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Bridgnorth station goes back to drawing board for £2m revamp (12th March 2012)

THE SEVERN Valley Railway’s Bridgnorth station, built exactly 150 years ago, has gone back onto the drawing board for a major remodelling and expansion expected to cost in the region of £2 million.

The station which has served as the northern terminus of the SVR since steam enthusiasts re-opened the line there in 1970, now handles up to a quarter of a million visitors each year - far more than it was ever designed for, and has been outgrown by the railway’s success as one of the most popular leisure and tourism destinations in the country.

Now, following a brief drawn up over the last 18 months by the SVR’s Bridgnorth  Development Team, the Kidderminster architects Howl Associates Ltd have been commissioned to draw the plans for a revitalised and much-expanded Bridgnorth station to improve the visitor experience, and bring it  into line with 21st century needs.

The principal expansion and remodelling will explore:

 A second, all-new station building immediately to the north of the existing one, accommodating a new self-service buffet, food preparation and cooking area, retail shop, visitor information/exhibition area, washroom and toilets, disabled and childcare facilities, plus a dining area for SVR staff and volunteers

 Conservation of the existing 1862 station building, including the restoration of the waiting room (used for many years as the station shop), an extension to the lounge bar of the ‘The Railwaymans Arms’  - the popular ‘pub on the platform’ which survived British Rail’s closure of the line in 1963 – and provision of office and staff facilities.

 Purpose-built accommodation with sleeping, shower and toilet facilities for working volunteers, including a self-catering kitchen, dining area and storage, a first-aid room, staff and volunteer training/meeting room, and messing facilities – or, as an alternative, the major refurbishing, re-equipping and re-siting of existing volunteer ‘dormitory’ coaches.

 The possibility of a new footbridge over the line at the north end of Brignorth station (supplementing the existing south end footbridge), close to the new buffet, connecting the two platforms and providing access to a new first-floor public viewing gallery in the SVR’s locomotive workshops (referred to below as ‘SteamWorks’), with the possibility of an extending link to the overflow car park behind the Works.

These works, for which visual ‘artists impressions’ and plans should be ready in April, represent four of a total of 11 projects proposed by the SVR for Bridgnorth station, many of them inter-connected, which will be phased over a ten-year period, and financed chiefly by a new £4 million share appeal which is to be launched in September, and also, it is envisaged, by grant aid organisations such as the Heritage Lottery Fun (HLF) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

The other principal elements of the Bridgnorth station redevelopment include:

• SteamWorks – an initiative to make the SVR’s previously inaccessible (by reasons of health and safety) locomotive workshops a themed, interpretative visitor attraction, conveying the atmosphere and activities within the works, supported by guides, video screens and short films explaining ‘what’s going on’, and the fundamentals of steam engine restoration and operation, and also detailing the story of how Bridgnorth station was the springboard to the creation of the SVR in the 1960s and 1970s.

•  Major improvements to the station approaches, including a new entrance gateway and frontage fencing (to a traditional Great Western design) to ‘screen’ the lower car park area,  a new footpath with period lighting giving access to the station, comprehensive signage and interpretation boards, new seating, litter bins and picnic benches

• Improvements to surfacing and drainage and lighting of the field (overflow) car park (subject to landowner approval), creation of a circular route for vehicles accessing the car park via Station Lane, and closure of the Oldbury Road exit

•  Improvements to the locomotive yard, shed and workshops area, with a new staff washroom and toilets, meeting and mess space,  new storage space for materials – and – as a high priority – a big step up in all-round site security.

• Platform and track alterations, to  include an extension to the north end of Platform 1 (to accommodate full-length eight-coach trains and eliminate a large platform gap which presents a hazard to passengers), the realignment of track and extension to the south end of Platform 2, the creation of a new locomotive ‘run-round’ facility, and restoration to operational use of the disconnected siding (currently used for volunteers dormitory coaches) alongside Platform 1.

• A reappraisal of the potential use of the cottage and garden close to the shed coaling point, formerly privately owned, but now belonging to the SVR.

          The railway has mooted several possible uses for this site, including the
          location of the long sought-after Bridgnorth locomotive turntable, a major
          and substantial ‘O’ gauge model railway display, or as the site for the
          proposed new-build volunteer hostel accommodation.

Throughout the redevelopment, the SVR is anxious that the new Bridgnorth station and it environment will harmonise seamlessly with the existing buildings and appearance, and portray to both visitors and local residents the embodiment of a ‘bigger’ Bridgnorth station.

In a vision statement describing the new Bridgnorth station and how it will fit into its surroundings, the SVR Development Team says: “Bridgnorth is an outstanding destination on Britain’s most highly rated preserved line. Imaginatively conserved as a 1950s branch line station, it is a UK focus for steam engine restoration, construction and interpretation.

“The ‘Bridgnorth experience’ provides a varied and exciting day visit that appeals to the family as well as being a ‘Mecca’ for steam enthusiasts. Creative displays describe the challenge of maintaining and operating steam locomotives in the twenty-first century, the station’s role in saving the SVR and its connections with landmark achievements of the Industrial age. 

“A celebrated real ale pub and a strikingly designed new station buffet and shop, contribute strongly to profitability, and with the station form a gateway to Bridgnorth, one of England's finest historic and picturesque hilltop towns.’

Explains SVR General Manager Nick Ralls: “As we have said in our very detailed brief to the architects, the new station building and indeed all the development projects present a design challenge, in order to meet our ambition to present the new Bridgnorth in an agreeable style, and also to meet the requirements of Shropshire County Council’s Planning and Conservation officers.

“In so far as the Severn Valley Railway preservation plan was started at Bridgnorth in the 1960s, the natural focus of the line’s development until now has been away from the town, southwards to Kidderminster, and to a large extent it’s true that Bridgnorth station hasn’t kept pace with the remarkable growth of the SVR within the leisure and tourism industry.

“Now we’ve set out our stall to realise the station’s enormous potential as an outstanding general visitor and enthusiast destination. Bridgnorth is a wonderful, enchanting place, and we’re set on making sure that it  has in future a wonderful and enchanting steam-age railway station to match it.”