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Finally it's 'GO' for Severn Valley's new diesel maintenance depot (21st March 2013)

CONSTRUCTION of the diesel maintenance depot which Severn Valley Railway diesel locomotive owners have sought for more than 20 years, is to go ahead at Kidderminster later this year, following approval of the Railway’s planning application by Wyre Forest District Council.

Groundwork involving the sinking of foundations for the modern two-road steel-clad building, to be fully equipped with lifting jacks and inspection pits, is expected to get under way by the early Autumn, with the new facility, costed at more than £300,000, being completed in two phases.

To be built close to the western boundary of the railway’s yard at Kidderminster, the new depot will bring welcome relief to the SVR’s diesel-owning groups who since the late 1970s have had little choice but to repair and maintain their locomotives in the open, at the mercy of the elements.

The Railway’s fleet of privately-owned diesels, notably ‘heritage’ types long-retired from front-line service on the national rail network and many of them more than 50 years old, has expanded over the years to 12 ‘main line’ locomotives and eight shunters, but for heavy maintenance work such as the lifting of locomotives from their wheels, many have had to be sent away to railway engineering facilities in other parts of the country.

The cost of the new depot is being shouldered chiefly by seven diesel groups whose locomotives are resident on the SVR: the Diesel Traction Group, The Fifty Fund, The Western Locomotive Association, The Class 08 Society, the Ruston 906 Group, The Class 11 Group, and Somerset Traction Ltd, and also the railway’s members organisation, the Severn Valley Railway Association.

Since 1996 they have collectively been fundraising for the new facility through a variety of initiatives, including a pop concert, ‘drive-a-diesel’ courses for members of the public, and raffles.

To ensure that the SVR remains in control of core activities on its own site, the funds raised will be exchanged by the diesel groups for Severn Valley Railway shares, and the cash used by the Railway to construct the depot. Foundation work, construction and fitting-out will all go out to tender by contractors.

Not withstanding the railway’s desire to bring all resident diesels ‘in from the cold’,the new building, measuring approximately 160ft x 45 feet,  is essentially a maintenance facility, and not a stabling or storage shed, and will accommodate up to four locomotives at one time.

Integral in the drawings approved by Wyre Forest District Council however and to be built as part of a later phase, is a third road, fully enclosed under a ‘lean-to’ roof attached on the western side of the main building. Measuring 330ft in length, it will provide stabling for a further four diesels.

Jonathan Dunster, Chairman of the SVR’s Diesel Committee and co-founder of The Fifty Fund which owns or manages four ex-British Rail English Electric Class 50 diesels (Nos.50031 Hood, 50035 Ark Royal, 50044 Exeter and 50049 Defiance), hailed the granting of planning consent for the new facility as “Good news indeed.

 “The SVR uses diesel locomotives on over 100 days per year on timetabled services alongside its steam locomotives. The practice of diesels hauling passenger trains on the main line these days is actually extremely rare, so they are quite an attraction on ‘heritage’ lines like the SVR - but diesels require completely different maintenance facilities from their steam counterparts, hence the need for a dedicated facility.

SVR General Manager Nick Ralls moved to allay possible concerns about a shift in the balance between steam and diesel haulage of passenger services on the 16-mile Kidderminster – Bridgnorth line, known nationally as one of Britain’s top two steam railways.

“The Severn Valley Railway is always and primarily a steam railway service” he said “but we have to recognise we do have a diesel fleet, and its facilities at the moment are prehistoric., and its this that we’re addressing.”

The SVR moves into spectacular ‘full steam’ mode again this weekend with its three-day Spring Steam Gala, starting on Friday morning (March 22nd 2013), and by the time the curtain comes down on Sunday night, the railway’s six principal stations will have seen almost 150 steam train arrivals and departures.

The locomotive line-up includes four ‘celebrity’ guest engines from other railways, including the former Southern Railway ‘West Country’ Pacific No.34007 Wadebridge, making its first-ever visit to the line.

During the weekend of May 4 - 6 however it will diesels to the fore again, with ‘Western Diesel Weekend’ – a special event which showcases the first two ex-main line diesels to take up residence on the SVR back in 1979 – former BR Western Region diesel-hydraulics D1013 Western Ranger and D1062 Western Courier.

Steam and diesel ‘Driver Experience’ courses are run by the SVR throughout the year for those who fancy taking control of a former main line locomotive themselves. Further details: www.svr.co.uk .