Thursday, 27 May 2010

An hour in York

I needed to attend a meeting at 3pm this afternoon at York on my way back from Wales, so took the chance to have a quick scoot round to see what colleagues are up to and bring blog readers up to date with some of the happenings there.

In the next month, Mallard will leave for Shildon, and during Half Term week there are a series of events planned to say farewell - but it WILL be back!In the South Yard, visiting Jinty 47406 is covering Half Term steam operations, whilst "Rocket" is at the Great Central. This is the Jinty's first visit to anywhere after its restoration, and it's here cooling down after passing a steam test and Fitness to Run exam today.Finally for today, we had a preview of the new exhibition, Great Western Reflections, our contribution at York to the GWR 175 celebrations which opens on 29th May - do come and have a look.

A morning with Hefin Owen and Wild Aster

At the suggestion of Julian Birley who was on the Welsh Highland train yesterday, I made my way back to York today via the Llanberis Lake Railway where I found 1904 Quarry Hunslet "Wild Aster/Thomas Bach" raising steam. The loco's second name is in honour of a former driver at the quarry "Little Thomas" rather than any engine with a face on it! Its regular driver is Hefin Owen, son of a Dinorwic Quarry loco fitter - the railway nestles in the shadow of the quarries - and through the good offices of Julian, it was arranged for me to accompany Hefin on a 9.50am special extra departure. Hefin is here watering the loco at Gilfach Ddu station.

Some seven years ago, the line was extended to Llanberis village, giving the railway a much needed shop window on the main road, and diverting off the trackbed of the former Padarn Railway which it follwed along the lake. "Wild Aster" is seen here about to cross the main access road to the Padarn Country Park complex, which includes the Welsh Slate Museum, part of which can be seen on the right of the picture.
Runnig back to Gilfach Ddu along the lake shore, it can be seen again that Snowdon is in cloud as it was yesterday. That said, the view from Hefin's "office" is particularly fine and his company was very enjoyable - it's a lovely railway and a very unexpected experience, diolch yn fawr iawn Hefin.

Take me to the Bridge

Yesterday was a momentous day for the Welsh Highland Railway, opening the line to Pont Croesor from Hafod y Llyn and now giving over 20 miles of line from Caernarfon and leaving only 3 more miles to open to get through to Porthmadog. Steve Davies was unable to attend and thus I was asked to represent the NRM. This was a particular delight for me as a narrow gauge enthusiast and also as I had yet to travel on the Welsh Highland line beyond Waenfawr. Our special train left Caernarfon at 10am and was hauled by Garratt 87, seen here rounding the curve into Rhyd Ddu station.
We paused at Beddgelert to pick up local VIPs and prepare to journey through the Aberglaslyn Pass, one of the spectacular parts of the line. The concrete pillars in the middle of the picture are the supports for the old water tank from the days of the original Welsh Highland line.

At Pont Croesor station, we were welcomed by schoolchildren and shortly after, the station was opened by Dr Dewi Roberts, seen here with the microphone, alongside John Prideaux of the Festiniog & Welh Highland Railway Company.

Travelling back to Beddgelert, we paused at Nantmor for Dr Dafydd Gwyn to open the station there and dedicate it to the memory of the late Dr Ben Fisher, a staunch supporter of the railway project and maintainer of an excellent website devoted to the railway.

As the train exits Aberglaslyn Pass on the way to Beddgelert, it crosses the Brynfelin bridge, a sympathetic replacement of a 1920s original and a classic location.

Guests were treated to an excellent buffet at Beddgelert's Royal Goat Hotel, after which I nipped up to the station to have a look at 87 before the crowds returned.

Before leaving Beddgelert, two National Railway Heritage awards were unveiled by Andy Savage, Robin Leleux and a representative of the supporting Ian Allan group, David Lane.

Dafydd Gwyn invited me into the observation car for part of the return journey to meet representatives from Gwynedd County Council and Dr Dewi Roberts amongst others, a very sumptuous experience.

Leaving Rhyd Ddu, we rounded a curve beneath slate tips, and Snowdon hiding in the cloud - for once I was glad I wasn't up there!

