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GWSR - Cheltenham Spa and possible extensions

Discussion in 'Heritage Railways & Centres in the UK' started by JMJR1000, May 11, 2012.

  1. JMJR1000

    JMJR1000 Member

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    I am well aware that now may not be the best time to discuss this matter, as the line's 2 halves are not even reconnected yet, but recent news has compelled me to bring the subject forward nevertheless.

    According to the latest issue of Heritage Railway, the Cheltenham Borough Council have agreed to allow developers to bulldoze part of the embankment just south of the section owned by the heritage line, so they can reach a new estate development. The article even goes on to compare this growing situation to the GCR's initial hopes of reaching Leicester Central, which were unfortunately quite literally destroyed over time with the loss of vital bridges and embankments along the route.

    Now this wouldn't be so bad, if it wasn't for a certain spokesman named Ian Crowder, stating that "The embankment is being nibbled away bit by bit." even further stating that "the best hope for us is heading north." Now I might be jumping to conclusions here, but its sounding an awful lot like the railway is giving up on reaching Cheltenham's centre altogether.

    This would be terrible news if true and would be very uncharacteristic of a railway that has effectively rebuilt itself from practically nothing, dare I say... defeatist...?

    The main thing that bothers me the most though, is the idea that the line's path to the city centre has (and still partially is) more or less clear, but is needlessly lost when action could have been taken to prevent it. This happened to the GCR and their plan to reach the centre of Leicester; under the circumstances they couldn't really have done much, but now they are exiled to the outskirts of the city, this is a great loss as heritage railways with stations in highly populated areas have shown to get so many benefits from it, Sheringham being the finest example of this.

    For one, the railway's overall status is greatly raised and it's presence amongst the general public is too heightened.

    For another, unlike the other stations along the line, you would actually be in the centre of a town rather then the outskirts of it, which inevitably would draw in more passengers as a result.

    The point that I'm trying to make is while I support the eventual extension to Honeybourne, when comparing which of the two destinations (i.e. Honeybourne VS Cheltenham) would be the best to head for next, Cheltenham, for me at least, does seem to be the winner hands down.

    For example I can easily imagine a scenario that a resident or visitor to Cheltenham might fancy taking a trip to the beautiful village of Broadway and thats no bother as they can enjoy the comfort and picturesque steam ride right to their desired destination, saving them from the trouble of getting there by a cramped bus or car on narrow roads.

    Now the same reasons could be said for Honeybourne, but if you consider the length of lines that would be required to reach either of them, Cheltenham Spa is closer. I'm also aware that the cost would be pretty high to get this relatively short stretch of line back up and running, where as the line up to Honeybourne would be fairly straight forward, but if you consider all the benefits that I've pointed out, I believe it would be well worth the price.

    I'll leave you all to decide for yourself what your opinion on this matter is and if my opinion has any merit. Just know that I mean no offence against the people of the GWSR, I have great respect for what they have acomplished, I simply wish for them not lose a dwindling but great opportunity of reaching what I believe can be their true golden destination, forever...

    Honeybourne is a future target thats relatively safe, Cheltenham though is a differrent story... It can be salvaged, but it must be addressed soon, before its too late... Don't let it fall the same fate as the GCR's goal of reaching the centre of leicester...
     
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  2. steamdream

    steamdream Member

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    EXCELLENT analysis and I'm quite agree with you! I don't understand the politics of the GWR: to go to almost here but not truly there (Cheltenham and Honeybourn) quite incomprehensible in the wake of the GCR case!
    regards
    Noel
     
  3. GeoffS75

    GeoffS75 Member

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    Whilst I would agree with the sentiment of connecting to the mainline at Cheltenham Spa, the developments already in place on the trackbed between Racecourse and Spa notably at the Waitrose would make a physical connection a difficult and expensive one to achieve. An extension to the old High St halt might be more feasible as this would end north of the Waitrose but given it is on an embankment/bridge would only ever allow for a run around loop and platform with no parking or any other facilities which I imagine is less than ideal. It is also (despite it's name) still some way from the centre of town.
     
