Severn Valley Railway gears up for weekend reopening

A railway institution is almost back to blowing at full speed, with test journeys going ahead this week before the public are welcomed back from Saturday.

Fire man Frank Hryniewicz from Highley
Fire man Frank Hryniewicz from Highley

The Severn Valley Railway has not been running since mid-March thanks to the lockdown brought on by coronavirus.

Lucas Stringer, 4, and Felix Stringer, 6, from Bewdley

But now that restrictions are easing, the army of volunteers are preparing for the public to return.

Severn Valley Railway gets ready to re-open to the public this weekend

This week, dry runs are going ahead with volunteers and their families as passengers being taken up and down the valley – though yesterday the persistent rain meant they weren’t very dry at all.

Journeys took place from the station at Kidderminster up north to Bridgnorth via the Engine House Visitor Centre at Highley, and back again.

Severn Valley Railway gets ready to re-open to the public this weekend. Driver: Gary Townley

They emulated the trips that will be available for the public this weekend.

Throughout August the company’s fleet of steam trains will be making journeys, with diesel trains planned to return to the rails in September.

Severn Valley Railway gets ready to re-open to the public this weekend Pictured: Mike Anderson from Oldbury

Tony Bending, 74, was one of those driving from Bridgnorth down into Worcestershire on a practice run and he couldn’t have been more pleased to be back in the locomotive.

He has been a driver for the railway for almost 50 years, having first taken the controls in 1972. He had been a volunteer since 1966.

Lilian Wills from Cookley and Stella Smith from Kidderminster

He will hang up his hat in a few months’ time, but for now he is overjoyed to be driving again.

“It went really well,” he said.

Ticket man Brian Cartwright with Bernard Stintt and Michael Bradley

“It’s great to be back.”

Things will not be quite the same for passengers who return, with safety restrictions in stations and on the trains.

Driver Gary Townley

At the stations, hand sanitiser points are available and tables are spread out in dining areas. The ground is marked with stickers encouraging social distancing.

Passengers should buy their tickets in advance so the volunteers can manage the numbers, and they will travel in pre-booked compartments which take a maximum of six people.

DUDLEY COPYRIGHT EXPRESS AND STAR STEVE LEATH 27/07/2020..Pics in Kidderminster at Severn Valley Railway,test run day getting ready for the public this weekend. Ticket Man: Brian Cartwright..

They should wear masks in shared areas of the train,although they are free to remove them once in their compartments, which they will have exclusive use of for the day.

Severn Valley Railway general manager Helen Smith was on hand to see the departures from Kidderminster, and spoke of her excitement for services to be running again.

Driver Gary Townley

"It’s going to be fantastic. It was really emotional seeing them leave the station this morning.

"A lot of concern from the volunteers has been about face coverings.

General manager Helen Smith

"The difficult one is making it mandatory. I need to look after the volunteers as well as the passengers.”

The company has produced a guide to the new adaptations for coronavirus that explains some of the changes.

Ticket man Brian Cartwright

But it says its main aim is to keep the experience of rising on a steam engine as enjoyable and normal an experience as normal.

Pubs at railway stations have been open for a while. Visitors will be allowed into the gift shops, restaurants and pubs in small numbers to ensure social distancing regulations are adhered to and people can pre-order at svrshop.co.uk.

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