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More steam trains to run on Stratford-upon-Avon line

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The Shakespeare Express. Photo: Keith Thursfield.
The Shakespeare Express. Photo: Keith Thursfield.

MORE historic steam trains could run along the Stratford-upon-Avon to Birmingham railway line as part of the new £1billion West Midlands rail franchise.

Vintage Trains currently operates the Shakespeare Express on nine Sundays throughout the summer. The service celebrates its 20th anniversary next year.

But bosses said this week that they have held discussions with the company that will take over commuter services along the line later this year from London Midland about running more on Saturdays and during school holidays.

West Midlands Trains Ltd — a joint venture between Dutch firm Abellio, and the East Japan Railway Company and Mitsui and Co Ltd, both based in Japan — has already pledged to run more rush hour commuter services from the town and refurbish the carriages when it takes over the franchise in December.

The company has confirmed it was a condition of its successful bid to the Department for Transport for the franchise that they talked to Vintage Trains about more steam services.

Ben Mason, commercial manager of Vintage Trains, which is based in Tyseley, Birmingham, said: “It’s a long term vision for us to put more steam trains on the line, and it’s based on the sort of support from the Department for Transport and Network Rail’s chairman that will make it a possibility.

“British people seem to love steam trains, and when we’re out on a Sunday we see huge numbers of people who turn out just to see the Shakespeare Express go by.

“We’ve had top level talks with Abellio about this, but we need to fit into the timetable, of course.

“They have committed to running more services along the Stratford line and there is currently a bottleneck at Birmingham Snow Hill, which needs to be addressed.

“We can’t disrupt those day-to-day service so as soon as they have confirmed their timetable we’ll see how we can fit in.”

Vintage Trains still owns a plot of land near to Stratford train station, where it had previously intended to build a turntable and small heritage centre or museum.

The turntable is no longer needed, but the museum is still a possibility in the future if funding can be found.

Under the new franchise, there will be more of a local say in services as they will be jointly managed by West Midlands Rail (WMR), a consortium of 16 local councils, including Warwickshire County Council.

Shakespeare Line Promotion Group (SLPG) secretary, Fraser Pithie, said: “We have already talked to Abellio and what they’ve said in terms of extending services at Stratford is encouraging, it’s now up to the county council to step up to the plate to ensure Stratford is not forgotten.”

Cllr Peter Butlin, deputy leader of the county council, said: “We will continue to work with the operator to help deliver future rail improvements in Warwickshire.”

A spokesman for West Midlands Trains Ltd told the Herald: “Our bid commits us to working with Vintage Trains over the course of the franchise, in particular for regular services to Stratford from Snow Hill in the summer. We are keen to facilitate this as much as possible, including on Saturdays.”

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