Page last updated at 12:39 GMT, Monday, 17 May 2010 13:39 UK
Worcester to Hereford Railway: Great engineering feats

Great Malvern station
The railway reached Great Malvern station in 1860

A rail link between Worcester and Hereford was first mooted in the early 1850s, when the need to link the industries of Birmingham and the Black Country with the coalfields of South Wales became clear.

The original plan was to take the straightest route, following the line of the modern day A4103.

This didn't suit the citizens of Malvern and Ledbury though, who wanted the main line to go through their towns.

Their lobbying was successful, and work started in 1856 on a line that would link Worcester to Malvern, via a new station, and over a viaduct and bridge, Malvern to Ledbury, through two tunnels, and Ledbury to Hereford, via another viaduct.

Foregate Street station

Foregate Street
Foregate Street bridge in 1906, before being strengthened by Hardy and Padmores Worcester Foundry.

Worcester's new station, built for passengers on the line to Hereford, was unusual for a number of reasons.

The station platforms are at rooftop level, to keep the trackway level between Shrub Hill and Henwick on the other side of the river.

When the station opened, passengers could take a water-powered lift from street to platform level.

The original bridge over the main thoroughfare of Foregate Street was replaced in 1909, with a grant of £162 (more than £14,000 today) from the City Council.

Worcester viaduct and river bridge

Railway viaduct at Worcester
Some of the 68 arches in the railway viaduct at Worcester

The Worcester railway viaduct is 855m (935 yards) long, and has 68 arches.

The original bridge across the Severn had three arches, and was partially made of wood.

Unfortunately, it failed to pass the safety inspection in 1859 by the government inspector, Colonel Yolland, who noted that the arches were displaced when a train went across the bridge.

Anxious not to add to the long list of horrendous Victorian train accidents, he refused to allow trains to use the bridge until it was reinforced, so for nine months passengers had to disembark and walk across the bridge.

Great Malvern station

Great Malvern station
The Malvern Hills loom behind Great Malvern station

This beautiful station is virtually unchanged from the way it looked when the line opened.

Passengers can still admire the elegant wrought iron work that holds up its canopies, see the weighing platform, manufactured by Henry Pooley & Son of Birmingham, and relax in Lady Foley's tea-room, once the first class waiting room.

Next to the station, and linked by a special tunnel known locally as The Worm, is the building that was once The Imperial Hotel.

This striking building, the first in the world to be lit by incandescent gas, was built to offer the more well-off visitors to Malvern a taste of luxury.

The very richest guest could hire one of six suites, each of which had a bedroom, dressing room and sitting room, and en-suite facilities.

The hotel had its own private supply of the famous Malvern water, which was piped from the railway tunnel under the nearby Malvern Hills - the same pipe also supplied water to Great Malvern station.

The building now houses a private girl's school.

The Colwall tunnel

Railway tunnel under the Malvern Hills
The old Colwall tunnel is just visible on the right

The biggest engineering challenge facing those building the Worcester to Hereford railway line was a natural one - the Malvern Hills.

The hills are the reason the line reached Malvern in July 1859, but didn't reach Hereford until September 1861.

The tunnel under the hills is 1,433m (1,567 yards) long, and had to be dug almost entirely by hand, through some of the hardest rock in the country.

At first progress was relatively easy, with the tunnel advancing by ten feet a week, but once the hard central core of the Malvern Hills was reached, progress slowed to as little as 15cm (six inches) a day.

Water from the many springs poured down on the workers, and a system of pumps had to be devised to stop the springs on the hills running dry.

Two ventilation shafts had to be dug through to the tunnel, which was at a maximum depth of 183m (600 feet).

Railway tunnel under the Malvern Hills
The hills tower above the entrance to the Colwall tunnel

The Malvern Advertiser of Saturday, 7 September 1861, paid tribute to those who'd made the railway possible "despite the utmost discouragement and difficulty, (and) have unremittingly persevered, after years of patient toil... their faith has truly moved mountains."

The "mountains" got their own back in 1907, when part of the tunnel collapsed, shortly after a goods train had passed through it, blocking the line.

By the 1920s it was clear that the narrow old tunnel couldn't cope with pressures put on it by the big new steam trains, and the decision was taken to bore a new, wider, tunnel through the hills, alongside the old one.

With the aid of pneumatic tools, the new tunnel was built between 1924 and 1926, with a contract price of £196,080 ( almost £9m in today's money.)

The old tunnel is still there, and during WWII it was used to store munitions.

The tunnel is now home to a colony of rare bats.

Ledbury tunnel and viaduct

Railway viaduct at Ledbury
Workers on the viaduct were called 'monkeys' as they hung from ropes

The Ledbury tunnel is just over 1,200m (1,323 yards) long, and has never be widened since the 1860s - it has a single line running through it, and today's trains are a snug fit.

The last brick on the viaduct, crossing the valley of the River Leadon was laid on 12 June 1861 - it is 301m (330 yards) long, and towers 18m (60 ft) above the valley floor.

Ledbury tunnel
The tunnel emerges just outside Ledbury station

The five million bricks used to construct the viaduct (enough to build more than 300 houses) were all made by a local company owned by Robert Ballard.

The official ceremony to open the viaduct didn't go exactly to plan - a local woman, Mrs Richards, was meant to perform the ceremony, but she was left behind by the special train that was meant to bring her to the event.

She did get to the viaduct eventually, and laid the final brick, using a silver trowel.

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