The Main Line

Severn Tunnel Junction to Gloucester


Maybe "The Main Line" is the wrong description for this route - it sees long distance and heavy freight traffic, but that doesn't necessarily make it a main line. It isn't often photographed, and there have never really been calls for a total route modernisation. Many people are almost oblivious to its presence.

It's part of the old route from London to Cardiff, providing a roundabout, curvaceous line which has, over the years, had nine junctions and thirteen stations. The rest of the route ran from Gloucester to Swindon along a line which sees one train each way per hour - alternating between a Swindon to Cheltenham stopper and a London to Cheltenham intercity working which both call at the same stations. These two lengths of railway - which created a loop around the northern end of the Severn Estuary and acted as the main line to London from South Wales for 25 years - were superseded in 1886 by the Severn Tunnel, which ingeniously runs directly under the Severn and provides an almost dead straight route from Swindon to Severn Tunnel Junction.

Gloucester to Severn Tunnel Junction has since been something of a backwater and is served by a stopping service with a clockface hourly path that doesn't run every third hour combined with a semi-fast service calling at Lydney and Chepstow to fill in the gaps.

The junctions saw lines branch off to the following places (starting at Gloucester):

  1. Newent, Dymock, and Ledbury;
  2. Ross-on-Wye and Hereford;
  3. Cinderford (via Great Western Railway);
  4. Blakeney;
  5. Coleford, Lydbrook, and Cinderford (via Severn and Wye Railway) plus Sharpness and Berkeley (via the Severn Railway Bridge);
  6. Beachley;
  7. Tintern and Monmouth;
  8. Portskewett pier (from which ferries sailed to New Severn Passage, on the other bank of the river);
  9. Sudbrook and the former Ministry of Defence base at Caerwent (on opposite sides of the line).

This does not include Severn Tunnel Junction itself, where the main line branches off to Patchway and Bristol Parkway.

Then we have the stations (again, from Gloucester):

  1. Oakle Street;
  2. Grange Court (for Ross-on-Wye and Hereford);
  3. Westbury on Severn;
  4. Newnham (for Cinderford via the GWR);
  5. Ruddle Road Halt;
  6. Awre Junction (for Blakeney);
  7. Gatcombe (in Purton);
  8. Lydney (for Coleford, Lydbrook, Cinderford via the S&WR plus Sharpness and Berkeley);
  9. Woolaston;
  10. Tutshill Halt (formerly Chepstow East, and at junction for Tintern and Monmouth);
  11. Chepstow (formerly Chepstow West);
  12. Portskewett;
  13. Caldicot.

Talk about greedy. 


Below we have a table showing pictures of this line and its supply of stations and junctions. Most of the intermediate stations opened in 1850, and (except for the Severn and Wye lines) the branches opened over the following 30 years. 1900 to 1955 saw a very slow decline, but then closures came on thick and fast, and from 1990 until 1995 none of the junctions for branch lines on the English bank saw any form of traffic. The route is trying to revive itself now, although the Severn and Wye (now the Dean Forest Railway) still seems determined to outlive its younger neighbour, with trains to Lydney Junction returning in 1995.

Severn Tunnel Junction

Here we see Severn Tunnel Junction, looking east. For many years it was laid out with three platforms through which trains ran in two directions. Up trains (heading towards London) used the central island platform; those using the Tunnel ran down Platform 3 to the left and those going towards Gloucester ran down Platform 2 to the right. Down trains (those heading away from London) all ran through Platform 1 (far right); when a stopping train was occupying the platform there was no means of letting anything overtake.

Consequently it was decided to re-open Platform 4 (far left) so that Up trains for the tunnel go through Platform 4, Down trains out of the tunnel use Platform 3, Up trains to Gloucester go through Platform 2 and Down trains from Gloucester go through Platform 1. Work for this was carried out over Christmas 2009, during which time the few through trains to London ran via Hereford and Worcester. The station was also given a bit of an overhaul, with new buildings, display screens, a visible acknowledgement as to which platform was which (previously only Platform 2 carried a number) and lots of CCTV cameras. Electrification is the next upgrade; the previous Government promised it as a good vote-winner and the new Government has got round to agreeing to do something about it - not that it's really relevant to this page, since the old mainline isn't due to benefit.

In the centre is the bay platform for the Wye Valley line. Any proposal to re-instate the Wye Valley line would probably not involve re-using this platform, but (despite it being of no practical use) it has never been obliterated. Instead it has been filled with rubbish, which is good for the buddleia. The continued existence of the platform edging epitomises the run-down nature of the station. The black sign on the lamppost tells drivers of 2 and 3 car trains where to stop. The train in Platform 4 is the 10:30 First Great Western service to Taunton.

Looking the other way, we see the west end of Platform 1. Hiding behind the pink-flowering weeds to the left is the freight loop, which can be used by heavy trains from Gloucester. The old station building for Platform 1 - which would have been awarded "Worst Welsh Station Building (Large Bus Shelter)" award if such a prize existed and which really should not be mourned - used to stand where the display screen is now. Its replacement is the slightly more swish "Voyager" shelter behind the lamppost (but that's still basic and a longer walk from the footbridge). The lamp-post was turned around to avoid damaging it while installing the new shelter and someone forgot to turn the sign on it back afterwards, which means that drivers of 2 and 3 car trains no longer know where to stop (although 4 car trains are still told to stop at the next lamp-post). The island platform possesses the only original building surviving - an unimpressive empty brick structure whose only function now appears to be holding up a decorative board. On the far side is the newly-rebuilt platform 4, along with the station car park. This photograph was taken from the station footbridge, with the road bridge in the background, on a fine summer morning in July 2010.

Dotted around the station are bi-lingual station nameboards, with Welsh on top in green and English underneath in black - for travellers going through the Severn Tunnel, these are the last bi-lingual nameboards they'll see. The Welsh name - "Cyffordd Twnnel Hafren" - is a direct translation of the English, only it has been turned around, so a direct translation back would read "Junction Tunnel Severn".


Caldicot station is the first stop out of Severn Tunnel Junction, and a good telephoto lens can show the platforms of Caldicot station clearly from the footbridge at the junction. The station has two platforms and presents a distinctly 1980s air. The buildings are so plain and simple that there's nothing there to vandalise. Two trains pass through in each direction for every three hours (with a minimal service Sundays), so it's not too difficult to get a picture of this station featuring no trains at all during a winter evening on Sunday - which is when this picture was taken.

