Author Archive: Charlie O'Mahoney

A new boiler for Velinheli

After 50 years in Cornwall, one of our Hunslet steam locomotives – Velinheli – is returning to her ‘homeland’ of North Wales for a new boiler to be fitted.

Built by the Hunslet Locomotive Company of Leeds in 1886, she spent her working life at the Dinorwic Slate Quarry near Llanberis. Velinheli actually has a unique place in history as she was built as the prototype for a new class of smaller locomotives (now known as the ‘Alice’ class), designed to be used in quarries where the standard locomotives were too large.

The locomotive is owned by James Evans, and after spending some years operating on the private railway in the Evans family’s garden, it was rebuilt by James at Launceston Steam Railway in the 1980s.

Velinheli is now in need of a new boiler, and this is to be built by the Ffestiniog Railway at its Boston Lodge workshops in Porthmadog.  Construction work started on the new boiler in January, when a team from the Ffestiniog visited us to form the firebox plates, using flanging blocks which we made when building new boilers for our locomotives Lilian and Covertcoat.

Velinheli left Launceston on Friday 9th February. She did not head straight for Wales though, as she joined another similar locomotive from the Ffestiniog Railway, Hugh Napier, together with a Victorian carriage, on display at King’s Cross station, London until Sunday 18th February.

Velinheli’s Last Journey at Launceston for a few years!

 

 

When her new boiler has been completed, it is planned that Velinheli will spend time based at both the Ffestiniog Railway and here at Launceston.  However, due to the timescales involved with the new boiler, she is unlikely to return to Launceston for a few years.

Work Underway Flanging New Plates for Velinheli’s Boiler

 

2018 Opening Dates

Our 2018 opening dates are now available – but we will be back a little later than normal.

One of our main workshop buildings has had a leaky roof for a number of years, and the time has come to ‘bite the bullet’ and replace the roof.  Due to this extensive repair work underway on site, plus Easter being early this year, we have decided to postpone our reopening until the 20th May.  Therefore we will not be open at Easter this year.  However, we look forward to seeing visitors from the 20th May onwards!

The full calendar of 2018 opening dates can be found on the Opening & Train Times page.

Locals Week 2017

Enjoy a discounted day out this half term week in conjunction with our local paper, the Cornish & Devon Post.

Once again we have teamed up with The Post for one of our popular ‘Locals Week’ offers this half term week (22nd – 27th October).  Inside this week’s edition of the post (published Weds 18th October) is a voucher entitling the holder to discounted fares of £6.60 for Adults and £3.30 for Children.  Our café, museum and shop will be open from 10:30am, with trains leaving Launceston on the hour, every hour from 11am to 4pm.

Normal fares apply for all passengers without a voucher – so don’t forget to get your copy of The Post this week!

See the LSR in Miniature!

A fantastic model of our railway has recently been completed and will be touring the country this year.

The 009 Gauge model has been built by modeller Richard Holder, who has been a frequent visitor over the last few years whilst measuring buildings and taking photographs to help build the model.  The resulting layout captures the atmosphere of the railway fully, including lots of extra details – such as Lulu the Austin 7 (the regular commuting vehicle for our guard Bob) parked outside the museum.  The working locomotives themselves are a marvel of miniature engineering, as they are no longer than a small matchbox and all hand built from parts by Richard.

A seventeen minute video of the railway can be seen above. However, if you would like to see the model in person, we are pleased to announce that it will be visiting us in August for several days – dates and details will follow nearer the time once confirmed.

Further details of the model, and other locations you can see it exhibited, can be found at www.richardholder.org.uk/launceston.htm

Velinheli Withdrawn for New Boiler

At Velinheli’s annual boiler inspection in March, our boiler inspector identified a few areas where work would be required to the boiler before it was passed fit for another year of use.

The boiler currently fitted to Velinheli was built in the 1920s by Dinorwic Quarry.  When the boiler was last stripped for full overhaul in 2012, the condition was assessed thoroughly and the view taken that the boiler was nearing the end of its economic life. Following this year’s boiler inspection, Velinheli’s owner James Evans has been considering a ‘mission plan’ that sees Velinheli return to service in a reasonable timescale, but also helps to secure her long-term future.

After nearly a century of service, the decision has been taken to retire the boiler currently fitted to Velinheli. For the foreseeable future she will therefore be withdrawn from service and placed on static display in our museum.

However in conjunction with another narrow gauge railway we have started initial work developing a new, improved Quarry Hunslet boiler design. This will incorporate modern ‘best practice’ for boiler design and lessons learnt from over 50 years experience operating the locomotives. The intention is that a boiler to this design will be built for Velinheli, and potentially more will be built concurrently for other Hunslet locomotives. Construction timescale will depend on the progress of design work and budgeting over the next few months.

Whilst Velinheli will be taking some time off, our three other locomotives (Covertcoat, Dorothea and Lilian) remain in ‘fine fettle’ and will be in regular use this summer. Trains will be running again for Easter between the 12th-14th and 16th-19th of April.

Winter 16/17 Track Relaying

Over recent years we have normally relayed a short stretch of track during the winter closed period, and this year was no exception.  This year’s focus was on the stretch of track between the river bridge and the first cattle creep, a length of around 300 yards.  This is one of the oldest sections of track and, although regular maintenance work had been undertaken, a number of sleepers were becoming life expired and it was evidently time to complete a thorough relaying of this area.

