Gloucestershire railway launches five year plan and donation appeal

[1]'s [2] Charitable Trust (VoBR) has launched a five-year plan to develop its facilities in preparation for reopening the Sharpness branch as a heritage railway.

The Sharpness branch line opened for goods traffic in 1875 and to passenger traffic the following year. The line was four miles long and ran from Berkeley Road station, which was the junction with the main line, to Sharpness, with an intermediate station at Berkeley. Passenger services were withdrawn in November 1964.

The Trust plans to rebuild some of the line's key structures. It has an engineering facility in the Old Engine House by the docks, which will be used to restore heritage locomotives, rolling stock and other items, and will be the initial base for the [3]. The Trust is currently working to develop the original Sharpness freight sidings site.

Vale of Berkeley Railway old tracks Vale of Berkeley Railway old tracks // Credit: Vale of Berkeley Railway

The plan includes moving VoBR's facilities from its old diesel shed headquarters at Sharpness docks to the former dock freight transit sidings at Oldminster. VoBR leases Oldminster Sidings, which are 400m long, from [4]. The plan includes establishing a sixty-metre, two-road shed and restoration facility combined with a machine shop, which will be followed by the arrival of a Midland signal box and other facilities.

The VoBR had to reconsider its priorities after [5]/Direct Rail Services (NTS/DRS) demanded that it stop its activities at Berkeley station. NTS leases the Berkeley station railhead from [6] for transferring contaminated waste traffic.

The Trust is inviting donations towards its fundraising efforts, which can be made online here[7].

More information and opportunities to discuss the plans can be found on Facebook[8].

Howard Parker, Chair of the VoBR Charitable Trust, said “Having established ourselves at the old diesel shed nearly ten years ago, Oldminster Sidings is the next logical step to becoming a fully-fledged heritage railway.  We don't underestimate the challenges, particularly in the current economic environment, so we're being realistic about our goals for the next five years. Our ultimate aim is still to operate a four mile railway up to Berkeley Road.

“We tried very hard to get a formal agreement with NTS, but it never happened.  Initial discussions were encouraging, and seemed to have their blessing.  We developed a plan to show how heritage trains and nuclear traffic could work together on and off the mainline. However, when new management at NTS insisted we quit the site we had no option but to comply.

“The upside of this is we can now concentrate all our volunteers and resources on Oldminster Sidings.  Plans for the new shed and facilities are advancing at pace and we hope the railway community will help us raise the funds we need.”

Bryan Whitfield from the VoBR's fundraising team explained why the Railway aims to raise of two hundred thousand pounds over the next five years: “We do have funds to invest, but they're not sufficient to get us up and running as a heritage site.  We want to provide a visitor and education experience with steam and diesel brake van rides within the next five years. Supporters can help us achieve that by making regular monthly donations as well as one-off contributions to our fund.”

Heritage Group member Julie Snell describes the Sharpness dock area as “a bit of a special place, a little off the beaten track, that deserves more recognition and some regeneration. Next year sees the 150th anniversary of the opening of the New Dock at Sharpness, which saw a global expansion of freight by rail, canal and sea to and from the area.

“We are already working with various community groups to celebrate ‘The Story of Freight' at Sharpness. Together we'll explain the social and industrial heritage of this significant but often overlooked area, and its many attractions for visitors. As has happened elsewhere, developing our Oldminster heritage centre will serve to encourage economic regeneration locally.  We hope this exciting prospect will inspire donations and new volunteers (we have over 90 of them working for us every month). We offer a friendly, supportive and inclusive atmosphere where every individual is valued.”


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