Published: 31st May 2014
The Vale of Rheidol (VoR) No. 9 locomotive hauled its first train carrying Cambrian ‘invisible green’ – the colour is so deep that in most lighting it appears black – working the morning service train from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge on May 25. The change of colour, complemented by ‘CAMBRIAN’ spelt out in full along the side tanks with appropriate shading, is the first major livery change to a Vale of Rheidol steam locomotive in over 20 years. No. 9 has carried several liveries in its lifetime, latterly a red scheme applied in 1991.
Repainting No. 9 to carry Cambrian colours comes in the year which marks the 150th anniversary of the original Cambrian Railways Company. The VoR, one of a number of lines absorbed by the Cambrian, came under Cambrian control on July 1 1913. VoR locomotives (as built by the original company) carried Cambrian livery between 1913 and 1923 when grouping saw the VoR become part of the GWR, following which the steam locomotives were replaced by new locos built by Swindon.
This year is also the 101st anniversary of the Vale of Rheidol Railway being absorbed into the Cambrian system and the 25th anniversary of the VoR being privatised following its sale by BR.
Having made its debut in service carrying the new livery, the locomotive was officially re-launched by Mark Williams MP (Ceridigion) who broke a bottle of ‘something bubbly’ over the smokebox dart on May 27. Mark Williams, the Liberal Democrat MP for Ceredigion since 2005, and his family then rode up the line viewing the range of work to enhance and improve the Vale of Rheidol line in recent years.
The impressive work undertaken includes remodelling the narrow gauge line’s station at Aberystwyth, the addition of platforms and station buildings along the route and the creation of further ‘viewing windows’ (the result of felling some 250 trees in partnership with Natural Resources Wales) along a two-mile stretch of line between Rheidol Falls Halt and Devil's Bridge, a continuation of a long-established policy of reinstating views from the line lost to rampant forest growth over many years.
Devil’s Bridge station also has a new platform and gas lighting is being reinstated, an Edwardian feature lost in the 1940s. A programme of carriage restorations is also now virtually completed.
The magnificent new workshop at Aberystwyth, construction of which commenced in 2011, is now rail connected and close to completion. The design of the building incorporates a section of cladding intended to be removed to provide a seamless transition between the gallery above the loco roads and the museum which the railway plans to build alongside.
The museum will be a major jewel to crown this magnificent 2ft gauge railway. The structure will produce 100,000 sq ft (9,300 sq metre) of floor space to enable the display of locomotives (currently in secure storage) in the context of a train-shed environment. It will incorporate components (columns, spandrels, elliptical beams and other important elements of the main roof arches) recovered from the Grade II listed barrel arch roof of London Bridge station.
Earlier this year the VoR was awarded a £100,000 Railway Heritage Trust grant towards the restoration of the train shed roof which forms a key element of the project. A start on construction is not imminent but achieving the long-held ambition of building a narrow gauge museum at Aberystwyth to complement the railway is certainly now a project looking set to come to fruition in the foreseeable future.
The Vale of Rheidol Railway will be running evening trains again this summer. First introduced in 1973 by British Rail and known as the Night Rheidol, evening excursion trains returned to the railway’s timetable for the 2013 summer season and are back again for 2014, making the VoR one of the only railways in Wales to offer evening trains with food available.
The evening trains will run on selected Wednesdays and Saturdays in July and August, departing Aberystwyth at 18.30 to give passengers the opportunity to view the Rheidol Valley in an entirely new light. The 17.15 departure from Devil’s Bridge enables use of the 18.30 ex-Aberystwyth to provide a late afternoon return journey.
Passengers can bring their own picnic or book a chip shop-style supper to be served during the wait at Devil’s Bridge. Fish and Chips, Curry and Chips and Sausage and Chips will be available.
The Vale of Rheidol Railway is privately run with a professional staff, but as much a heritage operation (in some ways more so) as any volunteer-led preserved line. The lower end of the line runs through an attractive rural setting while the upper end, where the line clings to a tortuous hillside ledge high above the valley, is scenically magnificent.
Its mid-Wales location is easily accessible via the national network, the narrow gauge station at Aberystwyth being alongside the main line tracks in the terminus.