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South Devon Railway hosts nine-day BR Western Region ‘Branch Line Week’ for February half term holiday
and welcomes two new steam locos!
Branch – 1 10 February 2015
The multiple award-winning South Devon Railway (SDR) is hosting a gala festival of top quality British Railways Western Region branch line steam and diesel power ranging from the 1930’s to the 1960’s era over the half-term week from Saturday 14 to Sunday 22 February inclusive.
The nine-day gala will see the return to service of former GWR 0-6-0 Pannier tank engine No. 6412 following an extensive overhaul and virtual total boiler rebuild -- a popular loco which also ran the first re-opening Dart Valley Railway train in 1969.
But the star billing will be a close run thing due to the presence of another special visiting engine -- small Prairie 2-6-2 tank engine No. 4566 – on hire from the Severn Valley Railway and the ‘4566’ loco owning group.
Over the event, a huge variety of different types of authentic branch line passenger and freight trains will be run, culminating in a Friday night ‘steam loco shed photo shoot’ and a Winter Ale Festival at Staverton over the Friday and final weekend with no fewer than five steam engines in use.
And, with 2015 seeing the 50th anniversary of the first two steam engines and coaches arriving on the then embryonic line from Totnes to Ashburton in 1965 (which were former GWR Collett goods engine No. 3205, now based on the SDR, and Prairie tank No. 4555), the opportunity is being taken over the first weekend to re-enact the pioneering events of 50 years ago after the line had been finally closed to freight traffic in 1962.
Visiting loco No.4566 will have a surprise change of identity on Saturday 14 February -- but for one day only -- to become sister small Prairie engine No. 4555, the popular former Ashburton branch loco, by using the original number plates which have been graciously loaned from the nearby Dartmouth Steam Railway which owns the engine.
The pair of classic GWR branch line locos, but now painted in different British Railways liveries, will reprise the first workings of 1965 with two auto coaches, also specially painted in BR maroon, on the first morning passenger trains on Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th February. More follows
Branch – 2
Often described as “the quintessential former GWR Branch Line” – the SDR aims to showcase branch line rail travel in the West Country over 30 years up to the mid 1960’s during the gala, and the railway will host some classic former GWR and BR (Western Region) Branch Line trains running to an intensive timetable, especially at the weekends. See: http://www.southdevonrailway.co.uk/events/branch-line-week-2015
Loco No. 6412 was sold to the West Somerset Railway (WSR) in 1976 where it ran for many years but it eventually became too small for the line as the 20-mile WSR grew. It last ran at the South Devon line as a gala visitor in 2006 before then being bought by the SDR from the WSR in 2008.
But it has taken seven long years and hundreds of thousands of pounds to restore No. 6412 to what is now ex-works condition. And, for the first time in preservation, the loco has been painted in BR Lined Green livery complete with lion and wheel logo which will also match and complement the BR Black livery of visitor No. 4566.
After the Great Western Railway introduced the Steam Railmotor in 1903 to help deal with growing passenger numbers and compete with electric tramways, the Edwardian-era design -- which set a steam-age blueprint which then became the forerunner of all of today’s modern diesel and electric multiple unit trains -- was so popular that it then became a victim of its own success.
By the 1930’s, all of the Railmotors were scrapped or had been rebuilt into ‘auto trailers’ which could carry more people and then coupled to special ‘push-pull’, or ‘auto operated’ steam engines which could pull more coaches and travel greater distances.
Newly outshopped Pannier No. 6412 is an ‘auto fitted’ engine so it will be running with the SDR’s pair of newly restored auto coaches, W225 and W228, during the gala, and two of the men who crewed it on opening day in 1969 -- Drivers Dave Knowling and Colin Harmes -- will once again step onto the footplate of an “old friend” from 46 years ago on Monday 16th February.
Whilst engines Nos. 6412 and 4566 will be the stars of the February gala, the honours will also be shared with three other former GWR engines Nos. 5786 (L92), 3205 and 1369 to show steam through the ages from 1930 to the 1960’s and the advent of the first diesels. The line-up includes diesel “Bubblecar” No. W55000, which is a direct descendant of the steam Railmotor design and that once worked on the long closed Kingsbridge branch in Devon.
Branch – 3
The award-winning South Devon Railway offers a scenic 14-mile round trip between Buckfastleigh and Totnes in period coaches pulled by a historic former GWR steam locomotives, and the line travels along the gorgeous valley of the River Dart, hugging the river for virtually all its length.
With ample car parking at Buckfastleigh on the A38 Devon Expressway, the South Devon Railway is just 25 minutes from Plymouth, Exeter and Torbay.
South Devon Railway spokesman Dick Wood said: “We are putting on a terrific show for lovers of steam railways over the February half term holiday which will show how steam rail transport evolved from the 1930’s to the 1960’s, and the onset of the diesel era in the West Country.
