By Cliff Thomas

Isle of Man presents a steam ‘first’- in three sizes

Published: 10th September 2016

Manx Heritage Transport Festival creates eye-catching offshore gala

Heritage steam lines are always on the look-out for eye catching attractions to draw visitors to major gala events. Top of the list is a line-up of motive power which catches the attention, including one or more guest locomotives. An innovation which has featured at several standard gauge gala events in recent years is the addition of a narrow gauge locomotive running on a short section of temporary track.

In July 2015 the Talyllyn Railway broke new ground by bringing two visiting 2ft gauge locomotives (Ffestiniog Railway’s George England 0-4-0STT Prince and Welsh Highland Heritage Railway’s Hunslet 2-6-2T Russell) to its 2ft 3in gauge line to present locos of two different narrow gauges in steam at its terminus.

Raising the bar

The Talyllyn upped the bar again in July 2016 with a visit by Bluebell Railway’s Fletcher, Jennings 158/1877 Captain Baxter which ran on a specially laid temporary standard gauge line (believed to be the first time a standard gauge loco has steamed at a narrow gauge gala) supplemented by two 3ft 2.25in gauge locos (Amberley Museum’s 0-4-0T 172L/1880 Townsend Hook and its sister, Narrow Gauge Railway Museum Trust’s 173L/1880 0-4-0T William Finlay ) on static display. So, locos of three different gauges together for a gala – but only two gauges (2ft 3in and standard) in steam together.

Trumped by Isle of Man

Isle of Man’s July 27-31 Manx Heritage Transport Festival managed to raise the game still further with its July 30 Mixed Gauge Extravaganza at Douglas station. A third rail was added to each of the 3ft gauge lines on the southern side of the main platform, one set at 2ft gauge, the other at 19in gauge.

While 3ft gauge trains arrived from and departed to Port Erin on the Manx Government-owned steam line, 0-4-0VBT Steamplex (a locomotive completed in 2013 based on the chassis of 2ft gauge 20/28hp Simplex MR5877/1937) from Groudle Glen Railway and Laxey Mines Tramway’s replica Lewin 0-4-0T Ant with an ore wagon shuttled to and fro on their respective lengths of dual-gauged lines. Voila, steam on three different gauges at the same location!

Works tours

As if the unprecedented spectacle of small, medium and large narrow gauge steam were not enough, steam road vehicles were on the platform and yard at Douglas on the Saturday ‘Extravaganza’ day. In addition, volunteers led guided tours of the loco and carriage sheds at Douglas revelling Isle of Man Steam Railway locomotives under repair and awaiting overhaul – and even a glimpse of Beyer Peacock 2-4-0Ts Nos. 5 Mona and 9 Douglas encapsulated in a polythene ‘tent’ to contain asbestos risk at the far end of the main carriage shed.

While the Mixed Gauge Extravaganza at Douglas formed the most high-profile single day, the Manx Heritage Transport Festival overall produced a packed programme showcasing the full range of Isle of Man heritage railways, both Government-owned and volunteer-run.

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