“We can hear the Dean Forest Railway from here,” says Tony Goddard as we walk over the former GWR ‘high level’ bridge, looking down onto the Midland Railway bridge that still has rails set into its roadway. “It’s only 2.5 miles as the crow flies – but a lot further by road or rail!”
Published Mon, 2016-12-19 17:03
Collett ‘64XX’ 0-6-0PT No. 6437 waits at Sharpness with the auto-train for Berkeley Road on June 7 1962. © COLOUR-RAIL
We’re exploring Sharpness Docks, which appears at first glance to be little more than a semi-derelict industrial wasteland – but, on closer inspection, proves to be chock-full of fascinating railway and transport history. It’s also the home of the newest entrant to the standard gauge steam preservation scene – the Vale of Berkeley Railway.
Tony’s reference to the DFR is a reminder that the truncated 4.5-mile Sharpness branch, which the VoBR aims to restore to its former glory, was once part of the Severn & Wye Railway, connected to Lydney on the opposite side of the River Severn estuary – until the Severn Bridge was partially destroyed by two petrol barges on the foggy night of October 25 1960.
Much like the Great Central projects at Loughborough and Ruddington, here are two preserved railways that were once part of the same route and are within earshot of each other – but are separated by a huge chasm.
So, I ask with tongue stuck very firmly in cheek, would the VoBR ever set its sights on filling this ultimate preserved railway ‘Gap’?
“What – us?” laughs Tony incredulously. “Absolutely, definitely not.”
No – of course not. But the VoBR does have some pretty big ambitions – and they already seem to be capturing the imagination. Tony is the longest serving volunteer of over 70 who have signed up so far, out of a total membership of nearly 300 – a ratio of approximately one in four, where most railways see only 10% or less of their members getting their hands dirty.
That’s quite an achievement for a line that has been around for little more than a year – it was handed the keys to its shed at Sharpness Docks in August 2015, while membership has only been open since January. “It was complicated by insurance matters,” chuckles Tony. “One of the questions they asked was: ‘Are you anywhere near deep water?’ Er…yes!”