Sudbrook Junction

Sudbrook Junction was provided so that a siding could be laid from the main line to the new pumping station at Sudbrook. The branch provided access to the pumps at Sudbrook and allowed coal to be taken in to supply the furnaces which provided steam to operate the pumps. However, in 1961 the pumps went over to electric power and the branch effectively fell out of use.

For some time it appears to have struggled on, although by the 1990s it was being used exclusively for stabling the Severn Tunnel Emergency Train. That then moved to Severn Tunnel Junction, and the connection with the mainline for the Sudbrook branch was lifted in the early 2000s.

On the other side of the line was the junction for the line to MoD Caerwent, which headed off across country to the left and the North, crossed the M4 (now M48) and entered the military base at Caerwent. Opened in 1939, it has been run down in recent years and the military presence has declined to the degree that it has been used for cutting up old railway vehicles. This traffic has also declined, and the vehicles were increasingly brought in by road anyway, so the line now looks somewhat disused, although the junction remains in place (complete with crossover) and is still maintained.

Sudbrook Branch

The pumps at Sudbrook were built to drain the Severn Tunnel, then under construction, and put the water in it into the Severn. It was a late move as initially it was hoped that such apparatus would not be necessary - until one day the tunnellers, during their routine digging, uncovered the Great Spring, which proceeded to pour water into the tunnel at a rate of 22,000,000 gallons per day. After the Welsh end of the tunnel had filled with water in about two days (one mile of mud still separated it from the English end) the pumps were set up and, after two years, the tunnel was dry again. Happily it has remained useable ever since.

The pumps therefore continued to be rail served until their conversion to electric power and the consequent use of the branch as a siding where the Severn Tunnel Emergency Train was stored. This was moved to Severn Tunnel Junction in the early 2000s and subsequently replaced by a pair of single Diesel Multiple Unit cars built in 1960 and suitably converted in 2003. All the vehicles associated with the Emergency trains were placed on the market in late 2007 and sold "as seen", with practically no mileage on the clock since conversion.

While the last trains to use the branch have therefore been moved to train purgatory (being dismantled at Cardiff to provide spares for the Cardiff Bay Shuttle train, which is of the same design and similar vintage) the branch itself is in its very own limbo waiting for someone to get around to doing something with it. As most of it runs alongside the narrow road through Sudbrook the logical one would be to use it to widen the road; however, that would allow traffic to get along it, which is currently out of fashion, and so it will remain as it is for the forseeable future.

In the background of the picture, showing the overgrown rails proceeding through Sudbrook, is the impressive pump house. As the Severn Tunnel runs directly beneath this line several websites specialising in maps and arial photos have problems showing the tunnel and this branch, and often end up suggesting that four IC125s plus several freights and stopping trains traverse this route every hour, with the tunnel portal being in the middle of the pumping station.

Caerwent Branch

While the Sudbrook branch heads in a fairly straight line away from the mainline, the Caerwent line turns away sharply to the North, as seen here. Little has used the branch in recent years, and it is starting to decay a little.

Opened in 1939, it served the new military base at Caerwent, which was expected to admit practically all of its traffic by rail in those days, and so wanted a good rail link. This line was therefore built across the 1½ miles to Caerwent, with the first half of the route mostly in a cutting and the second half principally on an embankment. Apart from certain track alterations, particularly at the junction, the only major change throughout its life came when the embankment was sliced in half in 1966 as part of the construction works for the M4 when it was extended across the Rivers Severn and Wye into South Wales.

With the general reduction in business at the base JT Landscapes expanded their scrap metal business into cutting up old locomotives and rolling stock at the rail-linked site. Immediately post-privatisation - from 1998 onwards - was a good time for this, with private operators - particularly EWS - clearing out vast quantities of old stock. The demise of the old Mk.1 stock on the Southern Region also meant big money for scrap metal merchants and over 1000 vehicles were reduced to scrap metal in two years. JT Landscapes also got a few of the vehicles displaced from the West Coat Mainline by the Pendolino programme and duly sliced two coaches and four Class 87 electric locomotives before the owner found other things to do with them. The coaches are now deemed to be in short supply and the 28 spare 87s were sold to Bulgaria. Unfortunately in 2010 the Bulgarian company ran out of spare cash after only taking delivery of 18 of them, leaving the other ten to face an uncomfortable future at the hands of a South Yorkshire gas axe. (Only six went to the gas axe, the other four ending up in Bulgaria anyway.) No further fleets are slated for disposal now or at any point in the near future so at the moment the site is empty, but when vehicles are in residence they are generally visible from the M48 motorway.

Therefore, while the MoD is still keeping their track clear, there is no immediate demand for it at present.


The original station at Portskewett opened in 1850 and lasted just over 13 years before being replaced by the new one, half a mile closer to Gloucester and a mere 146 miles from London Paddington. This allowed it to become the junction station for the Portskewett Pier branch - a task which it fulfilled until the branch closed 23 years later in 1886. It was also briefly the junction for Sudbrook from 1873 until 1878, when the Portskewett to Sudbrook tramway was replaced by the Caldicot to Sudbrook railway. The station slowly decayed to "wayside halt" status despite being quite well-placed to serve Portskewett and Sudbrook. The small, attractive station with gardens, buildings and footbridge with ornate lamps was duly closed in 1964, although the footbridge survives.

Portskewett itself is a small place, mostly made up of modern houses, which looks like it wouldn't mind a new station. Currently there is plenty of room for one, but it's not on anyone's agenda at the moment.

Portskewett Pier Branch

The Portskewett Pier branch provided access to Portskewett Pier station, which was neatly built quarter of a mile from Portskewett station on top of Portskewett Pier. The pier was a large wooden structure which was built to allow people to board ferries and be carried across the river to New Passage Pier, which meant a much shorter journey time to and from Bristol than that via Gloucester.

The branch had a short history. Opened in 1864, it ran continuously until 1881, when the pier caught fire. It was re-opened three weeks later and served for a further five years until closure - it had been superseded by the Severn Tunnel. The track was duly lifted and the pier demolished without so much as a farewell special.