  4. Sidmouth

    Sidmouth Resident of Nat Pres Staff Member Moderator

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    I'm not sure there has ever been a public desire to get into Cheltenham , Racecourse has always been the target of it's ambitions to my knowledge
     
  5. daveb

    daveb Member

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    The railway own the trackbed only as far as Prince of Wales stadium where, looking at Google Maps, there is already a sports field which has cut across the formation just north of the stadium. There is also a road cutting across it just south of the stadium.

    On the other hand, the railway does own the trackbed as far as Broadway.
     
  6. nigelss

    nigelss New Member

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    I don't understand this. Surely as the formation has the potential for reinstatement it gets protection from redevelopment? Did the GWSR object to the application? Does anyone have a reference for the planning application so I can look it up?

    Thanks,
    Nigel
     
  7. Kinghambranch

    Kinghambranch Well-Known Member

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    "EXCELLENT analysis and I'm quite agree with you! I don't understand the politics of the GWR: to go to almost here but not truly there (Cheltenham and Honeybourn) quite incomprehensible in the wake of the GCR case!
    regards
    Noel "

    No, I disagree entirely. It is not excellent, because it shows an apparent lack of understanding of the history of the background of the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway Society (GWRS). (That is not a criticism of a fellow forumite but just a guess in my opinion I might add!)
    It must be understood that, when the GWRS (which was what it was called when I joined it in 1977, yes, 1977) was formed, it was formed initially to keep the Honeybourne Line open as a BR route. When the line was closed the Society changed its aim to that of keeping part of the line open as a heritage route. It had been hoped to buy as much of the line with track in situ but this proved to not be possible; it was just too expensive. In 1981, the GWSR purchased 18 miles of trackbed from just north of the Prince of Wales Stadium in Cheltenham to the 1st overbridge north of Broadway and some people thought that they were being far too ambitious even doing that. Whilst it would have been wonderful to connect back into Cheltenham town centre (the Honeybourne Line never connected to what is now called Cheltenham Spa station - that is on the old Bristol-Birmingham Midland Railway route and the Honeybourne Line's through station nearby was Malvern Road (also a sub-shed of Gloucester) the good people of Cheltenham have always had mixed feelings about the rebuilding of the GWSR within the town itself and, after all, in the 1980s, railways were such "old hat" weren't they. Several people thought that the embryonic GWSR was a flash in the pan scrapyard based at Toddington which would never progress anywhere; how wonderful for that to be proved wrong! There is no doubt that, back in 1980-81, if the founders of the GWSR had known what we know now they might have pressed to buy the land a bit further south of the POW Stadium. However, there are other problems there - the railway south of the Stadium has suffered erosion from paths, development etc and quite a lot of it is on raised viaducts, bridges etc, especially around the Cheltenham High Street area which would need more maintenance and protection from "artists.". It was much easier to start at an open site like Toddington and, in any case, it was pretty well all the Railway was offered by the BR lease at the time. The lease fortunately became a purchase and, almost even as I write this, the GWSR volunteers are rebuilding the station at Broadway. Once this is open then Honeybourne is an achievable goal but the GWSR do not own the land north of that 1st overbridge north of Broadway -yet. Once Honeybourne is reached (and there is provision for rails to be re-laid into the Network Rail station there) then I believe the GWSR will be complete. After that, a link up to the Cheltenham Birmingham line might yet be possible but it would involve major public money (as will the GCR extension and that will only happen imho when this country wakes up to the fact that the motor car and diesel lorry are dinosaurs) and, last time I looked, we had so little public money that the SoS for Defence has had to backtrack on the F35 fixed wing/VSTOL deal - again. Note to politicians - if you are going to build big-US style carriers, for pity's sake build them so that you can fly something hefty off them!
    Sorry, back on thread, Regarding Cheltenham Race Course, yes, that was always the GWSR's main ambition because it owned the line to that location and the Racecourse authorities have always been very pro the GWSR. It is also where the money is!
    I have written this from memory so if some of it is not totally historically accurate well, I apologise. I believe it to be as accurate as my memory allows however.
     
