14 Sep – There in Spirit!

I didn’t go along to the Racecourse Station today since I’m on holiday close to the NYMR.  However, I did pop in yesterday (no trains) and happened to take some pictures in the sunshine!

So, whilst I am sure good things were done by excellent volunteers there is no record of it!  I did however, misappropriate a beefsteak tomato from the allotment because it looked ripe (sorry John).  With a set of VW keys for comparison, and despite the slight flaws, ’twas delicious.20190913_134722316150066084422062.jpg



10 thoughts on “14 Sep – There in Spirit!

  1. Dear GWSR Bloggers,

    I open your site on a daily basis, and there is always something new to read. It must be the most informative blog site of any heritage railway in the UK. Congrats to all the bloggers.

    I see from the photos posted that the cost of a Taxi from the Racecourse to the town is 7
    GBP. Surely the users of the line would pay some form of lower supplement to continue their journey by train.

    Can a financial and operational case be put together to extend the line southwards? I am aware that a footbridge would have to be re-aligned, and there would be the expense of developing station facilities. Hopefully the local councils would be supportive due to traffic flow to the town, tourism et al.

    It would also provide a link to the mainline, albeit pedestrian only in the first instance.

    I believe that The Company has a financial commitment to complete the reestablishment of Broadway, but is this now the time to protect the track bed and other remaining infrastructure to allow a southern extension.

    Apologies if I have preempted any discussions already taking place.



    • We own the trackbed for a further mile south to the Prince of Wales Stadium, and up until there, the track bed is clear. So far so good. Beyond that it’s council owned, and it is in use as a very busy cyclepath etc. but we’re ex-double track, so that could be got round (but presents difficulties for stations/passing loops etc.) The embankment has been breached by two roads either side of the stadium, so 2 new bridges there.
      Beyond that there are 4 rail over road bridges, experience from the 5 on the way to Broadway suggests they won’t be in brilliant condition. Plus an awful lot of brick retaining walls in poor condition. Then there is of course the bowstring bridge near Waitrose. This would require total replacement, a major project. The trackbed under St George’s Road has been raised so would need to be dug out again to allow trains to fit under the bridge. If we were to stop just short of the mainline station before Queen’s Road bridge we could fit a passing loop OR a platform, but not both, so no scope for steam hauled services on a regular basis, DMU only.
      If we wished to go a bit further actually into the station site the main station car park would have to lose probably getting on for 100 spaces, which is a non-starter. But ploughing on anyway, a few more yards and we could potentially just squeeze past the gym and link up with the mainline, except it’s on an extremely busy cross-country route with 10 trains per hour, and there is no way Network Rail would entertain disrupting that just for us. So in answer to your question “Can a financial and operational case be made?” not really! 🙂


      • All very true, however I don’t think the case is as hopeless as it might seem, as there would be distinct advantages to reconnecting with the main line at Cheltenham for many parties, including NR and the council. The question of the car park there would be a sizeable project but what I would suggest as a solution is digging the car park out and creating a secured car park, either as an underground one or as a MSCP on a smaller footprint and create a through platform with a loop for the GWSR and a shorter bay platform for terminating DMUs from Swindon underneath. That way NR benefits because they have a more attractive and safer carpark and a platform to park 3 car DMUs from Swindon instead of having to shunt them all the time into that siding. The council would benefit from better facilities at the station and also a proper rail link to Racecourse which might reduce congestion at the station and on the roads on race days, but also they could re-route bus services to better serve areas away from the railway and feed them into local services that GWSR could provide using the DMUs.


  2. I think you’re wandering into the realms of fantasy Jones… 🙂 In one paragraph you’ve racked up expenditure of a few hundred million pounds, dream on!


  3. Pingback: 21 Sep – A Bridge Too Far? | Cheltenham Racecourse Station Magazine

  4. When Cheltenham Racecourse station was reopened, I recall reading in The Cornishman that a representative of Cheltenham Town Council who was at the reopening ceremony said to one of the GWR people, “How long before you can get into Cheltenham?” I don’t know what the reply was, but I would have said, “Well, that’s up to you, isn’t it!”

    Realistically, I don’t think there’s much scope for the GWR to reopen the line into Cheltenham by itself. The scale of the work necessary to rebuild the missing bridges, and the sheer cost of on-going maintenance of a heavily engineered urban railway, would be a hefty financial burden. And, of course, space gets very tight beyond Pittville, so any station(s) would have to be rather minimalist. Full-scale heritage railway-style facilities could not be provided.

    However, just because the Cheltenham section of the line wouldn’t be a realistic proposition as an extension of the GWR doesn’t mean it can never make a comeback as a railway.

    Back in 2013 Cheltenham Town Council discussed the possibility of reinstating Lansdown Junction and relaying the first few hundred yards of the Honeybourne line, to run in to new platforms at Lansdown station. The proposed new platforms would allow terminating trains from Paddington and South Wales, which currently lay over in the siding north of Lansdown, to terminate in the station itself.

