The Leighton Buzzard narrow Gauge Railway celebrated two anniversaries recently by holding a Gala event which took visitors back to the line’s roots.
Today’s highly successful Leighton Buzzard Railway is predominantly a steam worked narrow gauge heritage line run totally by volunteers. It is also one of very few railways, as opposed to static museum hall-type displays, to be a fully accredited museum.
Its roots however lay firmly in industry. The railway was built in 1919 to transport sand from the quarries southwards to the edge of Leighton Buzzard to screening and washing plants close to the site of today’s Page’s Park station, then into the long-gone London & North Western Railway sidings on the Leighton Buzzard to Dunstable branch line.
When opened, the railway was worked by steam locomotives but these were soon replaced by small petrol powered locomotives built by the Motor Rail Company in Bedford. Known as the 'Simplex' type, large numbers of these machines were used in the sand quarries and along the railway in its industrial heyday.
In fact, it has been calculated that around 100 such locomotives worked within a two-mile radius of Leighton Buzzard town centre during the boom years of the sand industry!
The Leighton Buzzard line was probably the first permanent railway in the world to divest itself of steam and become exclusively worked by internal combustion motive power. Steam returned when the preservation society arrived on the scene and took over the railway when commercial operations ceased.
LBR is one of just a handful of heritage lines which never closed, the transition from working industrial railway to preserved heritage line being completely seamless.
The occasion of two major anniversaries, the 90th of the original line’s steam locos being replaced by internal combustion and the 30th of the last commercial sand delivery over the line, were marked on October 1 by LBR holding an Internal Combustion Gala.
Not only was every locomotive in action on the special gala day powered by an internal combustion engine, but all 10 of the varying designs and sizes in operation were built by Motor Rail. It could be that this number of petrol and diesel locos from the same manufacturer in action on a railway might be a preservation ‘first’ in its own right.
Passenger services were worked double-headed by two 40hp Simplex diesels bought by the original Leighton Buzzard Light Railway to haul main line sand trains.
At Page’s Park station, two of the last 20hp locos to work on the quarry lines (named Damredub and Arkle – the quarry owners liked to name their locos after race horses!) top and tailed a demonstration train of sand skips in the yard – and on up part of the main line periodically between passenger services.
At Stonehenge Works locomotives typical of the types which worked on the line in its industrial days paraded into the works yard accompanied by a commentary. These included the 40hp ‘protected’ petrol loco No. LR3098 which is owned by the National Railway Museum and placed on loan at Leighton Buzzard and Anna, the loco which worked the final commercial sand train 30 years previously.
The weather was wonderful and large numbers of visitors came to see this highly unusual event.