Sadly the golden age of railways, as some would like to think of it, may well be past and the possibilities for rail travel are certainly significantly less than they once were. The infamous Dr. Beeching who presided over the closure from 1962 of large parts of Britain's rail network will be long remembered in some quarters. The demise of steam traction from the national network in 1967 was also considered a great loss by many, though in reality it was driven by commercial necessity (and it must be said, was not greatly missed by some drivers and firemen !)
Fortunately all is not quite lost ! There are many preserved railways throughout the country, most with steam traction, and many are extremely popular with enthusiasts. This page tries to show some images which I have captured during visits to a few of them over a number of years. Unless otherwise noted, all pictures were taken with Minox sub-miniature cameras. Click on any image for a larger view.
Preserved railways come in all sizes - some are very small with little track and modest rolling stock. Others have extended track and a great variety of stock to call upon, for example the Severn Valley, the Keighley & Worth Valley, the BlueBell Railways. Some of the best I believe, are here in the North-East - the North York Moors Railway is my favourite, but before visiting this one, I suggest a diversion to have a look at what is considered to be the oldest preserved line in the country, also situated here in the North-East, the Tanfield Railway.
The North York Moors railway originally was part of the line through Malton to Whitby, connecting to Middlesborough at Grosmont. The section through isolated moorland between Grosmont and Pickering, a distance of about 15 miles, was part of the Beeching closures, but was saved during the 1970s through the work of volunteers, and now runs as a very popular and successful venture.
Intermediate stops are at Goathland, Newtondale and Levisham. Newtondale provides access for walkers to parts of the moors which are inaccessable by road. The section from Grosmont at one time included a rope hauled incline, but the arrival of more powerful locomotives enabled a steeply graded section to be constructed which allowed through working.
The railway has a good selection of resident locomotives and other rolling stock, and frequently 'visiting' locomotives from elsewhere will be seen. During many summer evenings, it's possible to dine on the train which provides a particularly agreeable way to sample the quality of this preserved railway.
To the right, the service train arrives at the British Rail platform, whilst on the left are the adjacent NYM platforms
where an evening dining train is being shunted into position.
A good deal of repair and maintainance is done on site - the shed at Grosmont is well equipped and has plenty of space for storage of locomotives. There is also a good deal of rolling stock kept at Pickering where another shed is being built.
The coal drop and ash collection pit is nearby in the yard. One of the less glamorous aspects of steam...
Some of the locomotives which are regularly seen at the NYM Railway:
This well preserved tank locomotive is used for shunting duties in the yard as well as hauling regular trains. The designation: L. H. & J. C. represents Lambton, Hetton & Joicey Collieries, reflecting its original function as a shunting locomotive in the Co. Durham coalfields.
Another regularly seen locomotive is 45428 - a "Black 5" better known as 'Rev. Eric Treacy' named after the famous rail enthusiast and writer.
Originating on the Southern Railway, from the "Schools" class, 'Repton' (30926) is regularly seen at the NYM Railway, often emerging from the mists (below) ... To the right, a detail of the motion and driving gear.
Finally, before leaving the NYM Railway, a fairly regular visitor:
"Sir Nigel Gresley" is one of quite a large group of preserved LNER Class A4, Gresley designed locomotives. These are often considered to be Gresley's finest achievement, and "Mallard" which is preserved at the National Railway Museum holds the world speed record for steam powered locomotives of 125.1 mph, set on Stoke Bank, on 3rd. July, 1938. Given the present status of steam traction, this record is unlikely to be overtaken in the foreseeable future ! Certainly these elegant, streamlined locomotives (developed in a wind tunnel !) together with their associated rolling stock set the standards for speed and comfort during the 1930s, and we are fortunate that so many are still in working order today.
Another well known locomotive is "Blue Peter" - an LNER Class A2 design which, as well as being seen from time to time on the NYM Railway, is much in demand for steam hauled excursions throughout many parts of Britain. It is pictured here at Bradford Foster Square during such a rail outing.
There are many other preserved railways throughout Britain. I've chosen to concentrate for now on the NYM Railway because I know it better than many others and perhaps because I think it's one of the best...
However, I've added a few pictures from other places to show I'm not biased !
For example, here are a couple from the Isle of Wight Steam Railway:
This saddle tank locomotive was of Ministry of Supply origin (introduced during the Second World War) and was originally intended for heavy shunting duties.
A relatively recently restored railway is Peak Rail near Matlock, Derbyshire. There are aspirations to restore as much of the original track as practicable, which could give some impressive views of the picturesque surroundings. Here also one can sometimes dine on the train. This locomotive, despite the unusual chimney, is of similar origin to that on the Isle of Wight Railway.
The North Norfolk Railway enjoys a scenic location. Here a Great Eastern, S.D. Holden designed locomotive, restored as LNER number 8572 is seen in action.
Likewise, the Mid-Hants Railway has a particularly pleasant setting and some interesting locomotives too, some of which are seen here at Alresford, Medstead & Four Marks and Ropley.
New sidings and shed have been constructed recently to give more space for more locomotives (or in some cases for spare parts, large and small !):
Ropley station is particularly peaceful and well kept:
All good things have to come to an end sometime though !
Railways come in many shapes and sizes, and one class which is sometimes is overlooked is that of the narrow gauge railway. These are relatively uncommon now, though there were at one time a great many, especially in Ireland (none of which now survive as far as I know). Some are to be found in unexpected places - Corsica for example, has a marvellous metre gauge system which should not be by missed by any visitor to the island and can be seen in the Other Narrow Gauge Railways Gallery. In Britain, the best remaining examples are found in Wales and in the Isle of Man. These links should show you some of the flavour of these diminutive creations, and in the latter case, something also of the Island's unique electric tramways. In case you aren't sure where some of these places are, you can check the map.
(I'm indebted to my Late partner Alan for keeping me right about many of the fine details of these
railways - he knew lots more about them than I do and helped me ensure that the essential points are correct !)
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