Despite the line having been closed for over 120 years the trackbed is still remarkably intact, with the picture looking down the last few yards of cutting towards where the pier used to be. However, Monmouthshire County Council wishes to use part for the cutting for dumping rubbish in. For some reason the locals at Portskewett do not appreciate this idea - soming about how it would involve big heavy lorries.


Chepstow opened when the South Wales Railway inaugrated services from Chepstow to Cardiff in 1850. The station was originally Chepstow West, due to there being another station on the other bank of the river called Chepstow East. Between the two there was the Wye and a coach service, this being cheaper (and rather less impossible) than building a bridge - a policy which continues to this day on the railways when trying to deal with inconvenient things, like passengers.

On this occasion the problem was solved by getting Isambard Kingdom Brunel - a notable engineer of the time - to build a bridge across the Wye. Having built it, he then tweaked his designs a bit and went off to build a cheaper (and bigger) version at Saltash, on the border between Devon and Cornwall, shortly before dying in 1859. The Saltash bridge survives today, but the Chepstow one was demolished in 1960 and replaced with a stronger one - probably fair punishment for driving Chepstow East and the connecting rail-replacement bus out of business.

Chepstow station originally had low platforms, but these were raised in the 1880s, following complaints from Wye Valley travellers. The original buildings - a neat matching pair, one on each platform - were duly jacked up on heavy timbers and the platforms raised around them. In 1964 British Rail took it into their heads to demolish the Platform 1 building, but that on Platform 2 is original - albeit now with no proper foundations.

After the First World War the adjacent shipyards became the Government's National Shipyard No. 1 - an interesting development which does not seem to have lasted too long. The massive track network was being reduced by 1930, and although the shipyards are still open (privately, and quite limited) the railways have gone.

Today Chepstow is the first/last station in Wales, looks rather run-down, and has lost its impressive network of sidings (two headshunts and a bufferstop survive, none of which can be seen in the lower picture as a Class 158 departs for Cardiff past the goods shed). Despite the miles of railway which were laid 90 years ago, the current track layout involves an up and a down line, with a single crossover for stone trains off the Wye Valley Railway. The surviving building is a cafe. The blue building to the right in the upper picture has since been demolished and replaced with a small shelter similar to those at Severn Tunnel Junction. In the gaps between trains the station acts as an informal youth centre - passengers do appear when a train is due, however, and the station can be quite busy with people heading for the bright lights of Cardiff and Newport. Currently it is the busiest of the three surviving intermediate stations.

Tutshill Halt

Once known as Chepstow East, Tutshill was eventually re-opened as a halt at the east end of Chepstow, near the former home of the Harry Potter author - although not in the exact same spot as its predecessor, which was located at the end of the cutting, halfway up a cliff overlooking the Wye. Although the east side of Chepstow sounds like a useful place for a commuter stop, circumstances conspired against it - the walk to the main station is roughly 5 minutes, and the rail journey is about one, so the Ministry of Transport is unlikely to have seen much point in the extra stop. The Chepstow bypass - the new A48 which goes across the Wye alongside the railway rather than winding through the town's main gate and down the High Street - slashes across the western end of the platforms and cuts it off from Chepstow and Tutshill. More critically, the halt had a fairly minimal service amounting only to the Wye Valley trains, and therefore closed along with the rest of the Wye Valley route in January 1959.

Little trace now remains of the halt, and the fact that parking, disabled access, access for anyone who doesn't like crossing 50 mph roads, and rebuilding the platforms are all practically impossible ensures that it is unlikely that trains will ever stop here again.

Wye Valley Junction

On the opposite side of the road bridge to Tutshill Halt, Wye Valley Junction marked the point where trains to Monmouth branched off and headed north into the Wye Valley. The junction was completed in 1876, and services over the branch started the same year.

The Wye Valley line developed over the years, but the junction was steadily rationalised. Initially there were two tracks branching off (one up, one down); this was reduced to a single track junction with a crossover connecting the branch to the down main in 1936. A set of catch-points with a sand-drag were provided instead to catch errant trains.

Following closure of the Wye Valley line beyond Tintern Quarry in 1964 (passenger traffic having already ceased in 1959), the junction was simplified again. The points are now operated by a groundframe, with a ground signal controlling movements off the branch. The crossover was moved to Chepstow station, where it remains to this day.

Until 2007 the Wye Valley Railway had the honour of being one of the last of the six branches on the English section of the the line to retain its mainline connection (between 1976 and 1990 it was the only one of the six to carry traffic). The connection has now been removed at some considerable expense and to no particular benefit. The branch had not been used for at least 15 years, although the exact date of the last train depends on which source you read - a common problem with freight lines.

Sedbury Junction

You would probably think that Sedbury village does not look like the sort of place which could justify a rail service with Chepstow and Tidenham stations so nearby - and you would be right, as it couldn't. Instead, the branch was opened to serve the shipyards at Beachley - a village sandwiched between the Severn and the Wye. These shipyards - the National Shipyard No. 2 - were built from 1917 to 1919, with the railway being built to serve them. The yards were then closed again in 1919 (imagine what the tabloid response would be today) and the railway was then progressively shut down. Workmans' trains were inaugrated in 1919 but withdrawn in 1920, with the junction being removed in 1928. A loop line - there were originally two, but the outer one was lifted in 1931 - survived until 1968, along with a signal box.

The junction was complicated by the existance of a lane to Sedbury which crosses the railway on a bridge at this point - while the Wye Valley line (above the mainline to the left) simply goes over it, this line wants to be at the same level as the road, and spent about a third of its life (1 year) passing under the road, leaving the mainline, and heading south - this was revised for the remaining two years of its life with the junction and signal box being on the east side of the road, and the railway then climbed away and crossed the road on a level crossing.

The site of the original junction is still railway land, and is now used by a radio transmitter for signalling between trains and the signal box at Newport. The military retain a presence at Beachley to this day in the form of an MoD base which seems to have opened at the same time, but didn't justify a rail link on its own.


Not lost to quite the same degree is Woolaston station. It is clear that there was a station here - it is shown on the 1960 map of the area as a closed station, and the station building still survives, visible in its smart coat of white paint. The station, which lasted for precisely 101 years 6 months (1st June 1853 to 1st December 1954) was never a very major stop, with four trains each way each day halting alongside the level crossing - which gave access to three fields and the down platform. The village itself was half a mile away, at the other end of Station Road, with the inhabitants mostly living on the other side of the A48.

