One hundred years ago on 20th November 1919 the Leighton Buzzard Light Railway opened for traffic. Over that time the railway has in one form or another has been operated . It was built to carry sand from the quarries to the east of Leighton Buzzard to the main line railway sidings adjacent to the Leighton Buzzard to Dunstable branch line of the London & North Western Railway Company.
Prior to the building of the line the sand had been carried initially by horse and cart and then by larger waggons hauled by traction engines which caused severe damage to the roads. The two main quarry companies Joseph Arnold & Sons Ltd and George Garside Ltd were face with the cost of ongoing road repairs or finding a better means of transporting the sand.
With the end of the Great War a large amount of light railway equipment came onto the open market. Arnold’s and Garside’s formed the Leighton Buzzard Light Railway Company which was mainly built on narrow strips of land under wayleave agreements. The original company never had a Light Railway Order!
When the line opened ‘main line’ trains were worked by a pair of small steam locomotives. These had been built, by Hudswell Clarke, as yard shunters for the War Department Light Railways (WDLR) . They were 0-6-0 well tanks and were examples of the makers standard ‘Ganges’ class.
Trains in the quarries were hauled by horses and petrol engined Simplex locomotives – again ex-WDLR.
The steam locomotives did not last for very long and were replaced by more internal combustion powered machines, once again war surplus, and the product of the Motor Rail & Tramcar Company of Bedford.
Twenty years ago (1999) the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway was in need of additional carriages that would be suitable for ‘everyday use’. The search lead to the Jindřichův Hradec Místní Dráhy in the Czech Republic and they were able to sell the W&LLR two semi-derelict vehicles that had been built for the Hungarian state railway company MAV in the 1950s.
Cax 430 was converted and put into service fairly soon afterwards. The rebuilding of Cax 418 commenced in July 2003.
Regular visitors to our railway will know that we like balconies. This carriage was not going to be an exception. In this first of the pictures Leslie Pask, perhaps better known in the Llanfair Caereinion workshops as ‘Squeak’ is cutting out one of the end panels with an oxy-acetylene cutter.
A side view of the same process. Note the pile of bits of timber lying on the ground.
The inevitable consequence was that the wood was set alight by the falling sparks.
A couple of days later and the end panels have gone. There is sill more cutting to do though.
Here we have a picture that sums up the much missed Pasco Rowe with a hammer in one hand and the gas-axe in the other. He had a ‘can do’ attitude to any project that he took on and was renown for seemingly resolving all problems he encountered with either an arc welder or oxy-acetylene cutter. Regrettably he developed an aggressive Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and passed away in his early fifties.
A look through the empty bodyshell. These carriages are substantially built and ride on equally heavily built bogies. Note the watering can at the far end to provide a means of quenching any accidental fires.
Once the ends had been cut open to create the space for the balconies nothing much happened until November. Then a shot blasting contractor was brought in to clean and prime a number of items undergoing restoration. Cax 418 is seen on the Ballast Siding at Tanllan and the shot blasting kit is mounted on the back of a lorry on the loading dock.
It was then shipped to Boston Lodge where it was fitted out by the Ffestiniog Railway’s Carriage Department.
The other items shot blasted at the same time were Monarch and the chassis of the former SKGLB carriage number 569.
Since gala there have been some changes to the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway’s workshops at Llanfair Caereinion. Regular readers of the blog will be aware that to cover a shortage of steam locomotives the railway has hired one in from the Zillertalbahn in Austria.
ZB2 ‘Zillertal’ is somewhat taller than the incumbent fleet of locomotives and in order get in and out of the workshop a bit of surgery on the gable end and the doors to Road 2 was necessary.
Thankfully the gable end roof truss did not need to be modified.
There have also been some changes to Road 1 – it is now considerably shorter than it once was. The existing welding fume extraction machine has been deemed unfit for purpose so a new more powerful one is going to be installed – in the corner where the welding bench is. So it is all change!
This is a ‘before’ view looking towards the doors to the outside world.
And this is a ‘before’ view looking towards the welding bay in the rear right corner.
