Steam railways in the West Midlands have brought some of England's most historic trains back to life.
England pioneered rail travel and since Victorian times, the country has been crisscrossed by railroads. At one time even the most remote river valleys had trains. A lot of them disappeared in the 1960s in a misguided effort to modernize the country with highways.
But happily for train enthusiasts, volunteers are saving and operating quite a few of the most interesting heritage railways, steam trains and unusual rail services. These, some of the best you'll find in the West Midlands, are good to keep in mind if you are visiting Bath, Bristol, Ironbridge Gorge, Manchester and the Potteries.
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Telford Steam Railway
About The Telford Steam Railway The railway runs just west of Telford, Shropshire, near the UNESCO World Heritage site and birthplace of the Industrial Revolution Iron Bridge Gorge.
The railway began even before the age of steam. Horse drawn wagons once ran on iron rails between the Coalbrookdale iron works and the mines that supplied raw materials. At one time, the railway's main depot had 10 sidings and could handle 200 wagons at a time.
In the 1960s, the railway's key stations, Horsehay and Dawley, were shut as part of widespread cuts to Britain's rail network. By then the line was just was a quiet rural branch line, serving local communities. There was little hint of its more than a century of industrial service.
In 1976, a group of volunteers formed a trust to restore the Telford Steam Railway, its stations and vintage locomotives. Today work to extend the line and to maintain and increase rolling stock continues. Eventually the trust wants to link up with Ironbridge itself.
Where does it go? Trains operate on Sundays and Bank Holidays, from Easter through the end of September. There are usually Santa Specials on Saturdays and Sundays in December but all special events change frequently and it's best to check their website. Trains currently operate along a limited route, from Spring Village platform, via Heath Hill Tunnel to the roadbridge at Horsehay & Dawley station.
Highlights In addition to steam and diesel locomotives running on standard gauge tracks, Telford Steam Railway also operates a narrow gauge steam tram and has a 5" gauge model railway on site.
Keep in mind The railway is run by volunteers so phone numbers listed on the website are not always manned and the website is only updated close to the start of each season. The best way to keep up with what's happening, current schedules, prices and events is to visit their website and subscribe to their email newsletter.
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Bridgnorth Cliff Railway
About The Bridgnorth Cliff Railway Does a funicular qualify as a heritage railway? Well it runs along rails and the British Heritage Railway Association seems to think so, so who am I to argue. This particular funicular is Britain's oldest and steepest inland electric funicular railway. It operates two cars that counter balance each other. As one goes up, pulled by electrically powered cables, the other goes down, and vice versa. It's been running for more than 125 years (since 1890) and at one time it was powered by water ballast.
Where does it go? It travels between the upper and lower town of Bridgnorth (saving locals and visitors a steep climb). It rises 111 feet over a distance of 201 feet. And unlike heritage railways that are run as attractions for hobbyists and visitors, the Bridgnorth Cliff Railway is still part of everyday life in this Shropshire town. As befits local public transportation, it's cheap to ride - the round trip fare is £1.20. And frequent, year round, service runs from 8am to 8pm in summer and to 6:30pm in winter, Monday to Saturday. On Sundays service starts at noon.
Highlights The Winding House, a tearoom near the top station has viewing windows into the engine room and winding gear. They also have an outdoor terrace for splendid views in good weather. Telephone +44(0)1746 769659 for more information.
And if you fancy staying over, the Stoneway Guest House is right beside the bottom station. From Room 2 you can watch the funicular go up and down.
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Severn Valley Railway
About The Severn Valley Railway The Severn Valley Railway (SVR) is one of the most well developed and ambitious of the country's heritage railways. It attracts volunteers from all over Britain and steam railway fans visit from all over the world.
Most of its trains are hauled by steam locomotives though there are some diesel locomotives as well. Its collection of vintage carriages, goes back to the early 20th century, and even includes wooden cars made of teak.
Many of the stations along the route are restored to their early glory. There are station buffets and interesting collections of railroad memorabilia at stations along the way as well as interesting parks, stately homes and walking country near every stop.
With a 150 year history, this line began in the Victorian era. Special events and outings with different vintage themes - from Victoriana to 1940s Big Band - are regularly scheduled. You can also book dinners and cream teas in vintage dining cars on some of the trains.
Where does it go? From Bridgnorth in Shropshire to Kidderminster in Worcester, a distance of about 16 miles. There are scheduled stops at Hampton Loade, Highley, Arley and Bewdley as well request stops in the Severn Valley Country Park and at Northwood. Trains operate almost year round but there is a short winter closure of about five weeks for maintenance and repairs. In 2016, the railway was scheduled to be closed from January 4 to February 12.
Highlights At Highley in Shropshire, The Engine House is a visitor's center that shows off the SVR's impressive reserve collection of steam locomotives and other railway vehicles. It has a restaurant, a shop and a children's play area. Passengers who stop there should plan on spending about two hours.
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