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Forestofdean Map

The Dean Forest Railway is at an interesting age, the late adolescence of a heritage railway.

They start out as a bunch of enthusiasts with a short length of line and, if they are lucky, an old industrial steam shunting engine (or failing that a first generation sprinter). This only really appeals to hardened rail fans and, although they open to visitors, running the railway is a bit of a distraction.

Gradually they acquire more line, rebuild stations, restore more rolling stock and other infrastructure until, like the DFR, they are big enough to become a tourist attraction appealing beyond the small band of die-hard railway enthusiasts. The move from building to operating a railway is a difficult one, but one that, as far as I could see, the DFR is handling well.

Of course it doesn't stop there, and many of the older heritage lines are moving into late middle age. Everything has been restored to within an inch of its life, there is no point in extending the line beyond 10-15 miles (15-25 km) as most visitors don't want to spend more than an hour on the train. It is all down to operating a visitor attraction. Needless to say the people that like building and restoring things move on, and it can be a struggle to find enough volunteers who are content just to operate it.

However at the time of my visit (2015), that is a long way in the future as far as the DFR is concerned. At the time it only had 4¼ miles (6.8 km) of track, and only three of its five current stations could be described as any where near complete. For opening times, ticket prices, etc., please see the railway's official site detailed below.

Long term plans to extend the line a further 2½ miles (4.0 km) north through to Speech House Road in the the middle of the forest (close to the nearby Beechenhurst Visitor Attraction), took a step closer with the recent acquisition of the fine old GWR Griffithstown Station building which will eventually become the new northern terminus.

The southern end of the line is currently an unsatisfactory almost bare platform at Lydney Junction. How much better it would be if they could extend the line down to one of my favourite places, Lydney Harbour, which would only be enhanced by the presence of a heritage line, in my opinion.

The railway's main base is at Norchard, north of Lydney, once the site of a coal-fired power station. This is home to a shop and cafe, together with a small museum. The later, somewhat randomly, displays a working Strowger Telephone Exchange. Personally, I have always found these strangely fascinating.