Few train trips end up like my recent one to the Severn Valley Railway just over a week ago, and I don’t say that lightly. In between failures on the National Network, having to bugger around with Birmingham’s buses and taking so long to come back that it was technically the next morning by the time I arrived, this could not be described as the ideal trip. Even so, it proved eye-opening on many counts; I now know just how far I can go to visit a heritage line in one day, and return by train in time for the next, for one thing.
Still, it was damn well worth the effort to get to Kidderminster against all the odds, and with the following highlights, I’m sure you’ll know why.
King Edward II – The Caged Animal
Quite easily the star of the show today.
Built in 1927 as a ‘Super-Castle‘ to take advantage of new knowledge regarding the impact of hammer-blow on bridges (axle weights could now reach 22.5 long tons), the GWR 6000 Class was a full-bore four-cylinder attempt to steal back the tractive effort record from the Southern Railway’s Lord Nelson Class, which had stolen a march on the Castles when they appeared with 33,510 lbf under their running plates, and the gap was widened when E859 Lord Hood was modified with smaller 6ft 3in Driving Wheels to advance the tractive effort of 35,298 lbf.
For Sir Felix Pole, Chairman of the GWR, it wasn’t enough for the tractive effort crown to simply be retaken – he wanted the 40,000 lbf barrier broken. To this end, C.B. Collett and his Chief Draughtsman, Frederick Hawksworth, set about fitting the largest possible boiler to the basic Castle frame, quite possibly opting for smaller 6ft 6in wheels over the Castle’s 6ft 8.5in drivers to make room for the larger boiler, whilst remaining within the GWR loading gauge. Still, both modifications weren’t sufficient, and as such a short-lived modification to the cylinder linings was required; this meant boring them out by 0.25in and mounting matching pistons to finally reach a phenomenal figure of 40,300 lbf.
Riding behind this machine today, there is no doubt that you are in the presence of steam locomotive royalty. Each chuff this engine produces comes from two massive cylinders at once, being fed by a 250 lbf/in² boiler, and as such the whole valley seemed to reverberate with the cacophony of steam and force when the engine was climbing. Even though the trains that day were too long for all but the terminal stations on the line – the guards always asked where we were getting off for this reason – you really got the sense that King Edward II was a caged animal, just scratching around this provincial branch line impatiently, baying for it’s next mainline railtour.
Bewdley Station – Pocket Junction
Occasionally, you come across a place on a railway that would shrink down to model form really well; Ventnor on the Isle of Wight (while that was still around), Horsted Keynes on the Bluebell (as proven by this excellent layout by a friend of mine), and this station. Interestingly, this is the major junction station on the line, historically serving branches to Stourport and Tenbury (the embankments of both can be seen from your left, travelling towards Bridgnorth). As such, it is easy to imagine the amount of traffic which would have passed through this area, and the variety of passenger services.
The terrain of this area is particularly suited to an open-frame baseboard, with lots of the vertical terrain that characterizes the valley setting. A viaduct and a signal box upon an extended foundation make some interesting touches to the north-west, while the remnants of the branch line to Stourport to the south-west make for the required junk wagons of any heritage line.
It’s just as well there was quite the menagerie of wagons on display in the goods yard, including a Gunpowder Van, a GWR Locomotive Coal Wagon, and this:
So that’s where they keep the Gorilla…
Getting there – Escape from Rowley Regis
The Class 172, pictured above, is an interesting member of the Turbostar family, as you’ll notice when the train pulls out of a station. You see, unlike other Turbostars, the 172 has a mechanical transmission, not unlike the type used in buses. You can hear the engine note change in pitch as the ZF Ecomat-Rail transmission cycles through the gears. Well, I thought that was interesting…
Back to the point, it all started when a train broke down just beyond where I was, Smethwick Galton Bridge. You know the cycle, the expected time of your train tumbles further and further away from it’s timetabled arrival time, changes to an irritatingly vague ‘Delayed‘, and finally the platform info board cuts the crap and displays a big fat ‘Cancelled‘, dashing all hopes of progress. I did manage to get a train onwards towards Kidderminster, but alas, my hopes were cut short when the conductor announced that the train was to terminate at a bleak industrial estate called Rowley Regis.
You could say that the National Rail app rescued me from this place, not by showing me a way out, but by showing my there was no way out by rail. All the trains were delayed for hours. If you are also one of those people who gets restless easily, you’ll understand my subsequent quest for a bus to Kidderminster. So I gather a route from Google Maps, and make my way towards Oldbury Road, where a few minutes of waiting yields a red bus, only for me to discover that contactless cards only apply to blue buses. Bother.
One hike into Blackheath to pounce on an ATM later, I had some money and finally made some headway towards Halesowen. Once there, forty minutes lay between me and further progress towards Kidderminster; unwilling to trek towards the nearest fast food joint, a dive into ASDA netted me a bargain lunch of a hot Pigs in Blanket Sandwich, Shortbread and a bottle of juice for under a fiver. After snacking on this, and a moment of panic when my bus disappeared from the information board without warning, the bloody bus rolled in 10 minutes late. “To hell with it” I thought, “we’re making progress, that’s all that matters”.
Upon arrival into Kidderminster, you’d think that the bus would call at the train station, right? Wrong, we thundered down the hill past the roundabout, where the driver was at least kind enough to stop just past it on one of the exit roads. As I was trudging up the hill, curiosity got the better of me and the National Rail app was summoned. Amazingly, the trains were still borked and had I not had the initiative to hoof it to Blackheath, I would still be stranded at Rowley Regis!
So, a bus journey saved my bacon, I never thought I’d see the day…