Vintage Great Western Railway Steam Railmotor approved for main line running

Published 13th July 2012

Great Western Society Steam Railmotor No. 93 for Cornwall Poppy Day fundraiser

DIDCOT - The Great Western Society’s (GWS) Railmotor 93 restoration team, bolstered by experts from West Coast Railways emerged from the Rail Safety and Safety Board (RSSB) meeting on June 22 with the required derogations allowing it to operate on the main line.


The train is a one coach integrated steam railcar and was steamed for the first time last year after a long and careful restoration. These types of trains were used on local low speed stopping trains and reached their heyday in Edwardian times.

They had been used from the mid 1800s with several railway companies developing them for lightly used lines. This particular train is a combination of two vehicles put together as one carriage over nearly 40 years at the Great Western Society base at Didcot.

It has a wooden body which made the safety approvals difficult because of reduced crashworthiness. How was the accreditation achieved?

Who Dunnit?

West Coast Railways (WCR) provided the operational and Rule Book expertise assisted by the GWS team at the meeting in London. Stringent conditions were applied such as carrying an accredited Portable GSMR speed recording device (incorporating a data recorder), and video camera on each end of the vehicle plus a portable GSMR phone. Many of these are already available and train timers already use these instruments which can be bought for under £1000.

Risk Management and Safety Assessments

The WCR staff who attended the meeting were heavily involved in assessing the risks and devising a method of operation to surmount these, especially the risk of collision. The arguments were accepted by RSSB with certain restrictions such as the vehicle can only to be used on a self-contained single line where no other traffic is present at a maximum permissible speed of 35mph.

Other measures include the absence of even a passing loop and the single line obviously means there is no risk of collision, including a sideswipe on a passing loop or being wrongly signalled onto an occupied siding. This may have been a major factor in the Mid Norfolk Railway accident with Pannier 9466 (See steam news), which had been pencilled in to haul the Railmotor between heritage lines to lines such as the Looe and Marlow Branches.

Pannier Tank 9466 to do 200 miles on the main line

Plans were well in hand for 9466 to travel from Barry in south Wales in early November to Liskeard to collect the Railmotor and bring it onto the Looe branch. The proposal was to run the train as a Poppy Day Appeal fundraiser as First Great Western were fully behind the scheme and also do not operate trains on the Looe branch in the Winter.

Instead, the locomotive was taken to the South Devon Railway on July 10th for repairs. The engine had new pannier tanks fitted there a few years ago.

Wooden is Tops

This marks new territory in the main line preservation era as wooden bodied vehicles had been barred from being re-introduced to the national network for many years. The new safety management systems rules now mean that given enough expertise (and money), carefully thought our plans can be made to work.

Hot and Cold Exams to pass

Before the formal meeting, preparatory work including cold and hot exams, and relevant paperwork completed plus inspection audits carried out by an Acceptance Body. Brake trials and noise levels were also examined along with the vehicle maintenance procedures. This allowed the Safety Certification and Engineering Acceptance documents to be issued.

WCR experts were supported by the GWS’ Project Manager Graham Drew, who between them presented a 53 page document detailing the mitigations from Railway Group Standards. The Railmotor will be operating at Didcot for the summer season and then, who knows where!

The Heritage Lottery Fund supported the project financially in what really is conserving a piece of Britain’s railway and social history. The last ones were withdrawn in 1935 so this is a new train to most people as you would have to be about 90 years old to remember them in service!

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