Friday, 19 April 2013

Llangollen Railway Spring Steam Gala - with the Railmotor and Autocoach

Lovely spring weather today for the Llangollen Railway Spring Steam Gala. Peter and I visited by train from Wilmslow via Crewe, Chester, and Ruabon. Unfortunately the national Rail network no longer reaches Llangollen, so the last leg was by bus; for which we had to pay! English bus passes don't cut it in Wales!

This is a railway I had not travelled on before, and today's trip not only put that right, it also allowed us to see and travel on the unique Railmotor and its Autocoach, both of which were restored at Llangollen. The Steam Railmotor (No.93) was built at Swindon in 1908 and worked until 1934. It was restored in 2011 and is normally resident at Didcot Railway Centre. The Autotrailer (No.92) was built in 1912 and worked until 1957. It was restored in February of this year. This is the first occasion on which the Railmotor and the Autocoach have worked together

Click on a picture for a bigger image. And again for an even larger one!

Our first train on the railway today was hauled by this ex-BR Standard Class 4MT 2-6-4 tank locomotive No. 80072. These were one of several 'Standard' designs by Riddles, and was based on the Stanier LMS 2-6-4 tank. It was built in Brighton in 1953 and withdrawn from service in 1966. It was rescued from the famous Barry scrap yard in 1988 and restoration was completed at Llangollen in 2009. The 'Standard 4' tanks are excellent locomotives much sought after on heritage railways.

Another view of this rather handsome locomotive

Our first stop was Deeside Loop, where 'Foxcote Manor' passed us heading down the valley

The lovely Dee valley on a glorious day. The valley of the Dee has been declared an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and is home to protected species such as otter.

At Glyndyfrdy we crossed with the Rail Motor, and left our train to join it on its journey back down the valley to Llangollen. Here is the view from the cab windows of the Autocoach.

Looking down the valley from the Autocoach, the Railmotor leading

This first day of the Gala is popular with rail enthusiasts. Here, the Autocoach is populated mostly by 'gentlemen of a certain age'!

The Horseshoe Falls, where the River Dee feeds the Llangollen canal

The Chain Bridge Hotel, near the falls. The river was quite swollen by recent rain, and up and down the river many canoeists were taking advantage of the conditions.

The Railmotor was being fired by Matthew, our Railway Officer at the MoSI Railway (see elsewhere in the blog). He invited me onto the footplate to have a close look at the vertical boiler in this unusual machine. 

Matthew is a highly experienced fireman, but he was having great problems firing it as the tubeplate is immediately above the firehole doors; if he opened the doors while the engine was working, to put some coal on, it would draw cold air through the doors instead of hot gasses from the fire up the boiler tubes, and kill boiler pressure. For the same reason the blower could not be used effectively when the doors were open. So there were a few unscheduled stops while it was fired with the regulator closed and the blower off, followed by a wait for a rise on the pressure gauge. Luckily there was enough slack and therefore recovery time in the timetable to allow this without cumulative slip of the day's events.

The red reversing lever is prominent in its quadrant, and the (also red) regulator lever has two 'legs'; one is the conventional handle for when the Railmotor is being driven from this cab, the other can be connected to a rod operated by either the regulator in the opposite end cab of the Railmotor, or the regulator in the cab of the Autocoach when that vehicle is in use. The coal (the same Daw Mill coal as we use at MoSI) can be seen in the window bay on the right of the picture.

Here is a closer view of the rod (with a chain on it) which protrudes from the floor and can be connected to the arm on the regulator. The rod is operated by the remote regulator in the cab of either the Autocoach or the non-powered end of the Railmotor, so that the train can be driven from either end just like a modern diesel or electric multiple unit.

Matthew, holding the tea can, stands next to the Railmotor

A view through the side of the cab, showing the vertical boiler

Alongside the coupling between the Railmotor and Autocoach can be seen the connection to enable the regulator in the cab of the Autocoach to operate the regulator lever in the powered-end cab of the Railmotor

Here is the driving cab of the Autocoach. The driver has little more than a regulator handle (hanging vertically in the centre window), a vacuum brake lever, and a hand brake lever.

Peter walks past the Autocoach cab

The interior of the Railmotor is similar to that of the Autocoach

Another look at the superbly restored interior of the Railmotor. In order to keep it pristine, the railway does not allow and food or drink to be consumed on board.

Another of the locomotives in steam today is Foxcote Manor. a 4-6-0 tender engine designed by C. B. Collett of the Great Western Railway. It was built at Swindon in 1950 and withdrawn from service in 1965 but is another 'Barry survivor' like the 2-6-4 tank loco. It was rescued from that scrapyard in 1974 and has been in service on this railway since 1988. the 'Manors' had a light axle loading so were ideal for routes such as Ruabon to Barmouth, of which this, the Llangollen railway, is a preserved section.

The Railmotor's power bogie; effectively a 2-cylinder 0-4-0 steam locomotive with a vertical boiler

This is as far as the line goes at present. The last station westbound is Carrog, and trains can proceed from there a mile or so to the point shown above, then reverse back. A couple of miles beyond here is the town of Corwen, and the railway hopes to be operating to there later this year.

A view of the 'Standard 4' tank, without the platform hiding the running gear

A member of 80072's crew has climbed into the bunker to shovel coal forward where it can be reached by the fireman on the footplate

There were four locomotives in steam on the railway today, and this was the one that hauled our last train of the day. 6430 is a Great Western pannier tank locomotive built at Swindon in 1937. She was withdrawn from service in 1964 and sent to Cashmoore Ltd for scrap. She was rescued from there almost immediately by the Dart Valley Railway as a source of parts for other locomotives. She survived this and was restored to enter service on the railway in 2004.

6430's cab, showing the same 'remote regulator' fittings so she can be used with an Autocoach in a similar manner to the Railmotor

A final view of our final steam locomotive today, as we left Llangollen to catch the bus to Ruabon for our train home. At one time we could have gone to Ruabon by train from here; maybe one day that will be possible again.

Here are some videos I took today.

Here  the Railmotor, filmed from the Autocoach, descnds the valley though Deeside Loop.

Here  the Railmotor moves slowly along the platform at Llangollen, with fireman Matthew in the cab ensuring no spectators are in the way.

Here Foxcote Manor sets off from Glyndyfrdwy with a train for Llangollen.


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