Flashback to 2007: Duke in region to visit flood-hit Severn Valley


 The Duke of Gloucester is pictured being shown around by Severn Valley Railway Holdings PLC Chairman, Mike York.
The Duke of Gloucester is pictured being shown around by Severn Valley Railway Holdings PLC Chairman, Mike York.

The Duke of Gloucester made a trip to the flood-hit Severn Valley Railway to see the progress which has been made in repairing the line.

Torrential rain around four months earlier had wreaked havoc on the line with landslides and subsidence, leaving some rails suspended in mid-air.

More than a month’s rainfall had come down in just two hours, damaging the track in 45 places along 12 miles between Bridgnorth and Bewdley.

Embankments at Highley, Hampton Loade, Oldbury Viaduct and Victoria Bridge were swept away.

On July 20, further sections of trackbed were washed away by flash floods - including some parts of the line which were being rebuilt.

So the rebuilding work started all over again, along with a major fundraising appeal with the closure alone estimated to cost the railway millions in lost revenue.

By October, three-quarters of the SVR’s 16-mile line remained closed to trains, as £2.6 million of repairs were carried out, although the Kidderminster to Bewdley section of the line was open.

The Duke, patron of the Severn Valley Railway, arrived at Bewdley station to make the short journey by steam-hauled Royal train to Kidderminster.

There he saw a special illustrated presentation showing some of the major civil engineering solutions which have either been completed, or which are currently in progress.

A photographic survey of the disaster, in which large sections of trackbed were washed away, was also shown to him.

Among those meeting the Duke was chief engineer Phil Sowden, who said: “He’s our patron so he is always very interested in hearing what is happening with the railway.”

The Duke became the first ever patron of the Severn Valley Railway in 1997, assuming a figurehead role which has remained unoccupied for the past eight years.

The mantle had been last carried by SVR's former president David, the Earl of Lindsay, who died in 1989.

The Duke, grandson of King George V, has a strong interest in railways and steam locomotives.

Prior to being named patron, he had last visited the Kidderminster to Bridgnorth line in 1990, when he drove the royal train.

SVR (Holdings) Company chairman Mick York said: "The Severn Valley is one of the foremost independent railways in the country, yet we had never previously had a patron.

"As part of the railway's `growing up' we felt the time had come to invite someone of standing with a keen interest in railways to adopt that role, and we're very privileged and honoured that His Royal Highness decided to accept.}

At the same time the railway also appointed five new vice presidents to join the existing one, Bill Broadbent.

They included John Cameron and Jamie, the Earl of Lindsay, who both own SVR-based steam locomotives, David Morgan, chairman of the Association of Independent Railway Preservation Societies, David Hallam, the area's Euro MP, and Peter Luff, MP for Worcestershire South.

West Midlands MEP Liz Lynne had also visited the storm-devastated railway to see the work going on to get the popular attraction back on track.

She met general manager Nick Ralls and witnessed some of the damage caused during the summer flash floods.

Mrs Lynne said: “I was naturally horrified at the damage the floods caused across the region, including the disruption caused to the Severn Valley Railway.

“I am pleased that some progress is being made in recovering the enormous repair cost of the SVR, but more is still needed.

“I am looking forward to finding out how the repairs are going in practice and what more I can do to help, especially with regards to securing help from the European Union.

“The Severn Valley Railway is a vital part of the local economy and was damaged at the height of the tourist season – the worst possible time.”

In March 2008, some 245 days after the first floods struck, the line was finally back to normal.

TV gardening expert Charlie Dimmock headed up celebrations with VIPs and bosses of the famous steam railway as first passenger train in nine months steamed along the full length of the 16-mile line.

Mr York thanked the railway’s funding partners for their support and paid tribute to the engineers, maintenance team and contractors who helped rebuild the line.

“It’s been nine months of extremely hard work and it’s cost a terrific amount of money to get back in business.

“This is a great day for the railway and I also think it’s a great day for the whole region. I am very well aware how badly the economy has been affected in the area because we have not been able to bring all our visitors here. Hopefully things will now improve,” he added.

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