A SECTION of the Stratford to Cheltenham railway line can be secured through a deal that could transfer ownership to a group of enthusiasts.
Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway volunteers hope they can keep the option of reusing the Honeybourne to Broadway railway line as part of their 40-year ambition to reopen as much as possible the old line, cut by British Rail in 1976.
GWSR currently ends at Broadway, but now the owner of the route, Railway Paths Ltd, has expressed a desire to transfer ownership of a 4.5 mile stretch north to the organization.
Although GWSR admits it doesn’t have the funds to expand the line “for the foreseeable future,” it says the move would be a step towards protecting the platform for possible future development.
However, a stumbling block remains in the form of the Department of Transport, which has so far refused permission to transfer ownership due to question marks over maintaining the bridges on the road.
Richard Johnson, Chairman of GWSR, said: “It seems the policy of the DfT is that Heritage Railways cannot provide a strong enough commitment to ensure the continued maintenance of road bridges that cross such redundant lines.
“My understanding is that it will only be considered to transfer ownership to a body such as a local authority which by definition has the resources to maintain the bridges. In such a case, one option would be for the line to be re-leased to the heritage railway concerned.
“We have written to the DfT to confirm that this policy is indeed correct, if it can be waived in this case and to request confirmation that nothing will be done to the bridges or the platform that could compromise the potential reuse as a line of railway.”
Mr Johnson said many bridges were in poor condition, adding: “They have deteriorated considerably over the years. Some of them are supported by brick piers or steel props in the old platform. form and the bridges will require considerable sums to restore them.
The government is funding up to £ 50,000 for an economic impact study on the full re-establishment of the Stratford-Honeybourne line after a proposal put forward by the Stratford Rail Transport Group, the Shakespeare Line Promotion Group, the Cotswold Line Promotion Group and the Solihull and Leamington Spa Rail Association users.
Network Rail rebuilt Honeybourne station between 2008 and 2011 as part of its improvements to the North Cotswold line between Worcester and Oxford. At the time, he approached GWSR with a proposal to make “passive arrangements” for the Heritage Railway to eventually reach Honeybourne. Work carried out included the realignment of the branch junction to Long Marston and the replacement of the bridge carrying the North Cotswold Line on the platform of what would become the GWSR.
Mr Johnson said the resumption of the abandoned line to Broadway could not have come at a worse time as the railroad went out almost 18 months with no income, thanks to Covid. But he added: “Our primary responsibility is of course the safety and viability of our current business.
“However, we also have a responsibility to ensure that we do not compromise the original aspirations of our founders and to ensure that the line north of Broadway is secured for potential future development.”