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  8. JMJR1000

    JMJR1000 Member

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    You bring forward a valid point, I don't have much detailed knowledge of the background history of the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway Society, though I had always been under the common belief that the GWRS's original goal was to preserve as much of the Stratford - Cheltenham line as possible, but as you've stated yourself it would have been too expensive.

    Though considering they bought the line from just north of the Prince of Wales Stadium in Cheltenham to the 1st overbridge north of Broadway, that would support the belief that they had and perhaps still do hold desires to reach Cheltenham, albeit a not very well known desire. Certainly then one has to ask, that if they aren't bothered about reaching Cheltenham Spa, then why do they still own the trackbed south of Cheltenham Race Course, apart from Hunting Butts Tunnel (for storage of carriages), why keep the rest? Seems to me they still have the desire to go south aswell, not just north.

    Another valid point, but what of the people's view/opinion of the idea now? Afterall, much has changed since then. The GWSR itself is too very different from it's early days and is something that cannot be ignored/dismissed as being a small time attraction in the area.

    It is of course perfectly understandable if people have mixed feelings about a steam railway coming right through and up to the centre of Cheltenham, particularly those living near to the line itself. Though I believe there are measure that can greatly help to solve the issues, in particular to the issue of noise. Whistling can be kept to the bare minimum and that part of the route would be perfect for using the GWSR's well known continuous welded rail technique, providing a much smoother, yet more critically, quieter run for both the passenger and most importantly less of a nuisance to the locals.

    While I'd agree with you that Cheltenham Race Course was always the GWSR's ambition, I'm not entirely sure you can say it was there main one, not to mention the fact that just because they've achieved their ambition of reachinf the race course, doesn't mean they shouldn't expand their ambition to Cheltenham Spa, with the big factor being that it's not that far (compare to say Honeybourne), despite the obvious expense.

    And while I can understand what you mean Cheltenham Race Course being a big destination to reach, I'm not entirely sure about your statement being "thats where the money is!", as I see a bit of a flaw with that opinion.

    For one thing Cheltenham Race Course itself is open only on particular days, whereas Cheltenham centre itself is continuously more or less open, bustling with much activity at times.

    For another, when Cheltenham Race Course is open, horse racing attracts only so many people as not everyone likes it, whereas Cheltenham's centre attrracts the majority of the general public and the general public's interest in a heritage railway, certainly one close to the centre, is a big key factor many successful railways and can be for the GWSR. So in truth, I suspect that if they did extend to Cheltenham Spa, odds are they'd probably get a whole lot more attention and passengers, particularly with the station being where it would be, if built.
     
  9. Fred Kerr

    Fred Kerr Part of the furniture

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    As an infrequent visitor to the GWSR I feel that the Racecourse terminus is actually a better choice than going into Cheltenham for 2 very important reasons : - (1) there is larger parking space available at the Racecourse for visitors from the Cheltenham end and (2) the costs of both re-laying and maintaining an access into the Town Centre may be greater than any additional income.

    It is a sad - but true- fact that any building in town areas is done at great expense and one has to ask if the costs are worth the extra income. Assuming that such an extension was built and a station created with the appropriate parking space there is the obvious question of how many potential visitors will start their journey from that end and travel to Toddington rather than from Toddington to the Racecourse.

    I would venture to suggest that the present arrangement is more economic because it offers a better number of options, namely - (1) the racecourse can operate any number of associated events where the railway trip + racecourse activity becomes a combined package (2) the charm of Cheltenham Racecourse stations adds to the ambience of a rural railway which is what IMHO the GWSR is selling (3) if there is a demand for town access it can be easily measured by the provision of a Vintage Bus connection.

    The talk of "long term planning" depends on whether the GWSR sees access from Cheltenham as a start point for a trip outwads then return or access from Honeybourne [Broadway in the shorter term] as a start point for a trip inwards then return. I would assume that, based on previous experience of race meetings, the option of traffic converging on Toddington, Broadway and Honeybourne is seen as the better one with incoming vehicles avoiding the hassle of driving through Cheltenham whilst being able to savour the relaxation of a train ride to the racecourse as a primer before the race and a rest after it.

