Current Progress

In the summer of 2013 a small group of us, all with significant experience of heritage railway preservation, became aware of the potential to create a heritage railway along the existing Sharpness Branch line. After exploring the area and some initial research into the fascinating and interesting history of the Severn & Wye Railway, as well as its current use, we felt this was a very worthwhile and exciting project with lots of potential and so drafted some basic plans and ideas. We arranged initial meetings with the key landowners, Network Rail (NR) and Canal & River Trust (C&RT) and were encouraged by their positive response to our plans. The next few months were spent conducting further research and adjusting our plans in order to produce a comprehensive and detailed business plan, outlining our phased development proposal, market analysis, income projection, funding, governance and environmental impact and was published in July 2014.

The Business plan was very well received by all who read it. In particular SDC were able to see how our plan fitted in well with their overall aims & objectives of their now published local plan for the area. We were also invited to present our plan to Direct Rail Services (DRS), the main operator on the branch line, in October 2014 and were again met with a positive and encouraging response. From here we refined our plans to include a run round loop at Berkeley Pad to alleviate the need for DRS trains to run down to Oldminster junction and contacted Bardshaws whom have kindly agreed to assist in this work, once agreed with NR.

Subsequent meetings with C&RT in late 2014 led us on a trip to Birmingham to meet their planners, Peter Brett Associates. As a result when C&RT published their plans for public consultation in March 2015 their plans now included a heritage railway and the original Sharpness Station site was reserved for the railway’s use.

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Mike receiving the keys August 2015

By the end of 2014 it because clear that in order to progress the VoBR we would need to form a base of operations and setup an organisation to recruit volunteers. After looking round the area we were offered the chance to lease the Old Engine House right next to the docks. The managing director of RSS kindly agreeing to fund the cost of the shed lease from C&RT, resulting in the VoBR now having it’s own headquarters and restoration facilities. The keys to the Engine House was handed over on 19th August 2015.

 

 

 

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Volunteers besides the newly cleared track

Immediately a dedicated team of volunteers set to work painting and decorating the engine house, re-installing a ceiling, doors, power and commissioning a very comprehensive machine shop. Slowly various railway related items arrived including a number of locomotives, both diesel and steam in various stages of restoration and some are now actively been worked on by our volunteers. In addition volunteers also set to work clearing the short section of track outside the shed that still links to the track around the dock system. At about the same time a number of newspaper and magazine articles about our plans to open up a heritage railway helped to raise the profile of the project.

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View from cab during recent NR/DRS meeting

 

By January 2016 we formalised the organisation, setting up a dedicated management team to run VoBR and started to recruit new members to join this fascinating project, which has grown rapidly, with over 200 members and 40 regular working volunteers by the beginning of the following year. This steady growth has continued, bolstered by an active promotions team attending local events and support from the local community. As a result by the start of 2018 we have over 400 members and 100 active regular working volunteers.

 

 

The increase in volunteers has enabled us to start a wider range of restoration projects, from trolleys to steam locomotives, details of which can be found under the project section. We’ve also been conducting a dig at the old Berkeley Station to reveal it’s foundations in order to help us draw up plans for it’s eventual reconstruction.

During 2017 a detailed ecology survey was conducted on the Oldminster Junction site and an initial planning application made to Stroud District Council. It is hoped during 2018 we can move onto the site and start clearing work as well as submit a detailed planning application in order to start track laying and construction work.