The first two lengths of rail have been removed and can be seen lying on the floor in the foreground. We couldn’t undo one of the nuts that held the right hand waybeam down; so we split the beam instead. It didn’t put up very much resistance.
The first three brick piers put a bit of resistance up at first but rapidly yielded when the Cambrian hammer was applied. (Yes we have a large sledge hammer that once belonged to the Cambrian Railway Company.)
Shortening the next set of waybeams.
A chisel in an SDS hammer drill made short work of the cement that was stuck to the concrete floor. In this view the task is almost complete.
A wagon load of rubble. This was later transferred to one of the Bowaters dropside wagons and subsequently taken down the line to bolster the embankment on Castle Bank adjacent to the sewage works.
Last but by no means least an length of rail was welded across the end of the track to prevent any vehicles ending up on the floor. Sir Drefaldwyn’s (aka 699.0) bunker and cab floor assembly can be seen under the portable lifting gantry.
To cope with a shortage of serviceable steam locomotives the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway (W&LLR) went in search of a locomotive to hire. Now not all railways are the same gauge (the distance between the rails); in Britain, ‘standard gauge’ and ‘2 foot gauge’ (including 600mm and similar) were relatively common. The W&LLR is built to a gauge of 2 feet 6 inches (762mm) which is uncommon in the British Isles other than in collieries and ammunition dumps. As a consequence there is not very much suitable equipment around full stop; let alone locomotives available to hire.
As with many things in life its is not what you know, but who you know, that will get you where you want to go. The railway was advised that the Zillertalbahn in Austria had a locomotive that had had recently been overhauled and might be available to hire. It was a U class 0-6-2T tank engine built by Krauss way back in 1900. An example of class is seen in the picture above, taken by Heinz Bircher, near Mayrhofen in 1967.
Early in the summer two W&LLR crews went to Jenbach to assess the loco and gain some familiarity with its operation. Or in the case of Simon, who had spent the summer of 1969 working as a fireman on the Zillertalbahn, some nostalgic re-familiarisation.
With the deal agreed the loco was shipped to the UK. Then to meet the requirements of our boiler insurance company a thorough inspection was required and with that completed the locomotive entered traffic at the end of August.
Now the Zillertalbahn is a 20 miles (32km ) long railway and runs along the valley between Jenbach and Mayrhofen climbing about 70m (230ft). By comparison the W&LLR is a mere eight miles long (13km) but in the first couple of miles, between Raven Square and Golfa Summit, climbs 85m (279ft) before crossing the watershed that separates the rivers Severn and Banwy and descending 65m (213ft) to Llanfair Caereinion. In summary the gradient profile resembles that of a roller coaster.
Diagram showing the gradient profile of the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway The diagram above has been copied from The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway by Ralph Cartwright & Ralph Russell (1981 edition)
The fireman has time for a mug of tea before getting ready for another trip. Notice that the steam dome is very close to the front of the boiler. This is ideal when going up hill chimney first. When going up hill cab first it can be a distinct disadvantage as there is an increased risk of water being carried over from the boiler into the cylinders.
Some operational hiccups and consequential late running at the recent gala made it clear that it would be advisable to provide footplate crews with some formal familiarisation rather than people being rostered to operate the loco and told to get on with it.
Familiarisation Regime – Firemen
The fireman are required to do a round trip to Welshpool and back again accompanied by a trainer, typically Alan R or Joe G.
One of the key learning points is to make sure that there is a good, hot, fire well before departure time.
The fire grate is quite large and flat and there is a brick arch. The lack of a slope on the grate means the coal will not rattle down as the loco goes along the line and has to be placed in the correct position. Getting the coal right to the front can be tricky at first – if it hits the brick arch it will drop short and then potentially form a hump of coal making getting further coal right down the front even harder.
Due the gradients on the W&LLR there are number of locations where it is critically important to have the correct minimum water level, however, when running cab first, too much water at these same locations can result in carry over into the cylinders. Just to complicate matters the injectors have small cones (6mm) and are rather slow and so, ideally, the fireman’s side one needs to be running whenever the regulator is open.
