We owe the successful steam railways of today to the Government’s policy of railway closures enforced by Beeching. The sheer variety of heritage railways which we have today is very impressive. There were attempts by groups to buy and operate sections of closed railways. One of the most famous was the Waverley Route between Carlisle and Edinburgh. However, it is likely that the cruel hand of commercialism forced the selling off of assets such as track. Another worry was that if private groups were to successfully operate a former BR line this would be seen as a poor reflection on the state owned BR’s ability to manage the line themselves.
The railway fraternity is often sceptical declaring that something ‘cannot be done’. In the 1960’s it was thought that there was no way a ‘bunch of amateurs’ could run successful steam railways. There was also a feeling that steam locomotives would never be replaced because they had been around for so long! Such thoughts probably led to a lack of initiative to purchase steam locomotives and save lines. Today, those very lines would be a huge asset in supporting a burgeoning leisure industry.
I helped in the restoration of a former Barry Scrapyard locomotive for a number of years and at the time we were told it could not be returned to service! They said it was not possible to repair steam locomotive boilers or construct new ones! Fortunately there are others with much more vision. The sceptics were proved wrong at the time and they continue to be so.
The rise of heritage railways
Railways such as the North Yorkshire Moors , Severn Valley and West Somerset were able to take over former BR lines where the track was still in place. However with former main lines such as the Somerset & Dorset, the reinstatement is much more challenging. The tenacity of railway enthusiasts to reinstate at least part of a former railway is unceasing. Up and down the country, we can see evidence of railway regeneration. Impressively, the Great Central has raised the funds to erect a bridge over the Midland Main Line. The Bluebell Railway succeeded in excavating a former household rubbish tip in order to reinstate the line to East Grinstead.
I can reveal that last week the Somerset & Dorset Heritage Trust at Midsomer Norton received a delivery of two lorry loads of track. Using this track, the line will be extended further towards Chilcompton. Recently, the railway has seen a resumption of steam hauled services latterly using the only operating standard gauge double engined Sentinel Steam locomotive in the world. The railway has also received a major award this year from Steam Railway magazine.
To all of you who contribute to the Heritage Railway industry in some way, be it financially and/or through physical effort, I wish you every success.
Let me know what’s happening on the railway that you support. I’d love to hear your news.