Work has progressed steadily over the last few months on our new diesel electric railcar. With the engine and its cooling system in place, the focus recently has been on providing driving controls at each end of the railcar. The controls posed a slight engineering challenge as they required setting up such that the railcar could only be controlled from one end at a time. The system devised features a mechanical linkage between the two ends of the railcar, to ensure the reversing switch at each end is set appropriately, and a removable reversing handle; the reversing handle acts as a ‘key’ to unlock all the controls and can only be removed when the reversing switch is in neutral.
Following an 18-month period out of service for a boiler retube, Velinheli returned to steam on Sunday 26th May.
Velinheli will now join Lilian, Covertcoat and Dorothea hauling trains over the summer. For the first time in our 30 year history, we now have all four Hunslet locomotives in working order!
We first opened to the public 30 years ago, with just one locomotive, one carriage and half a mile of track. Since then we have gradually expanded until the present, where we have 2½ miles of track running to Newmills, four locomotives and four carriages. Over the last thirty years, and in the period before we opened, we have been supported by many local residents, without whom we would not be in the prosperous position we are today. To say thank you to local residents, between the 12th-17th May we are running Local’s Week, where discounted fares are available through our local paper the Cornish & Devon Post. More details of the week can be found here – whether you are a regular visitor or haven’t been for a few years, we hope to see as many locals as possible during the week.
Meanwhile, recent work on our locomotives has focused on smartening up the lining of their paintwork. Lilian has had her cab sides fully repainted and relined, whilst Covertcoat’s ‘new’ saddle tank has been lined – only several years after it was fitted!
Fifty years ago today, the infamous Beeching Report was published which caused the closure of the railway from Launceston to Padstow, Okehampton, Exeter, Tavistock and Plymouth – along with the closure of thousands of miles of other railways all over the UK. Although Launceston station was closed under the Beeching cuts, you can still catch a train from Launceston with us – though we can only take you as far as Newmills for the moment! Trains are running again for Easter from this Friday – details of when trains are running over Easter are available on the Times & Fares page.
Three of our Hunslet steam locomotives – Lilian, Covertcoat and Dorothea – are available for service over the Easter period. The fourth Hunslet, Velinheli, is still being reassembled following her boiler retube last year, and should be back in service by the main summer season.
Regular visitors may spot our car park looks slightly different this year – unfortunately during heavy rain at the end of last year part of the bank at one side of the car park collapsed. We have now cleared the bank collapse and constructed a wall in place of the bank, and also undertaken some clearance and patching work in the rest of the car park. Visitors may notice that we have a stretch of track which runs into the car park which is used by works trains during the winter – we took a video of a trip down this section of track during the clearance work, which can be seen below:
Samples of boiler plate have recently been provided by the railway for a University undergraduate project looking at the corrosion properties of boiler steel. We were able to supply a number of samples ranging from 130 to 5 years old, and await the project’s results with interest!
Unique 1906 Bagnall locomotive Sybil, nominally based at the Launceston Steam Railway in Cornwall, is to have a new home at the West Lancashire Light Railway at Hesketh Bank, near Southport.
James Evans, whose family ‘adopted’ Sybil in 1965, has decided that selling her will give him more spare time to progress a high efficiency Modified Fairlie proposed for the Welsh Highland Railway; some funding to develop the detail design will come from the sale.
A new trust is being set up to own Sybil which will become a core member of the West Lancashire Light Railway locomotive stud. Graham Fairhurst who led the negotiations on behalf of this group, said that it was very pleasing that not only did the deal mean that Sybil was joining the West Lancs. collection, but that the group were part funding a really exciting new build locomotive project in the Modified Fairlie.
Amongst the subscribers in the Sybil group are several younger enthusiasts who will be able to enjoy part ownership of this historic narrow gauge locomotive. James has also agreed to retain a share himself thus maintaining the continuity of “two owners from new”.
Much mechanical work has been undertaken by James since Sybil ran on the private Inney Valley Railway in Cornwall, but the first task for the new group is to get quotations for a new ‘launch’ type boiler. It is intended that the restoration to working order will take place over a reasonably short period and to a high standard of originality.