    There’s a video showing how the arrangement would work here: https://youtu.be/8p2M_nQl4Hc

    Of course, if Lansdown Junction was to be relaid, and the Honeybourne line connection restored, this opened up the possibility of extending the railway further north, through Cheltenham town centre. This was discussed at local authority level, although it was beyond the scope of the new platform project. It was such an obvious next step it couldn’t really be ignored.

    One suggestion that was made was to use ‘ultra light rail’ vehicles to link Lansdown and Cheltenham Racecourse – presumably Parry People Movers, or similar tram-style units. Personally, I think that idea was a non-starter. A lightweight tramway would never be able to cope with the vast race day crowds, and maintaining a bespoke fleet of trams just for a short-distance shuttle between two heavy rail lines is illogical. The sensible thing would be to join the heavy rail lines up.

    Unfortunately the entire idea was shelved, because although Cheltenham Town Council was prepared to contribute funding, nobody else wanted to put their hand in their pockets. First Great Western, who manage Cheltenham Spa station, refused to cough up a penny. It was that, as much as anything, which killed off the project.

    The one part of the proposal that did go ahead was the new car park – currently under construction. There’s always money available for projects that benefit road transport!

    But the issue of what to do about the railway through Cheltenham hasn’t gone away, and I don’t think it ever will. In fact, it’s likely to become more pressing in the future, because the vast new developments at Bishop’s Cleeve are going to bring public transport matters very much to the fore.

    When the latest round of development is complete, the Bishop’s Cleeve/Woodmancote conurbation will have a population of about 20,000 people – effectively, a town the size of Penzance, without anything like the public transport provision of Penzance. That will put huge pressure on local roads, and I think it’s only a matter of time before attention turns to the railway. Sooner or later the potential of a direct rail link to Cheltenham and beyond, serving an increasingly urbanised area, will come back on to the agenda.

    If I were a transport planner, I would be looking at the possibility of reopening the line up from Lansdown as part of the National Network, and running trains to a new station at Bishop’s Cleeve. The GWR, as the owner of a significant chunk of the line, would obviously be a major stakeholder in such a project, and would stand to gain many benefits – not least a main line connection at no cost to itself, although for day-to-day operations the GWR whould retain CRC as its southern terminus.

    National Network services to Bishop’s Cleeve would obviously overlap with the GWR to a certain extent, but this would not necessarily pose any operational problems. Twin parallel single tracks between CRC and Bishop’s Cleeve would keep the services separate if that was deemed necessary – although heritage railways and National Network trains do share the same tracks elsewhere with no problems (the obvious example is the NYMR’s service to Whitby).

    It’s only an idea, of course, but I think that kind of scenario would be more viable (and, frankly, more effective at actually providing local transport) than extending a heritage railway into Cheltenham. Don’t take the GWR down to meet the National Network – bring the National Network up to meet the GWR!


    • Sharing the same track with mainline trains would be extremely expensive for us, it would require an awful lot of regulation and extra equipment on all rolling stock. Sharing just the trackbed would be less problematic but may still require expensive central door locking to be fitted to all of our carriages.

      Improving public transport to Bishops Cleeve is one thing, but I imagine there would be cheaper ways of improving it than extremely expensive heavy rail (now to network rail standards under your proposal, not just light railway standards as with us).

      I agree still probably more viable than us going to Landsown by ourselves though!


      • I don’t think issues such as door locking, or other matters where the regulations under which heritage railways operate differ from main line rules, would be a deal-breaker.

        In fact, under the scenario I sketched out above, Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway trains would not run beyond the GWR’s own boundary. They would not set a wheel on the main line. Therefore they would not come under main line regulations. GWR operations could carry on exactly as they are now – no door locks necessary.

        I don’t think the regulations would be a problem in any case. There are so many instances now of heritage railways operating their trains over Network Rail tracks, and main line operators bringing their trains onto heritage lines, that it’s obvious that it can be done.

        For several years now, the NYMR has been operating its trains along Network Rail’s tracks to Whitby. The Swanage Railway runs trains to Wareham – along an electrified main line, no less. The North Norfolk Railway now operates trains along Network Rail’s line to Cromer.

        These are examples of heritage trains running regular timetabled services on Network Rail tracks. But it works the other way, too.

        South Western Railway runs timetabled main line trains from Waterloo to Corfe Castle on the Swanage Railway (making the line the only heritage railway with a through service to London). Great Western now runs trains from Taunton to Bishop’s Lydeard on the West Somerset Railway – an aspiration of the WSR for many years, of course, but now it’s actually happened. Proposals for the new West Midlands Trains franchise envisage a new station on the Severn Valley Railway at the West Midlands Safari Park, served by trains running on to the SVR from the National Network.

        And, of course, it’s commonplace for every heritage line with a Network rail connection to bring charter trains onto their tracks from time to time. Here’s a video of an HST on the West Somerset Railway. The HST was restricted to 25mph while on WSR metals, but there was no conflict between differing sets of regulations. Certainly, nobody insisted that all WSR rolling stock should be fitted with door locks just because an HST was on the line.

        All these are examples of heritage and main-line trains operating over the same tracks. But there are more examples of heritage and main-line trains running on *adjacent* tracks.

