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24 September 2014
Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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  Inside Out - West: Monday September 20, 2004


The Severn Beach Railway in Bristol
One of Europe's most scenic rail routes

When you mention great train journeys where do you immediately think of? Travelling to Venice on the Orient Express, or cutting through the snow capped Swiss Alps? Well how about taking in the sights of… Bristol?

Before you scoff, you should know that Bristol's Severn Beach Railway Line has been crowned one of the most scenic rail routes in Europe.

Travelling from Temple Meads to Severn Beach, the railway line has been listed among Thomas Cook's most favoured attractions.

And it seems the travel agency isn't the only one to recognise the attraction.

Inside Out's Tessa Dunlop
Inside Out's Tessa Dunlop is a newcomer to the railway

Inside Out West's Tessa Dunlop hops aboard to meet those who have fallen in love with the railway line and to experience the beauty for herself.

All pistons blazing

One of the most unusual facts about the Severn Beach Railway, compared to its award winning counterparts, is that it is rather short - it only takes around 45 minutes to get from start to finish.

Far from bunking down for hours as your train takes you miles across country, travellers on this service will enjoy a short but sweet experience chugging along the tracks that lie hidden deep inside the Avon Gorge.

The line runs through a mile long tunnel, which today would cost millions to construct, and travellers will see not only the beautiful Avon Valley but also some of Bristol's most most important areas of industrial heritage.

Stopping at only the sleepiest of stations, such as Clifton Down, Montpellier and Redland, the railway line is a tiny thing, dwarfed by the intercity express routes.

However, when the Severn Beach Railway opened in 1865 it was all pistons, power and polish.

The journey begins

Tessa Dunlop with Percy Locke
Tessa Dunlop met Percy Locke, who has grown up with the railway

Tessa Dunlop gets set to experience the "golden age of steam" as she boards the train with her travel companion Percy Locke.

Percy has the Severn Beach Railway in his blood.

"My dad used to work in the signal box, at the end of the platform at Severn Beach," Percy says.

"I used to take him his breakfast down there, or his tea at night.

"One day when I called in at the box the bloke asked me to get the key out of the machine that operates the signals - it had snapped off and they couldn't get it out.

" Because my hands were small I could get in there and get the key out. They gave me five shillings for that."

Percy's mother ran the crossing gates at Severn Beach for 44 years. Percy remembers her having to get up at all times of the day or night to open the gates for the traffic.

Now, at 82-years-old, Percy still has all the fun of that little boy playing on the steps at Crossing Cottage.

Chugging on ahead

As Tessa leaves Percy behind in the golden age of steam she moves firmly into the groovy days of the 1970s where she meets Roy Edwardes.

Roy and his son Jonathan used to set off together every day, heading to work and to school, travelling on the train.

Roys tells Tessa his story. "I worked on the railways all my life. I joined in 1951 and we used to use the Severn Beach line to get to and from work," he says.

Tessa Dunlop with Jon Rogers
Jon Rogers needs the Severn Beach Railway for his work

"Then when my son Jonathan started going to school we would take the train together and we'd spend the time doing the crossword, and we'd ask questions.

" I remember travelling along the line one day and there were clouds in the sky. I said to Jonathan how heavy do you think a cloud is?

"We talked about that questions for hours. We never did work out the answer," Roy fondly recalls.

End of an era?

Despite its popularity with locals and its undoubtedly beautiful surroundings, the Severn Beach Railway was set to be derailed soon after Jonathan Edwardes' school days.

Today, 20 years after Cecil Parkinson defended the line in the House of Commons, people are still standing up to speak out for the Severn Beach line.

"The Severn Beach is a mighty fine line;
Clean and friendly and sometimes on time"
Severn Beach Railway campaigners' chant

Campaigners are trying to encourage not just tourists to travel on the train, but also locals.

They are adamant that the Severn Beach Railway is cheaper than catching the bus, more reliable and will offer you some spectacular views of Bristol and South Wales from the high vantage points.

More than a tourist trap

Although Thomas Cook has listed the Severn Beach Railway as a top tourist attraction, 3,000 people rely on this train each week.

For Jon Rogers it's more than that. It's literally a lifeline.

Jon is a GP on call at the Avonmouth Medical Centre and he uses the train, not just to get to and from work, but from the surgery to his home visits.

Jon's bleeper remains quiet on the day Tessa Dunlop joins him on the railway, but his story shows just how important this line is.

And Percy's tales, along with Roy and Jonathan's memories, show just how special it is.

See also ...

On the rest of the web
Friends of the Severn Beach Railway
Severn Beach Railway - Information
Wessex Trains - Journey Information

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Jeremy Lane
I am a Railway enthusiast (Today's railway). Thank you for highlighting this Train line. I will try and go on it.

The Severn Beach line is indeed a good asset to Western and Central Bristol and should be promoted more - I'm glad Inside Out did it! There is another railway that branches from St. Andrews Road just up from Avonmouth, passing through Henbury and leading to Filton Junction, which is the connection from Cardiff, to Cheltenham and the North and Bristol. This line should be reinstated for passenger services so the Severn Beach line could be extended further. This would mean even shorter journey times, less pollution and good access links for the north of Bristol. It will also be extremely cheap to open, and services could run from Bristol Temple Meads to Bristol Parkway going through this line and calling at all the stations along the way.

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