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A New Era for our Heritage Railways?

Will we see GWR steam at Honeybourne within 10 years?

There are 3 pieces of news today that are exciting for heritage railways.  The Swanage Railway has just been awarded £1.4m government funding to run a service from Wareham to Swanage, the Bluebell has announced the date for its reopening to East Grinstead as 23 March and the North Yorkshire Moors are to get £800K from the Coastal Communities Fund  to renovate Whitby station!

All these are marvellous achievements but taken together they are an indication of where the whole heritage railway movement might be heading in the years to come.  Our railways are all very diverse of course, but many of them are now taking a serious step in the direction of becoming transport providers rather than just destinations for a nice day out with the grandchildren.  In the case of Swanage, the geography of the Isle of Purbeck is an immense advantage to them as it makes them the obviously environmentally acceptable provider of transport into and out of Swanage. Anyone who has ever tried to get to the seaside town by road in the summer months will be delighted to be able to pick up the train at Wareham and and coast gently downhill to the soothing sounds of steam .

The East Grinstead connection will bring London based people who no longer relish braving the grid locked roads in the SE of England and it may even attract people from the south end looking for that onward Network Rail link.  The NYMR already has its link to the seaside but its ability to attract funds to build more long term facilities at Whitby is a great vote of confidence in the success of that operation.

I hope that these cases will act as examples to underdeveloped lines such as the GlosWarks which, after such bad luck and financial difficulty are forging back, first, to Broadway, the Cotswold tourist gem where all the coach tours go and onwards to Honeybourne Junction.  Local authorities have had plans fermenting over restoring the Stratford-on-Avon link to the N Cotswold Line for a while and the GWSR should really now press forward to be part of an integrated plan to reunite railway services around Honeybourne Junction and re-link these places in the Cotswolds that have suffered under both Beeching and increasing transport isolation since.

Kingswear has never really been separated from the network and I also doubt that it will be too long before regular service trains from Taunton go straight to Minehead and all sorts of other things may be possible over the next 10 years.  In the Heritage movement, we are used to manifesting the unexpected and, as I said in an earlier blog:  let’s be bold and state our intent – we want our GWR network back!

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