Then and now – Stanway Viaduct
By: Ian Crowder, 2011
Stanway Viaduct is quite an elegant feature on the Honeybourne Line, marching across a valley over 15 arches and just under 50 feet high. Given that much of the line is on embankments it's likely that most travellers heading south from the West Midlands will have barely noticed that the line was on a viaduct before entering a cutting that leads to Toddington station.
During the 1950s, express trains running between Wolverhampton and the West Country and Wales would have crossed the viaduct at speeds in the 60s and, taking advantage of the favourable 1 in 150 gradient heading north, perhaps in the low 80s given that the Great Western engineered this route as a high-speed line. As well as being on a gradient, the viaduct is also on a gentle 80-chain curve.
Stanway viaduct has an interesting history. It is just over 210 yards long and each of the 15 spans is 36 feet. On Friday 13th November 1903, however, some of the spans collapsed and the full story is told here.
The last time scheduled passenger services crossed the viaduct was in 1968. This was a non-stop diesel multiple unit service that worked between Leamington Spa and Gloucester. Usually formed of a single car class 121 or 122 'Bubble car' unit the train was strengthened with the addition of a class 117 two or three car unit on busy days - especially when the end of this service approached. The service actually ended on 23 March 1968 and the black-and-white picture was taken by David Aldred on that last day, looking back as the train crossed the viaduct with a Gloucester-bound service.
The second black-and-white picture is also of interest, showing a class 117 unit crossing the viaduct. Also taken by David Aldred, the train is heading away from the photographer towards Toddington. Today, a repeat of this picture would show little more than the trees which have sprung up since this February 1968 picture.
An almost identical scene could be caputed in 2011. The immediately obvious difference is that the track is no longer double and the single line now follows the centre of the viaduct deck. But apart from the trees having grown somewhat, there is little difference in the view. The colour picture was taken 43 years later on 30th April 2011 from the newly-arrived 'Bubble car', no W55003, as it made its way northwards with a Laverton-bound train.