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A Mainline Connection for the GWR in Cheltenham?

7903 runs round its train at Cheltenham Race Course station.

7903 runs round its train at Cheltenham Race Course station.

Just as the Glos Warks Railway fixes its gaze on Broadway to the north, with Honeybourne almost within reach, an article in the September 2013 edition of ‘Modern Railways’ discusses the possibility of developments at the opposite end, at Cheltenham, which could conceivably see GWR trains running into a new platform shared at an improved Network rail station.

A close reading of the words does not go anywhere near saying this is likely at all, let alone soon, but the notion that what is called ‘passive provision’ for a ‘heavy rail’ route between the Lansdown Raod Junction and the existing Race Course station where steam services start does leave open the possibility that this could happen.

The report  does suggest, though, that developments at Cheltenham Spa could happen sooner rather than later but then, they might not.  If they did, the GWR would be faced with some tough choices. Should it ignore it and consolidate at Broadway for several years or should it seize what would surely be a once-only opportunity to establish a solid presence in Cheltenham town and even give it a second mainline link at the southern end?

The Race Course station is exactly that: a station for race goers and is not really close enough to encourage people from the town centre itself. I’m often amazed how many passengers do actually get on there.  It is certainly not an ideal terminus.  Many a time I have stood at the starter signal gazing dreamily towards Hunting Butts tunnel and thought: ‘Malvern Road and Gloucester – those should be the next stops!’

But Malvern Road station has gone and the lovely old terminus at Cheltenham St James’s (even if it did face the wrong way!) has now been swallowed by Waitrose.  A flimsy footbridge replaces the substantial rail bridge that was part of that section of line, so any renewal of the rail connection in Cheltenham would require huge funding to replace that bridge, making such development of necessity a joint venture that would need to have the financial blessing of strategic and local authorities.

If the opportunity suddenly jumps up out of the blue, though, is it too important to miss out on?  It might be the making of our railway.  It is a delicious thought that our trains could head south through Hunting Butts tunnel into Cheltenham itself and even have  mainline link at Lansdown Junction again.

Race trains from Bristol as well as Birmingham on Gold Cup week?  I can almost hear the cash tills ringing!

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