete blocks at the bottom of the slope. This will secure it for the coming year and a permanent solution will be started next winter.
“Our claim for compensation is against the householders and their insurers and we have been working with them on this.”
Plans for 2020
Despite these setbacks, the GWSR is planning for another successful year with an improved service and an enticing range of special events During 2019 it was evident that many trains were full on weekdays and as a result, all midweek services are running to the ‘Purple’ timetable which provides extra seating capacity and features two steam locomotives and a diesel-hauled service for the last train from Broadway to Cheltenham Racecourse and return to Toddington. The railway remains proudly almost entirely volunteer-run and, last year, carried over 125,000 passengers.
Media contact: Ian Crowder, 07775 566 555 or firstname.lastname@example.org