Stratford-upon Avon to Cheltenham Timeline - Railways of the Vale of Evesham

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Railways of the Vale of Evesham
Stratford-Cheltenham Timeline
A single line branch from the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Line is opened from Honeybourne to Stratford-Upon-Avon.

The presentation of the Andoversford and Stratford-Upon-Avon Railway Bill spurs the GWR into acting to secure a line through the Vale of Evesham

An act of Parliament is passed for the construction of the Stratford and Cheltenham line. The GWR's proposals for the line have convinced Parliament that their line will serve the region better than the A&SUA Railway and their Bill is rejected.

Construction starts on the line at Honeybourne.

November 1903
Construction of Stanway Viaduct, just north of Toddington is marred by a serious accident. Four of the viaduct's arches collapse after the supports are removed, killing four men. Fortunately, prompt action saves the remaining supports. A combination of bad weather, insufficient time for the mortar to set and use of labourers with insufficient skills (one of the dead was  a butcher by trade, earning some extra cash on the site) is blamed.

August 1904
The line from Honeybourne to Toddington is opened, although passenger trains terminate at Broadway due to Toddington passenger station not being ready.

February 1905
The line reaches Winchcombe, with the GWR providing a temporary bus service to Cheltenham.

June 1906
The line opens as far as Bishop's Cleeve.

August 1906
The line to Cheltenham opens.

The doubling of the Honeybourne-Stratford branch is completed,  and through goods traffic commences. The work on this section has resulted in rebuilt stations at Milcote and Long Marston, and a new viaduct across the River Avon at Stratford.

July 1908
Through passenger services begin.

March 1912
Cheltenham Racecourse Station opens.

August 1928
Possibly the most tragic operating accident on this line occurs at Bishops Cleeve. Two sisters are killed on the barrow crossing (the station had no footbridge) when they cross in front of an express train they have mistaken for their stopping train.

November 1928
Hayles Abbey Halt is opened.

Stratford Racecourse station opens.

November 1943
The firebox on American Class "S160" Austerity 2-8-0 No 2403 collapses near Honeybourne East Loop Signal box. Both driver and fireman are badly scalded in the incident, with the latter's injuries eventually proving fatal.

October 1944
Honeybourne East Loop Signal Box is again the scene of a fatal accident when a Wellington bomber crashes near it.

March 1960
Local passenger services are withdrawn from Cheltenham to Honeybourne, although Cheltenham Racecourse station would be used for race meetings until 1968. The line is maintained as a diversionary route.

May 1969
The Honeybourne to Stratford-Upon Avon section closes to passengers.

August 1976
A derailment at Winchcombe results in closure of the line apart from the Honeybourne-Long Marston section. The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway is formed in the same month; its purpose, to convince BR to retain the line or to sell it to a private concern. However, BR chooses to keep the line under "operational control".

July 1979
Having done nothing positive with the line for three years, BR lifts the track, apart from the Honeybourne to Long Marston section, which is now effectively a single-track siding.

January 1981
The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway reaches an agreement with BR to purchase the trackbed.  

March 1981
The first working party arrives at Toddington.

15 miles of trackbed between Cheltenham and Broadway are purchased (BR being reluctant to sell the railway the complete trackbed between Stratford-upon-Avon and Cheltenham as they have concerns that the railway might not be able to cope with this length of line), and the process of re-laying track south from Toddington towards Cheltenham begins.  

March 1987
The first Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway steam train arrives at Winchcombe.

1st July 1990
The Stratford-upon-Avon Southern Relief Road is opened.  Part of this road uses the former trackbed of the line south of the station from Evesham Road to just north of the racecourse, which will make any future attempts to restore the railway to Honeybourne more complicated.

Gotherington is reached by the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway.

February 2001
Hunslet 0-6-0ST "King George" takes the the first steam-hauled train along the newly re-laid line from Gotherington to Cheltenham Racecourse.  Further work on this section is expected to take another two years before it can be opened to the public ("Steam Railway" Issue 255 March 2001).

April 2003
Cheltenham Racecourse Station is re-opened.

November 2005
With work on restoring the line northwards to Broadway having begun earlier in the year, an engineering train crosses Stanway Viaduct, the first train to do so since the original line was removed in 1979.

By this point track has been laid to Laverton

May - June 2010
A landslip at Gotherington closes the line between there and Cheltenham.  Services during the June 2010 "GWR 175" gala event are top-and-tailed between Winchcombe and Gotherington.   Normal services for the next few months are also run "top-and tailed".

The "GWR 175" event sees the first public services across Stanway Viaduct.

September 2010
The bridge taking the Oxford to Worcester line over the trackbed of the Stratford to Cheltenham line is replaced with a new one to take double track.  A panel of track is installed by the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway under this new bridge as a "Statement of Intent" to return a single line to Honeybourne.

