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SVR gala ‘time warps’ back to the 1930s ‘art deco’ era (20th March 2012)

A CLASSIC streamlined train of the 1930s ‘art deco’ era jumps straight from the pages of the history books and into the 2012 reality of the Severn Valley Railway, when the Kidderminster-to-Bridgnorth steam heritage line’s three-day ‘Spring Steam Gala’ gets under way this Friday, March 23rd.

The ‘garter blue’ LNER A4 ‘Pacific’ No.4464 Bittern - a mirror-image sister engine of the 126mph world record holder Mallard - breaks from its schedule of working special charter trains on Network Rail lines to visit the SVR, where it will be perfectly matched with the railway’s own set of LNER 1930s ‘Gresley Teak’ carriages.

The combination - a tantalising attraction certain to draw thousands of railway enthusiasts into the area and which has already seen many bed & breakfast hotels putting out their ‘no vacancies’ signs  – in essence winds back the clock some 80 years to a time when streamlining, and the quest for speed was driving the railway through one of its most pioneering and romantic periods.

The occasion is all the more poignant, for the LNER teak train which makes its first foray in the gala on the 12.05 from Kidderminster on Friday, will include the newly-restored 1936 LNER ‘Kitchen Composite’ No.7960 (a kitchen car with both first and third class seating for 30 passengers), marking its first passenger duty since 1961, following a remarkable 21-year restoration. First Class passengers will pay a £3 supplement, collected on board by stewards involved in the restoration.

The visit of an A4 ‘Pacific’ to the SVR is always special; another member of the class, No.60009 Union of South Africa was resident on the railway through the 1990s – but Bittern is just one of FIVE celebrity guest locomotives which the railway plans to have in operation during the three-day event.

Another LNER type, making its debut appearance on the 16-mile SVR, is the J72 class engine No. 69023 Joem, normally based at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. It was built in1951, but to a highly successful 1898 design, and thus projects all the appearance of a classic Victorian engine. In reality, it’s a ‘youth’ of only 61. Main duties over the three days of the gala will be working ‘local’ stopping trains between Bridgnorth and Highley, and between Highley and Kidderminster.

The railway will also run the impressive ‘deep blue’ Caledonian Railway 0-6-0 ‘Jumbo’ No. 828 – a hugely popular inclusion in last September ‘s ‘Autumn Steam Gala’ all the way from the Strathspey Railway in the Scottish Highlands – providing reassembly work being carried out by the locomotive’s owners can be completed in time.

The engine has been fitted with new ‘tyres’ during the winter, and the race against the clock to complete reassembly and testing was in full spate this week. The SVR has however taken the precaution of hiring suitable ‘cover’ for No.828 in case it’s needed – the LMS ‘Jinty’ tank No.47406, specially imported from the Great Central Railway at Loughborough, which also supplies another LNER engine for the event – Gresley N2 0-6-2T No.1744, making a return visit to SVR metals.

It’s ten years since a ‘Jinty’ has worked on the SVR’. The railway’s own example, the privately-owned No.47383, has been a static exhibit in The Engine House Visitor Centre at Highley since 2008. With a further five locomotives from the ‘resident fleet’ in the fray – No.7812 Erlestoke Manor, ‘Stanier Crab’ 42968, ‘Flying Pig’  43106, and ‘Prairie’ tanks Nos. 5164 and 4566, a total of 10 different engines will share duties, with an eleventh engine – the GWR ‘28xx’ No.2857 ‘spare’ and on standby.
The gala timetable, heaving with almost 200 train movements over the three days, includes early morning and late afternoon goods trains, named ‘expresses’, local passenger trains, and double heading.

For those on the move, a new ‘Hearty Brunch’ dining service (£15) will operate in the railway’s GWR observation car No.80969 which will be attached t the 08.50 and 1.30pm trains from Kidderminster and 10.42 and 3.15 from Bridgnorth on Friday, the 12.05 and 5.00pm from Kidderminster and 2.15 from Bridgnorth on Saturday, and the and 2.40pm from Kidderminster and 11.37 and 4.37pm from Bridgnorth on Sunday.

The Engine House Visitor Centre at Highley and Kidderminster Railway Museum both open from 9.30 each day, and a beer tent at Bewdley station (open 11.00 – 21.00 Friday and Saturday, 11.30 – 18.00 Sunday) supplements the SVR’s two pubs, the ‘King & Castle at Kidderminster and The Railwayman’s Arms at Bridgnorth.

One, two and three-day ‘Freedom of the Line’ rover tickets start from £22.50 adult, £20 Seniors, £14 children (4 - 15 years), with one, two and three-day family tickets (two adults and up to four children) starting from £60 for the one day ticket.