Published 5th March 2012
There used to be a time when heritage steam ran through the summer, closed down until Christmas for a week or so of ‘Santa’ trains, then hibernated until the following season opener. Our heritage lines then started to extend the season by holding spring and autumn galas to boost business in the ‘shoulder’ periods before and after the summer holidays peak. Now, just into the New Year there is steam action to be found around the county in the form of Winter Steam gala events.
The East Lancashire Railway’s January 21-22 Winter Steam Gala got the line’s season off to a tremendous start with visitor numbers 40% up on the corresponding event last year.
The weather could not be described as good, but the locos on offer were, with the headline fleet including visiting NRM-owned 4-6-0 No. 850 Lord Nelson and LNWR ‘Super D’ No. 49395, No. 71000 Duke of Gloucester and three ‘Black Fives’, Nos. 44871, 45407 The Lancashire Fusilier and 45231 The Sherwood Forester.
The ELR followed this up with a second winter event over February 25-26, scheduled to feature a very similar line up albeit probably with two rather than three ‘Black Fives’.
The Great Central Railway’s January 27-29 winter steam gala generated £111,000 in takings and broke almost all records for numbers and income. The GCR reckons the only event which has ever topped it was the week-long event which launched newly-built A1 No. 60163 Tornado in 2008.
With a strong home-based line up, just one guest loco was brought in - thus keeping costs down as well - Drummond Locomotive Ltd’s Swanage Railway-based LSWR M7 0-4-4T No. 53 which was making its first appearance on GCR metals.
Other big attractions comprised the debut following overhaul of The Loughborough Standard Locomotive Group Ltd’s LMS 2MT 2-6-0 No. 46521, the return to the GCR of NRM-owned ‘Britannia’ No. 70013 Oliver Cromwell after a programme of main line running and the NRM’s GCR-based Robinson 04 2-8-0 No. 63601, which celebrated its 100th birthday just prior to the gala. The 04 is now in the final months of its ticket and due to be withdrawn for overhaul after appearing at the NRM’s June ‘Railfest 2012’.
Completing the 10 loco line up were NRM-owned SR ‘King Arthur’ No. 30777 Sir Lamiel, GWR ‘Hall’ No. 4953 Pitchford Hall (shortly to leave following its purchase by the Epping Ongar Railway), 8F No. 8624, BR 2MT No. 78019, GNR N2 No. 1744 and LMS 3F No. 47406.
M7 No. 53 stayed on to undertake photo charter duties and haul service trains the following weekend, which included running in a suddenly snow covered landscape on February 5.
The Keighley & Worth Valley Railway produced seven locos for its February 10-12 Winter Steam Gala. The big name guest was NRM-owned LNWR ‘Super D’ No. 49395 with newly re-launched following overhaul LNWR 0-6-2T ‘Coal Tank’ No. 1054 (see http://www.rail.co.uk/rail-news/2012/return-of-victorian-locomotive-icon/ ) – except the ‘Coal Tank’ was now sporting BR crests and running as No. 58926.
The revised identity of the 0-6-2T and presence of the ‘Super D’ was no coincidence. On January 5 1958 a Stephenson Locomotive Society special worked the last train over the Abergavenny – Merthyr line, the train being hauled by the very same ‘Coal Tank’ and a ‘Super D’ – subsequently scrapped No. 49121. Yes indeed, that working in the South Wales valleys 54 years ago was appropriately re-enacted in Yorkshire’s Worth Valley.
The other locos steamed for the gala were 4MT No. 80002, 2MT No. 41241, 4F No. 43924, L&Y No. 957 and Hudswell Clark No. 1704 Nunlow.
The Churnet Valley Railway’s February 25-26 winter gala should have been a cracker. Two ‘Black Fives’, the debut of a newly overhauled 2-8-0, the farewell appearance of a Prairie and winter steam storming the gradients of Moorland & City Railway’s revived Cauldon Lowe branch. With a week to go it became apparent the event was not going to quite work out the way it was envisaged and the ‘gala’ tag had to be dropped, turning the event into a ‘steam weekend’. Unfortunate, but these things can happen.
The key issue was the late discovery during a routine washout examination of a defective weld repair to the boiler of ‘Black Five’ No. 44767 George Stephenson. There was no choice but to ‘stop’ the loco and due to the inaccessible location of the problem, no means of undertaking a quick repair. The boiler will be lifted and repaired off-site while the chassis remains at Cheddleton.
While the ‘Black Five’ problem was a surprise, it followed realisation that the overhaul of CVR resident USATC S160 2-8-0 No. 6046 was also unlikely to be fully completed in time for the gala. It was close, but not quite there. Although the S160 passed its hydraulic test on January 23, as things turned out it was not ready for steam testing until a few days after the gala with a few tasks to be completed before it enters service.
On the other hand, the Mid-Hants Railway’s visiting ‘Black Five’ No. 45379 was in impressive action as you would expect, Large Prairie No. 5199 made its farewell appearances at the end of a lengthy hire spell at the CVR before returning to Llangollen to be repainted BR black to appear in the April 21-29 2012 ‘Steel, Steam & Stars III’ gala – and the pair brought the roar of hard working steam to the Staffordshire Moorlands on the line to Cauldon Lowe.
There are some stonking events coming up on heritage lines, keep watching the ‘Steam events to look forward to’ stories on www.rail.co.uk to keep up to date with what is happening around the country.
Meanwhile, amid the big name locos and mega galas, don’t forget there is a huge range of smaller lines with a huge amount to offer.
For example, how about taking a look at what Bedfordshire’s Leighton Buzzard Railway is up to on June 2? The narrow (2ft) gauge line is home to one of the largest collections of locomotives in the country and its June 2-4 Royal Jubilee event will focus on really small engines. The one-time sand line will be steaming its own residents 0-4-0VBT Chaloner, Baguley 0-4-0T Rishra and Kerr Stuart 0-4-0ST ‘Wren’ Pixie, plus two guests, Amerton-based new-build ‘Wren’ 0-4-0ST Jennie and privately owned Andrew Barclay 0-4-0T Jack. The Saturday is designated an enthusiasts’ day, while the remaining two days are pitched as a children’s event (‘Little Chuffers’) when the locos are likely to carry ‘special’ identities – so June 2 is the date to go for – unless you are thinking about somewhere to take the children or grand children while getting a fix of coal and steam oil, in which case, the search is over!