Familiarisation Regime – Drivers
Part One is to complete a round trip firing under supervision. Part Two involves understanding how the locomotive is prepared for use and driving a round trip under supervision.
The preparation part involves learning where all the lubrication points are and in particular how the axleboxes are lubricated. The driving wheels have conventional oil wells in the axlebox tops that can be accessed through the wheel spokes – so setting the loco correctly is essential to get at them. The pony truck axleboxes can only be accessed from underneath the loco. Each of the eight axlebox under-keeps has also got a drain valve that has to be opened to remove and water that may have accumulated. After the water has been drained oil is then pumped through the same valve to top up the under-keep reservoir.
So what is different about driving this engine to any of the other W&LLR fleet ? Well not a huge amount but there are a few significant features. The first is that the hand brake is for parking only. It is operated by a weighted lever on the fireman’s side of the cab. So the loco can only be stopped either by applying the vacuum brake or ‘poling’ the reverser (OK at very slow speed or in an emergency). The regulator is not mounted on the boiler backhead but is adjacent to the reverser and is moved backwards and forwards. The other feature is the presence of a speedometer which incorporates a tachograph.
The lack of a controllable handbrake or an independent power brake on the loco means that any wheel slip has to be managed by a combination of regulator setting and then once the slipping has been controlled the application of sand to the rails. On my supervised driving trip Golfa Bank was very wet and slippery and sand was used from Nant-Y-Caws Cutting and the all the way through the reverse curves.
The Zillertalbahn have requested that when coasting with the regulator shut, unless the we are moving at a crawl, the loco is placed in full gear and with the cylinder drain cocks open.
ZB 2 ‘Zillertal’ stands ready to depart at Welshpool Raven Square on 26th September 2019. The two columns of steam rising from the boiler are not from the safety valves. The one on the left is the exhaust from the steam turbine generator and the other one is from the vacuum brake ejector which has a silencer and discharge pipe immediately in front of the cab.
The ride in the cab is very smooth and the controls are well positioned and easy to operate. Probably the biggest niggle is that the vacuum brake ejector is not very efficient below 10Bar (145psi) and it is necessary adjust the control valve or even use the large ejector to prevent the brakes from dragging. As the safety valves are set to 12Bar (174psi) there is not a lot of working margin.
Having completed the familiarisation schedules footplate crew members are then able to be signed off a competent to operate the loco. I undertook my training on 25th & 26th September and ‘went solo’ later on the second day.
Was it worth it ? I mean surely a steam engine is a steam engine ? In answer to my own questions I would say ‘Yes it was’. Without the benefit of the tuition I would probably have worked out most of the nuances after a few trips but there might well have been some late arrivals as a result. As our core income is dependent on the people who come to visit the railway then providing them with a top quality journey is a matter of importance.
The star of the 2019 Gala was Zillertal. It is seen here on Saturday evening during night time photography session. Steam is issuing from the vacuum ejector and turbo generator exhausts while JT is giving the motion a wipe over.
Joan and Zillertal at Llanfair on Saturday 31st August 2019. The availability of powerful battery powered lights has made the organising of after dark railway photography much easier. Additionally there are no trailing cables for people to trip over or engines to sever which makes things a lot safer.
Countess has arrived with the last train of the day from Welshpool.
The guard has finished his shift and has collected all his equipment together. He is about to go off duty but will be working again the next day.
Zillertal passes the signal box on its way to the ashpit. Running with lights is mandatory in Austria. Zillertal is equipped with two steam powered turbo generators to provide electricity for the lights and other equipment.
Our long term visitor is now at the back of the engine shed and the crew are about to leave for the night. The wooden smoke trough at the front of the shed had to be modified to allow this engine’s chimney to pass beneath it.
The signal box and the Engineering Office. In the ‘box the signalman is having a conversation with a visitor. Through the door of the Engineering Office you can see the loco allocation board and some lamps. The outer section of the office serves as the Booking On Point for footplate and engineering staff. At busy times like galas this is where the Yard Foreman is based.
