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Severn Valley Railway whips up ‘Tornado’ for big three-day gala (23rd September 2011)

Severn Valley Railway whips up ‘Tornado’ for big three-day gala

‘TORNADO’ - the first main line steam locomotive to be built in Britain for nearly 50 years – returns to the Severn Valley Railway this week as the ‘star turn’ at the Kidderminster - Bridgnorth steam heritage line’s three-day Autumn Steam Gala which starts on Friday - the UK’s busiest and most intensive steam railway event by far.

The £3 million ‘A1 Class’ express engine, completed in 2008, first visited the Severn Valley Railway between October 24 and November 7 2009 – and was a knockout with the audiences who thronged to see it and ride with it during that schools half-term holiday fortnight.
 
Whenever it stopped at stations, huge crowds gathered to study in close-up the first main line express steam engine to built in Britain since British Rail ceased new steam locomotive production in 1960.

But the iconic headline-grabbing Tornado has a serious rival for the public’s attention and affection at the three-day event – a little blue engine (not Thomas the Tank Engine!), which has only a number and no name, and which spent most of its railway career working ‘mundane’ goods trains in Scotland!

Former Caledonian Railway Railway ‘812 Class’ 0-6-0 No.828 has made the 450-mile journey by low loader from Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands, for what is not only its first-ever working appearances outside of Scotland, but also the first time the locomotive has steamed
in anger anywhere outside its home at the Strathspey Railway.

Fully restored to working order last year and now elegantly-attired in distinctive ‘Caledonian blue’ paintwork, No.828 is completely dwarfed by the power, weight and size of Tornado – but enthusiasts – of whom upwards of 5,000 are expected to descend upon the SVR this weekend – will find it tough to resist the intrigue of this unusual migrant from ‘north o’ th’ border’.

Never a railway to do things by halves, the Severn Valley has also ‘imported’ the restored 100mph GWR ‘King’ class locomotive No.6024 King Edward I, the 1930-built veteran of steam era expresses between London (Paddington) and Birmingham, Bristol, Plymouth and Cardiff. The locomotive was last at the SVR in June 2008, when it hauled the Royal Train taking HRH The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall to Bridgnorth.

More than 60 hours of non-stop steam action, which includes trains right through the night on both Friday and Saturday while most of the local populace is fast asleep – begins just after 8 o’clock on Friday morning, when the Great Western Railway ‘Prairie’ tank No.4160 – another celebrity visitor, from the West Somerset Railway, heads out of Bridgnorth with the 08.07 ‘light engine’ move to Kidderminster.

By the time Scottish visitor No.828 arrives back at Kidderminster with the final gala train on Sunday evening (the 17.32 from Bridgnorth), the railway will see more than 350 steam departures and locomotive movements in total, including expresses, stopping passenger and goods trains.

The intensity of trains at the gala will be more like a busy summer weekend on one of Britain’s main lines in the steamy 1950s than a heritage railway of the 21st century.  With the SVR turning out at least five engines from its ‘home fleet’, no fewer than nine locomotives will be in action in total.

As a special attraction, the SVR will run its ‘Shrewsbury’ panoramic observation coach on all trains worked by Tornado, serving up bacon-and-egg butties, fruit juice, unlimited tea and coffee – and a souvenir bottle of beer within a supplementary fare of £15 (Bridgnorth to Kidderminster) when the coach will be coupled directly behind the locomotive, and £12.50 (Kidderminster to Bridgnorth), when it will be at the opposite end of the train. The supplementary child fare in both cases is £10.

As a pre-Gala attraction on Thursday, before the crowds arrive, a dining train (£28 per head, plus train fare) hauled by Tornado will run from Kidderminster at 12.40pm for a leisurely journey to Bridgnorth, during which a two-course lunch will be served. On the return journey, dining passengers will be able to partake of afternoon tea with scones and clotted cream.

Tornado will make five round trips of the 16-mile SVR during the gala, departing from Kidderminster at 11 am and 3.40pm, and from Bridgnorth at 12.52pm and 5.32pm on both Friday and Saturday, and at 9.50am from Kidderminster and 11.42 from Bridgnorth on Sunday.

The railway’s impressive Engine House Visitor Centre at Highley will become something of a focus for specialist railway book publishers
throughout the gala, with at least six publishing houses setting out their stalls for both sales and book-signing sessions, by a host of different authors.

Both of the SVR’s miniature lines - the 32mm ‘radio-operated’ Paddock Railway at Hampton Loade, and the 7¼-in. gauge ‘sit-astride’ Coalyard Railway adjacent to Kidderminster Railway Museum, will be in operation over the weekend – but plans to run steam on a temporary 100-yard 2ft gauge line near the picnic area at Highley station, depend upon the completion of water pipe repairs in Station Road, Highley, by Severn-Trent Water.
 
The SVR has contracted to hire in Britomart, an 1899-built ex-quarry engine from the Ffestiniog Railway in North Wales, to run the Highley shuttles – but unless the water pipework is completed, a low loader bringing the locomotive from Porthmadog will be unable to access Highley station.

One, two and three-day ‘Rover’ tickets giving unlimited access to all Gala passenger trains and free admission to the Engine House Visitor Centre at Highley, cost £22 adult, £19 seniors and SVR members, and £13.50 juniors (4 - 15) for the one-day ticket , £32 adult, £28 seniors and SVR members and £19 juniors for the two-day ticket, and  £42 adult, £37 seniors and SVR members, and £25 juniors for the three-day rover.