British Rail stalwarts to take charge at GWR heritage diesel gala

Alex Farran
May 13, 2024

• Diesel spectacular for the GWR summer heritage gala, 12-14 July 2024 • Sights and sounds of 60-year-old BR icons over 14 miles in the Cotswolds • Guest locomotive & home fleet to operate intensive three-day timetable*

The second weekend in July signals the return of the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway’s ever popular annual Summer Heritage Diesel Gala which takes place between Friday 12th and Sunday 14th July 2024 – the flagship event for the railway’s resident diesel locomotive power. A visiting locomotive for the summer diesel weekend is to be confirmed in due course.

The three-day diesel celebration offers visitors and enthusiasts young and old the opportunity to experience the sights, sounds and smells of classic heritage diesel traction from the heyday of British Rail, whilst travelling through the idyllic Cotswold countryside – featuring the railway’s iconic structures of Greet Tunnel, Stanway Viaduct, and stopping at picturesque period stations.

Diesel traction gained prominence following the demise of steam in the mid-1960s. By this time, a significant portion of the railway's resident fleet had commenced service, powering trains across the nation. Diesel and electric locomotives were employed on various routes, including high-speed expresses on the Great Western Main Line (GWML), inter-city connections, cross-country routes, and the transportation of heavy freight. Additionally, they were utilised for the popular summer holiday trips to well-known seaside destinations, like Skegness and Whitby, often pulled by freight locomotives not typically allocated to passenger transport.

With the end of steam in the Western Region (WR) in 1965, the Honeybourne to Cheltenham route continued to witness both freight and passenger activity, albeit diminishing, primarily due to diversions. The last passenger service on the route was a special race train to the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which ran on 14th March 1976, hauled by a Brush Type 4 (Class 47) locomotive. Freight services abruptly ceased the same year following a derailment incident involving a Toton to Severn Tunnel Junction coal train at Winchcombe, which was hauled by a Class 45 locomotive. The derailment, near the B4632 bridge, caused significant damage to the track.

During the 1960s & 1970s, diesel workings on the route included: Classes 20, 25, 35, 37, 40, 45, 46, & 47.

Up to ten trains will operate each day between Broadway and Cheltenham Racecourse, with additional trains running between Toddington and Cheltenham Racecourse. A full 28-mile round trip can be experienced on most services. Passing loops at Toddington, Winchcombe, and Gotherington will allow a 45-minute service all day.

At Toddington, the diesel and steam locomotive sheds will be open to visitors offering the chance to see ongoing restoration and maintenance projects, including 1959-built Class 26 No. D5343.

Subject to availability, the following home traction will be in service operating trains:

Class 20 No. 20137

Class 24 No. 5081

Class 37 No’s 37215 & D6948

Class 45 No. 45149

Class 47 No’s 47105 & 47376

Class 117 No. L425

The following home traction will be on static display:

Class 26 No. D5343

Class 122 No. W55003

With passenger rail services on the national network today predominantly in the hands of a myriad of diesel and electric multiple units, passenger locomotive haulage is now few and far between, save for a few train operating companies (TOCs), specially organised railtours, and excursions. The zenith of British Rail is sadly for many, a distant memory, but the summer diesel gala gives visitors the opportunity to relive those halcyon days, when classic diesels reigned supreme. It’s not every day that you get to experience 60-year-old traction powering through a 693-yard tunnel. It really is railway nostalgia at its absolute best and an event not to be missed!

Tickets for the summer heritage diesel gala are available to purchase online now at www.gwsr.com. Discounts are available for tickets purchased online, with one-day adult tickets from £29. Multi-day rover tickets offering substantial savings are also available but must be booked in advance. Tickets can also be purchased on the day.