I UNDERSTAND

Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway volunteers celebrate Cotswold Festival of Steam success

Author:
Ian Crowder
Category:
Published:
June 6, 2024

• Visiting new ‘Grange’ class locomotive, remains on GWSR to 16 June – working every operating day • Nearly 4,500 passengers carried over three-day event: May 25-27 • Three new build locomotives top the show

Volunteers on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway (GWSR) are celebrating success of the recent Cotswold Festival of Steam, which attracted nearly 4,500 fare-paying visitors.

The event was crowned with fine weather as seven steam locomotives – including three visitors that are newly built – strutted their stuff over the beautiful 14-mile Cotswold railway, between Broadway and Cheltenham Racecourse.

One of the three, a Great Western Railway-designed ‘Grange’ class 4-6-0: no. 6880 Betton Grange, owned by the 6880 Society, was completed only days ahead of the event, making its revenue-earning debut.  Recreating a member of a once 80-strong class of mixed-traffic locomotives that had all been withdrawn and sent for scrap by the end of 1965, Betton Grange remains on the GWSR until 16th June, running every operating day*.

The other two visitors were: Firstly, ‘Saint’ class 4-6-0 no. 2999 Lady of Legend, a design dating back to 1902 and which was built by the Great Western Society at Didcot to represent a class that had become extinct by 1953.  It was incorporated a number of innovative features that influenced steam locomotive design for the next 50 years.  Secondly, a 2-6-0 ‘Mogul’, no. 9351, which had been converted by the West Somerset Railway from a 2-6-2T tank locomotive to create a locomotive design prepared by the Great Western Railway but which was never built.

Tom Willson, chairman of the volunteer organising committee commented: “This was without doubt, one of the most successful Cotswold Festivals of Steam ever and the attraction of the new locomotives, running alongside our own fleet, clearly had broad appeal.  The Saturday was our second-busiest day ever, not quite matching the 2,300 people who attended for the Saturday of the 2018 Festival, which was when we opened the line to brand new Broadway station.

“So many people make the Cotswold Festival of Steam, which last year won the Cotswold Concierge ‘Event of the Year’ award, the success that it is.  It’s a real team effort.  Every volunteer pulls together to welcome our visitors and the praise we have had for the organisation, the variety of trains, the goods train as well as the range of additional attractions is truly humbling.

“Of course, we all enjoy putting on the show even though it can be stressful at times, pulling all the separate threads together.  But the most important thing is that our visitors enjoy it too: the icing on the cake is comments such as “The best steam gala I have ever attended” and “The GWSR really knows how to stage a spectacular event”.

Richard Winstanley, the railway’s voluntary finance director added: “Putting on a really ambitious event like this is extremely expensive.  Many costs have risen significantly over the past four years – not least the cost bringing in locomotives by road transport and coal, which now has to be imported from overseas following closure of the last British mine extracting suitable coal.  

“There is an obvious financial risk but I’m so pleased that the event was in the black by the time the first train had departed Toddington on the Saturday.  We benefited hugely from online sales, which this year broke all past records.

“Running a steam railway over an infrastructure that is over 100 years old brings a large financial burden.  For example, the recent essential repairs to and ongoing refurbishment of Stanway viaduct will cost £1.8 million while our overall life-expired steel bridges needing attention are examples of the kind of expensive repairs we face.  That’s quite apart from the daily cost of actually running steam and diesel-hauled train services.

“The Cotswold Festival of Steam brings a very welcome income boost to help us to maintain our wonderful railway for all to enjoy.”

The organising team are already thinking about next year’s Cotswold Festival of Steam, which coincides with Rail 200, a national celebration to mark the bi-centenary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway and which led to development of the modern rail network, nationally and internationally.  

“We will be playing our part in Rail 200 – how this plays out, you’ll have to wait and see,” added Tom Willson.  “The event we have just run will be a hard act to follow, but we are certainly up for the challenge!”

*Subject to availability