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Severn Valley Railway goes for ‘100% diesel’ experiment (4th October 2011)

THE SEVERN Valley Railway will take one of the biggest public relations gambles in its 40-year history later this week, when for three days it will run an intensive train service - without a single steam locomotive in sight.

The 16-mile Kidderminster - Bridgnorth line which has become one of the country’s most popular leisure and tourism attractions by trading on the nostalgic appeal of steam, is clearing the decks and will run a three-day gala event on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week - more than 150 trains - with diesel locomotives in total control.
It is the SVR’s annual Diesel Gala, and despite the title, the railway has always previously run a token steam-hauled train service at the event, in deference to passengers who may have travelled long distances for a steam train ride, unaware that a Diesel Gala was taking place.

But following persuasive lobbying over a six-year period by Diesel Gala organiser Scott Lewis who has argued that many diesel fans stay away from the event because of the steam presence, the SVR board has agreed to let this year’s event run completely steam free, as an experiment.
“We’re all a bit heart-in-mouth at this point” said Scott Lewis today. “We know many diesel enthusiasts have been turned off by the presence of steam locomotives at what is supposed to be a celebration of diesel power, and I’m sure that many of the stay-aways will now come.

“But if there’s a barrage of complaints from members of the public who come to the railway expecting to travel on a steam train, then we could find ourselves back at square one, with a ‘mixed’ combination of steam and diesel as it’s been in the past. We’re keeping our fingers crossed” he said.

Upwards of 2,000 diesel fans from the four corners of the UK are expected at the three-day event, inspired by a sumptuous line-up of classic diesel types from far and near – many of them long retired from main line duties and now qualifying as ‘heritage’ locomotives in their own right.

Leading a list of ‘celebrity’ visiting diesels at the Gala (October 6th - 8th) is English
Electric Class 40 D306 Atlantic Conveyor - the locomotive which famously starred in the film ‘Buster’, reprising the role of sister-engine D326 in the 1963 Great Train Robbery.

One of a type known to enthusiasts as ‘Whistlers’ because of the distinctive noise made by their turbochargers, D306 was withdrawn from main line service as long ago as 1983, but has just been repainted in the old ‘BR green’ livery that it always carried in British Rail days. Travelling from its ‘home base’ at Washwood Heath, Birmingham, it is the first ‘Class 40’ to  be seen at the SVR for seven years.
Visiting ‘Sulzer Type 2’ Class 25 diesel No.25.262 from the South Devon Railway at Buckfastleigh will be the first of its type to work Severn Valley trains since the railway’s own example, D7633, departed to a new home at the Dean Forest Railway 10 years ago.

It’s even longer since one of the diesel-hydraulic Class 14 ‘Teddy Bear’ diesels last rumbled over Severn Valley rails – the last one in the early 1990s – but the Iron & Steel Traction Group’s example D9520, normally resident at Peterborough’s Nene Valley Railway, changes all that, and a six-year gap since the last visit of a ‘Brush Type 2 ‘Class 31’ diesel is also closed by the visit of 31.190, which travels from Washwood Heath with the Class 40 ‘Whistler’.

From the SVR’s fleet of resident diesels comes a further eight locomotives, which would make an impressive gala line-up on their own.

They include two of the Kidderminster-based Class 50 English Electric ‘Hoovers’ Nos. 50.044 Exeter and 50.049 Defiant, both of which appear in freshly-painted variations of BR ‘corporate blue’ livery,  former BR Western Region diesel-hydraulics  Class 42 ‘Warship’ D821 Greyhound and ‘Western’ D1062 Western Courier,  English  Electric Type 1 Class 20 ‘Choppers’ D8059 and D8188,  Class 37 ‘Growler’ 37.906, plus diesel shunters 12099 (Class 11) and D3022 (Class 08).
The SVR’s Class 108 three-car DMU set will also operate trains.

The two Class 20 ‘Choppers’ will run in tandem ‘double-heading’ on both Friday and Saturday, and the diesel-hydraulic Class 14 ‘Teddy Bear’ and Class 42 ‘Warship’ will double-head on Friday only, on the 15.45 departure from Kidderminster.

The action gets under way on Thursday morning with the 09.05 departure from Kidderminster (hauled by 31.190) and the 09.35 from Bridgnorth (D1062 Western Courier), trains throughout all three days being based on a 45-minute interval service, though many are more frequent than this. Top-of-the-bill Class 40 D306 opens its gala account on Thursday’s 10.25 train from Kidderminster, and 12.35 from Bridgnorth.

For enthusiasts who delight in the atmosphere of riding trains at night, services on Friday run up to around 10pm, and on Saturday through to 11pm and beyond. One, two and three-day adult ‘Rover’ tickets valid for any train, cost £18.50, £28 and £38 respectively. Senior citizen and SVR member ‘Rover’ tickets go at £15.50, £24.00 and £33 respectively, while children (4-15) can travel for £11, £17 and £23.