At the extreme end of the Sharpness branch are a set of four freight exchange sidings. Abandoned by British Rail in the late 1990s, these sidings became overgrown and forgotten with trees taking hold. These are the Oldminster Sidings, which we are now working on to become the operational base for the Vale of Berkeley Railway. In 2017 we were granted a license for the site from Network Rail and since then volunteers have spent many hours clearing the site of trees and vegetation.
Oldminster sidings before ....
We have undertaken a detailed survey of the site using state of the art equipment loaned to us by Protech Ltd, to capture the accurate location of every rail, joint, point and tree boundary. This has enabled final layouts of the proposed facility to be developed and refined. In April 2022, after detailed discussions, we were granted a lease from Network Rail for the sidings and the end of the branch line, which will allow us to build a heritage and restoration centre.
One of the biggest challenges on the Oldminster site is how to fit a maintenance facility onto a site that has a significant curve. For obvious safety and practical reasons, a shed really needs to be straight. Following the detailed survey, we have been able to optimise the layout to strike a balance between practical working space buildings and storage space. The final layout is:
Road 1 - retained in situ as a running /demonstration line
Roads 2&3 - re-laid for a significant portion of their length to provide straight tracks
Road 4- reconfigured to connect directly to the branch line to allow rail vehicle loading/offloading.
Expandable, future proof design
A two-road maintenance facility is planned, initially between 30 and 40 metres long, but which can be extended to a maximum of 120m as funds allow. The plans include space for a workshop as an extension to the building. We will re-lay the full 120m of rail and install palisade fencing around the footprint of the building extension to allow restoration outside, possibly under tarpaulins or scaffold structures, prior to construction of the shed. Space has been allocated at the north end of the line for a Heritage Centre, including a platform, replica station and forecourt, signal box and replica goods shed housing a "Dock to Door" museum. In addition, the layout adopted maintains the ability to reinstate the connection to the Sharpness Branch at some point in the future.
One of the first activities will be to build fencing to ensure proper separation of Oldminster Sidings from the Network. This will enable us to carry out work in the sidings without affecting Network Rail operations. We will build a double access gate in the fence as a statement of our future aspirations to run trains on the branch.