The SVR's first two main line passenger diesels, BR Class 52 D1013 Western Ranger and D1062 Western Courier, arrived on the SVR on 29 September 1978. The original draft locomotive agreement envisaged that they would be based at Bridgnorth and operated on special "Western" weekends and certain other occasions, although they would not normally replace steam on scheduled SVR trains.
1979 duly saw two "Western Weekends" on 31 March-1 April and 20-21 October, although the use of the Western's was described as being "…in the spare paths between the two service trains". The same year also saw the introduction of a "Great Western Weekend" in June.[note 1] From 1980 onwards the diesel events were renamed "Western Diesel Weekends", presumably to avoid any possibility of confusion with the steam event.
The Spring 1980 Weekend was curtailed by a major slip at Folly Point, resulting in only one "Weekend" taking place in October. During the next "Weekend" in March 1981, one of Western Courier's Maybach engines seized, resulting in the locomotive being out of service for the following events in October 1981, April and October 1982.
Spring 1983 was again curtailed, on this occasion by the collapse of the embankment next to the new Bridgnorth Bypass Bridge. In September of that year the WLA organised a special celebration weekend to mark the 21st anniversary of Western Ranger entering traffic.
Two Weekends were held in 1984 and 1985, although Western Courier was only using one engine during the May 1984 event. 1986 only featured an October Weekend.
At the start of 1987, another "Western Diesel Weekend" was advertised for May of that year.. However by spring a number of guests had been announced, including Class 55 Deltic 55015 Tulyar (the Board nevertheless decided that the two steam locomotives would still be used on service trains). The October 1987 event, and those in May and October 1988 also saw included guest locomotives and adopted the more general title of "May/October Diesel Weekend".
In early 1989, General Manager Michael Draper's notes referred for the first time to the forthcoming "Spring Diesel Gala" and "Autumn Diesel Gala". These continued to include guest locomotives, but were still held on the weekend only and still included steam services.
At the start of 1991, the SVR announced that "We are abandoning both the Spring Diesel Gala and the June Steam Gala through lack of support and a desire to concentrate our resources on fewer but better events." The advertised line-up for the 1991 Autumn Diesel Gala, which was to be the last 2-day weekend event, gives a flavour of events at that time: "Visiting locos, D120, D821, D1842, D7523, D9000, D9016. 'Regulars', D1013, D1062, D5419, D7633 and 2-car DMU. 2 steam locos on service trains."
For 1992, the now annual Diesel Gala reverted to May and became a 3-day event from Friday to Sunday with seven guest locomotives. This format was repeated in 1993 and 1994, with both years featuring 5 guest locomotives. However at the start of 1995, SVR News noted that "The Thomas the Tank Engine and Autumn Steam Gala events brought successful business in 1994, and these will be repeated. The Diesel Gala was less so, and a different formula is to be tried in 1995. This involves our home-based diesel locos and the DMU operating on selected dates; there have been complaints of under-use of our own assets, and this is an attempt to remedy this."
Following this one-year absence, Diesel Galas returned in October 1996 and October 1997, although both were two-day events on Friday / Saturday featuring home locomotives only. October 1998 saw a similar format with a return to the use of guest locomotives (which would then feature in all subsequent diesel galas), while October 1999 reverted to a 3-day Friday to Sunday event.
2000 again saw a 3-day Friday to Sunday event end of season event with, for the first time, all trains on the Friday being diesel-hauled. This format continued until 2005, with a one-year switch to an April date in 2001.
In 2006 the Diesel Gala was once again absent from the calendar. No explanation appeared in SVR News, although discussion on social media suggested that the SVR's decision was due to declining numbers attending the event, with a new "Wizard Weekend" aimed at younger customers taking its place. Correspondence in SVR news that year queried whether the continuing use of steam locomotives during diesel galas was deterring diesel enthusiasts; the editorial response being that the SVR's timetables still advertised "a steam train every weekend of the year". However the point appeared to have been taken on board with a compromise being reached; the 2007 timetable for October included a three-day Diesel Gala from Thursday to Saturday advertised as "The return of the event for those with an interest in modern traction. Thursday and Friday will use diesel locomotives only." (The 2007 Storm Damage meant the event could only take place between Kidderminster and Bewdley.) The next two diesel galas in April 2008 and October 2009 followed a similar format.