“Having a virtually brand new engine on the line in Pannier No. 6412 and visiting Prairie No. 4566 will put the icing on the cake in recreating the sight, sounds, smells and scenes of the Devon branch lines of yesteryear, and the Winter ale festival on the final weekend will help cast off the recent cold weather blues.”
Timetables for the nine day gala are available on the SDR website: www.southdevonrailway.co.uk and the event outline is as follows:
Saturday 14th - Sunday 15th February
The opening weekend will be themed as the British Railways (Western Region) era. We will have the debut of old friend, No. 6412 ex works in BR lined green livery (the first time it has carried this livery in preservation), along with the first runs of our visitor GWR 2-6-2 Prairie Tank No. 4566 from the Severn Valley Railway in BR black livery.
Support will come from GWR 0-6-0 No. 3205 in BR lined green and diesel railcar No. W55000. Services will operate using a four coach carmine and cream rake and the two-car auto set, which will feature W225W and W228W, both in maroon livery for the first time in many years.
In addition to full length of line services, there will be various shuttle services on the Staverton to Totnes section with W55000. Demonstration goods trains will operate on the Buckfastleigh to Staverton section, plus an early morning full line trip.
2015 sees the 50th anniversary of the first stock movements over the Ashburton branch in the preservation era and, although the actual anniversary is later in the year in October, the presence of No. 4566 allows us to replicate this first working, which featured sister No. 4555 plus two maroon autos. The first passenger service of the event will feature 4566 running with both W225W and W228W. The second movement along the line 50 years ago featured No. 3205 and the first service on the Sunday will see 3205 head the two car auto set.
No. 6412 will hopefully be rededicated back into service on the morning of Saturday 14th @ 11.00 at Buckfastleigh station. More follows
Branch – 4
Monday 16th – Thursday 19th February
Services are advertised to operate to the green three train timetable using the auto train comprising No. 6412 with W225W and W228W. Two of the locomen who crewed 6412 on opening day in 1969 -- Drivers Dave Knowling and Colin Harmes -- will once again step onto the footplate of an “old friend” from 46 years ago on Monday 16th February. We are also adding three extra train services each day with the autos' 1960s replacement train - the diesel railcar W55000.
Friday 20th February also marks the 50th anniversary to the day of the arrival of unique Pannier loco No. 1369 at the Totnes Quay branch following purchase of the loco by Peter Lemar of the Great Western Society from British Railways, and a small ceremony to mark the event is planned for that day involving his son David Lemar.
Friday 20th – Sunday 22nd February
On the Friday, the weekend gets underway with a “Panniers and Pints” Day. With the completion of 6412, we will be the only railway in Britain capable of hosting a service featuring three differing types of GWR pannier tank. The day will utilise GWR 0-6-0PT No. 1369 along with London Transport liveried 0-6-0PT No. L.92 (GWR No. 5786) and, of course, No. 6412. All three locos are scheduled to appear on goods as well as passenger trains.
The Devon Diesel Society's bar will be open at Staverton where they will be hosting the Winter Ale festival with 20 beers over the three days (20-22 February). The evening will feature a special service operated by W55000 to take visitors to and from the festival.
There is also a Friday evening photo shoot planned at Buckfastleigh. This will be predominantly on the loco shed featuring 6412, 4566 and 3205.
The Saturday and Sunday should feature no fewer than five locos in steam: 1369, L92, 6412, 4566 and 3205, plus diesel railcar W55000.
It is planned to operate a frequent and varied service with train formations representing various branch style services from a bygone era. There will be single car auto trains with 6412 and, recalling such workings from Saltash, one service will also have a milk tank added as “tail traffic” behind the loco whilst it propels its coach.
Loco No. 4566 will also appear on a single auto and represent the midday Saturday workings in 1955/56 when this class of loco and an auto coach was used to take Staverton Builders workmen home to Ashburton.
There will be two and four coach carmine and cream sets running, and on some workings formed of just two coaches, a single bauxite van is also expected to be included in the formation.
Branch – 5
Friday 20th – Sunday 22nd February (cont)
W55000 will also operate some services with “tail traffic” this being a van or a milk tank at various times. Other goods trains will operate and will feature BR era stock.
The GWR era will be represented by 1369 hauling a two and three car GWR rake. The train will also include the GWR liveried Fruit D on some workings. Station pilot at Buckfastleigh will be Pannier L.92 (5786).
Both Saturday and Sunday will feature ‘early bird’ trains, and there will also be late trains on the Saturday to connect into the real ale festival.
1) Further information and news about the South Devon Railway can be seen at: www.southdevonrailway.co.uk telephone (01364) 644370.
2) For further media comment or to arrange photography or filming, please contact Dick Wood via the details and number below.
Issued by Dick Wood on behalf of
the South Devon Railway,
Mobile 07711 552947,