Published: 30th June 2014
Three of Hampshire locomotive owner John Bunch’s Richard Maunsell-designed steam locos are moving from their long-term Mid-Hants Railway base to the Swanage Railway under a new 25-year deal.
Operational SR Maunsell U class 2-6-0 No. 31806 is to arrive in time to start hauling trains at Swanage during August. The Brighton-built 'U-boat' as the class were nicknamed, ran on the Swanage branch in the 1950s under BR auspices. It has visited the line in the preservation era, most recently for the Swanage Railway’s April 5-6 2014 Spring Steam Gala. It has seven years remaining on its boiler ticket.
The other two locomotives covered by the deal (to arrive in late June or early July) are out-of-ticket SR N Class 2-6-0 No. 31874 and U class 2-6-0 No. 31625. The N class, the only survivor of its type – and the only loco built at London’s Woolwich Arsenal still in existence - last ran in 1997.
The intention is for it to be overhauled and back in traffic by August 2015. No. 31625 last worked in 2001 and is to be overhauled with the aim of returning to steam by the winter of 2016 or spring 2017.
"The three Southern Railway locomotives will give the Swanage Railway a balanced and exciting locomotive fleet – and complement the two 1940s Bullied Pacifics, a 1950s Standard Tank, the Victorian-designed Drummond M7 tank and a Great Western Railway tank locomotive which haul trains on the Purbeck line," commented Swanage Railway Company Chairman, Peter Sills.
"The 'U' and the 'N' locomotives offer a simple and efficient maintenance regime with a power classification, efficiency and economy ideally suited to the Swanage Railway. The boiler and other components on the 'U' and the 'N' are also interchangeable and will enable an efficient restoration," explained Swanage Railway General Manager, Richard Jones
"The Swanage Railway is committed to continuing to offer steam haulage and, with future expansion north of Norden towards Wareham on the horizon, we will need a core of six suitably powerful steam locomotives to work the service.
Three locomotives will be required to work the daily diagrams, one in reserve for breakdowns, one undergoing routine running maintenance or boiler washout and one under heavy overhaul. A long hire agreement gives control and flexibility in the sequencing of efficient steam locomotive overhauls," added Swanage Railway Company director and locomotive provision portfolio holder, Kevin Potts.
"I am very pleased that my three Southern Railway locomotives will be working together in Dorset on an authentic Southern Railway branch line through stunning Purbeck countryside and past the iconic ruins of the Medieval Corfe Castle," confirmed a delighted John Bunch.
It has long been known that five Mid-Hants-based locomotives owned by John Bunch would leave the Watercress Line by around August this year on expiry of present loco agreements.
The Swanage Railway’s June 24 announcement confirms rumours circulating in the heritage world for some months that this trio were bound for the Purbeck Line. Of the remaining out of ticket pair, ‘West Country’ No. 34016 Bodmin left the Mid Hants \railway on June 28 by rail to a steam depot in the west London area ultimately bound for Carnforth. The destination for BR Standard 5 No. 73096 has yet to be confirmed.
Some eight years ago the Mid-Hants Railway commenced implementation of a self-sufficiency policy, supplemented by NRM and privately owned motive power, aimed at provision of its future steam locomotive needs independent of John Bunch-owned locos. These had been subject to a 15 year hire contract which is about to expire.
This strategy has seen the acquisition by purchase or donation of ‘West Country’ No. 34007 Wadebridge (majority shareholding) and ‘Black Five’ No. 45379 (both operational) together with ‘Merchant Navy’ No. 35005 Canadian Pacific (out of ticket with an HLF application pending), ‘Battle of Britain’ No. 34058 Sir Frederick Pile, 4MT 4-6-0 No. 75079 and BR Class 4 2-6-4T No. 80150. The latter trio are ex-Barry restoration projects for the future.
The MHR steam fleet is currently supported by NRM-owned SR ‘Schools’ No. 925 Cheltenham and SR No. 850 Lord Nelson plus Jeremy Hosking’s 9F No. 92212.
In addition, the overhaul of BR 4MT 2-6-0 No. 76017 is at an advanced stage at the MHR’s Ropley MPD with a return to traffic likely by the end of this year. Work is also progressing at Ropley on privately owned ‘West Country’ No. 34105 Swanage, the Urie Locomotive Society’s LSWR S15 4-6-0 No. 506 (30506) and an overhaul of John Jones’ LMS Ivatt 2MT 2-6-2T No. 41312.