The dark shape in the foreground is Ferret a, Hunslet, diesel loco dating way back to 1940.
Countess has been coaled, watered and after cleaning out will go into the shed . It is good to remember that in the ‘good old days’ when steam was ‘king’ the dirty work of emptying ashpans and smokeboxes went on day and night.
Joan departs from Llanfair Caereinion with a short, demonstration, goods train. It will run as far as Cyfronydd where it will be re-sorted, and wait a while before returning to Llanfair.
Joan and the goods train wait at Cyfronydd for the block section between there and Llanfair to become clear. The driver will then be given the single line Train Staff for the LL-CYF_LLA section.
With the trucks not being required for a couple of hours they are propelled to Tanllan for sorting and storage. This photo was taken from the brake van.
The shunter uncouples the wagons from the brake van while an, apparently impatient, Goods Guard looks on. The Grondana buffer/coupler arrangement used on the Welshpool and Llanfair light Railway is relatively safe in as much as no human action is required to align the couplers during an ease-up move, however, the screw links do take time to fasten/unfasten and can become lost or misplaced.
The shunter now guides the loco driver into the sidings with the wagons.
Joan pauses while brakes are pinned down and the loco is uncoupled.
This picture was taken on 23rd August. Zillertal was rapidly being re-assembled after the boiler had been given a thorough NDT examination. A snag with the regulator on the day of the steam test (27/08) meant that the loco was not signed off into revenue earning service until 09:45 on Friday 30th August – after the gala had commenced.
You can find out more about bringing Zillertal into service in Issue 46 of The Earl
Like many others I was thrilled to learn that the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway has entered into an agreement to hire a locomotive from the Zillertalbahn Railway in Austria. With The Earl away at ‘the seaside’ for a heavy overhaul and 699.01 aka Sir Drefaldwyn still a long way from being re-built the railway was desperately short of locomotives.
Zillertal approaching Tanllan on Saturday 31st August
As the time for delivery to the Principality drew near it became apparent that a significant amount of work would be required at Llanfair before the locomotive could be signed off as fit to run.
To completely strip and re-assemble an unfamiliar steam engine in a little less than two weeks was a herculean task. It was team work and skills transfer at its best. I would not dare to try and name all those that got involved, for fear of missing a few out, but I will mention that they ranged in age from 16 to 70+.
‘Hoagy’ is raising a sweat as he cuts a 2 inch BSP thread onto a length of steel pipe. Zillertal’s brake hose fittings were on the opposite side of the loco to ours and so some re-plumbing was required.
Wednesday 28th August Zillertal trundles around the yard at Llanfair. The dome cover had been removed earlier in the day to fix a regulator defect.
A little later, and with the light fading, Zillertal went off on a test run with a ‘4 1/2 Unit’ train.
Friday 30th August, just seventeen days after the loco arrived at Llanfair, Zillertal is seen in this view heading towards Llanfair with a well loaded train. Yes, there have been a few teething troubles with its operation, but our firemen and drivers have yet to get to grips with an unfamiliar machine.
With the steam turbine electricity generator humming and running lights lit Zillertal round the penultimate curve before the short steep climb to Llanfair Caereinion.
Technical details of the locomotive (in German) NB page will open in a new tab.
So ? What about the Gala ?
Well it seemed to go quite well.
The new ‘Pop-Up’ museum was finished in the nick of time and was formally opened by the Earl of Powis. (Please accept my apologies for not having any photos of this venue.)
Joan, with the SLR carriages, arrives at Cyfronydd and the driver and blockman exchange single line train staffs.
Countess heading towards Dolarddyn Road with the replica Pickering carriages.
Gala and rain seem to be good friends and enjoy meeting up in Mid Wales. Through one of the rear windows in Joan’s cab Zillertal is seen arriving at Cyfronydd. Thankfully there were just a few sporadic showers.
Saturday evening entertainment at Llanfair. The ubiquitous fairground organ had a new spot at the corner of Keyes Cottage to entice visitors into the Llanfair Connections museum.
Our very own pop-up pub The Earl did very good business over the three days.
