History of the Avon Valley Railway

In 1972 a group of 30 volunteers from the then ‘South Gloucestershire Rail Retention Group’ established the ‘Bristol Suburban Railway Society’ with the intention of reopening the full length of the Bristol to Bath line of the Midland Railway for commuter and leisure purposes. After initial discussions with the British Railways Board, the group was told in no uncertain terms that this would not happen; the Board was unwilling to take on legal liability for a private railway run by ‘amateurs’. Unwillingness to back down and sheer determination from the group of volunteers in the face of many further setbacks in the subsequent decades ensured that the Avon Valley Railway would become one of the most popular tourist and heritage attractions in South Gloucestershire.

Faced with a derelict and vandalised site with no track, the volunteers first turned their attentions to restoring Bitton Station building and establishing a small heritage museum. By October 1973, a short section of track was laid in the cattle dock to allow the first passengers to be pushed up and down on a handcart. Despite almost crippling resistance from the British Railways Board, the volunteers continued with fundraising and track laying efforts. At the end of the decade, the track had been extended towards the site of Oldland Common Station and steam services resumed. Towards the end of the 1970s the railway also became engaged in negotiations with the newly established group, Sustrans, who sought to create a shared use path along the abandoned track bed – the first of it’s kind in the country – and has since proved that shared use of the once double-track mainline is possible. 

On 15th October 1979 the Bristol Suburban Railway Society was incorporated into the Bitton Railway Co. Ltd., and the railway continued to expand, first to Oldand and then, in 2004, to the new platform at Avon Riverside. 

The organisation received charitable status in 2001, with the creation of the Avon Valley Railway Heritage Trust. Our core purpose is to provide education to the public about our local railway heritage. We do this by continuing to restore the line, locomotives, rolling stock and infrastructure; operating trains; and displaying our collection of artefacts.

As with any heritage railway, there is always ongoing restoration work taking place on locomotives, carriages, and wagons – all carried out by volunteers. Our current focus is developing the site at Bitton to ensure that it is fit for purpose for an extended railway. We are working to ensure that three key areas are developed:

  1. Safety – A new signalling system will enhance our operation, provide new opportunities and experiences for volunteers and further integrate heritage equipment and infrastructure
  2. Visitor Experience – Developing high-quality facilities and ensuring that our visitors can understand and interpret our heritage is central to ensuring that, as a charity, we continue to provide a benefit to the public
  3. Engineering Facilities – Developing our capability to care for and restore locomotives and rolling stock is essential if we are to expand our operation. 

The Avon Valley Railway, now a major tourist attraction receiving up to 80,000 visitors a year, is already showing the potential to become the catalyst that brings together a whole range of attractions in the area. As the Railway develops, visitors will be able to use the trains to explore more of the Avon valley and the delights which, for many people, have been hidden from view.

The AVRHT are proud winners of the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service
All material on this web site is copyright Avon Valley Railway Heritage Trust (AVRHT), its subsidiaries or contributors. All rights reserved. Bitton Railway Station, Bath Road, Bitton, BS30 6HD, Telephone: 01179 932 5538, Email: [email protected] - Avon Valley Heritage Trust is a registered Charity in England - Charity No 1088545
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