In October 2010 the usual diesel gala was replaced by a two-day "Railcar Reunion" (the original Railcar50 event in 2004 had been held in addition to that year's Diesel Gala). The October 2011 event was advertised as a "Diesel Enthusiasts' Gala" and for the first time all three days including the Saturday featured diesel-only operation. The next galas up to 2015 were in a similar format, typically featuring four or five guests.
2016 saw the event revert to May. The "Spring Diesel Festival", as it became, also saw a significant change in scope, with 15 guests taking part over the three days. May 2017 and May 2018 (18 guests and 14 guests respectively) were of a similar size, and also included a 'mixed traction' day on the Sunday. October 2018 also saw the record-equalling Class 50 Golden Jubilee.
2019 again saw a "Spring Diesel Festival and Mixed Traction Day" with guests, together with the return of a 3-day Autumn Diesel gala in October featuring home locos. The timetable for 2020 included the same two events, but neither gala took place due to the 2020 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
May 2021 saw a "Diesel Bash" with two visiting locos, although seating restrictions were still in place due to the ongoing Covid pandemic. The 2021 Autumn Diesel Gala offered "four days of diesel traction from Thursday 30 September to Sunday 3 October", again with two guest locomotives. The return to the SVR's traditional operating pattern from 7 September allowed passengers the freedom to select which trains they travelled on during the gala.
2022 reverted to the pattern of a "Spring Diesel Festival" and "Autumn Diesel Bash".
- 1979 First "Western Weekends"
- 1987 First use of guest locomotives
- 1991 Decision taken to hold only one diesel gala per year. The last 2-day weekend gala.
- 1992 First 3-day gala Friday to Sunday (steam still used on all 3 days).
- 1985 No diesel gala.
- 1986 Annual 2-day Friday / Saturday gala reintroduced but with home locos only
- 1988 Guest locomotives reintroduced.
- 1996 Milk tanks were hired in to recreate BR Western Region scenes of the past
- 1999 3-day gala Friday to Sunday reintroduced with 'diesel only' day on Friday
- 2006 No diesel gala.
- 2007 3-day gala Thursday to Saturday with 'diesel only' days on Thursday / Friday
- 2010 Traditional diesel gala replaced by 'Railcar Reunion'.
- 2011 3-day gala Thursday to Saturday with 'diesel only' on all days.
- 2016 New 'Spring Diesel Festival format with significantly more guest locomotives. Sunday 'mixed traction' day from 2017 on.
- 2019 Reintroduction of an Autumn Diesel Gala with home locos only.
- 2020 No galas took place due to the 2020 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic
- 2023 The spring diesel festival took the theme of 'Celebrating five decades of diesel preservation' after BR Class 42 D821 Greyhound entered preservation in 1973. The first large diesel preserved was the prototype Deltic as a static exhibit in 1963, and the first mainline locomotive ex-LMS 0-6-0DM 7401 in June 1960, hauling trains that summer at the Middleton Railway.
From time-to-time the SVR publishes the number of Gala passengers, according to the method of counting these which has varied over time (for example, since 2010 documents sent to shareholders became valid as a ticket which did not need to be exchanged for travel). The following is an incomplete record:
|Year||Number of passengers||Reference||Notes|
|2016 Spring Diesel Festival||4,800|||
|2017 Spring Diesel Festival||4,807|||
|2018 Spring Diesel Festival||4,142|||
|2018 Class 50 Golden Jubilee||3,617|||
|2019 Autumn Diesel Gala||2,427||Mainly featured the home fleet.|
|2022 Autumn||2,806||||Fare-paying passengers, not counting shareholders travelling on their passes or passengers using complimentary tickets.|
|2023 Spring||6,516||||More than 6,500 tickets sold across the four days, not counting shareholders travelling on their passes or passengers using complimentary tickets. This is the highest attendance at an SVR diesel enthusiast event.|
|2023 Autumn||3,661||Fare-paying passengers.|
- The Great Western Weekend became the "Summer Steam Gala" after 1984.
- SVR News 48
- SVR News 68
- SVR News 82
- SVR News 113
- SVR News 100
- SVR Forum 2006
- SVR News 153, 154
- SVR Forum shareholders' Passes thread
- Presentation to shareholders at subsequent AGM
- Internal NBI
- Branch Lines October 2022
- Booth, Janine, 'Severn Valley Railway’s Diesel Festival breaks loco and visitor records', RailAdvent website, 23 May 2023 (Retrieved 24 May 2023)