Published: 8th October 2015
Kerr Stuart ‘Sirdar’ class 0-4-0T 1158/1917 Diana, once of the Kerry Tramway and the slate quarry operations at Oakeley and Pen-yr-Orsedd, and ex-Penrhyn slate quarry Hunslet 0-4-0ST Margaret (605/1894) both made their public debut in steam during Vale of Rheidol Railway’s September 26-27 Steam Festival Weekend.
Privately owned Diana and VoR’s Margaret last steamed 65 years ago. Restoration of both was completed in the magnificent workshop facility developed at Vale of Rheidol Railway’s Aberystwyth terminus during the weeks leading up to the Festival Weekend – and both pulled their first-ever passenger train, appropriately double-heading, on the Saturday morning opening of the event.
VoR’s Steam Festival always promised to be a fantastic occasion. This, the biggest enthusiast event ever organised by the railway, aimed to massively raise the profile of the Mid-Wales line by showing what has been achieved in recent times to a big audience - and provide a taste of what is to come.
Every objective was delivered – and more. Over 1,000 passengers were carried with many more non-travelling visitors seizing the opportunity to watch the unprecedented feast of action at Aberystwyth and the lower section of the railway and join one of the hourly guided tours of the breathtaking workshop facility.
Margaret and Diana formed a major draw in themselves, but VoR did not stop there. Two further small locos visited, ex-Penrhyn Hunslet 0-4-0STs Sybil Mary (from Statfold Barn Railway) and Winifred (Bala Lake Railway) as operational guests plus two ‘surprise’ ex-Penrhyn visitors as static exhibits, Statfold Barn’s Avonside 0-4-0T Marchlyn and Martyn Ashworth’s ex-Penrhyn Avonside 0-4-0ST Ogwen.
Ogwen, still retaining the appearance it had when repatriated from USA in May 2012 – pretty well the condition it was in when it last worked at Penrhyn – was making its final public appearance before work starts on an overhaul and restoration to steam. That fully operational Marchlyn was present turned out to be fortuitous, Margaret encountered difficulty with tube leaks and could not appear on the Sunday, hence Marchlyn was steamed and pottered around the yard offering footplate rides.
Four of the six daily passenger departures from Aberystwyth were shuttle services to Capel Bangor handled double-headed by a pairing of small locos. Normally this countryside station, which has only been enhanced by platforms in recent years, just sees terminating passenger trains during the Santa season. For the Festival Weekend it enjoyed the most intensive local services undertaken in generations. While two of the 0-4-0s hauled their passenger trains to and fro, the other two (the combinations were periodically rotated) shunted a rake of VoR skip wagons in the yard at Aberystwyth and offered footplate rides.
Meanwhile, resident VoR 2-6-2Ts No. 8 Llywelyn and No. 9 Prince of Wales alternated between the two daily all-line services to Devil’s Bridge, where VoRs Kerr Stuart ‘Wren’ 0-4-0ST 3114/1918 was in steam offering Driver for a Fiver experiences. Prince of Wales presented visitors with yet another surprise, having been repainted from its Cambrian ‘invisible green’ livery to appear in black with a GWR shirt button logo.
Seven locomotives in steam on VoR metals simultaneously is unprecedented.
The workshop building, a development commenced in 2011, was a revelation for visitors. Fully equipped with a heavy-lift overhead crane, locomotive weighing equipment, heavy machines including a wheel lathe and an excellently equipped dedicated machine shop this is a top-notch engineering facility to deal with VoRs needs far into the future while also undertaking contract work. In time a public viewing gallery will be opened, and further into the future it will be linked to a huge narrow gauge railway museum (likely to accommodate over 20 preserved locomotives currently in off-site storage) to be constructed next to it employing the barrel arch roof components from London Bridge station donated to VoR two years ago.
During the Festival displays in the building included the frames, boiler and wheels of VoR 2-6-2T No. 7 Owain Glyndwr, withdrawn in 1998 and now undergoing overhaul, a Ruston Proctor paraffin mechanical locomotive (50823/1915 or 51168/1916) also undergoing restoration and original VoR GWR-built cattle van No. 38089 currently still in heavily modified (fully enclosed van as converted by Ffestiniog Railway between 1965-1968) form pending restoration to its original appearance following re-acquisition by VoR.
The Vale of Rheidol Railway, constructed in 1901 and opened to passengers on December 22 1902, runs from a station alongside the NR terminus at Aberystwyth for some 12 miles up the valley to Devil’s Bridge, climbing 666 feet in the process.
The original company was absorbed into the Cambrian Railways in 1911, grouped into the Great Western Railway in 1923 and became part of British Railways on nationalisation in 1948. It reverted to private ownership in 1988 when bought by the Brecon Mountain Railway, its ownership being transferred to the charitable Phyllis Rampton Narrow Gauge Railway Trust in 1991. The railway is itself now a stand-alone charity in its own right.
September was already an outstanding month for narrow gauge events (see http://www.rail.co.uk/rail-news/2015/september-feast-of-narrow-gauge-action-reviewed/ ) and the September 26-27 weekend was icing on the cake.
While much of the narrow gauge world understandably focussed on the Vale of Rheidol, other lines were also holding events.
Ffestiniog Railway’s Hunslet 2-4-0TT Linda appeared as a guest locomotive at Lynton & Barnstaple Railway’s September 26-27 Autumn Gala, which also featured resident Bagnall’s 0-4-2T 3023/1953 Isaac and 4-4-0T Charles Wytock.
Threlkeld’s resident Bagnall 0-4-0ST Sir Tom made a surprise visit to South Tynedale Railway’s September 26-27 ‘Swinging 60’s Saddletanks’ event where it ran top-and-tail with STR’s Thomas Green & Company 0-6-2ST Barber.
Bagnall 0-6-2T Superb and Kerr Stuart 0-4-2ST Leader were in action for Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway’s September 26-27 gala weekend.