I spent four days working on the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway last week. Each was unique and with the following words and pictures I will endeavour to give you, the reader, an insight to the workings of a heritage railway.
Monday was a Driver Experience day. One way of describing this might be ‘Self Drive Hire’ or in other words the client or clients have paid a significant amount of money to drive a steam train from Llanfair Caereinion to Welshpool and back again. Needless to say they don’t take the train unaccompanied on the engine with them is an Instructor and a Fireman – for whole days events both are fully qualified drivers .
Driving under supervision.
In this instance a W&LLR fireman working the train back to from
Dolarddyn Road to Llanfair to gain experience.
On this occasion just one client had paid for a full day and thus two round trips.
Now one way of describing the W&LLR is a linear roller coaster so our guest driver has to cope with some steep up hill gradients and very long downhill gradients and other bits where the engine is climbing but the carriages are still descending. As long as the rails are dry the uphill sections are usually fine. Going down is the tricky part. Driving a train is nothing like driving a family car. Even our little narrow gauge train consisting of Joan (20 tons) and and three passenger carriages (aggregate 25 tons) weighing in at 45 tons can be difficult for a novice to control in a smooth flowing manner.
The role of the instructor is to coach the client so that after the first few brake applications the train does not shudder to an ignominious halt in the middle of nowhere and that they begin to understand and cope with the hysteresis of the vacuum brake. Most of this is done through verbal instructions and so you are talking virtually all the time.
Usually there are family or friends riding on the train and so making sure that the client gives them a comfortable journey adds a bit more pressure to the task.
Meanwhile the fireman has to keep the pressure and water levels right and act as an extra pair of eyes and ears.
I can report that on this occasion ‘John’ did very well and went home with a big, big, smile.
Meanwhile in the engine shed a new recruit was getting to grips with
polishing The Earl’s paintwork until he could see his reflection.
Tuesday’s rostered duty meant I could have a lie-in as I was not required until eight o’clock. Driver & Fireman 2 cover the breakfast & lunchtime breaks, assist with the coaling and then operate the last train of the day.
I filled the intermediate time with inspecting electrical equipment and organising the repairs of a number of items found to be defective. Alan my fireman was dispatched to the engine shed where he did a magnificent job of tidying it.
Later in the day drifting back across the Banwy Bridge there was time to take a good look at the large tree that had fallen into the river on 18th of June. As it fell it has done some minor damage to the top handrail.
The alarm clock on Wednesday morning was most unwelcome. An early start was needed to deal with a minor repair. The regulator gland had been blowing and was getting worse. At times hot water was dripping down onto the footplate. It was only a little job but had to be done before the engine could be lit up.
With that done Alan tended to the fire while I drained and re-filled The Earl’s boiler with clean water. While we were working there were strange sounds coming from the premises formerly occupied by Colinette Yarns. The W&LLR has recently bought this site and plans to re-configure the buildings as a workshop.
During our breakfast break I popped round the corner to investigate what was going on. A scrap merchant form Oswestry was working there and I quickly grabbed some photos.
Waiting for the scrap man
The loading bay
With our morning break over it was time to take the first train of the day down to Welshpool. Things were a little different as we were to run as a mixed train with a single wagon behind the carriages. A few days previously a guest locomotive (Chevalier) had been delivered. Before it could be steamed up and driven to Llanfair the boiler needed filling. There is not a water supply in the storage shed at Welshpool so we were going to take the ‘water wagon’ that contains two, one tonne, bulk liquid containers and an a petrol driven pump.
On arrival at Welshpool we replenished Joan’s tanks and then did a bit
of slick shunting to position the water wagon behind Chevalier.
After handing Joan over to the second crew there was more to do to enable Chevalier to be steamed. Coal and then later firewood were loaded into a wagon.
Thursday I was on the late turn again. After seeing off the first train of the day I drove another volunteer who was returning home down to the mainline station in Welshpool.
Other time-stealers meant I had no opportunity to settle to any tasks that would take more than half an hour or so. So I took a few photos of other people working. A gang were working erecting a cage to surround a new fuel oil tank for the diesel locos.
Assembling the cage
Are you sure this step ladder is safe ?
Applying a coat of red oxide primer
Meanwhile round in the workshop there is some visible progress with the rebuilding of the Franco-Belge 0-8-0T 699.01 Sir Drefaldwyn.
The reversing gear screw has been bolted onto the boiler
Most of the bolts that secure the smokebox to the boiler barrel have been fitted
Later in the afternoon filming was taking place for a new TV series Trainspotting Live that will be shown on BBC 4 later in the year. This will be similar in format to Spring Watch with a mix of live action and pre-recorded activities. It will be presented by Newsnight‘s Peter Snow and co-hosted by engineer Dick Strawbridge and mathematical sociologist Dr. Hannah Fry.
Coaling Joan – a scene for Trainspotting Live
You might have thought that all of the messing about for the TV would have meant alate departure for the 15:30 to Welshpool. But, no, we were ready on time. While all this was taking place The Earl had been taken to Castle Caereinion with a test train. It was late getting there and locking into the passing loop. So we were late departing. Once down there there was more shunting to retrieve the now empty water wagon to return it to Llanfair.
Getting two engines ‘to bed’ was time consuming and it was ten to seven when I got to the shower.
Larry & Tony on Joan’s footplate. It might be hard work at times but we love it.