Woolaston can hardly have been helped by the fact that, with a good telescope, you can almost see the platforms of Lydney station, two miles away as the crow flies (and as the train runs, since the marshes which the railway is built on are dead flat and the railway is therefore completely straight). In life it was a quiet wayside station; in death it provides a constant barrage of noise as a kennels and cattery, which ensures that Station Road bustles with the kind of continuous traffic which it is unlikely to have ever been subjected to during its lifetime. If you are heading from Wales to Lydney with a bike, Woolaston station marks the point where you should think about getting up to find it and wheel it to a door.


Adjacent to the southern terminus of the Dean Forest Railway, Lydney station is a fully-traditional railway station - it is a mile from the town it purports to serve, and is outside the area encircled by the by-pass. In a bid to make up for this, various people have put lots of luxury housing along the road to Lydney Docks, about half a mile away to the south-east, and so Lydney station is actually near some houses.

The station's main building was on the up side (right in upper picture), with a shelter on the down side (left in upper picture). The Up building was eventually demolished and a small concrete shelter - now garishly carrying Arriva Trains Wales colours - replaced it. The Down building would appear to be original, albeit with the windows sealed up.

Originally the level crossing in the distance was a rail over rail crossing, with the Severn and Wye Railway line to the docks passing across the main line on its way down from the Forest of Dean, which is to the right, on its way to the Severn Estuary, which is to the left. After the docks line closed the railway was converted into a road - not terribly busy, but enough traffic comes this way to provide a picturesque queue for the crossing gates.

The Severn and Wye Railway arrived here before the mainline, as a tramway which eventually found the money to upgrade to the broad gauge used on the mainline. The mainline was then converted to standard gauge and, after much grumbling, the Severn and Wye followed suit. By 1920 it had a massive network in the Forest, with a main line to Cinderford, a loop line which turned much of the northern half of the line into a giant lasso around the centre of the Forest, and branches to Lydbrook and Coleford. Passenger services beyond Lydney Town ceased in 1929 and the network was steadily cut back over the next 30 years until only stone trains to Whitecliff Quarry, near Coleford, survived. These were then reduced until closure of the network in 1976, which freed up the surviving Lydney to Parkend section for preservation by the Dean Forest Railway Society.

The Severn and Wye is still linked to the mainline - via a connection into the loops at the Gloucester end of the station seen in the lower picture - and the link is used by the occasional railtour. It is the last such link to survive on this section of the route since the removal of the connection at Wye Valley Junction. The station no longer has its own signal box however. In its latter years the neat timber structure was a gate box controlling this crossing and that at Awre, but in 2012 these duties were transferred to a new signalling centre in Cardiff and the box was demolished that December.

Severn Railway Bridge

In many ways one of the greatest engineering achievements of the Victorian era, the Severn Railway Bridge spanned the River Severn at Sharpness from 1874 until 1960. It was a single track construction, built to carry Forest of Dean coal to Sharpness Docks for export, and provide access to the Midland Railway on the East bank of the river.

The Severn and Wye Railway was struggling at this time, and quick construction of the bridge might have staved off bankruptcy for a few more years. As it was, the company rapidly found itself saddled with the even more impoverished Severn Bridge Railway, which came with the sort of astronomical maintenance costs which can be expected from half-mile long bridges. The result was that the Severn and Wye Railway began looking for buyers; after some blackmail, the Midland Railway took over the southern end and the Severn Bridge, and the Great Western Railway took over the section to the north of Parkend. This mixed ownership lead to the railway network retaining an individual flavour until it became part of the new British Railways (Western Region) in January 1948.

The bridge remained upright until a thick fog on the 24th October 1960. Two boats coming up the river were tied together by crew members standing on the bows (the front), in fog which was so thick that the captains couldn't see that this had happened. The rising Severn tide swept the vessels up the river past Sharpness Docks and straight into pier 17, which disappeared in a large bang and a fireball - along with the bows of the boats, five of the nine crewmembers, two spans of the bridge, and the gasmain to Lydney.

Passenger services across the river into Lydney Town station were promptly suspended, leaving Lydney station on the mainline as the railhead. The inferno which resulted from the accident as the fuel for the boats poured into the river covered the whole distance from Lydney to Sharpness and made escape very difficult. Fortunately the sport was on the radio, so the track maintenance team were hiding in the Severn Bridge signal box rather than patrolling the bridge.

Although at the time work was being done to strengthen the bridge, it was never rebuilt and a second strike on pier 21 two years later saw the decision taken to demolish the crossing. Two contractors were bankrupted by the job and it was ultimately never completed, with the support for the swing bridge over the canal and approach viaduct at the Sharpness end remaining intact to this day.

The occasional noise is made about re-instating it, although it reality it remains a virtually impossible pipe dream. More likely is the return of rail services to each end - the railway is still intact into Sharpness and re-opening could be achieved very cheaply. The other side, where Severn Bridge station stands at the end of the embankment, is of vague interest to the Dean Forest Railway, although the line ran a little close to the modern Lydney bypass.

The upper photograph looks up the west bank. The mainline curves into a bank of trees to the left where the bridge once left its embankment to stride across the river, roughly where a mudflat now runs into the tidal estuary. The lower picture, from a road in the village of Purton, looks across the Severn towards the faint grey smudge marking the eastern approach viaduct and swing bridge support.


Gatcombe station was a typical railway station in that it was in Purton. To reflect the fact that Gatcombe itself is a half a mile away, it also carried the name Purton Passage, and was located just above the slipway from which the ferry would cross the river to Purton. The fact that two places on opposite banks of the river are called Purton suggests that it was quite easy to get across the river once - the ferry is now long gone however, and the fact that Purton (Gloucestershire) is about twenty road miles from Purton (Gloucestershire) is merely a cause for confusion.

Gatcombe station (which was precisely 130½ miles from London Paddington via Gloucester - the milepost was halfway down the platform) opened with the line in 1850 along with Gatcombe Goods, which was back up the line at milepost 130 in Gatcombe itself. It was a simple two-platform affair, probably with small wooden buildings and low platforms, which does not appear to have been terribly successful. Unlike many stations and branch lines in the country, its closure cannot be blamed on Dr. Beeching, whose recommendations were published 94 years after this station was closed and demolished in favour of Awre in 1869. Curiously the walk from Gatcombe to Awre Junction is less strenuous than the one from Gatcombe station to the village which it purported to serve. Gatcombe Goods (one siding and a crossover) had a similar lifespan, with its traffic being handled by Blakeney instead. This probably means that Gatcombe Goods was built to handle Blakeney's freight traffic.

