Everything You Drank Too Much Real Ale To Remember About The 1999 Severn Valley Diesel Gala

JPEGJuice | Friday, 7 June 2019 |

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Once upon a time, UK railway preservation was the constant. A reassuringly stable relief from the chaotically evolving national network. But particularly since privatisation, the weight of evolution has shifted.

The national scene does still evolve, with new trains and traction displacing old. But lifespans have become much longer than they were when diesel preservation began, and a secondhand market has developed, keeping older trains and traction in service way beyond their original projected shelf lives. Based on an average British Rail shelf life as understood in the 1970s, the Class 66s would have been running the gamut of farewell tours by now. Imagine that!

Meanwhile, in preservation, the pace of change has increased, and the preserved railways have created their own histories. Indeed, the line between preservation and service has for long been blurred. Preserved diesels re-entered main line service in the 1990s, and we barely bat an eyelid when withdrawn and restored traction appears before us on Network Rail metals today.

In this post I'm going to recall a reference point that takes us back 20 years on the Severn Valley Railway, to the diesel gala of 1999. The event was held over the weekend of Friday 15th, Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th October, and heading the post you can see one of the event's special guest locos - BR Green Class 40 No. D345, from the East Lancashire Railway.

AND BACK TO '99...

Above: One of the most hotly anticipated traction experiences was this Rail Blue diesel hydraulic pairing. The partnership featured visiting 'Warship' D832 Onslaught (another from the East Lancs), and the SVR's own 'Western' D1013 Western Ranger, on Saturday 16th October. Other crowd-pullers included the pairing of Class 40 No. D345 (40145) with Class 50 No. 50149 Defiance, and the odd novelty of Class 57 No. 57002 Freightliner Phoenix double-heading Class 25 No. D7633. The Class 175 on the right of the shot is 175101, which was undergoing pre-service tests on the SVR prior to its delay-stricken introduction to the First North Western timetable.

Above: At the time, Defiance was not a Severn Valley native. It was a visitor from the West Somerset Railway, and still identifying as the freight sector maverick 50149. The loco survived in this guise until late summer 2000, by which time it had taken up permanent residence on the SVR and was being prepared for a new era of main line work. On 16th September Y2K it powered the Celtic Hoovers railtour as a Rail Blue D449, double-headed with a matching D431. Both locos also appeared at the SVR's 2000 diesel gala later the same month.

Above: The Severn Valley's own 'Warship' - D821 Greyhound - was running in original BR green with no yellow warning panels. On the Saturday the loco worked a mock-up 'Bristolian', complete with headboard, and is seen here at Bewdley en route from Kidderminster to Bridgnorth.

Above: DMUs have routinely supplemented the loco-hauled services at SVR diesel events over the years. Here we see the two-car consist of M56208 and M51935 approaching Bewdley against the attractive autumn colours on Saturday 16th. Steam-hauled services also operated throughout the weekend, seeing locos such as Pannier No. 9466 and 'Manor' No. 7802 in action - although steam-powered trains were specifically marked on the schedule so diesel fans could stick with their preferred breed of traction.

Above: A nice pairing for Sulzer Type 2 fans brought together the SVR's own Class 27 No. D5410 (27205) and Class 25 No. D7633 (25283). Both members of this BR green duo would subsequently drift into a long period of inactivity.

Above: And D7633 attracted plenty of attention in solo action too. Here's the rather weathered 'Rat' in the sunshine at Bewdley, the following day.

Above: Although 50035 Ark Royal was resident on the SVR at the time, it did not take part in the October 1999 gala, and is seen here static at Kidderminster on Friday 15th.

Above: Preservation does not always mean forever. Railcar M51935, which was active during the SVR's 1999 diesel gala and is seen here at Kidderminster on Friday 15th October, would not survive another ten years. This car subsequently became the victim of an arson attack, and was scrapped in 2008. Given the number of other Class 108 vehicles in preservation, 51935's fate was probably hastened, but the turn of events still showed how preserved trains can be here today and gone tomorrow.

I conclude with an honourary mention for the East Lancs Railway's Class 24 No. D5054 (24054), which took part in the diesel weekend, but managed to evade my camera. And... Oh, go on then, another view of 50149 Defiance on Friday 15th October...