I have always wanted to visit the Llangollen Railway but had never been. Finally, the chance came to see this beautiful scenic railway and check out the progress they were making on various locomotive projects.
Planning the Llangollen Railway Visit
I belong to a growing number of people who don’t like driving or travelling long distances by road transport. My reasons include the poor quality of the roads due to over use, congestion and idiotic drivers who drive too fast and too close. This self-imposed restriction has meant that I have never visited certain heritage railways. A lengthy or infrequent bus journey from the nearest railway station does not appeal. The wonderful Llangollen Railway, which runs beside the River Dee falls into this category. You can imagine my delight when a group of us working volunteers for Midsomer Norton decided to travel to a number of heritage railways in Northern England and the Llangollen was on to the agenda.
The Railway Workshop
As part of the trip, we had organized a visit to the workshop. We were met by our guide by the entrance. There were the frames of the LMS Patriot project loco 5551 The Unknown Warrior. The frames are at an advanced stage as can be seen by the photographs. It is incredible to think this is a new build locomotive. When it is complete the sight and sound of a Fowler Patriot will be welcomed by many – me included. The boiler is being constructed by Heritage Boiler Steam Services in Derbyshire.
6880 Breton Grange
Alongside was a partial new build steam locomotive 6880 Breton Grange. The frames, cylinders and cabs are new. The boiler is from ex-Barry scrapyard resident 7927 Willington Hall. Although the loco looks complete in the photograph with the boiler in the frames, has been ‘borrowed’ from 5952 Cogen Hall which has yet to be restored from scrap yard condition.
The overhaul of the boiler from 7927 is nearing completion at Tysley Locomotive Works. In the meantime 5952 boiler acts as a template for cladding and shaping new pipe work. This will clearly save time when the boiler returns. Once a boiler has been steam tested the 10 year certificate ‘clock’ starts ticking.
Near to both 5551 and 6880, were the frames of new build LNER B17 61673 Spirit of Sandringham. For me it’s always been a tragedy that there are so few LNER locos in existence. I’ve been a shareholder and member of B1 61264 for many years and I’m glad to have helped this LNER locomotive become operational. So for me the production of another LNER loco gets my vote in spades. Plus, the B17 is a handsome looking locomotive.
The shed also contained LNER D49 Morayshire nearing the end of a heavy overhaul only awaiting the fitment of the boiler. We were told it is scheduled to be back at the Boness and Kinneil Railway later this year. As a supporter of the reinstatement of the entire borders railway between Edinburgh and Carlisle I would really enjoy travelling over the route behind Morayshire as its final shed was 64G Hawick shortly before its withdrawal in 1961.
GWR Pannier 6430
Outside in the sunshine we found a GWR Pannier 6430. I remember that it was at the Dart Valley Railway for many years and used as a source of spares for the other pannier tanks based there. Fortunately it was eventually purchased for restoration and returned to service at the Langollen Railway in 2004 – some 40 years after withdrawal by British Railways. It looked a splendid sight and is a credit to those responsible for its restoration.
After thanking our guide I had a chance to speak to the Head of Engineering for the Llangollen Railway. He was accompanied by one of the owners of BR Standard Tank 80072 which we had hired in September 2016 at Midsomer Norton.
Class 104 DMUs
Next, we went to Llangollen Station for some refreshment. In the platform was 3 car Class 104 DMU set. In the late 1970s – early 80s, I travelled on these units on many occasions between Buxton and Manchester when I worked as an engineer for the Chief Mechanical and Electrical Engineers London Midland Region at Nelson Street Derby. At that time I lived in Derbyshire and used to drive to Buxton station to catch the train to Manchester where I visited Longsight Depot.
On a number of occasions I was accompanied by John Moorhouse who was at the time part of the team restoring former Somerset and Dorset Class 7F 53809.
We were both restoring former Bath Green Park allocated locos as I was working with the team at the Great Central Railway at Loughborough on 9F 92212. This steam locomotive operated over the Somerset and Dorset route during the Summer 1961 timetable.
Llangollen Railway Class 104s
My interest in the Somerset and Dorset Railway was probably kindled by John because he recommended that I read Peter Smith’s book Mendips Engineman where he recalls what a super locomotive the 9Fs were. Shortly afterwards, I also read Peter’s sequel – Footplate Over The Mendips and my interest in the Somerset Dorset was firmly cemented. I probably read the books whilst travelling on Class 104 units. One thing I remember about the Class 104’s were that they retained their wooden veneer interior while other classes had melamine paneling fitted. The Llangollen’s Class 104 has the wooden paneling. It really makes you feel nostalgic. Back in the 1980’s. I never imagined that one day I would be travelling on a preserved Class 104 along a heritage railway!
River Dee Scenery
It was a beautiful sunny day. Travelling alongside the River Dee on this very scenic railway was idyllic. We travelled in the rear of the unit westwards to Corwen. Being able to see through the rear cab windows was, and still is, one of the benefits of travelling on these heritage DMUs.
Although personally I prefer the BR green livery with small yellow warning panels, I thought the blue livery with full yellow ends on this particular Class 104 reminded me of my travels around 40 years ago.
It may not have been a steam hauled trip on the Llangollen Railway, but I have to say we all enjoyed the Class 104. I do look forward to return trip.