Purton was also due to play host to a tramway which would have climbed up the hill from Purton Pill and then run in a level sort of manner up the valley and across farmland to somewhere. Only a short three-arch viaduct which crosses the road into Purton was built, with the result that there is a very effective 200 year-old block on vehicles more than 15 feet tall approaching the village from the east.

Awre Junction

Awre [pronounced Orr] was not the most important junction on the route; if anything, it was one of the bottom two. In the mid-19th Century, rail services to the centre of the Forest of Dean were somewhat lacking, and so a new railway - the Forest of Dean Central Railway - was promoted to run from the mainline at Awre Junction, through Blakeney and on to the collieries north of Mallard's Pike - a lake in the depths of the Forest. There was also a bridge over the mainline for a branch down to the Brims Pill on the banks of the Severn - although they forgot to open that bit, the embankment is still visible. Awre station was opened with the new branch line in 1869 and provided a slightly better passenger service to Blakeney and Awre. Blakeney also got a convenient, if rather rubbish, goods service from the branch line, which never saw a passenger train.

The response of the Severn and Wye Railway was to build the Severn and Wye Mineral Loop. Leaving the Severn and Wye at Tufts Junction, on todays Dean Forest Railway south of Whitecroft, it headed northwards past Mallards Pike to rejoin the Severn and Wye at Drybrook Road station, near Cinderford. Trains which ran up the entire loop would ultimately end up facing back towards Lydney, due to the design of the junctions.

The Forest of Dean Central tried to compete, but failed. The whole line was open for 10 years, but in 1878 it was officially reduced to only serving some sidings in a particularly quiet part of the Forest. The Severn and Wye did give it a bridge to allow it to access the area beyond New Fancy colliery, but otherwise had actually eliminated the threat from its smaller competitor as soon as it opened its own line.

By the Grouping in 1923 much of the route was disused, and from then until 1949 Blakeney was the terminus, after which the line remained technically open for a further ten years, prior to full closure in 1959. The junction station was closed to passengers at the same time.

Although the route is still clearly visible throughout, Awre Junction has long since been flattened, with just the level crossing, the ruins of the Station Master's house and the signal box surviving. How long the signal box will remain for - or how long the house will remain visible through the ivy - is debatable.

The box was retained to control the adjacent level crossing, which is a full barrier affair with flashing lights, sirens, and fast trains. Modern CCTV technology means that the crossing can be controlled from elsewhere, so the honour moved to Lydney in 1974 with the aid of some bright floodlights for after the Sun's bedtime. Consequently the box has been closed, and the nameboard removed, but it remains intact, albeit slightly vandalised - its survival probably being helped by the 24-hour security which is a must here, and therefore will help prevent vandalism. Control of the crossing passed on to Cardiff in 2012 and Lydney was promptly relieved of its box.

There is a longer article on the Forest of Dean Central Railway here.

Bullo Junction

Bullo is a curious name. Home to Bullo Pill, it was also the junction for the Forest of Dean Railway. It ran north from here towards Cinderford, serving the many collieries and ironworks along the way, and eventually deigned to offer a passenger service.

It is debatable as to whether this line or the Severn and Wye was the more successful. This route, which was ultimately entirely owned by the Great Western, had the smaller route mileage and also never opened its northern extension - a long branch line from Cinderford to Mitcheldean Road on the Hereford, Ross and Gloucester Railway, with two tunnels and steep gradients. It was completed in 1874 - the year after the Severn and Wye began work on their own Lydbrook branch, which gave access to the Ross and Monmouth Railway - albeit in a way which forced northbound trains to run-around at the junction. Rather than compete, the Great Western forgot about their line, and left the route to rot. Part of the line was subsequently used for passengers services, and a further half mile was used to serve a quarry. The northernmost tunnel was never used by Great Western trains, although the Admiralty subsequently used it for missile storage. Following the Second World War, the line was cut back, with passenger services ceasing in the 1950s alongside the demise of most of the collieries along the route. Traffic finally ceased on the 1st August 1967. The junction cannot be viewed from public roads or footpaths and the best way to appreciate it is to pass through the overgrown site - once home to an engine shed, water tower and several sidings - on the train.

The route has a large supply of trivia in its history, with the southernmost (Haie Hill) tunnel causing several problems due to it being two-thirds of a mile long on a steep uphill gradient with no ventilation shafts. Ridiculously long trains of 100 wagons or more were hauled through by small tank engines until one fireman ended up being carried out of the smoke-filled hole on a stretcher. After this crews refused to work the line with more than 40 wagons, much to the annoyance of the railway company. During the early 1960s, Dr. Beeching recommended closure of a number of railways around the country; when a lorry crashed into the bridge over the A48 near Bullo it was suggested locally that Beeching had been driving the lorry at the time. The bridge was rebuilt and survived for three more years before closure. There are no plans to re-instate this route.

Ruddle Road Crossing Halt

Ruddle Road Halt was a short-lived affair. It opened when a passenger service from Newnham to Cinderford was launched in 1907. It is unclear what traffic it was expecting which would not be better served by Newnham station, which had mod-cons like local population, a waiting room (rather than a hut) and through trains to Gloucester. The lack of traffic was noticed during the First World War, before anyone had photographed the halt, and it shut in the 1917 round of closures. It was demolished in 1920, but did get to feature on an Ordnance Survey map from about that time.

The design was very simple - two wooden platforms, staggered so that there was one platform on each side of the bridge (whichever direction you approach said bridge from, the footpath up to the platform is on your left). The bridge is one of several where what was once the South Wales Railway crosses what is now the A48 on a stone arch which is too low for modern requirements. Consequently large vehicles are encouraged to go down the centre lane under the highest point of the arch; larger vehicles are encouraged not to go beyond Blakeney, as between there and Gloucester there are a series of these bridges, all at about 14ft high.

Despite being abandoned for 90 years, the approach paths are still quite healthy - particularly the westbound one, which can be followed up to the railway. This picture was taken from the north side of the bridge.


