GWSR’s river works alleviate flooding

Ian Crowder
November 1, 2023

• Flow of River Isbourne under railway’s bridge improved • Risk of bank and railway embankment erosion minimised • “Drainage vital to railway’s integrity”

Unnoticed by many travellers on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway’s (GWSR) trains leaving Winchcombe station for Broadway, is the River Isbourne which, following significant civil engineering works now flows freely beneath the high railway embankment.

The recently-completed works comprising two separate contracts to correct developing bank erosion and mitigate the risk of flooding, has been vindicated following October’s heavy rainfall with the river running at an unusually high level  

Ian Scholey, the GWSR’s Infrastructure Manager and a civil engineer by profession, explains: “This is an area with a history of flooding, which has caused erosion of the banks at the foot of the railway embankment and an increasing risk of damaging the railway embankment itself.  In addition, deposits of gravel had formed an island on the upstream side of the bridge, interrupting the flow of water.”

Walsh Construction, the company that has also been contracted to carry out repairs to the railway’s enormous Stanway Viaduct, has completed these significant works to improve the flow of the river and eliminate the risk of the railway embankment being eroded which, left unchecked, could eventually have led to significant embankment stability problems.

Says Ian Scholey: “Walsh installed steel sheet pile walls to contain the river, as well as gabions (stone filled cages), not only to protect the embankment but nearby properties as well.  

“The work has taken some time to complete as it was interrupted by both the need to carry out works elsewhere on the railway as well as Covid and flooding in 2020 which emphasised the need for the river work to be completed as a matter of urgency.

“Recent heavy rain in the aftermath of Storm Babet – which fortunately was not as severe as elsewhere in the country – has vindicated this work.  The river, which carries runoff from the Cotswold hills was over a metre and a half higher than its normal level, yet it flowed unimpeded beneath the low bridge that carries the railway, causing no damage to the river banks or surrounding property.  

“I have no doubt that without the work that has been done, the storm river flow would have caused extensive damage on both sides of the railway embankment” he added.

The River Isbourne rises on the northern edge of Cleeve Hill and runs 14 miles (22km) to the River Avon near Hampton, Worcestershire.

Dr Graham Plant, the railway’s civil engineering director added: “Operating beautifully restored steam and heritage diesel locomotives and rolling stock is of course a key reason why visitors are attracted to our railway.  But this is only a small part of running our wonderful heritage railway for the benefit of the public.  

“With some 60 culverts, bridges and an aqueduct taking water across 14-mile (22km) line, drainage is a vital aspect of maintaining the integrity of the railway.  The bridge over the River Isbourne is, at 13 feet (4m) high and 16ft 6in (5m) wide, the largest of these structures.  The work completed here will help secure the railway for future decades.”

The railway, having reached the end of another successful normal running season, is now gearing up for the Santa Specials, between Cheltenham Racecourse and the North Pole – aka Winchcombe, with a warm welcome assured from Father Christmas and his army of volunteer helpers.  Tickets are now on sale at www.gwsr.com