3rd January 1998

Hertfordshire Railtours
The Severn Vales
(125 Special No.141)

HST Used 43124 + 43137
Stock Used 41123+41124+40739+42255+42263+42256+42257+44029

Route :
1Z27 : Paddington to Ebbw Vale
1Z28 : Ebbw Vale to Severn Beach
1Z29 : Severn Beach to Paddington

Paddington - Reading - Didcot Parkway - Swindon - Bristol Parkway - Severn Tunnel Junction - Newport - Gaer Jn - Ebbw Vale
Ebbw Vale - Gaer Jn - Newport - Severn Tunnel Junction - Stapleton Road - Bristol Temple Meads
Bristol Temple Meads - Stapleton Road - Severn Beach
Severn Beach - Avonmouth - Bristol Temple Meads
Bristol Temple Meads - North Somerset Jn - Bath Spa - Bathampton Jn - (1) - Thingley Jn - Chippenham - Swindon - Didcot Parkway - Reading - Paddington

Notes :
(1) A day of severe weather - we were the last train through Chipping Sodbury Tunnel in the morning after which it was closed because of flooding. We ran through the floodwater which dislodged a vital cable near the rear of the train. Repairs were made but we ended up running an hour late as a result. On the Return leg flooding had closed our planned route from Bathampton Jn via Westbury (reverse) and Thingley Jn. but instead we went 'direct'.

Source : Gary Thornton (joined/left train at Slough)

Tour review
(by GaryThornton)

Based on the two branches we were visiting, Severn Beach and Ebbw Vale, the tour name was quite appropriate. In light of the days events however, naming the tour "The Great Escape" would have been equally appropriate, I think.

Although myself and one of my colleagues had previously visited the Severn Beach branch, neither of us had ever travelled over the 18 mile line from Newport to Ebbw Vale, so seats for this outing were duly acquired. I decided to join the train at Slough and Tony, living near Worcester, chose Bristol Parkway as his joining point. Watching the weather forecast the previous evening it was obvious that the West Country was in for some very stormy conditions, so I set off for the trip with some doubts as to the likelihood of our day surviving the atrocious conditions being forecast.

The outward run from Slough, picking up at Reading and Swindon, was nothing too exiting but as we left Chipping Sodbury tunnel it was noted that the London bound track was in fact flooded. As our driver made no attempt to slow we assumed our track was not so bad. We arrived at Bristol Parkway alongside a London bound HST and it soon became obvious that all was not well on Railtrack. A Virgin service for the West Country was showing on the departures board as almost one hour late and my colleague who had been waiting at Parkway said that the delay was due to problems in the Gloucester area. Soon that train disappeared all together from the board and was not seen again!

Our two minute stop soon became five, seven, ten minutes. Then John Farrow announced over the train PA system that we had sustained "slight damage" owing to running through flood water as we exited Chipping Sodbury tunnel but the crew would soon attempt a repair so we could proceed. Shortly after a further announcement was made to say that Railtrack had just closed the route to Swindon due to the flooding. The HST alongside us now had to return to Bristol and head for London via Bath Spa and Chippenham.

Our damage was identified as a dislodged multi-core cable between two of the coaches. It had come away at one end and dragged along the track. The damage had caused the Central Door Locking (CDL) mechanism to cease working correctly.

With on-site repair completed (in atrocious weather conditions - strong wind and torrential rain) we set off, 39 minutes late, for Wales via the Severn Tunnel. On arrival at Newport it transpired that the repair had not worked so another attempt was made (this time in bright sunshine!). Our departure from Newport was at 1140, exactly one hour late. Once through Newport New tunnel we turned off at Gaer Junction and began the ascent to Ebbw vale. This journey was not without its moments - one emergency stop was made due to a fallen tree then another rapid stop was made as there was a flock of sheep across the track (well, we were in Wales...). We arrived at the Railtrack/British Steel boundary where we reversed and retraced our route to Newport. With all the villages and small towns along this route it is amazing that there has been no passenger service over this line since 1962. On the return leg someone did pass through the train handing out a leaflet confirming that an action group were indeed trying to get a passenger service reinstated.