 Newnham opened with the main line to serve the village of Newnham, but it rapidly became the junction station for the Forest of Dean branch. It was soon realised, however, that if the branch was to be opened up to passenger trains there would be certain operational problems at the two platform station as the branch train would terminate on a through platform and hold up the traffic while the locomotive ran around.

Eventually the station was rebuilt with a bay platform on the south side, allowing branch trains to terminate clear of the mainline. "Railmotors" were introduced at the same time, running to Drybrook in the north of the Forest. Railmotors were wooden bodied coaches with a cab at each end and a boiler fitted just behind one cab, allowing them to travel around, literally, under their own steam. This eradicated the need for the loco to run around, so there was no need for a loop. The railway had recently been converted from broad gauge to standard gauge, which meant that there was plenty of room for the extra platform when it was added in 1907.

Newnham is a small town with a large clock tower by the A48 to give it a busy feel and the station was not far from the centre, so the rail service will have seemed fairly secure. The branch railmotors were replaced by the Great Western's "push-pull" system (see Oliver and Isabel in the Thomas the Tank Engine books - a tank engine pulled a single coach up the valley and pushed it back down) in the 1930s, and the branch closed to passengers in 1958, although the bay had been falling into disuse long before then, as trains began to run straight through to Gloucester - a sign that British Railways was beginning to appreciate the need to carry passengers with as few changes of train as possible. It was not enough, however, to save either the branch or the station.

Trains have not stopped at Newnham since November 1964, except when held at signals. Sufficient room remains, however, to re-instate the station - maybe one day.

Westbury-on-Severn Halt

Next was Westbury-on-Severn - a small halt which lasted for 31 years, one month and one day before closure on the 10th of August 1959. Being an insignificant little halt (rather than an insignificant little station) it had no goods facilities. Instead, it had two basic wooden platforms with a small galvinised metal shelter halfway along each, along with a couple of station nameboards and some lights. It was located between two bridges- the first carried the railway over the A48, and the second carried the railway over the Blaisdon road.

Westbury-on-Severn is part of a larger conurbation of various houses and areas of woodland. The halt was only 1½ miles from the larger station at Grange Court, which was also easily accessible from the village - this may well have sealed its fate.

The photograph was taken from an adjacent hillock. Behind the trees in the centre was the halt. The far bridge, also hidden behind the trees to the left, crosses the A48.

Grange Court

Grange Court was junction for Mitcheldean, Lea, Ross-on-Wye and Hereford - a spendid four platform affair (two on the left and two on the right, the centre pair being an island platform). Both routes were intended as through lines to South Wales - that to the right being the mainline to Swansea via Chepstow and Cardiff, while that to the left was the mainline to Swansea via Hereford and Brecon.

The Hereford route was helpfully built as single track, somewhat limiting its ability to attract the traffic required to justify its many bridges and tunnels, so the line closed during the Beeching era in 1964. Grange Court was principally a junction station, and therefore there were no nearby towns or sizeable villages, resulting in it following its branch line into the history books in the same year. Its pride as an intercity junction was somewhat spoilt by the payroll, which in typical minor rural junction style featured a cat - not that the cat got much choice on what it spent the pay on (catfood from the corner shop mostly).

The loop lines remained intact, but in 2004 Network Rail expressed an interest in removing excess sets of points along the Severn Tunnel Junction to Gloucester line. After funny noises were made at Lydney, it was pointed out by the Dean Forest Railway (who wanted to keep their loops and the associated mainline connection, thank you very much) that there were two loops at Grange Court lying around doing nothing. Eventually in 2010 they were disconnected from the mainline and the crossovers removed, but the signal at the East end of the Up loop is still on, glowing red at any trains which manage to end up in front of it.

A curious little feature of how this route was built means that Grange Court was a junction between three railway companies - the Hereford, Ross and Gloucester from Hereford, the South Wales from Chepstow and the Gloucester and Dean Forest from here to Gloucester. It is doubtful as to whether the passengers ever noticed this, since all three railways were worked by the Great Western from the outset.

Oakle Street

The last station before Gloucester was that at Oakle Street. The small station was surrounded by small villages, and the station took its name from the nearest - the village of Oakle Street, which appears to be named after the road. The nearest two villages of any size are Churcham and Minsterworth (curiously both named after Christian buildings of worship) which provided enough business to encourage the station to open with the railway in 1851, but not enough to save it from early closure four and a half years later in March 1856.

This was not the end for Oakle Street, however, and it re-opened in October 1870 to passenger and goods traffic. Things seemed to have remained healthy until 1953, when the signal box closed, with the replacement groundframe being locked in and out of use by Grange Court signal box. Goods traffic ceased altogether in August 1963, although passenger services struggled on for a further 14 months before the station closed forever in 1964.

The site has now been cleared. It is hard to believe that there ever was a stop here as trains clatter up the straight from Grange Court at 75mph on their way to Gloucester.

Over Junction

The last junction before Gloucester was that for Newent, Dymock, and Ledbury. It was the archetypal minor cross-country branch line, running for about twenty miles through the middle of nowhere, and receiving the usual minimal service.

Although an attractive line (all minor closed branch lines are attractive according to their sweet rose-tinted obituaries), the railway was not frequented by enthusiast specials, or indeed by passengers, who were all notable, even on the last day, by their absence. The railway therefore closed as part of the 1959 round of cuts, and nobody outside its immediate area appears to have been particularly distressed that the 1885-opened railway was no longer providing its apparently unnecessary service to the community.

The junction was as far east as possible while staying on the west bank of the Severn. It was a fairly simple affair with two tracks crossing the river and heading off towards Severn Tunnel Junction while two other tracks turned north, rapidly dropped to one, and wound off into the countryside. Nowadays a signal sits in the middle of the branch line, in the distance beyond the bridge. On the other bank of the Severn, where the lines to the docks once branched off, a trailing crossover now connects the two tracks of the mainline with men in orange jackets looking at it thoughtfully.

Gloucester Central

Gloucester Central station was home to one of the more notable points where railway passengers of the 19th century were inconvenienced due to some railway politics and excessive displays of engineering genius. When George Stephenson began building successful railway locomotives he built them to work on his local railways, where the rails were 4ft 8½ inches apart. This rapidly became standard for all railways which were built by British engineers or engineers influenced by Britain - in other words, most of the world. Mr Odd-One-Out was better known as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who thought that the traditional track gauge (distance between the rails) was inadequate - and so when the Great Western Railway opened in 1836 it was to a new 7'¼" broad gauge. (It was not entirely illogical. When the Great Eastern Railway was formed its first task was to resolve problems caused by Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex each having their own track gauge of around 5'.)