November 2010
With the Gotherington landslip still not repaired, a second landslip at Chicken Curve to the east of Winchcombe renders the railway incapable of operating any real service at all.  

The Gotherington landslip is repaired, and the railway operates in two halves, with steam services between Winchcombe and Cheltenham and a DMU service between Toddington and Laverton.  

December sees plans unveiled for a Military Heritage railway based at the  former MOD depot at Long Marston.

April 2012
Work is underway to repair the Chicken Curve collapse, with investigations revealing major issues with the embankment at this location, some of which date back to the line's construction.  With funds still needed, "Steam Railway" magazine launches an appeal to raise the remaining money to complete repairs (which the author made a not-insignificant donation to).

September 2012
The repairs at Chicken Curve are completed.

October 2012
A report carried out regarding reinstatement of rail services between Stratford-Upon-Avon and Honeybourne appear to suggest that it is feasible, but could cost up to 100 million pounds.  Apparently, this would involve putting a single line in a trench between Stratford Station and Stratford Racecourse(the author finally obtained a copy of the report in August 2022).  

May 2013
The Gloucestershire Warwickshire holds its first full steam gala in nearly three years (the author attends on three of the four days of the event).

2013 also sees the line used in location filming for the BBC series "Father Brown" for the first time (it would be used again in subsequent years for further episodes, and for its spin-off series "The Sister Boniface Mysteries").  

October 2013
The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway initiates a share issue scheme  "Bridges to Broadway" to raise the £500,000 required to bring the bridges between Laverton and Broadway to a suitable condition to operate trains over (the author purchases shares at this time).

May 2014
Work starts on the five bridges between Laverton and Broadway.

"Temporary Track" is laid at Broadway station.

October 2014
The "Bridges to Broadway" share issue closes, having raised the money required for the bridge repairs.  

December 2014
The bridge repair work between Laverton and Broadway is completed.

January 2015
The Military Heritage railway project at Long Marston is abandoned when the site's owners decide to use the land for housing instead.  

April 2016
The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway initiates "The Last Mile" share scheme in order to complete the restoration of services to Broadway.

October 2016
Re-laying of track north from Toddington to Broadway enters Worcestershire, and is now within a mile of Broadway Station.

January 2017
Work starts on a new visitor centre at Winchcombe station.

May 2017
Cheltenham Racecourse Station Platform 2 becomes operational, in time for the 2017 spring gala.

June 2017
Hayles Abbey Halt re-opens after 57 years as a facility to serve the remains of Hailes Abbey.  The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway chooses to retain the "Railway" spelling of "Hayles" rather than correct it to "Hailes".  

Vivarail test their class 230 DMU prototype no. 230001 on the Honeybourne to Long Marston branch (click here to see author's photograph of the unit)

December 2017
Tracklaying reaches Broadway.  

March 2018
Broadway station is re-opened for public services, for the first time in 58 years.

January 2019
The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway announces that it no longer considers a southwards extension into Cheltenham along the former trackbed to be a viable option for a mainline connection.  However, they are prepared to consider a possible new, more direct link to the main line at Swindon Village as a possible alternative to extending north from Broadway.

March 2020
The Covid-19 Pandemic forces the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway to suspend operations.  This is also coupled with further landslips caused by the heavy rains of the previous few weeks.

August 2020
The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway is able to run passenger trains again.

December 2020
Plans to restore the line between Stratford-upon-Avon and Honeybourne are submitted to the Department of Transport as part of the "Restoring Your Railways" funding scheme.

September 2021
It is reported in various railway publications that the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway have been offered the opportunity to purchase the trackbed between Broadway and Honeybourne, although there is some question as to whether or not the railway will be allowed to make the purchase unless guarantees can be made regarding infrastructure maintenance.  This would be a major liability for the railway, at least until they could get the section operational, and this would likely take some years and a lot of money to do this.

November 2021
An £200,000 appeal for bridge repairs is launched by the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway.  The money is raised by the end of the year.

July 2022
The proposal to restore the line from Stratford-upon-Avon to Honeybourne is rejected by Government, and it now seems unlikely that the line will be ever be linked up again between Honeybourne and Stratford station.  In light of this the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway announce that without the northern section restored, an extension north from Broadway is "neither desirable nor financially sensible" ("The Cornishman" issue 162).  The author feels that this is the right decision in the current climate.

April 2023
The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway starts an appeal to raise money for repairs to Stanway Viaduct (between Toddington and Broadway).

[Click here to donate to the Stanway viaduct appeal]

November 2023
Work starts on the 1st phase of repairs to Stanway Viaduct, although cracks are discovered that may prevent the section from Toddington to Broadway from re-opening at the beginning of the 2024 season.
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