Returning to Caernarfon, we noticed newly overhauled Garratt 138 outside the shed at Dinas in light steam - so we drove back to the yard to have a look - and very nice it is too! It'll find its niche on the newly extended railway...

Also in the station yard at Dinas is this little 3 foot gauge De Winton loco "Llanfair" built in Caernarfon for the Penmaenmawr Granite Quarries - I have a very soft spot for these locos and the De Winton company in general.

In a bay platform at Dinas was pioneer Beyer Garratt, K1, undergoing maintenance before rejoining the working fleet.
Finally in the top yard was this pair of modern diesel locos, obtained for permanent way and maintenance use, but I was unable to find a manufacturer for them or anything about where they had come from. They look to be very useful engines however!

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The K1 is back!

After cylinder repairs last week, NELPG's K1 2-6-0 No. 62005 was in steam today for trials at Shildon. If all is well, it will leave on Saturday for a week's running in on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway before heading for the summer season at Fort William. Here's the by now obligatory "coal drops" shot!

Monday, 17 May 2010

Major step forward for Smith Rodley

This afternoon, the restoration of the 5 ton capacity Smith Rodley steam crane in the Shildon workshops took a big step forward when Richard & Johnny fitted the jib for the first time. It's only on for a trial basis, whilst we measure up for new ropes, check alignment etc, but it does look good - as well as giving us an idea of the size of the completed item. Here, with the jib suspended from the gantry crane and the other end on the fork lift truck, Johnny helps to align the jib whilst Richard tweaks the other end. Soon afterwards, all is lined up and the locating pins put in. Richard & Johnny take the strop off the end of the jib and rest the middle of it on some sleeper packing.
Long isn't it? Painting next...

Sunday, 16 May 2010

A Derbyshire Dalliance

Friday saw Helen Ashby & I heading for the Midland Railway at Butterley to discuss working together in the future. After a very productive meeting, we were given a comprehensive tour of the railway's Swanwick Junction site, including the vintage train in the museum where head of Carriage & Wagon, Simon Evans was pleased to show us the restored stock, including 3rd class coach number 78 of 1866, a superb restoration job. Helen & I inspected Kirtley 2-4-0 158A, part of the National Collection, with a view to working with the MRT to draw up a Conservation Management Plan.
Pioneer 1500v dc electric loco "Electra" shares the display tracks with a selection of Midland, LMS and British Railways stock.
Indulging my industrial loco interest, it was nice to see this unique Markham of Chesterfield 0-4-0 saddle tank "Gladys".
Once part of the NRM collection, this LMS "porthole" brake was transferred to the MRT's ownership and it now resides in the museum at Swanwick.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I do like to see restored wagons too, and this Midland Railway crane runner is no exception, having been symapthetically restored, with much original material retained.
50 year old "Peak" diesel electric number D4 "Great Gable is housed in the museum whilst it celebrates its anniversary of outshopping from Derby works.
The pioneer Midland Railway Pullman carriage body "Midland" gave us much thought and discussion over its future stabilisation, conservation and display.
In the heritage carriage & wagon workshop, we were able to see this example of original Mindland Railway paintwork, which has informed recent restoration works.
Across the site is the shed of the Golden Valley Light Railway, wherein we saw this 1997 built 0-4-2 inverted saddle tank, based on a Bagnall design and constructed by Allen Civil, newly repainted and renamed.
As a member of the Ashover Light Railway Society, I have followed the story of the rescue of one of of the original carriage bodies and its move to Swanwick - here it is under sympathetic rebuild - much of the old material has been kept, including the boards which state "Ashover Light Railway" along the upper body.
There is something for everyone on the site, and in the Road Transport Gallery, I discovered this 1890s Aveling & Porter steam roller, not dissimilar to our own machine at home, so I took a few minutes to look at the differences, details and similarities.If it's buses that float your boat, there are plenty too...this being a particularly nice one which took my eye.
The NRM are looking forward to a positive relationship with MRT - I for one look forward to going back to follow up progress and see how we can move forward in partnership. Our thanks as ever to the officers of the Trust who gave up a whole day to discuss, explain and show us their activities.