A fairly lax schedule over the Ebbw Vale branch meant we were only 20 minutes late back at Newport. A reasonable run to the Bristol suburbs did not cost us too much more time (though we were stopped just before entering Severn tunnel, adding a couple more minutes). Unfortunately we were held just outside the station to allow a scud and a nodding donkey (class 158 and 143 DMU) in before us. Whilst waiting we noticed an HST pass by on the Bristol Loop, confirming that diversions were still in force to avoid Chipping Sodbury tunnel.

Once in Bristol Temple Meads we were held to allow replenishment of the buffet car supplies (chance to stretch our legs and get a few photographs anyway). Departure was at 1441, 30 minutes down. The journey to Severn Beach was a bit stop/start but at least we could view both the old and new Severn Estuary road bridges as we headed for our destination. As it was a single track with passing places, it was important that we were kept in a suitable "path" and as a result there was no time to alight at Severn Beach for photographs. We headed back to Temple Meads where it was time to say goodbye to those who joined at Parkway in the morning - our return route was via Bath Spa, Westbury (reverse) and Chippenham.

A look at the departure board at TM showed much chaos about the rail system - one train for Edinburgh (from Plymouth I think) was already up as over 80 minutes late and all others displayed were delayed to some extent. As it was now getting dark, I guess we were all looking forward to a trouble-free run home.....then came an announcement that there was a problem with the CDL system again - apparently a different cable was also damaged from that repaired earlier in the day. As there was an HST maintenance depot "just around the corner" at St. Philip's Marsh, a couple of fitters were called out. Half an hour later they appeared and running repairs were made. By now we were back to being almost an hour late. Good news however was that we would now miss out the run to Westbury (which had only been scheduled to turn the HST set around so it would finish the day with the first class at the London end, as it had been at the start). This would save around an hour so it looked as if we would be close to being on time by Chippenham as we left Temple Meads 49 minutes later than booked.

Err, good plan, but didn't allow for mother nature! We got all of about half a mile then were stopped at North Somerset Junction to allow another diverted HST to go ahead of us on the route to Bath Spa. Once it was far enough ahead, our signal cleared and we were on the move again although being slowed once or twice (waiting for signals) put us back to being one minute shy of an hour late at Bath Spa. We soon reached Bathampton Junction, where we had originally been due to take the Westbury line, but now were to be given the direct route to Chippenham. The signal controlling the junction was at red and, after a few minutes, we found out why - there was a track circuit failure on the direct route ahead. The HST in front of us was being used to inspect the line to ensure it was safe for passage (standard practice in such cases). It meant however that we would be held a while waiting the outcome. Eventually we began moving again and soon were passing through Chippenham and on our way to Swindon, the next set-down point.

Along the way back through Swindon, Reading and on to Slough we began to get information that showed how lucky we had been with our tour. We knew of the problems at Gloucester and signals/track circuit difficulties around Bath but then were told that the line between Tiverton Parkway and Exeter had just been closed due to flooding. Elsewhere, a landslide near Coventry had caused problems on London to Birmingham services and much of the Southern Region had a 60mph speed limit imposed with many fallen trees blocking routes.

We had just departed from Reading when the news also came in that the route from Bristol through Bath (the route that we travelled over) had just been closed due to "an unsafe trackside structure". If we had been any later then we would have been stopped on the wrong side of that closure.

Our arrival at Slough was at 1832 or 31 minutes late. In the circumstances I do not have any reason to complain about the late running as I think we were quite fortunate not to finish this railtour being bussed to our set-down stations. I assume the train made Paddington, though with the weather conditions being experienced that may not have been guaranteed!

Verdict - A good tour that achieved the primary objectives of travelling to Ebbw Vale and Severn Beach. The weather added several unexpected twists and unplanned events, but fortunately we survived all that mother nature threw at us to complete the tour, albeit a little behind time and with a diversion from the booked route.

