IT IS full steam ahead for the Severn Valley Railway which reopened to the public on Saturday with safety measures and social distancing in place.
Steam railway dates back almost 200 years in England – back then people used to use the trains to commute and for a day out or a holiday with family and friends.
Nowadays as we have moved through diesel and now onto electric, yes it is arguably quicker but, as anyone who has been on a steam train will tell you, there is a certain romance about travelling by steam.
The thought of packing a picnic with your nearest and dearest and heading off through some of the most picturesque British countryside was an offer I could not refuse.
So when we were given a sneak preview of the returning railway, my family and I jumped at the chance.
The Severn Valley Railway dates back to 1858 and 1862, when its first services linked Hartlebury to Shrewsbury, and the words Coronavirus or Covid-19 would have been unheard of.
The ironic thing is today’s SVR offers the perfect socially distanced trip – every family or group books a compartment which means once inside, masks can be removed and you can enjoy the journey.
And what a journey it was – the countryside views and ye olde stations and sites – all recreated by the SVR’s historical experts – were amazing.
It gave you a real feeling of what it was like back then when our ancestors would have embarked on their long-awaited trips. Obviously I cannot compare our excitement with that of our past relatives but all of us were buzzing as we chatted away and spending some much-needed quality family time together.
Once we got to Bridgnorth we probably did what our ancestors would have done – we visited the ornate town centre, browsed the shops, enjoyed our picnic and even went for a paddle in the River Severn.
There is also the chance, halfway through the day, where you can take a trip to the Engine Shed at Highley Station before returning to Bridgnorth.
The museum houses some of the railway’s out-of-service locomotives, wagons and coaches and gives an insight into the railway’s and line’s past – enlightening you on the journey you are travelling on.
It also features artefacts, a film about the Severn Valley Railway, a restaurant, gift shop and space for picnics.
As we journeyed home on the last train out, around 4.15pm we had thoroughly enjoyed our day out, away from the nine to five daily grind.
You could see why it was such a draw for our ancestors and I would urge anyone looking for a safe family day out during the school summer holiday to also give it a go.
For the entire month of August, the SVR is running three excursion services every day. There’s one from Bridgnorth at 10.45 and two from Kidderminster at 10.15am and 10.45am.
Travel is within a private compartment, seating up to six people for £75.
There are concessions for shareholders, loyalty pass holders and SVR members.
In the past few days, extra compartments have been made available to these groups, on top of the original allocation of 30 per cent.
Meeting the staff and volunteers
DURING our visit we met several of SVR’s dedicated staff and volunteers.
After moving to Birmingham from Liverool in 1968, Pete Cherry volunteered on the Severn Valley Railway.
He became a fireman (shovelling the coal and ensuring the engine was at peak condition) in 1972 and became a driver in 1982.
He said: “I think I must’ve undertaken every role possible and I have loved all my time here.
“No two days as a driver are the same – you could be with a different loco, a different fireman, there’s different weather and track conditions.
“I’ve had some amazing enjoyable times.
“It’s great to welcome so many people on board.”
Head of communications Lesley Carr said it had been a tough few months and the SVR could not wait to start welcoming passengers back again.
Fireman Rob Mulvey and driver Gary Townley were among our crew for the day and we also caught up with them.
The first trains on Saturday
HUNDREDS of excited visitors boarded the first train – the GWR 2857 – which left Kidderminster town station at 10.15am with hundreds of excited visitors on board.
General manager Helen Smith was filled with relief and pride when the first train moved away.
“It has taken an incredible effort from everyone across the Railway to pull together and deliver this new excursion experience for our visitors, and it’s just what we needed to get back open again in a controlled manner to ensure visitor and staff safety.
“Today we’ve witnessed a sea of smiling faces, and this tells us we’ve got it right.
“This doesn’t mean all our problems are solved because we still have a mountain to climb.
“Not only do we have a large business interruption bank loan to pay back, but we also need to work hard to make sure everyone adheres to the social distancing regulations, so we can protect our staff and visitors, and start to make money again.”
The reopening services on Saturday and Sunday were sold out and the SVR said sales for the rest of reopening week were looking very healthy.
Whilst they’re encouraging advance booking, there may be some on-the-day places available.
The information will be advised on social media and on www.svr.co.uk the day before.