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Congratulations to the GWSR!

the first train to stop at Broadway station since 1960

the first train to stop at Broadway station since 1960

For people keen to achieve GWR authenticity wherever possible at our heritage railways, things have not always felt great at the GWSR so it is absolutely wonderful to be able to celebrate the achievements of, first, the rebuilding of Hayles Abbey Halt and then the rails arriving at Broadway station on 23rd January 2018, with the public reopening now just 80 days away.

It is the same old conundrum: historical recreation versus modern commercial imperatives and in both cases, after a certain amount of arguing, disputes and a couple of resignations, I think only the most purist (churlish?) would feel that the balance achieved in both cases is disappointing and not worth celebrating with serious amounts of bubbly.

Hayles is an outstanding example of how you can use modern materials in the structural build but ensure that the finished result still looks right.  Full marks do indeed go to the GWSR’s Heritage Group for leading the design and build throughout – and doing it within budget so that the accounts department stay on board!   They now have an authentic recreation of the old halt that has a commercial purpose for walkers and cyclist on the Cotswold Way and also faithfully recreates the original, even down to the reproduction oil lamps.  All that is missing now is the same again on the ‘up line’ and another track through the middle and we can still hold the vision for that in the future.

At Broadway there has been more argument, about all sorts of matters such as fireplaces without chimneys, the design of the roof of the building and its canopy, but as the rails arrive we can see that it really will all look pretty good, even for the most purist of preservationists.  Ok, so the track-work still won’t have the appearance of double track that would complete the authentic mainline look but they have built their own authentic profile railings and roof trusses, the footbridge is an original GWR structure as are many of the bricks in the platform walls and the signal box, even if it’s in the ‘wrong’ place, is a beautiful new-build job to be hugely proud of.  The station is not an exact reproduction of the old one but in the 21st century, there can surely be no argument about the need for nice toilets and a café (rather than a shop!). These are essential compromises for the modern age, whatever the ‘cost’ in historical inaccuracy.

What all this tells us is that, yes, it is worth making the effort to get as close to the authentic GWR look as possible.  Broadway station will undoubtedly win prizes and everyone will be very rightly proud of what they have achieved.  It will also, hopefully  set a heritage standard that allows other, less satisfactory structures (such as those signal boxes at Cheltenham and Gotherington to be progressively improved so that the GWSR can continue its development towards becoming the only place where people can see what a GWR mainline used to be like.  And still be a commercial success!

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