Route, Distances and Timing's (Booked and Actual)


M C Location Booked Actual
0 00 London Paddington 08.30d -
1 68 Ladbroke Grove 08/34 -
5 13 Acton West 08/37 -
9 01 Southall 08/40 -
11 20 Heathrow Airport Junction 08/42 -
17 35 Dolphin Junction 08/50 -
18 31 Slough 08.52a 08.52
- - - 08.54d 08.54
24 14 Maidenhead 09/00 09/00
30 76 Twyford 09/03 09/04
35 73 Reading General 09.08a 09.08
- - - 09.11d 09.11
53 05 Didcot Parkway 09/23 09/23
63 75 Challow 09/28 09/35
66 34 Uffington 09/30 09/38
77 18 Swindon 09.38a 09.47
- - - 09.45d 09.49
83 02 Wootton Bassett Junction 09/51 09/55
94 05 Hullavington 09/58 10/02
107 07 Westerleigh Junction 10/06 10/09
111 57 Bristol Parkway 10.10a 10.13
- - - 10.15d 10.54
112 79 Patchway 10/17 10/56
116 45 Pilning 10/21 10/59
123 41 Severn Tunnel Junction 10/27 11/05
133 30 Newport 10c38a 11.14
- - - 10c40d 11.40
134 13 Gaer Junction 10/47 11/43
135 04 Park Junction 10t49a 11/45
- - - 10t51d -
140 17 Lime Kiln Siding Signalbox 11/12 12/00
152 60 Ebbw Vale 12.02a 12.44
- - - 12.15d 12.55
165 23 Lime Kiln Siding Signalbox 13/00 13/31
170 36 Park Junction 13t21a 13/43
- - - 13t23d -
171 27 Gaer Junction 13/25 13/46
172 10 Newport 13c28a 13.49
- - - 13c30d 13.50
181 79 Severn Tunnel Junction 13/40 14/00
188 75 Pilning 13/46 14/08
192 41 Patchway 13/49 14/11
193 68 Filton Junction 13/51 14/13
196 68 Stapleton Road 13/55 14/17
197 65 Dr. Day's Junction 13/56 14/19
198 31 Bristol Temple Meads 13.58a 14.29
- - - 14.11d 14.41
198 77 Dr. Day's Junction 14*14a 14.43
- - - 14*28d 14.44
199 74 Stapleton Road 14/31 14/47
202 16 Clifton Down 14/38 14/53
207 26 Avonmouth 14*49a 15.03
- - - 14*54d 15.04
207 56 Saint Andrew's Junction 14/56 15/06
211 74 Severn Beach 15.03a 15.13
- - - 15.10d 15.19
216 12 Saint Andrew's Junction 15/16 15/27
216 42 Avonmouth 15*17a 15.29
- - - 15*19d 15.30
221 52 Clifton Down 15/29 15/41
223 74 Stapleton Road 15/36 15/48
224 71 Dr. Day's Junction 15/38 15/50
225 13 Bristol East Junction 15*39a 15.50
- - - 15*43a 15.53
225 37 Bristol Temple Meads 15.45a 115.55
- - - 115.52d 16.43
226 13 North Somerset Junction 15/54 16/50
236 72 Bath Spa 16/02 17/01
239 08 Bathampton Junction 16/04 17.07a
- - - - 17.12d
248 30 Bradford Junction 16/14 n
253 54 Westbury 116.23a n
- - - 16.30d n
258 78 Bradford Junction 16/41 n
267 28 Thingley Junction 16/54 17/29
269 42 Chippenham 16/56 17/32
280 31 Wootton Bassett Junction 17/03 17/31
286 15 Swindon 17.08a 17.45
- - - 17.11d 17.48
296 79 Uffington 17/19 17/56
299 38 Challow 17/21 17/57
310 28 Didcot Parkway 17/26 18/04
327 40 Reading General 17.39a 18.16
- - - 17.45d 18.19
332 37 Twyford 17/50 18/24
339 19 Maidenhead 17/54 18/27
345 02 Slough 18.01a 18.32
- - - 18.06d 18.34
352 13 Heathrow Airport Junction 18/17 -
354 32 Southall 18/23 -
358 20 Acton West 18/27 -
361 45 Ladbroke Grove 18/30 -
363 33 London Paddington 18.32a -

a : arrival time
c : crew change
d : departure time
n : did not pass/call (diverted via direct route)
p : photo-stop
t : stop to obtain token
/ : passing time
* : pathing stop

All distances, in miles and chains (M & C), are taken from the tour booklet. No attempt has been made to verify the mileages given.

Booked mileages only shown. Due to diversion over direct route between Bathampton Junction and Thingley Junction, the tour covered 19 miles and 54 chains less than shown.

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