June 19 marks a decade to the day that the first of two torrential summer rainstorms swept through the West Midlands, causing devastating damage to the Severn Valley Railway and triggering a fundraising campaign to get the railway back on track.
The SVR has organised an event to look back at the storms and their aftermath and celebrate the subsequent clean-up, repair and fundraising effort which brought together SVR supporters from across the country.
To mark the occasion in style, one of the UK’s most luxurious trains – Belmond Northern Belle, will be running a special service along the line, carrying a number of SVR members and supporters, passing along the sections of track which were so badly damaged by the event.
Famed for its hand-crafted 1930s-era interiors and luxury dining experiences, Belmond Northern Belle’s carriages, each named after Great British castles or stately homes, are stabled at Kidderminster and take thousands of visitors on journeys to towns, cities and events across the UK each year.
Hauled on the day by the SVR’s resident steam locomotive No. 34027 ‘Taw Valley’ and a Class 50 Diesel engine, they will run two special services, one leaving Kidderminster at 11.45am to travel to Bridgnorth and one leaving Bridgnorth at 1.50pm and returning to Kidderminster.
The new exhibition, ‘2007 Storm Damage – Ten Years On’ will be on show at The Engine House Visitor Centre, Highley.
Featured are a range of photographs of the extensive damage caused to the 16-mile line as well as the story of the storms and memories from those who witnessed the damage or joined the massive clean-up operation that followed.
The thunderstorm, which swept along the Severn Valley at about 8pm on June 19 2007only lasted about 30 minutes, but within that time, produced rainfall equivalent to that of a typical month.
The damage to the SVR’s infrastructure was catastrophic – cuttings were filled with debris and embankments collapsed, leaving sections of track suspended in mid-air. Only a section of the line between Bewdley and Kidderminster could remain open for passenger services.
The final repair bill was £3.8m, with funding coming from the railway’s insurances, grants from the European Regional Development Fund, Advantage West Midlands and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Donations flowed in from fellow railways, SVR supporters and the general public from all across the country, and those, coupled with SVR reserves, made up the final funds needed to get the railway back on track.
One year later, crowds gathered to watch HRH The Prince of Wales and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall later that year make their first visit to the SVR to mark the official re-opening of the railway.
Clare Gibbard, the SVR’s Marketing and Communications Manager said: “Looking back to that fateful summer, 10 years on, it is almost unbelievable to think that the aftermath of those storms threatened to destroy the future of the SVR altogether.
“It is thanks to the incredible level of goodwill, support and hard work from our volunteer and paid staff, supporters and the general public at the time that the SVR is the thriving attraction that it is today – and the very fact that we are embarking on one of the biggest redevelopment projects in our history at Bridgnorth just shows how far the railway has come and how it is looking to protect its heritage and enhance its facilities for future generations.”
The SVR will be featuring information and images about the storms of 2007 on its Facebook pages – Severn Valley Railway Official Site and Severn Valley Railway Families and will be asking people to share their memories of the events.