North Eastern wanderer returns

Early last week saw a new locomotive delivered to Shildon, but not one that is part of the Collection. We are establishing a partnership with the Locomotive Conservation and Learning Trust to restore the North Eastern Railway designed J21 0-6-0 tender loco No. 65033, once a long term resident of Beamish museum. It is planned to get the engine under cover as soon as possible and assess the rebuild programme this year whilst finance is sought. A major strand of the bid is to include the learning potential for both schools and trainees who will work on the project. Donations are of course welcomed, and details can be had on LCLT's website.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010


Yesterday and today saw Chris Beet & I heading south to visit Steam - The Museum of the Great Western Railway at Swindon - in Wiltshire, hence the moonraking of the title, a local legend. The NRM has a number of artefacts on loan there, not least several items of rolling stock. It is situated in part of the former GWR works in the buildings to the left of this photo which shows the electric traverser once used to access some of the workshops. I had not visited since 2004 and Chris had never been, so it was an ideal opportunity to meet the staff there and also acquaint ourselves with the collection items housed there. A selection of the smaller items at Steam are stored in an area called The Storehouse, very similar to the Warehouse at York, but full of Western Region and GWR related artefacts only.
The story of Swindon is intractably the story of Swindon folk, and the displays have many delightful cameos, such as these two foundrymen having a break - the set dressing makes this look like any corner of the works from its working days.
Another innovation is that of showing (or shewing,as the GWR would have written it) a GWR 42xx tank loco in dismantled state under overhaul, with female labourers and fitters as would have happened in World War 2. A fascinating display on building and repairing locos, there is a similar section on carriage building. For those who really want to know, the loco is 4248.
I needed to undertake a Conservation Assesment of the AEC GWR Railcar No.4 which is housed at Steam, a 1933 built machine from the first series of such vehicles. I fell for its marvellous interior...
...which included this super little buffet - I wonder if it ever broke even given the relatively small number of seats in the single unit railcar?
Swindon pride is exemplified in the Castle class loco 4073 "Caerphilly Castle" which is shown as a stand alone example of Swindon craftsmanship and lovingly cared for along with the rest of the locomotives by the dedicated volunteer "Tuesday Gang".
Here's the Dean Goods, what a lovely engine this is...
At the other end of the date spectrum is 9400, a Hawksworth designed pannier tank from the 1940s, when the Dean Goods of the 1890s was still in service.
Occupying prime location at the platform and station display is the last one of all, the last steam loco built for British Railways, built at Swindon in 1960 and thus 50 years old this year, class 9F "Evening Star".
After an overnight stay in the town and an evening walk around the railway village, we headed back north today via Didcot Railway Centre, 14 minutes by train from Swindon and another loan partner for us. This year is the 175th anniversary of the Great Western Railway, and Didcot, based in the former GWR loco depot, has just completed a mammoth 9 day festival celebrating the fact. Here, one of the visitors, 7827 "Lydham Manor" from the Dartmouth Steam Railway, is seen at the entracne to the shed, with other rolling stock to the right.
Another pair of visitors included Bill Parker's prairie tank 5521, seen here with newly reliveried GWR icon "City of Truro" running in 1915 livery as 3717 - and Chris & I were delighted to see this one of ours as it's the first time we'd seen in since repainting.
The shed exudes steam shed atmosphere and the two Castles here, 5029 "Nunney Castle" on the left and 5051 "Earl Bathurst" on the right could have come straight out of the 1950s in this shot.
A further view down the shed shows how closely the Great Western Society have captured the feel of a GWR locomotive running shed.
In the workshop, we were interested to see progress on another GWR icon, 4079 "Pendennis Castle", being overhauled after its return from Australia. In 1923 this had been displayed alongside 4472 "Flying Scotsman " at the British Empire exhibition, so it was good to see that there is a chance we might be able to pair up these two famous engines again in the not too distant future.
Finally, we took a look at the newest engine on site, and one built mainly at Didcot, the broad gauge replica "Firefly". Words cannot describe the broad gauge set up on site now - go and experience it for yourself, there's nothing like it.