Light at the end of the tunnel for railway line?
A SECTION of rail line from Stratford to Cheltenham may be secure thanks to a deal that could transfer ownership to a group of enthusiasts.
Volunteers at the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway are hoping they can keep open the option of reusing the trackbed from Honeybourne to Broadway as part of their 40-year ambition to reopen as much as possible of the former line, axed by British Rail in 1976.
GWSR currently terminates at Broadway, but now the owner of the route, Railway Paths Ltd, has expressed a wish to transfer ownership of a 4.5-mile stretch to the north to the organisation.
While GWSR admits it doesn't have the funds to extend the line "within the foreseeable future", it claims the move would be a step towards protecting the trackbed for possible future development.
However, a stumbling block remains in the form of the Department for Transport, which has so far refused permission for the transfer of ownership because of question marks over maintaining bridges on the route.
Richard Johnson, chairman of GWSR, said: “It appears that it is the policy of DfT that heritage railways cannot provide a sufficiently strong covenant to secure the continuing maintenance of road bridges that cross such redundant lines.
“My understanding is that consideration will only be given to transferring ownership to a body such as a local authority which, by definition, has the necessary resources to maintain the bridges. In such a case, an option would be that the line would be leased back to the heritage railway concerned.
“We have written to the DfT to confirm that this policy is indeed correct, whether it could be waived in this case and to seek confirmation that nothing will be done to the bridges or trackbed that could compromise potential reuse as a railway line."
Mr Johnson said many of the bridges were in a poor state of repair, adding: "They have deteriorated significantly over the years. Some of them are supported by brick piers or steel props in the former trackbed and the bridges will need considerable sums spending to restore them.”
The government is funding up to £50,000 for an economic impact study into fully reinstating the Stratford to Honeybourne line after a proposal presented by the Stratford Rail Transport Group, the Shakespeare Line Promotion Group, Cotswold Line Promotion Group and the Solihull and Leamington Spa Rail Users Association.
Network Rail rebuilt Honeybourne station between 2008 and 2011 as part of its improvements to the North Cotswold line between Worcester and Oxford. At the time, it approached GWSR offering to make "passive provision" for the heritage railway to eventually reach Honeybourne. Works carried out included realigning the junction for the branch line to Long Marston and replacing the bridge carrying the North Cotswold line over the trackbed of what would become the GWSR.
Mr Johnson said taking on the abandoned line to Broadway couldn’t have come at a worse time as the railway emerged from almost 18 months without income, thanks to Covid. But he added: “Our first responsibility is of course the security and viability of our current business.
"However, we also have a responsibility to ensure that we don’t compromise the original aspirations of our founders and see that the line north of Broadway is secured for potential future development.”