    It is often said that the railways which do best are those which go from somewhere to somewhere with some interesting bits of somewhere in between. IMHO the GWSR achieves that - and will continue to do so - as long as its "to somwhere" is Cheltenham Racecourse. The challenge for the GWSR is to liaise more with the racecourse to offer events that both generate income for the racecourse itself whilst adding to the main attraction of the travel on the GWSR's rural railway passing through the delightful Cotswold countryside.
     
  10. Jark91

    Jark91 Member

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    The course the trackbed takes doesn't take the railway into the centre of town anyway, but rather it winds through the residential area of St Pauls (where I live whilst at uni). I highly doubt there would be any major benefit from people accidentally stumbling on the railway whilst visiting Cheltenham because it doesn't pass through the main tourist districts of the Promenade (the posh shopping area off the high street) or Montpellier. People would still have to drive their cars to reach any potential terminus in Lansdown near the current mainline station because it's a fair walk from the town centre, probably about 1-1.5 km depending on where you are. It's a nice pipe dream but I think any basic financial survey would prove that it wasn't worth it.
     
  11. david1984

    david1984 Resident of Nat Pres

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    In my opinion, Honeybourne - Cheltenham Racecourse is the maximum realistic aim.
     
  12. david1984

    david1984 Resident of Nat Pres

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    Another reason any urban section through Cheltenham should be left alone IMO, the Railway has better things spend money on than tons of preventative measures and repairs along such a section due to the local scum, by going to to Honeybourne after Broadway, gives you of course a Mainline connection and all is usefullness, but in the times of rising fuel prices, it could offer a cross platform interchange for anyone arriving by Train.

    Forget north of Honeybourne too, the section to Long Marston is still in use seeing frequent stock moves to/from the ex MOD base and the section immediatly south of Stratford GWR station would cost far to much £££ to accomdate a railway ever again.
     
  13. JMJR1000

    JMJR1000 Member

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    Ah... You make a strong point Jark91 and thanks for setting me straight in terms of where the mainline station actually is in Cheltenham, it seems I should have looked closer at the actual geography of the city, curtainly in terms of the locationing and distance between the centre and the mainline railway station itself.

    Because of this it would appear my original comment, that a station being near to a city centre would attract much attention and interest from the general public and tourists, will most likely not work in this case, certainly if its a fair distance from the centre.

    And while I still think its a project that they should think of pursuing in the future, as Fred Kerr commented, most people come to the GWSR for the same reason as most other railways, the rural scenery, but as far as I can tell the line from Cheltenham Racecourse to Cheltenham Spa is mostly urban, something that simply doesn't really attract people for the most part.

    This wouldn't be much of an issue if the station was right at the doorstep of the city centre, but if the station is really as far from the centre as you say, then as you put it yourself it would probably prove to be economically unviable.

    I would like to point out as well that, just in case you've got the impression from my previous comments that I don't support the eventual push to Honeybourne, you couldn't be more wrong. I absolutely support it completely and personally believe it to be vital for a maximum successful future for the railway.
     
  14. BillR

    BillR Well-Known Member

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    As a resident of said town (not city) :)
    I'd just like to point out that the cost of reinstating the 2.5 Km (approx) of trackbed to Lansdown would be astronomical.
    Within 1km of Lansdown heading north is St. Georges Rd an over bridge that was rebuilt a few years back and would now require (IMO) total demolition and rebuild to fit a standard gauge loco under it. Moving north a new road "Honeybourne way" was constructed and the embankment removed for quite some distance. A lightweight steel arch bridge was constructed over the gap and is of no use for other than as a foot/cyclepath as indeed it was intended. Moving north from this point, nearly 1km of blue bricked embankment with three old iron bridges, the outer brick work is in a terrible state, many bricks are crumbling and the whole lot would need repointing. The 3 over bridges must be close to being condemned.
    I'd bet you wouldn't get much change out of 20 million quid to do that 2.5km - never worth it.
    A 10 minute bus ride to the Racecourse from the town center is by far the cheaper option, it would be good I must say if an arrangement could be made where the buses would actually drop off at the station. Perhaps the "D" bus would be the best option rather than the "Park & Ride" if some bus pull-ins were constructed on the A435 right next to the racecourse station. The "D" is the same service that goes to the "Cheltenham spa" network station at Lansdown.
     
