2007 Storm Damage
A freak thunderstorm hit the Severn Valley Railway on the evening of Tuesday 19 June 2007, causing massive damage to the Railway’s infrastructure. Embankments collapsed, cuttings were filled with debris, and much other destruction took place.
An inspection of the line on 20 June confirmed that only the section between Bewdley and Kidderminster was relatively unaffected and could remain open for passenger traffic. By 21 June the full implications for the Railway were understood and development of a recovery plan was under way. This would involve properly considered engineering solutions, not only to resolve the problems but hopefully to prevent them recurring.
Even as the recovery efforts began, the wet weather continued, culminating in another thunderstorm on 20 July 2007 which caused further damage towards the South end of the line. In total the line was breached in 45 separate locations between Bridgnorth and Northwood Halt.
Some of the worst affected places on the line and the repair work involved were as follows (from north to south):
- Oldbury Viaduct: the track bed was washed out immediately south of the viaduct, and the face of the embankment began to slide towards Daniel's Mill (which was also damaged). To resolve the problem a retaining wall was built, consisting of 25 concrete piles up to 30 feet in depth capped with a concrete beam.
- Knowlesands: Three sections of the railway were washed out in the area previously affected in November 2000. The repair involved replacing the unstable ground with ‘reinforced earth’, new fill material sandwiched with geotextile mesh.
- Eardington Summit: Two cutting walls collapsed across the line, contaminating the track ballast. New cutting walls were built, reinforced with old concrete sleepers, and the track was re-ballasted.
- Sterns: The traditional ‘weak spot’ was not affected during the storm itself, but further slips began in the following weeks. A 150 foot long piled concrete retaining wall was built alongside Sterns Cottage, and a great deal of ‘soil nailing’ was carried out.
- Hampton Loade: The side of the embankment collapsed by the caravan park north of Hampton Loade station. The repair was achieved using ‘reinforced earth’ and the installation of new drainage.
- Highley: A large portion of the embankment opposite the cattle dock and water tower collapsed, taking with it the Highley Up starting signal. To achieve a repair the water column and cattle dock had to be removed, and the unstable ground carefully dug out in stages to avoid further collapses. New drainage was installed and the ground repaired with ‘reinforced earth’. By November a single track had been re-installed allowing rail access to the areas affected further south. Further work was then required to reinstate the cattle dock and water tower, and also to give access to the new Engine House.
- Borle Viaduct: Another large collapse near Borle Viaduct was reported by a local farmer, who rang the Railway to ask “Do you know your embankment is in my field?” Once again the repair involved replacing the embankment with ‘reinforced earth’, supplemented by new drainage. The concrete and brick ‘training walls’ upstream and downstream of the viaduct itself also suffered cracking. Repairs were delayed for some months waiting for the water level in the brook to subside, but ultimately involved soil nailing and rock filled ‘gabion’ baskets. This was the final area to be reinstated shortly before the public re-opening of the full line in March 2008.
- Victoria Bridge: Another washout immediately south of Victoria Bridge left the track suspended in mid-air. A new concrete retaining wall was installed, including a large drainage chamber.
- Folly Point: Another traditional ‘weak point’ above the River Severn where the railway is carried on a series of gabion baskets supported on a stone wall. Storm water had displaced these gabion baskets, and the flood swollen river was threatening to undercut the stone wall. Within hours permission had been received to dump stone into the river to prevent further erosion. Work then took place to replace the gabions and the embankment above them, although the site had to be evacuated when adjacent parts of the hillside began to move. Work re-commenced once these had been made safe.
- Northwood: The Northwood area was not significantly affected by the June thunderstorm, but cracks appeared in the embankment above Northwood Lane following the second storm in July. The road was closed while repairs were carried out. These involved sinking more than 450 ‘soil nails’ each up to 50 feet in length, together with new drainage and geotextile mesh reinforcement.
An idea of the amount of work involved can be gained from the following statistics:
- 7,700 tonnes of debris were removed from the Railway
- 31,000 tonnes of stone were brought in and used in repairs
- Almost 2.5 miles of pipes were installed to provide new drainage
- More than 4.5 miles of ‘soil nails’ were used to stabilise the ground
An appeal for help was launched within days, and many fellow railways as well as members of the public rallied round to help the SVR. The final cost of repairs was approximately £3.7m. Of this total, grants from the European Regional Development Fund, Advantage West Midlands and the Heritage Lottery Fund amounted to approximately £1.9m, insurance contributed approximately £1.0m with the balance met by funds from the public appeal and SVR reserves.
Water draining from the surrounding land towards the River Severn normally flows under the railway through culverts. Many of these became blocked by debris brought down by the storms, contributing to the number of washouts that damaged the line. Prior to the storms, the SVR possessed plans identifying 28 culverts under the railway. Subsequently, a detailed survey carried out to identify any unrecorded culverts increased this number to 108. All the culverts were examined and upgraded or replaced where necessary. All workers entering enclosed spaces need to hold the relevant confined spaces certification and rescue winches, gas monitors, breathing equipment etc. need to be available. In view of this the SVR put the inspection duties out to specialist contractors. All are now numbered, their precise location and GPS coordinates recorded, and all are checked on a regular basis.
A description of some of the repair work undertaken by the SVR's Signal & Telecommunications Department is contained in this article from SVR News reproduced on their informal web site. ( Link )
The section of the line between Bridgnorth and Hampton Loade reopened for passenger services on Saturday 9 February 2008 to coincide with the half-term holiday. Electro-diesel E6006 was the first locomotive to work the entire line between Bridgnorth and Bewdley on 10 March 2008, hauling an engineers’ train with permanent way materials and also bringing Jinty 47373 to the southern end of the line to be turned ahead of its planned move into The Engine House later in the year. A special reopening train hauled by newly-overhauled 7812 Erlestoke Manor worked a return trip between Kidderminster and Bridgnorth on 20 March, with passenger services restarting on the following day.
The SVR's success in recovering from the storm damage was marked by a number of awards, including the Transport Trust's 'Preservationist of the Year', the Ian Allen Publishing 'Heritage Railway of the Year' and the Heart of England Tourist Board 'Best Tourism Experience of the Year'.
A Royal visit to the SVR took place in June 2008. SVR News stated "The popular misconception was that the reason for the visit was especially for Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall to view the most major repairs to the storm damage on our line. This was not the only reason; His Royal Highness had requested a visit to a heritage tourist line with the Royal Train, steam-hauled. And that is what happened."
Tenth Anniversary exhibition
An exhibition entitled "2007 Storm Damage – 10 Years on" opened in The Engine House in June 2017.
All pictures from Wikimedia Commons