This was fine until railways began to meet up and the most notorious example of this was at Gloucester. This was the lowest easy crossing point on the River Severn, so when the Birmingham and Gloucester and the Bristol and Gloucester arrived virtually simultaneously they naturally built a joint station pointing at South Wales. This required a reversal for through Birmingham to Bristol traffic, which was fine since it made changing locomotives easier - at least, it would once the two railways had agreed which one would have to convert to match the other's track gauge. The result was an interesting picture entitled "The Break of Gauge At Gloucester", with all the mail, the passengers, their children, their animals, their luggage, their porters, their kitchen sinks, etc., trying to get from one train to the other - and the standard gauge stock was also noticably smaller.

The east-west extensions to South Wales and Swindon were built to the broad gauge, but the two north-south concerns were purchased by the Midland Railway who converted the Bristol and Gloucester to standard gauge. Once east-west operations had passed to the Great Western the break of gauge was made less obvious by the Midland upping sticks to its own through station at Eastgate, forcing passengers to engage in such a lengthy walk to change trains that they didn't notice the track gauge.

Broad gauge was scrapped locally in 1872, resolving track problems for goods trains and leaving one easily noticable oddity on the Gloucester - Severn Tunnel Junction route, among others, in that the tracks are further apart than usual - about 10 feet, rather than 6. The problem of two stations remained until 1972, when British Rail and Gloucestershire Council came up with a solution. BR could close Eastgate station, and Gloucestershire Council could say that they'd asked them to do it due to the excessive traffic in Gloucester being held up on the five level crossings on the two-mile loop.

Although Eastgate was the superior station from the operations point of view, it shut in 1972 and was replaced by a new road. The traffic is as bad as ever, but the long-distance Bristol to Birmingham trains use the avoiding line and do not stop at Gloucester, as this would require them to turn around and go back out of the station the way they came in. Instead, they stop at Cheltenham. Gloucester - with its one train per hour to London, one per hour to Weston Super-Mare, two per hour to Newport, and four per hour to Cheltenham - tries to pretend that it doesn't care.

The yard at the east end of the station became home to Cotswold Rail - a loco-hire company and tour operator - until they went bankrupt in 2009. Antique diesel traction in the area is now provided by Colas Rail and Devon and Cornwall Railways - the latter offering the Class 56 seen in the upper picture squatting on a through road preparing to head for South Wales. Few passenger trains now start here so the west end bay (platform 3) to the right is largely used for stabling stock. The lower picture looks from the other end of Platform 2 late at night, with Platform 4 off to the left.

Following the closure of Eastgate station BR came up with another great idea - they closed what is now known as Platform 4, which allowed them to remove the footbridge. Of course, this left them with inadequate platform space, so they put Gloucester Central into the record books by building Platform One.

This picture was taken from one end of this great platform. What you can see in this picture, stretching into the far distance, is not all Platform 1. Just after the red lights and at the other end of the teminating train it turns into Platform 2, which has all the main buildings on it. Most trains to and from Cheltenham use Platform 1 - it probably saves about 5 minutes of journey time. In exchange, First Class passengers on expresses turning back here are subjected to a ten minute walk to the main buildings. First Class passengers for the stopping service towards Newport used to have to walk down to Platform 3, which is at the other end of Platform 2. In total, Platforms 1 and 2 are 602.6 metres long - about a third of a mile, which is nearly long enough for three full High Speed Train sets and means that they comfortably hold the record for the longest continuous platform face in the country. On the lamppost at the very end of Platform 1 is a sign pointing to the "Way Out" - the only exit is in the main station building - quarter of a mile away!

Very kindly, the HST services from London to Cheltenham have taken to turning back in Platform 2, thereby making the walk rather shorter. One of them can been seen in the far distance.

The current passenger service is provided by four fleets of trains, although only two put in regular appearances. The Arriva Trains Wales fleet principally consists of trains built in the the 1980s and early 1990s, while the (also Arriva-operated) Cross Country fleet is made up of 1990s stock.

When in the 1980s it was decided to replace the 1950s Diesel Multiple Unit fleet BR decided to be clever and came up with two options - a cheap Leyland bus pretending to be a train and a modernised, highly-expensive version of the Southern Region's long-distance semi-fast diesel units. The former failed to win any prizes for reliability and the latter failed to win any orders, so after the two ideas had been mixed with some ideas from their predecessors the Sprinter fleet was born.

Unfortunately someone decided that the bus pretending to be a train was too good an idea to drop, although it took five prototypes, a trial fleet and four years to produce a working design (unlike the Sprinters, which took four trial units and six months). The result was the Pacers, or Classes 142, 143 and 144; although the last of these tends to stick to the North-East of England, 142s and 143s are a mainstay of Valley Lines services radiating from Cardiff. Occasionally one escapes onto a longer-distance working and this 142 is seen at Lydney. Usually they handle the Sunday services. To be fair to them, the decent track out here means that they ride well and the wide bodyshells and big windows give them a spacious air.

The Sprinter fleet developed somewhat over the years - the prototypes were two three-car sets with no corridor connections on the unit ends, while the initial production batch were two-car sets similarly devoid of doors at the ends of the units (although they were now too short to work single-handed on most routes, requiring twice as many units to work the services and for them to be provided with two guards. An excellent economy by the Treasury there. Both problems were largely solved by hoping that the overcrowding would get rid of the excess third of passengers).

The Class 150/2 units were obligingly fitted with large doors bunged into the fronts of the cabs to allow passengers and crews to move between sets. Cardiff held out for a large allocation when the fleet was built but progressively lost almost all of them over the years. Recently various bundles have been drifting back and Arriva enthusiastically painted them all in turquoise and cream in the hope that this would ensure that they stayed here. Five duly ended up on short-term hire to First Great Western. This one didn't; instead it is seen on the first train of the day one fine September day at Lydney.

