Railway Preservation

“Railway Preservation ” – Talk by J.P.Howard, Member.
At the Durrington Community Centre, 14th October, 1992.
The Speaker opened by outlining ancient industrial artefacts and the tendency until recent times of simply abandoning plant and equipment when new technology was introduced, thus creating industrial wastelands. Although luckily some historic technical equipment has survived this was perhaps more by good luck than design. The Science Museum holds the remains of Rocket, Experiment and Sans Pareil (all survivors of the Rainhill Trials) and Puffing Billy of 1931, whilst Locomotion No. 1 of the Stockton and Darlington of 1825 is preserved at Darlington North Road station, the original terminus of the line. It was probably not until after 1945 that the term “industrial archeology” was coined and came into current use. The
realisation that our industrial history was rapidly disappearing has accelerated preservation.
Railways and plate ways have been in use at least since Roman Times, often using wooden rails with iron strips on top to minimise wear. The
centre of the iron industry moved from Sussex to Coalbrookdale about 1700, and Abraham Darby discovered that iron could be smelted using coke instead of charcoal. New technology enabled the Industrial Revolution to get under way. Seventy years later the Ironbridge was built in cast iron by Abraham Darby III in 1779, and about the same time cast iron fish bellied rails were cast in 3 ft. lengths and laid in chairs on stone blocks.
During this time great developments were also taking place in the steam engine. In 1707 Thomas Newcomen developed an engine for mine pumping using steam at Atmospheric pressure, and staggeringly inefficient. In 1765 James Watt made important improvements by enclosing the top of the cylinder, providing an external condenser and providing rotary motion, at the same time, tying up all aspects of the design with such unassailable Patents that progress was inhibited for the remainder of the century.
In Cornwall where many Boulton and Watt engines were installed, Richard Trevithick was experimenting with high pressure steam to get round Watt’s patents. He firstly built road vehicles, but later built four locomotives which ran at Coalbrookdale, Gateshead, Penydaren and Euston Square. None of these had much public response and Trevithick died penniless. However the road was now open for developments in the railway world: William Hedley’s Puffing Billy (1813), wrought iron rails instead of cast iron, the Stockton and Darlington (1825), the Liverpool and Manchester, the Rainhill trials, Brunei’s railway to Bristol, the Railway mania of Mid 1800’s, the Golden Age to 1914, the Grouping of 1923 and the rapid decline of the system after World War II.
In 1948 the railway network was nationalised and all public lines came under state control, but, with just one curious omission. The virtually derelict Taly Llyn in Mid Wales was still carrying passengers and freight. On the death of the owner in 1950 his widow proposed closing the line for its scrap value. Meanwhile the line had come to the attention of the author and engineer L.T.C. Rolt who was instrumental in forming a preservation society to save the line. With little money a modest start was made, and the railway grew and thrived over the years to the highly efficient line it is to-day. The importance of this can hardly be over estimated as it was the first public railway ever to be operated by amateurs.
Not far away the 1’11 1/2″ gauge Festiniog Railway was by now completely derelict; trees and brambles choked the trackbed. A similar procedure took place with the formation of a preservation company. The line advanced slowly from Porthmadog. The Central Electricity Authority assumed (incorrectly) that the line was abandoned and flooded the upper section of the route to build the Festiniog pumped storage scheme. This assumption cost them dear after years of litigation. Volunteers achieved the seemingly impossible by building a deviation to this section including a spiral and 500 yard tunnel. To-day the line is back to a new station in Blaenau Festiniog and is among the most efficient and technically advanced of railways.
The third preserved line was the Welshpool and Llanfair Caereinion (2’6″ gauge). This introduced a new dimension as this was a British Railways line and was still carrying freight until 1958 when the Society was formed and B.R. proved most helpful in granting a lease and selling the two original locos. Operations restarted in 1963 after extensive relaying of track and later the line was sold outright by B.R.
The scene now moved to Sussex where a newly formed Bluebell Society wished to operate. This was an entirely different matter being a standard gauge line terminating at Horsted Keynes where B.R. trains were still running and B.R. were most dubious about volunteers running a “real” railway. Happily problems were resolved and to-day the Bluebell has the distinction of being the first standard gauge passenger carrying line in preservation ownership.
This has provided the impetus to preserved lines being opened up in large number not only in Britain but throughout the world. Examples were given on lines in various countries.
The latter part of the talk consisted of and ‘in-depth’ look at just one of these lines, the Welshpool and Llanfair.