A spokesperson for the West Lancashire Light Railway said that: “The acquisition of Sybil indicates the confidence placed in the West Lancs. by James, which especially follows on from last year’s completion of the very high quality restoration of Kerr Stuart Joffre. This locomotive is an important addition to the collection, which now includes locomotives from most of the main British builders of narrow gauge railway locomotives. The acquisition of Sybil is particularly important as W. G. Bagnall Ltd. was one of the larger and more innovative builders of narrow gauge locomotives for both the home and export markets, and up to now had not been represented in our collection. It is also very appropriate that Sybil will join former Dinorwic Quarry Hunslet Irish Mail at the West Lancashire Light Railway.”
Dinorwic Slate Quarry was very loyal to the products of the Hunslet Engine Company and Bagnall Sybil was the only new, non-Hunslet built locomotive bought by Dinorwic once it had become a Hunslet stronghold. Sybil seems to have been a well liked locomotive at the Quarry and lasted in service almost until the end of steam traction there. It spent most of its working life on the Hafod Owen level at Dinorwic, which included working on the lakeside tramway linking to the terminus of the 4 foot gauge Padarn Railway. The locomotive was named after Sybil Mary Verschoyle, who in 1902 became the third wife of Quarry owner Sir Charles Garden Duff-Assheton- Smith.
As is well known, James Evans was the originator and driving force of the new-build, Lynton & Barnstaple Railway type locomotive Lyd, which was completed at the Ffestiniog Railway in 2010, and he is now heading the ‘Super Fairlie’ project. Recent design discussions suggest that this should be fitted with electronic ‘traction control’, to ensure that the two power bogies work in harmony with slipping regulated automatically. Thus the locomotive would be the first single boiler, double Fairlie 0-6-4-0T, and also the first steam locomotive in the world to have ‘traction control’. Combined with a futuristic welded monocoque construction, it would require sophisticated design techniques, and a sponsor working in advanced technology would be essential for success.
An interesting spectacle for everyone interested in narrow gauge railways will be to see a restored Sybil alongside the new build ‘Super Fairlie’.
Further details of the ‘Super Fairlie’ project can be found here, and the project will soon have its own dedicated section on this website.
Covertcoat’s wheels were removed in December as they had become rather worn and required building up to the correct profile. The technique used, as shown in the following photographs, was to mount each wheelset in one of our lathes and clamp the welding gun of our MIG welder in the appropriate position. Then, with the wheelset rotated slowly in the lathe, weld material is applied to the wheel. A number of runs of material are applied in slightly different positions to build up the wheel; once sufficient material has been added the wheels are then turned to the correct profile.
Additionally the opportunity has been taken, whilst her wheels have been removed, to clean Covertcoat’s chassis, check the various components fitted to it and carry out any remedial work necessary – mainly tightening a few nuts and bolts! New brake blocks are also being prepared for when the reprofiled wheels are fitted.
Shortly before Christmas, the railway met with Bert Biscoe, Cornwall Council Portfolio Holder for Transport, for an update on the TRAC project. At the meeting, the railway was informed of the probability that the project would not go ahead, and this was confirmed officially in a press release a few days later.
This was not completely unexpected as doubt as to the future of the project had already been cast by Cornwall Council themselves earlier in the year, but no further information was forthcoming, leading to uncertainty and anxiety on the part of many landowners:
‘DEFRA, as a principal funder of the TRAC project, have expressed concerns about the lack of progress in delivering the TRAC project. They have given Cornwall Council an ultimatum for the conclusion of land negotiations and requested a report on the current position, which was submitted to them at the end of March 2012.
Until DEFRA confirm their decision regarding the project it is not possible to determine the exact impact on Cornwall Council. The worst case scenario is that investment made to date at Bude, Launceston and Caradon Hill which amount to £550,000 could be liable to clawback should DEFRA decide not to continue to fund any of the project, although from discussions with DEFRA this is thought to be unlikely.’ (Cabinet Supplementary Pack 1, 9th May 2012)
Subsequent to this, the main funders, DEFRA, wrote to Cornwall Council giving them the deadline of 15th October 2012 to provide a written acceptance of the conditions for project delivery. This was copied to the railway as a partner in the scheme, and as the railway’s signature was also required. The letter also stated that ‘If DEFRA have not received a written reply by this date, it will be taken to signify the Cornwall Council and its delivery partners do not want to take up RDPE funding for the TRAC project.’