The Class 158 "Express Sprinter" fleet began arriving in 1989, with the first units being allocated to Scotland. They were 90mph units and fitted with air conditioning - although someone knew that it wouldn't work and gave them emergency "hopper" windows too. Initially South Wales's longer-distance Sprinters came in the form of all 35 Class 155 "Super Sprinter" units, but these had some reliability problems and eventually ended up being rather cut up over it.

With the two-car 155s reduced to single-car 153s and despatched to rural branchlines all over the country, the 158s found their way to South Wales and the Severn Tunnel Junction to Gloucester line. They also suffered minor reliability problems and the gases in their air-conditioning systems were subsequently banned for being bad for the environment, but they have settled down to being a good fleet. Privatisation saw the entire Wales and West fleet get a nice refurbishment which was so good that hardly any of them have been touched since. Arriva's 158 fleet is now based at Machynlleth and used on Cambrian Line duties, so they are a bit rare down here these days but pop by occasionally. This one is seen from a public foot crossing at Bullo, heading down towards Cardiff (the only one of these five pictures showing a train going in that direction).

Some evolution of the Express Sprinter design followed in the run-up to privatisation, resulting in a fleet known as the "Turbos" being built for London commuter services. After privatisation the new owners of the former BR engineering division developed the design some more, resulting in the Turbostar.

Two-car sets were soon to be seen on Midland Mainline stopping trains; although a bit rattly, they looked good and had nice big windows, so passengers flocked to use them and they were increased to three cars. Then Midland Mainline went back to the builder and bought some bigger trains, the design having evolved into the Voyager in the meantime, and the Turbostars passed to Central Trains. After re-franchising they ended up with Cross Country, which has repainted them all into a maroon and silver livery which rather suits them (accompanied with an interior refurbishment which cleared out the worst of the rattles). They work between Cardiff and Birmingham and don't bother to stop between Newport and Gloucester, so when seen at Severn Tunnel Junction the sixth member of the fleet was doing about 75mph as it roared along in a happy Turbostar manner.

Freight traffic continues to make up a sizeable portion of the stuff trundling between Severn Tunnel Junction and Gloucester, although there isn't as much as there used to be and it is now all through traffic, with no sources of income en route. The bulk of business now consists of steel from Port Talbot (east of Swansea) and Tremorfa (in the Cardiff Docks area) with some oil from Milford Haven (the far west of Wales).

These freight trains are mostly hauled by locomotives operated by the former English, Welsh and Scottish Railway (or EWS, an American-owned firm) but this company has been bought out and is now called DB Schenker (owned by Deustche Bahn, the German State Railway). EWS traditionally worked everything along here with Class 60s, but decided that all of them seemed to look rather grumpy about something and the last couple of years have seen almost all workings pass to newer, North American-built Class 66s. The 107th example of this vaguely optimistic-looking design is seen yinging through Chepstow on its way up the line with a steel train.

Notably the line bypasses or skirts round most intermediate population centres. Prior to construction commencing an alternative route was proposed as the Chepstow, Forest of Dean and Gloucester Junction Railway, which would have passed through the middle of Chepstow (sweeping away the Tourist Information Centre outside the castle and wrecking the view of said castle from the old road bridge), up the following hillside in a tunnel and then run along the hillside about half a mile inland of the current route. Four tunnels were to be built, rather than the one required for this line (at Newnham - there is also now one at Chepstow which was built for the benefit of the A48), but otherwise the earthworks weren't to be much more difficult. This scheme would have run north of St Mary's Church, Lydney, rather than well to the south, the cliff section past Purton and Gatcombe would have been replaced with an inland route through Blakeney and a sweeping curve would have carried the railway into Westbury-on-Severn rather than north of it. Apart from the tricky passage through Chepstow, it was probably the superior of the two routes from the point of view of its users - though the tunnels would have made it more expensive to build and more of a pig to work.

Instead we have this line - poorly served and with future plans which are somewhat doubtful. Resignalling is planned, as is giving Chepstow a half-hourly service from Cardiff. Nice developments which are not currently on the agenda would include re-opening Portskewett and Newnham stations - connecting this with re-opening a couple of the branches would be fun too (out of nine junctions, six have completely gone, one has lost its pointwork and two are there but rarely used). Don't expect anything other than the resignalling to happen before 2020.

Electrification is not being planned yet, so it should cease to be the Severn Tunnel diversionary route once electrification of the mainline through the tunnel is complete (presumably buses will be used instead). There is a campaign to improve train services along the route so that they actually offer an hourly service. This may happen if a few more trains can be found (don't hold your breath - the current fleet of Sprinter units would have to be augmented with more Sprinter units and Sprinter units are incredibly prized where they work already); meanwhile, there will continue to be slight puzzlement in the upper echelons of railway management that one of the most poorly-served double-track lines in the country is proving to be so successful.

The background picture is rather appropriate for this line, since it shows the railway with rather hilly land on one side and a rather wide river on the other. This was the attractive site of Gatcombe goods siding, seen here looking towards Gloucester. Gatcombe used to be a port of some renown but the arrival of the railway involved building a viaduct across the mouth of the stream, rendering the port inaccessible. Now trains swoosh past at speed, while a public footpath allows access over the running lines to the riverbank where locals moor their boats.

It is something of a shame that this railway down the Severn Estuary simply isn't advertised, but it does mean that new passengers are all the more surprised as the train carries them past its scenic splendour - particularly along this riverbank section between Lydney and Awre.

For more information on this line, try Gloucester to Newport (Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith, Middleton Press), which is about the only readily-available book to cover the whole route. Other information has been gleaned from the many books on the various branchlines along the way - the Wye Valley Railway, the Severn and Wye Railway and the Forest of Dean Branch have been quite well examined over the years. The Hereford, Ross and Gloucester was covered in the June 2010 issue of Steam Days magazine, which provided the interesting snippet on line ownership around Grange Court. Cab Rides - Around the British Isles - No. 16 (Cardiff to Birmingham) provides a driver's eye view of the entire route on DVD, including the inside of Newnham Tunnel (which is dark; what do you expect from a tunnel?). Devoid of commentary, over twenty years old and from the cab of one of the short-lived Class 155s, it makes an interesting historical record which you can always try to watch in conjunction with this webpage to see what's changed.

>>>Forest of Dean Central Railway>>>

<<<Return to Wye Valley Railway<<<

<<<Return to Railways Department<<<

Last modified 19/12/12

© The Order of the Bed