Night time photography – expertly arranged by Steve Sedgwick and David Williams and seen here in the Hi-Vis jackets.
Countess, Zillertal and Joan lined up at Llanfair. I note that the platform road banner repeater signal is in the ‘off’ position.
The late shift signalman peers out into the darkness.
Charles and Kevin looking relaxed – things must have been going well.
So that is all for now. I will post a ‘Gala Part 2’ in the next few days.
Steam hauled trains are fascinating and people love to travel on them but very few realise the amount of maintenance they require.
After every 28 days of use the locomotive boilers have to be washed out to remove the limescale. During this down time the fire tubes are cleaned – as seen in this picture, the fusible plugs in the firebox crown re-metalled. A detailed mechanical inspection also takes place to ensure that the machine is fit to run.
The tubes were being cleaned while the boiler was still cooling down. Water is seen dripping from the fireman’s side injector overflow pipe.
Some of the jobs, for instance removing and refitting the fusible plugs. involve clambering into tight spaces and getting extremely grubby. Thanks to our modern mobile telephones being equipped with excellent cameras this picture could be obtained by pointing the camera through the firemans side ashpan door.
Twenty-four hours after the tubes were being cleaned all that is left to do is to put the firebars back into the grate and replace the ashpan manhole cover.
The frames of 699.01, Sir Drefaldwyn have been sat on accommodation bogies for what seem like an eternity. At long last they are about to be re-united with the wheels.
Once more a rolling chassis. Using the fixed hoist seen in the background of the this photo and the portable hoist seen in the previous picture the frames were lifted from the accommodation bogies and lowered onto the wheelsets.
The loco now has new tyres, crankpins all with the same throw and quartering, new horn guides, new axlebox slippers and new axlebox bearings (which will have pumped lubrication).
A flashback to mid -July and a raw casting is being clamped to the table of the XYZ CNC milling machine.
The same casting on the 10th of August and the machining is almost finished.
All that is left to do is bore the three holes in the back to finished size and then tap them to accept blanking plugs.
One of the two halls that will form the Llanfair Connections Museum. This is inside Unit 1 of the former Colinette wool spinning mill at Llanfair.
A huge amount of work has gone into refurbishing this area. Before decorating commenced the walls were a deep pink colour and took quite a lot of paint to achieve the final result seen in these photos.
There is still the lighting, wiring and floor to finish and then the exhibits can be moved in and descriptive labels attached.
The photographs used in this article were all taken by the author and they (and many more) are hosted on the Tanllan Flickr pages.
There is not a lot of structure to this post and in reality it is just a pile of captioned photos taken at the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway during July.
Until the end of August trains will be running every day. For further details please visit http://www.wllr.org.uk
On Saturday 6th July there was a memorial train for Tom Newby. Family and friends gathered together for a return trip to Welshpool. Back at Llanfair we enjoyed a hog roast.
Shunting the stock that formed the special train.
The Cambrian Coast Express pauses at Welshpool (Raven Square) to drop off a couple of wagons.
On Sunday 7th July there was the Theatre From The Train Event. #17 rounds the curve at Tanllan and is greeted by a band of roaming zombies.
Later in the month we had a Vintage Weekend. In this view Countess is shunting the wagons back into Tanllan Carriage Shed at the end of the day.
Sir Drefaldwyn’s (699.01) cylinders have finally returned from Statfold Engineering and are seen here in the stores awaiting fitting. This will happen one the chassis is back on its wheels.
Pistons for 699.01
Another coat of paint is applied to 699.01’s sand boxes.
The original superheater head for 699.01 had become porous e.g. when subjected to hydraulic test water can out of the wrong places. A new casting has been sourced and machined in the workshops at Llanfair. Here it is being bolted down onto the table if the CNC milling machine for one of the many machining operations required to transform it from a raw, but complex, casting into a viatl component part of the locomotive.
A few days later and the flange that joins the superheater header to the boiler’s front tube-plate is being machined smooth.
A short video showing the milling machine in action.
This video shows the readout on the machine’s display screen.