The railway offered to meet with Cornwall Council, but this was not taken up, and no signature was requested. The railway wrote to DEFRA to inform them of this, and also to make clear that the railway itself did not wish to turn down the funding and still supported fully the original project as agreed.
In a Radio Cornwall interview on 21st December with Bert Biscoe and local Cornwall Councillor Alex Folkes, it was made clear that the money spent to date at Launceston and Bude has been clawed back by DEFRA, effectively ending the project. At Launceston however, Cornwall Council intend to construct a short length of off- road trail of about one third of a mile, ending at the long-established scrapyard in Underlane. This will of course still need planning permission.
The railway has now received a formal letter from Cornwall Council’s legal advisors in Leeds stating that no further action will be taken with regard to the project.
Alex Folkes has been a strong supporter of the original scheme, and his disappointment in the outcome is clear – he has branded Cornwall Council ‘incompetent’ in his blog where he has also said:
‘The original project plan was a partnership between the council and Launceston Steam Railway. But the council lost the support of the railway and of many local residents when they failed to guarantee to keep the way clear for a possible future railway extension. Cornwall Council didn’t listen to local people and failed to understand what was important to them.’
Cornwall Council still retains the ambition to link the Camel and Tarka trails (subject to the availability of funding), for which the Launceston project should have been the flagship, but without compromising the railway’s future, and the railway has expressed its willingness to meet with senior officers to discuss ways in which this might be achieved.
The railway is most grateful to all those who have expressed their support to prevent Cornwall Council from blocking off any future extension to Launceston’s major and nationally known tourist attraction.
Following some succesful test runs earlier this month, we have started work on the bodywork for our new diesel railcar. The photographs below show a ‘mock-up’ of one end of the railcar; the bodywork is being based on the trams used on the Llandudno and Colwyn Bay Electric Railway, but with modifications so that it suits our requirements and complies with modern regulations.
The October half term week, where we celebrated the return to steam of Dorothea after 70 years, was a great success. Many visitors took the opportunity to see and ride behind Dorothea on her first regular passenger trains. Despite being fresh from her restoration to working order, Dorothea behaved well throughout the week with no problems; though like our other locomotives she has her own particular quirks which the drivers have had to get used to!
The local BBC television news programme ‘Spotlight’ featured a piece on Dorothea, which you can see here.
This coming October half term-week (28th October – 2nd November) our Hunslet locomotive ‘Dorothea’ will be hauling passenger trains on her own for the very first time.
Built in 1901 by the Hunslet Engine Company, Dorothea spent around 40 years working at the Dorothea slate quarry in North Wales. When she was taken out of use she was left in her shed, high up in the quarry, which later collapsed around her. During the 1960s many parts were removed from Dorothea for use on other Hunslet locomotives which were being restored by enthusiasts – including her wheels! What remained of Dorothea was rescued in 1970 by enthusiast Dave Walker, with Dorothea initially taken to his home in Shropshire.
Dorothea moved to Cornwall in the 1980s and was sold in 1989 to Kay Bowman, wife of LSR managing director Nigel. Kay set about restoring Dorothea to working order from an incomplete set of parts – a task considered impossible by many experts. Work on Dorothea progressed slowly with Kay, working in her limited spare time, determined to not only complete as much of the work as possible by herself, but also to use as much original material as possible. In November 2011 Dorothea was steamed as a complete locomotive for the first time in 70 years, just in time for her 110th birthday!
Although we have used Dorothea on a few days already this year as part of her running-in process, she has only ever double headed trains with one of our other Hunslet locomotives. However following the fitting of the equipment needed to work the air braking system on our carriages, Dorothea will be making her solo debut on passenger trains during the half-term week. Subject to no mechanical problems developing, Dorothea will haul all of the passenger trains during the week.
20th October – We have recently been sent this photograph of Dorothea, taken in 1968 by enthusiast Richard Freeman, which shows how poor a condition Dorothea was left in…