The Dean Forest Railway is a heritage railway running over 4 ½ miles of former British Rail trackbed.
The need for a railway was first realised in the late 18th early 19th Century. Due to the many pits now open in the Forest, exporting the coal outside of the area was difficult by packhorse. Due to this, the prices rose and the Forest pits lost trade to other mines in the region.
An act of parliament for a canal and tramway was authorised in 1809, to the Lydney and Lydbrook Railway, which then became the Severn and Wye Railway a year later. The 3ft 6in horse drawn operated line was opened in 1810 and its first steam locomotive, a well tank engine, was purchased in 1864. This locomotive had flangeless wheels so it could operate on the plateway – this proved successful so four more locomotives were ordered.
Then, in 1868, a broad gauge line was constructed alongside the original tramway, however due to a land dispute with the Crown Commissioners that line was not opened until the following year. The locomotives used on the line were three of the original plateway engines converted to broad gauge, as well as two new locomotives, delivered in 1868 & 1870 respectively. The broad gauge line had a reasonably short life – both it and the tramway were converted to standard gauge between 1872 and 1874 as the GWR converted the old broad gauge track through Lydney to the new standard gauge. The first passenger train ran shortly after in 1875, between Lydney and Lydbrook.
In 1879 the Severn Bridge Railway opened – the Severn & Wye railway joined with the new Severn Bridge Railway and the new company operated until bankruptcy in 1885. The Midland Railway and Great Western Railway then took over operation of the line as the Severn & Wye Joint railway.
Passenger trains ceased operating north of Lydney Town in 1929 – services from Lydney Town continued mainly due to children from Lydney going to school at Berkley, on the other side of the river. In 1960, the Severn Bridge Disaster stopped these services – two petrol barges attempting to reach Sharpness drifted in fog and collided with the bridge killing 5 crew. The bridge was demolished in 1970 and parts of the bridge and the wreckage of the barges are still visible today. Following the accident, the aforementioned schoolchildren who had used the bridge daily had to be taken to school on a 40-mile detour via Gloucester.
Freight services continued until the line closed in 1976, and that’s where we come in…
The railway Society was formed in 1970 amidst rumours that the line was to be shut. In 1971 the first open day was held in Parkend, in which the railways first locomotive, an 0-4-0 Peckett Steam Locomotive ‘Uskmouth 1’ (pictured left), hauled passengers on a 200 yard trip down the yard sidings and back – we were keen to shake off the title of worlds shortest heritage railway!
In 1978, for use as its ‘main base’, the railway purchased the Norchard site, which had previously housed a colliery and a coal fired power station. Open days similar to the Parkend ones were held here to raise funds. In 1986 the trackbed was purchased from BR and then after many extensions, the line to Lydney Lakeside (then St Mary’s Halt and now closed), was opened. After the A48 bypass was completed in the early 1990’s, the railway crossed it and ran into Lydney junction for the first time in 1995.
The railway then decided to extend north – first to Tufts junction in 2001 where major bridge works were required, then to Whitecroft in 2003 and lastly to Parkend in 2006, where the station was opened by Princess Anne.
In 2012, after months of rebuilding, the new Whitecroft Station was completed and opened. There are now plans to develop the station further.
Plans to extend north into the Forest to Speech House Road are also being looked into.