Severn Valley Railway marks 10 years since floods

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Media captionSevern Valley Railway: Remembering the 2007 flood disaster

A special rail service is being put on to thank people who helped rescue a heritage railway 10 years on from the floods that threatened to close it.

The 16-mile Severn Valley Railway (SVR) was damaged in 45 places, including nine landslips, on 19 June 2007.

The steam railway, through Shropshire and Worcestershire, fully reopened nine months later, with repairs costing £3.8m.

SVR members will go on a special return trip from Kidderminster at 11:45 BST.

The railway was among the first of the sites damaged by the destructive floods that hit the UK in the summer of 2007.

A freak thunderstorm at about 20:00 only lasted around 30 minutes, but rainfall was equivalent to that of a typical month.

Embankments collapsed, there was debris below the track and sections of it were "suspended in mid-air".

Image copyright Severn Valley Railway
Image caption Flooding caused damage yards from Highley station
Image caption SVR said sections of track were "suspended in mid-air"
Image copyright Severn Valley Railway
Image caption Although track was hanging in the air near Highley station, the station building and platform survived

Mike Ball, 73, a volunteer for 31 years who is also vice chairman, said he was about to go to bed that night a decade ago when the phone rang.

The Highley stationmaster called telling him it looked like one of the signals was "halfway down" an embankment towards the river.

"Track was hanging in the air [by Highley] station," Mr Ball said.

He added that below the track, along the River Severn, he thought two holiday chalets had been washed into the river.

"But nobody was there.... the embankment went all the way down to the river and the buildings with it.

"Having seen that and another site further to the south with the track hanging in the air... maybe 50 yards.... my feeling was, I suppose it was a bit like, 'I can't see how this is going to get fixed'."

Image caption Representatives of the railway walked down the track the following day

Volunteers started to walk the track in the morning, getting off and into a field where necessary for safety, and the nine major areas of track damage were known by the end of the day.

Ten locomotives due to go to the visitor centre at Highley were left stranded at Kidderminster.

Then, another thunderstorm a month later - on 20 July - caused further damage.

Image copyright Severn Valley Railway
Image caption Repair work was carried out at an embankment yards from Highley station
Image copyright Severn Valley Railway
Image caption The railway was damaged in 45 places, including nine landslips, on 19 June 2007

A "your railway needs you" fundraising website was set up and of the £3.8m repair costs, £650,000 was donated by the public, members and shareholders.

Money also came in from fellow railways, grants from the European Regional Development Fund, Advantage West Midlands, the Heritage Lottery Fund, "the Railway's insurances" and SVR reserves.

The tourist attraction, which has six stations, has more than 250,000 visitors a year. The line goes from Bridgnorth in Shropshire to Kidderminster in Worcestershire.

The Severn Valley line was completed in 1862 and originally Hartlebury, near Droitwich in Worcestershire, was linked with Shrewsbury in Shropshire.

But the line shut to passengers in 1963 as part of a national rail rationalisation programme before a steam heritage line opened in 1970.

Image copyright David Williams
Image caption Locomotive 3205, the first locomotive to run on the SVR, was at Bridgnorth on 25 March 1967
Image copyright Severn Valley Railway
Image caption Bridgnorth station is seen in the 1880s, when the line was the Severn Valley line between Hartlebury and Shrewsbury

Now it is largely run by unpaid volunteers, who operate trains, rebuild locomotives, reconstruct viaducts and bridges and paint stations, but about 70 paid staff are responsible for administration and commercial activities and maintenance.

Last week an exhibition marking the 2007 storm damage opened at the visitor centre and SVR is currently trying to raise a further £1.4m for a redevelopment of Bridgnorth station, which dates back to 1862.

SVR said for the anniversary journey on Monday members would travel on "one of the UK's most luxurious trains - Belmond Northern Belle" famed "for its beautiful, hand-crafted 1930s-era interiors and luxury dining experiences".

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