Published: 30th August 2014
The Ffestiniog Railway’s George England 0-4-0STT Palmerston was officially unveiled back on Vale of Rheidol Railway metals on July 23. In doing so it became the first locomotive to visit the Vale of Rheidol Railway since the line was privatised in 1989. Even more incredibly Palmerston, built in 1864, is the oldest engine still in existence to have worked on the Vale of Rheidol line, which opened in 1902.
The locomotive actually arrived at the VoR, without publicity, at the end of June. It ran full-line light engine trials on June 26 and worked a test train on July 1.
Palmerston will haul the VoR’s 12.15 and 15.45 services on the weekends September 20-21 and 27-28. Tickets for these ‘Palmerston Specials’ are available in advance from the Vale of Rheidol Railway or to purchase from the Booking Office on the day of travel. Prices are £40.00 (adult) and £12.00 (child) but the premium price for the unique experience also entitles the ticket holder to additional unlimited weekend travel on standard service trains in addition to the special train. Booking can be made by calling the railway on 01970 625819 or online via the railway’s website.
The loco will also participate in a photo charter on September 11 during the visit, with part of the revenue raised going to the fund to rebuild sister F&WHR locomotive Welsh Pony in time for its 150th birthday in 2017. Call the railway number above or email firstname.lastname@example.org for charter details.
Historic as this visit – in the year the VoR celebrates the 25th anniversary of being privatised from British Rail ownership - would be in its own right, the significance could hardly be greater since Palmerston has run on the Vale of Rheidol previously – in the early part of the last century! It was first hired by the VoR in July 1912 and again in 1913 to help deal with additional traffic generated by the opening of a large Territorial Army camp at Lovesgrove, near Capel Bangor, and other army camps near Devil’s Bridge. It returned again in 1914 and 1915, this time the hire being to assist with a vast increase of timber traffic over the line, the timber being used as pit props and duck boards to support the war effort.
Post-WW1 Palmerston again returned to the Vale of Rheidol in 1921 and 1922, these occasions being to cover for VoR locos out of traffic for overhaul. After the VoR was absorbed by the GWR a further request was made to hire Palmerston in 1923, but this request was declined due to loco shortages on the Ffestiniog Railway and the newly-completed Welsh Highland Railway.
Palmerston’s war service on the VoR is legendary in the locality, but only four photographs of the loco working on the line are known to exist. The Vale of Rheidol Railway is working with Cliff Thomas of Britain’s top selling rail title The Railway Magazine in an effort to uncover more photos of the diminutive loco working hard on the VoR. If you have any photographs of this historic event please get in touch with the Vale of Rheidol Railway by telephone (01970 625819) or email ( email@example.com ) or contact Cliff Thomas via www.rail.co.uk
"We're delighted to welcome this historic loco back," commented VoR General Manager, Llyr ap Iolo. "It's a great example of how Welsh narrow gauge railways can work together and we expect there will be a big demand to ride behind her this autumn."
"It's great that Palmerston, one of our most travelled locos, is returning to the Rheidol more than 100 years after its first visit," added Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways General Manager, Paul Lewin.
The Vale of Rheidol Railway could hardly be easier to reach by rail, its 2ft gauge station is right alongside Aberystwyth’s national network station.