  15. The Saggin' Dragon

    The Saggin' Dragon Nat Pres stalwart Staff Member Moderator

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    In the early days of Railtrack, there was talk of reopening the line as a by pass of the Lickey etc, if I remember correctly the notion was not to rebuild the town section but to build on a new formation to link with the former Midland line North of Lansdown Station?
     
  16. BillR

    BillR Well-Known Member

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    The only scheme I heard (doesn't mean others didn't exist) of was to put Lansdown junction back in and run a line through the town on the old formation until just short of Hunting Butts tunnel then create a new section diverging to the North west to meet the midland line at Swindon village.
    The section from Lansdown Junction to Swindon Village would be a through route and only stoppers would use the proposed section, then the Waitrose development happened and it was heard of no more!
     
  17. Crazy Train29

    Crazy Train29 New Member

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    wasnt there a scheme mooted a while back that said their was an idea for a guided busway from CRC into town centre? has that fallen flat?

    i think its probably way too expensive for gwsr to try to go any furthur south now. once they get to honeybourne, the line will be 20 miles long, which will make it joint longest in the country. and also the money would be better spent improving facilites such as improving DP shed and building a carriage shed at winchcombe.
     
  18. Andy Jeanes

    Andy Jeanes New Member

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    Some excellent points to consider, however with aspirations of extending in either direction aside you have to commend the current running of the railway in what is a very difficult time as excellent. I always, without fail take the children on the GWSR Santa Specials and can only sing the praises of the volunteer base that provide excellent service against such adversity. I wish them success in whatever direction they wish to stretch.
     
  19. John Petley

    John Petley Well-Known Member

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    The biggest justification for anyone tryng to extend southwards into Cheltenham town Centre would be to alleviate the traffic problem. Cheltenham is a nightmare by car, and it is good that the GWSR terminus at the racecourse can be reached without going too close to the snarled-up town centre. However, such a project would require significant local financial support (the GWSR have enough on their plate sorting out Chicken Curve then north to Broadway and Honeybourne) and were it ever to happen (which is extremely unlikely in the short-medium term future) would perhaps best be operated separately from the normal steam service by a private consortium, rather similar to the plans for regular Swanage-Wareham trains. It's a shame that the route southwards wasn't protected years ago, but it's always easy to be wise after the event.
     
  20. nigelss

    nigelss New Member

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    From the GWSR website (see GWR - Gloucestershire's mainline heritage railway - Then and Now: looking towards Hunting Butts) :

    "There has been endless speculation about whether the Honeybourne Line could extend southwards through Hunting Butts and perhaps into the centre of Cheltenham. This is clearly a very attractive proposition! GWSR Plc owns the trackbed as far as the Prince of Wales stadium at Wymans Brook; beyond which it is owned by Cheltenham Borough Council. The Council-owned section is used as a footpath and cycle way and although the trackbed is largely intact to Cheltenham High Street, beyond there the embankment is severed to make way for a road to the superstore complex on the site of the former Cheltenham St. James station: the gap is bridged by a 'Sydney harbour' style suspension bridge for the cycle way. There have been various discussions with the Council and the Chamber of Commerce over the years about use of the trackbed, including a guided bus way and a tram system that is envisaged to serve the new housing developments at Hunting Butts, mentioned above, and connect with the Honeybourne Line. Suffice to say, however, there is little physical impediment to reaching the town centre with a southern extension and GWSR Plc is open to any sensible proposals."

    Best wishes,
    Nigel
     

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