A PROJECT to extend the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway (GWSR) to Broadway has taken a huge leap forward after a £500,000 contract was awarded.

The contract to repair five bridges over where the line will cross comes as the railway’s ‘Bridges to Broadway’ share issue passed the £400,000 mark, just seven months after it was launched.

There is now just £99,000 left to raise in the initiative which will see trains running between Broadway and Cheltenham for the first time in more than 50 years.

The successful main contractor is Kidderminster-based George Law Ltd, which has already has experience of major work on the railway as one of the contractors appointed to repair a landslip at Cheltenham and the collapsed embankment at Winchcombe.

Alan Bielby, chairman of the volunteer-run GWSR Plc, said that work will start almost immediately.

“The contract encompasses repair of all five bridges between our present northern railhead at Laverton and Broadway," he said. "All have suffered serious deterioration since a train last passed over them in 1979.

“It is the biggest single contract that the railway has ever placed with one supplier. Placing the contract now underlines our confidence that the remaining £100,000 of the share issue will quickly be raised.

"I and my fellow volunteers are greatly heartened by the affection and enthusiasm that so many people from all walks of life have shown by investing in this major project."

Work is expected to take about six months to complete and will include steelwork refurbishment, brick and concrete work, drainage and some earthworks.

To carry out the repairs, there will be three road closures in Little Buckland, between Tuesday, May 27 and Sunday, August 31 and diversions will be put in place.

The other road closures will be the B4632 Station Road/Evesham Road, in Broadway, and Childswickham Road, alternately taking place between mid June and September.

John Balderstone, the railway’s volunteer structures engineer, said: "These temporary closures will be essential and, while I recognise and am sorry there will be some inconvenience for drivers I hope they understand that the work in restoring the railway can't be completed without them."

Alan Baker, director of George Law, added: “This is a vital contract that will help to achieve the re-opening of a long-abandoned railway route.

"What the GWSR has achieved to date is absolutely astounding and I’m looking forward to working with them to help secure the future of this wonderful railway."

Meanwhile, volunteers building a new station at Broadway have nearly completed two platforms while the signal box is being built, a footbridge acquired and planning permission granted for the station buildings.

Full details of the ‘Bridges to Broadway’ issue, visit gwsr.com.