By Rail to the Races – old Great Western Railway tradition continues for Cheltenham Festival
· Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam railway’s special race day trains
· 2,750 racegoers go ‘by Rail to the Races’
In 1912 the Great Western Railway opened a special station to serve the then newly laid-out Racecourse at Cheltenham’s Prestbury Park and it ran trains from London and elsewhere for race meetings. That continued until 1976 when the platforms, which were only ever used for race trains, were closed – adding to the traffic chaos in the town for meetings such as the Festival.
Now the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway follows in that tradition by running steam train services to the racecourse over its 12-mile line from Toddington, Gloucestershire. Steam trains once again gracefully run into the racecourse platforms with the eight coaches of each train filled with racegoers for the National Hunt Festival, thanks to the volunteer-run heritage railway’s co-operation with Classic Hospitality which organises sales of train and race day tickets. This week alone over 500 bottles of champagne were sold on the Railway’s trains while transporting over 2,750 people in four days.
The steam railway took possession of part of the former Stratford upon Avon to Cheltenham railway line in 1981 but not before British Rail had removed all the track and infrastructure. The volunteer-run organisation has since gradually rebuilt the line and restored locomotives and rolling stock, opening Cheltenham Racecourse station in 2003, when the race train service began.
The line carried over 100,000 passengers on its trains last year and is currently extending the track in a £1.25m project, to Broadway where a new station is being built on the site of the long-demolished original. When Broadway station
opens in 2018 it will extend this popular railway’s length to 15 miles.
The Cheltenham Festival trains carried nearly 2,500 racegoers from Toddington where there is plenty of free car and coach parking, enabling them to arrive in comfort and avoid the severe traffic congestion when leaving after the last race. The station is a short walk from the racecourse itself.
IMAGES BY JACK BOSKETT: PLEASE CONTACT THE PRESS OFFICE FOR HIGH RESOLUTION VERSIONS OF THESE AND OTHER IMAGES OF GOLD CUP DAY AT THE CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL
Media contact: Ian Crowder, 07775 566 555 or ian.crowder @ gwsr.com