History of the Railway
The history of the Sharpness Branch Line began on the other side of the River Severn, when Parliament approved the Lydney & Lydbrook tramway in 1809, to transport coal & minerals from the Forest of Dean down to the port of Lydney. The tramway opened the following year in June 1810 and was renamed the Severn and Wye Railway and Canal Company. For many years horses were used to pull carts along the line, but in 1864 the railway company started to experiment with steam locomotives. This was so successful that several new locomotives were ordered and by 1868 a broad gauge line (7ft 1/4in) was laid alongside, but this was short-lived and relaid to standard gauge by 1874. In the following year the first passengers started to be carried on the line from Lydbrook to Lydney.
By the 1870s interest was growing in linking the railways of the Dean Forest with the mainline from Birmingham to Bristol, to speed up transport of coal from the Forest. The Severn Bridge Railway Company began construction of the Severn Railway bridge in 1875, whilst the Midland Railway finished building the Severn & Wye Railway branch from Berkeley Road to the new Sharpness Docks in the same year. The bridge and a new Sharpness station were opened and the railways linked in 1879. Struggling financially, the Severn & Wye Railway and Severn Bridge Railway Company amalgamated in 1878.
Severn and Wye Joint Railway
Still in financial trouble, the Severn & Wye and Severn Bridge Railway went into administration in 1893 and was purchased as a Joint Railway the following year by the Great Western Railway (GWR) and Midland Railway (MR). The GWR owned many of the lines in the Forest of Dean and South Wales, serving several local collieries, and the MR owned the Birmingham to Bristol route. At this point the railway was renamed the Severn and Wye Joint Railway (S&WJR). Its main revenue came from coal and mineral trains, so by 1929 the passenger service North of Lydney town ceased and was gradually discontinued throughout other parts of the S&WJR during the 1950s. However passenger services were maintained from Berkeley Road to Lydney via Sharpness.
Pannier on Severn Rail Bridge
Severn Rail Bridge Disaster
On the 25th October, 1960 in thick fog and on a high tide, two barges, the Arkendale H and Wastdale H missed the entrance to Sharpness Docks and hit column 17 of the bridge. The barges were carrying about 10,000 gallons of petroleum which ignited, fracturing the gas pipeline on the bridge, resulting in two of the 22 spans collapsing on the barges, and tragically killing five of the barges' crews.
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The end of the line
As a result of the accident, the passenger service from Lydney was severed and by 1964 the stations at Sharpness and Berkeley were closed; Berkeley Road closed in 1965. The bridge itself was never repaired and in 1967 work started on its demolition, which was completed in 1970. However by the early 1960s Berkeley Power Station had come into operation and after the closure of Berkeley Station in 1964, a gantry crane was erected in the goods yard for the transfer of nuclear flasks by train – an operation which continues to this day. Berkeley Station goods shed was demolished around a year later.