Initial work before Christmas focused on the preparation of new sleepers ready for relaying the track.  This involved drilling four holes in each sleeper, to which the baseplates (which hold the rail in situ) are then screwed.  With several hundred sleepers required, a significant amount of drilling and screwing was required – as the photos show, the platform (which was used as an easy area to work on the sleepers) soon started filling up!

Screwing the baseplates into place on the new sleepers

At the beginning of the new year the old section of track was lifted.  Although some of the sleepers were life expired, some were of reusable condition and set aside for ‘spot replacement’ elsewhere, whilst the still-serviceable rail was also set aside prior to sale for reuse on another railway.  Once all the track material was cleared out of the way, the ballast was scraped level using the ballast plough fitted to the back of our Fordson tractor.

Old ballast layer scraped level, ready for laying the new track on top

Track was then gradually laid out panel by panel, with the sleepers carefully positioned by hand before the rails were moved into place with some mechanical assistance.

Sleepers being laid out ready for the next lengths of rail

Rail clips being hammered into place

Several lorry loads of ballast were delivered to our car park and then moved up to the new track using our Simplex diesel locomotive and ballast wagon.  The ‘dumping’ of ballast in place is via doors in the bottom of the ballast wagon, which are manually controlled by a member of staff on each side.  Once in place the ballast is then hand tamped to give the appropriate levels and elevations on the track.  Although undertaking all this work manually is adequate for our needs at the moment, we are actively investigating the purchase of a ballast tamping machine from China to help speed up the process.

Loading ballast into the ballast wagon

Freshly ballasted track awaiting final tamping

The relaying work was completed in mid February, well in time for the railway’s reopening at Easter.  However, other areas of track have subsequently been the subject of attention; some minor adjustments were undertaken on the stretch of track relayed last year (after a year’s ‘bedding in’), and some sleepers were replaced in the platform and loop lines at Newmills.

 

2016 Railcar Progress

Following a pause during the main 2016 running season, recently work has been picked up again on our experimental diesel railcar.  This has been a long-term project, started in 2009 and worked on when time allows around running and maintaining the railway; further background information can be found here.

At the end of September some minor work was undertaken to ‘recommission’ the railcar after lying unused for a while.  This was motivated by the 50th anniversary of the closure of the original railway; the last train on the 1st October was a single diesel railcar similar to the one we are building (although larger as it was standard gauge).  Unfortunately we were unable to run a train at the same time as the last train ran 50 years ago, however, in commemoration we did run a special trip on the 3rd October (the official closure date of the original railway) which included one passenger who had been on the last train back in 1966!

The mechanical and electrical systems are now largely complete on the railcar, and so the focus now is on finishing the bodywork.  A number of roof beams were manufactured from recycled timber, assembled and then bolted into place on the body framework. This gives a better impression of how the railcar will ultimately look.  The roof will be a mix of aluminium and timber, and will be fitted shortly alongside the bodywork panels.

Modifications are currently being made to the braking system fitted to the railcar.  Originally it was fitted with ‘straight air’ brakes, where air pressure applies the brakes.  However, as this would require a second mechanical brake fitted to act as a parking brake, we have taken the decision to use a different braking system for simplicity.  The brakes will now be held on by springs and pushed off by air, thus providing a failsafe braking system that will automatically provide a parking brake!

 

Rail For Sale

We will have available for sale shortly approximately half a mile of good, reusable 35lb/yd steel rail complete with fishplates and bolts.

Some pre-fabricated 2ft gauge pointwork on steel sleepers is also available.

For further information please telephone us on 01566 775665 and speak to Nigel Bowman.

An Autumnal End and into the Winter

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Our 2016 season has finally finished with another week of running for the school half term holiday week.  The first half term train left Launceston with four full carriages – a sign of things to come!  The railway was busy all week, with many taking advantage of our Locals’ Week special offer in our local newspaper, the Cornish & Devon Post; in fact we believe it may even have been the busiest October half term week we have ever had.

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Having been away all summer on her grand tour, Velinheli was used several days over half term to get a few ‘home’ miles in before she is laid up for the winter.  We know at least one little boy, having avidly followed all the photos of Velinheli’s holiday on our Facebook page, visited specifically to make sure he could ride behind Velinheli at home this year!  Lilian, Covertcoat and Dorothea all took their turns on half term trains as well; most days saw two engines in steam, with lots of double heading to cope with the large passenger numbers.

The October half term week is traditionally the end of our opening season, and this year it is no exception as we will now be closed to the public until Easter 2017.  A common question from visitors at half term was “what are you doing over winter when you are closed?”.  The answer is lots!  The first noticeable winter project, extending the small locomotive shed opposite the platform, is already rapidly nearing completion. The main locomotive shed and workshop, commonly known as ‘Toad Hall’, has a rather leaky roof which it is hoped to replace this winter.  Having completed an overhaul on Lilian earlier this year, this winter it is Covertcoat’s turn to be stripped down for a full check and overhaul.  Another stretch of track is also due to be relaid over the winter, plus we hope to fit in some more work on our experimental diesel railcar as well.  These are just the obvious ‘big’ projects for the winter, and there are a lot of small routine maintenance jobs to do as well – we are just as busy working in the winter as we are at the height of the summer season!