All geared up for February gala - as the line reopens!
Whilst the mainline railway artery to the West Country has been virtually destroyed at Dawlish in the massive storms of the last few days, there has been some positive local railway news at the South Devon Railway as we managed to reinstate our own tracks on Thursday 6th February, six weeks after a serious 500-ton landslip completely blocked the railway at Christmas.
The landslip led directly to the loss of seven days of seasonal ‘Mince Pie’ trains from Boxing Day into the New Year and staff, volunteers and Staverton-based contractors Kevin Thulborn, have been battling against the clock since then to remove and cut up fallen trees, clean up the mess and repair the damage, but the line is now ready to re-open just in time for our Winter steam Gala during school half-term week from Saturday 15th to Sunday 23rd February.
The Gala’s ‘Devon Branch Lines’ theme will appeal to locals, holiday visitors and enthusiasts alike, some of whom missed out on travelling on the steam trains after the Christmas washout, so it will be an ideal but delayed start to the 2014 season after the recent enforced closure and expensive repair works.
Over both weekends (15th/16th and 22nd/23rd February), plus Friday 21st February, the gala will feature a very special, first-time visitor to the SDR in the form of a venerable 109-year-old steam loco, M7 Class No. 30053, built in 1905 by locomotive engineer Dugald Drummond for the London & South Western Railway (LSWR). The engine is visiting the SDR courtesy of the Swanage Railway and Drummond Locomotives Ltd, and arrives by a low loader road lorry on Wednesday 12 February.
The M7s were an engine type that once graced many former LSWR branch lines literally all over Devon -- but never ran on the SDR’s Great Western route -- and star guest No. 30053 will bring back fond memories of the West Country railway scene of 50 years ago.
During the heyday of the LSWR, and then its successor, the Southern Railway, but before the infamous ‘Beeching Cuts’ and the end of steam trains on British Railways in the 1960s, M7 locos could be seen right across Devon. From Ilfracombe and Barnstaple in the North; Okehampton, Tavistock and Plymouth in the West; and Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Sidmouth, Seaton and Lyme Regis in the East, the M7s were once a regular and popular sight.
As the last M7 working in Devon 51 years ago during 1963 was based at Exmouth Junction loco shed in Exeter -- serving the lines in East Devon to Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Tipton St. John, Ottery St. Mary, Sidmouth and Seaton -- the SDR is particularly looking forward to welcoming people from East Devon who will make the local connection and come to the winter gala to see an M7 run in Devon again!
9th February 2014
This February's special guest, LSWR M7 No 30053 from the Swanage Railway. Photo: Andrew P M Wright
Mud and debris being loaded and hauled away on January 20th - it's easy to see just how wet the soil was.
Tidied drainage cess, new sleepers in place and, in the background, the first train from Buckfastleigh to Staverton since December 23rd – D2246 and works train onThursday 30th January.
...and after - and looking very impressive too!