Railway Preservation - A Different Look
Words and Pictures by Keith Fitzsimmons
Normally when thinking of a visit to a preserved railway the idea of a journey in an old railway carriage pulled by a steam locomotive in pristine condition comes to mind. The train travels at a pleasant leisurely pace giving you plenty of time to enjoy the scenery and the sound of the steam engine as it meanders on its way. Having visited several preserved railway lines I started to think about some of the things that went on behind the glamour of the immaculate locomotive and the beautiful condition of the restored stations.
When steam ended on Britain's railways in 1968 virtually all the locomotives were sent to various scrap yards for cutting up. Most were cut up very quickly except at one, Woodhams of Barry in South Wales. They had other work to finish but before this was completed they found people enquiring about buying the old steam engines. One thing led to another and the owners realised that it was good business to sell the rusting engines rather than cut them up. The preservation movement gathered pace and eventually a vast majority of the locomotives that ended up at Barry left to start new careers on the various preserved railway lines.
After arrival at its new home the engine would have to be restored to an 'as new' condition. This usually meant an enormous amount of money and many years of hard work. In this photo there are four volunteers hard at work and the gas bottles would indicate some welding is on the agenda. In the background to the right can be seen another locomotive and two tenders.
The preservation movement relies on volunteer labour for most of the work needed to keep the railway line working or a locomotive in good condition. The variety of jobs they do is staggering and the next few photo's show a small amount of them. A steam locomotive needs coal before it can move under its own power and this photo shows a more unusual method of putting the coal on the tender than in BR days.
The photo was taken in 1991 and shows Great Western locomotive number 2857 being coaled ready to work a train from Bridgnorth to Bewdley on the Severn Valley railway.
Another important job is to water the loco and here 2857 is just about to receive some. The chap on the right walking up to the engine will take care of things.
In many cases the people who drive the locomotives on a preserved line work for the operating companies who run today's railway trains. This is partly due to the vast amount of rules and regulations needed to be learned in order to be a driver. This is also the case for signalmen. They also have to learn a great many rules and regulations to do their jobs and as both current drivers and signalmen already know them it does not take up too much time to learn any extra things they need for their own particular line. The following photo shows the interior of Bridgnorth signal box.
All levers in a signal box are painted different colours and here the red levers are signals, the black levers are points and the blue levers are called locking bars. These lock the points in position so they do not move when a train is passing over them. On one of the red levers just right of centre a white stripe can be seen about halfway up the lever. This means that this particular signal cannot be raised to allow the train to move until the signalman at the next signal box on the route has accepted the train and given permission for it to proceed towards his signal box.
Many preserved lines have buffet and even restaurant coaches on their trains. The following two pictures show volunteers at work in a buffet car. The first one shows the usual view that passengers see, the counter staff. The buffet car is an excellent source of revenue for the line and the counter staff have an important job which not only includes serving passengers but also keeping accounts and an inventory of the items which are for sale. The second photo shows the other side of the counter with a member of the team doing one of the worst jobs - washing up. As can be seen the kitchen is very narrow and it is hard to believe that snacks, sandwiches and even meals are prepared in this small area.
When visiting a station on a preserved line it feels a bit like you are in a time warp. In this photo work is going on the restoration of Highley station on the Severn Valley railway. Usually with stations they are restored to a particular time period, be it to the heyday of the line or the era when the line was finally closed to normal public use.
Railway preservation does not get any better than the following two photos.
The first is of the unique Duke of Gloucester on a railtour. This beautifully restored locomotive is seen at Chester station waiting to depart on a trip along the North Wales coast, probably to Llandudno.
The last photo is of one of the worlds best known steam locomotives, Flying Scotsman. This is also pictured at Chester on a return journey from Llandudno. For many of the people associated with rail preservation running a train on today's main line is the ultimate ambition, but for me personally to see a complete line that was once closed come to life again with a variety of steam engines hauling trains is most satisfying. Whatever your preference it is thanks to many thousands of unseen volunteers that we can still see the sights and sounds of our railway heritage.