A first-of-its-kind partnership between the Severn Valley Railway and Network Rail has been set up signalling the start of an innovative relationship between the past and present railway.
The agreement between the national railway provider and a heritage railway operator will allow both organisations to benefit from each other using expertise, technology, and facilities to help maintain and improve both networks.
Network Rail’s Central route will offer the Severn Valley Railway professional skills, advice, and redundant railway materials to help keep the volunteer railway safe and operational.
In return, the Severn Valley Railway will provide much-needed support, training, and facilities to help Network Rail staff operate and maintain more traditional railway technology – such as semaphore signalling and lever frame signal boxes – which are still in use to keep passenger and freight trains moving across parts of Worcestershire and the West Midlands.
The Severn Valley Railway, which runs between Kidderminster and Bridgnorth, is a major tourist attraction and one of the finest examples of a heritage railway in the country.
It was hit hard by the impact of the pandemic and while there is no financial help from Network Rail, the wider support will be a significant boost to helping keep the line open for tourists, volunteers, and enthusiasts.
Denise Wetton, Network Rail’s Central route director, said: “This exciting partnership will make a real difference to the railway of the past and present. The railway has always played a vital role in communities and economies and the support we will give the Severn Valley Railway will help it remain a key attraction for the region.
“Access to their tracks and signalling to help train our staff on more traditional railway infrastructure, which is still in use on parts of our modern-day network, will help keep passengers and freight moving. Being able to do this when the SVR is closed to the public and trains aren’t running allows this learning to happen in a much safer environment and is something which is very difficult to do on the main network.
“It’s a perfect partnership and I am thrilled we have been able to make it happen.”
Gus Dunster, Severn Valley Railway’s managing director, commented: “The SVR is very excited to be entering into a formal partnership with Network Rail, the first of its kind any heritage railway.
“Operating and maintaining Victorian infrastructure is enormously costly, and it requires specialist skills and knowledge as well as equipment. Working closely with Network Rail will enable us to continue to safeguard the SVR’s infrastructure and help us to ensure our heritage line is in good shape and resilient for the future.
“The SVR is keen to strengthen its partnerships with a range of main line companies, and this will form a cornerstone of that ambition. I am very grateful to Denise Wetton and her team for their energy and desire to make this partnership happen.”
Network Rail will also be looking at how and when it could use its state-of-the-art ultrasonic testing train, which monitors track and infrastructure conditions as it travels around the national rail network, on the Severn Valley Railway. Access to this type of technology would be a step-change for a heritage railway in monitoring its assets and identifying potential faults to be fixed, helping to keep it safe and in full working order.
Image credit: Severn Valley Railway