        At Eridge, trains from the Spa Valley Railway run into Network Rail’s station alongside the electrified main line, with two bi-directional single tracks sharing the same trackbed. A similar arrangement exists at Matlock, where Peak Rail’s heritage trains run in to platform 2 alongside East Midlands Railway’s main line trains, which use platform 1. At Cholsey station, trains from the Cholsey & Wallingford Railway run into Network Rail’s station alongside the electrified 125mph main line to Paddington.

        If other heritage lines around the country can mix their services with main line trains, either by operating on Network Rail tracks or alongside them, or by bringing trains from the national network onto their own tracks, I see no reason why we couldn’t have a similar arrangement on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway.

        As I mentioned above I do not envisage the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway running trains beyond the limit of its own tracks – so no conflict with main-line regulations would exist.

        Whichever way it’s done, quite obviously, it *can* be done – and several heritage railways are already doing it. Why should the GWR be the only line that can’t?


      • Oh I’m not doubting it could be done, and I’m fully aware of the examples you quote. But in all cases the railways concerned have invested that money because it made good business sense, not because it was easy and they fancied a slightly longer run.
        On the NYMR and Swanage their carriages have to undergo a variety of expensive safety checks, and under impending new rules toilets, central door locking and droplights are all looking to be problems. Again they’re all solvable, but require money being thrown at the issues.
        Yes, mainline trains have run on Swanage metals but your whole proposition was that the GWSR would not pay for this extension, so how would it arise that it would end up in our ownership?
        As far as I’m aware running adjacent to NWR still carries a certain amount of problems, although I accept fewer. Some kind of door locking would still be required, droplights would probably have to be fixed, and toilet tanks may still be an issue. All it achieves is you don’t need to do ultrasonic axle testing and other safety checks.
        At the end of the day I just don’t see why it would be worthwhile for all the various parties to invest so much. Your linchpin seems to be that Bishop’s Cleeve needs better public transport, but I think this would probably be about the most expensive way of going about achieving it, all to allow some steam trains to get a little closer to Cheltenham.


  5. The GWR would not own the Cheltenham extension. I didn’t say it would!

    The GWR would be a *stakeholder* in a Cheltenham extension – of course it would, because the company owns part of the line which would be used to provide national network train services from Bishop’s Cleeve into Cheltenham, and beyond. But the GWR would not *own* any more of the line than it does now.

    At present, the GWR owns the railway land to Pittville. This would not change.

    The line between Pittville and Queens Road Bridge, near Lansdown station, is owned by Cheltenham Borough Council. This, also, would not have to change.

    South of Queens Road Bridge the railway land is owned by Network Rail. No change there, either.

    Once restored, the line between Lansdown and the GWR boundary at Pittville would be operated as part of the national rail network. On this section, national rail regulations would apply.

    At Pittville, the line becomes the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway. It would remain a heritage railway, and the existing regulations under which the GWR operates today would continue to apply.

    As I mentioned above, I think the GWR should retain Cheltenham Race Course as its principal terminus at the Cheltenham end of the line (although there’s a good argument for a smaller station at Pittville). I do not envisage GWR trains going all the way to Lansdown.

    To be clear: GWR trains would not operate beyond the boundary of the GWR’s own track.

    Because GWR trains would not operate beyond the boundary of the GWR’s own track, it would not be necessary to equip the trains with central door locking, or meet any of the other regulations which apply to trains on the national network.

    The GWR’s heritage operations could continue exactly as they do now.

    No alterations to rolling stock and no changes to working practices would be necessary.

    The key difference would be that GWR passengers could change at CRC (and/or Bishop’s Cleeve, and/or Pittville) and take another train onward – into Cheltenham town centre, to the main line station at Lansdown, and beyond.

    Heritage trains would go no further than Pittville, but passengers could continue.

    It would, of course, also be possible for charter trains to come on to the GWR from Cheltenham – itself a major plus point, I would say. The main line charter market is one aspect of heritage rail operation that the GWR has always missed out on, because it doesn’t have a main line connection. It would be nice to change that.

    But in general the GWR would operate as a self-contained heritage railway – exactly as it does now.

    No new regulations would apply to GWR operations. No part of the trackbed would change ownership.

    The GWR could simply sit back and let other people build its main line connection at no cost to itself, with its ownership of the trackbed north of Pittville ensuring that the company automatically has the status of a key stakeholder in the project.

    Of course, it’s all hypothetical at present. But, sooner or later, I think public transport for the ever-expanding new towns north of Cheltenham is going to become a pressing issue. The idea of using the railway as an (almost) ready-made transport artery will come back onto the agenda. Frankly, it would be bonkers to ignore it. After all, what alternatives are there? A guided busway? Upgrade the A435 to a dual carriageway? A new North Cheltenham Ring Road? A Bishop’s Cleeve spur off the M5?

    When (and I think it is ‘when’, not ‘if’) the matter comes back on to the table, using the railway to provide genuine public transport is going to be an obvious – and, compared to the alternatives, affordable – option.

    And it could be done without affecting the heritage railway operations of the GWR at all.


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