Gareth Evans visits the Llangollen Railway’s motive power depot and learns about the latest developments with the facilities and the fleet of steam and diesel locomotives.
IN March 2021, the Llangollen Railway hit the headlines for the wrong reasons when the former plc operating company got into financial difficulty. Fortunately, as reported in The RM at the time, the railway was saved thanks to the dedication of its volunteers and well-wishers and is now operated by the charitable Llangollen Railway Trust (LRT).
Lessons have been learned – a prime example being that contract engineering work is no longer being carried out on site. Engineering resources are targeted at home fleet rolling stock instead. To paraphrase a contemporary political agenda, at Llangollen the focus is ‘build back sustainable’.
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When I visited on Saturday, October 8, laughter was not in short supply in the Motive Power Depot (MPD) at Llangollen. Friendly volunteers were cracking on with their respective tasks – including emptying ash from the pit and generally tidying up, painting Plasser & Theurer bogie diesel crane No. DRP81530, progressing the return of GWR 2-8-0 No. 3802 and carrying out maintenance on Class 26 No. 5310 (26010).
With the exception of two paid fitters and a part-time boilersmith, the MPD’s workforce is made up of a dedicated group of volunteers.
Chatting to the members of team, it was clear the warm welcome and sense of achievement are two key factors which continue to attract them to the MPD. New faces are always welcome – individuals are free to help in whichever areas are of interest to them. Indeed, some of the volunteers The RM spoke to in the MPD also assist in other parts of the railway’s operation – including administration, loco crew and public-facing roles such as guard.
Andy Maxwell, longstanding MPD volunteer and project leader for GWR 0-6-0PT No. 7754, highlighted another change relating to the use of resources implemented by the current leadership team. “Diesel and steam departments have been amalgamated – we are now ‘Team MPD’,” he explained. “Diesel locos were previously stored outside – but we recognise the vital role they play in the operation of our railway.”
The main shed covers four tracks – although only three are readily accessible. However, that is now being changed for the better. The tank wagon, grounded van body, wood store, coal pile and ash dump are to be removed from the track leading to No. 4 road, which is located furthest away from the main running line. A new coal and ash store is under construction on the Abbey Road side of the siding used for loading and unloading rolling stock from road trailers – the area having been used for storing materials for some time. A local contractor has laid the foundations and installed the steel girders for the new coal and ash store.
Bringing No. 4 road into operation will allow optimum use to be made of the shed – items have hitherto had to be slid across.
A further welcome improvement to the yard is the replacement of the wooden shed doors.
During the auction of the Llangollen Railway plc’s assets in May 2021, Cowans Sheldon 50ton diesel hydraulic crane No. ADRC96718 was bought by Sandbach Commercial Dismantlers Ltd (SCD) for breaking up for scrap. SCD kindly agreed to allow the LRT to continue to use the crane whilst re-purchasing it – the sale has since completed with funds raised through donations from volunteers and well-wishers.
Underlining the importance of securing the crane for the railway, on October 15 it was used to move the boilers of two steam locos which are under overhaul.
The boiler belonging to BR ‘4MT’ 2-6-4T No. 80072 was lifted from the engine and placed on two boiler trolleys. This allows frame cleaning to continue – and the tubes will be removed.
The overhaul is progressing well. A new bunker and cab are under construction at Barnett Engineering in Wrexham, which have been built to the original drawings by Owen Maxwell, who is an apprentice there. He is the son of the Andy Maxwell and is a railway volunteer.
The original side tanks have been shot blasted inside and out. It has been confirmed that they are salvageable, saving the loco’s owners, the Llangollen Standard 4 Group, thousands of pounds over having to construct from new.
While the boiler is to be overhauled in-house, the ‘bottom end’ is due to go to Loughborough contractor Locomotive Maintenance Services in March for overhaul. It is hoped the loco can return to traffic in approximately three years.
The second beneficiary of the crane on October 15 was LRT’s GWR 0-6-0PT No. 7754. Having passed its hydraulic test earlier that week, the boiler was lifted and placed on a suitable wagon for the back head fittings to be fitted, paving the way for a steam test.
The tanks are original, but it is hoped they have sufficient life for the loco’s next stint in service. Repair work has included fitting a new lower section, filling and welding to ensure they are watertight. Painting is underway.
“The boiler is expected to be returned to the frames before Christmas,” explained Andy Maxwell. “The focus will then be on reassembly for service next season.”
He said the livery will be “green” – details of which will be revealed in due course.
However, Mr Maxwell stressed: “It is going to look lovely!”
Work to return GWR ‘2884’ 2-8-0 No. 3802 to traffic is ongoing. Owned by Steve Andrews and Nick Gilbert, it is hoped the loco will be able to haul the official opening train for the Corwen extension in spring 2023.
“We plan for the loco to be ready for the 2023 season,” said Mr Gilbert. “It has pretty much had a ‘bottom end’ overhaul over the past year. We have turned the tyres; carried out valve and piston exams; renewed the piston valves; the valves have been rebored and received new bushes and collars. All the motion and braking system has been completely dismantled and checked – including fitting new bushes to the trunnions. Platework has also been checked and repaired as required. Both injectors have also been overhauled.”
No. 3802 was sent to Carnforth for tyre turning. The leading and first intermediate driving wheels were removed and turned as loose wheelsets due to the slide bar brackets and vacuum pump preventing access to the wheel centres – while the rest were turned in situ on the ground lathe at Carnforth.
Both owners were keen to stress their gratitude to members of the team at both Llangollen and West Coast’s Carnforth premises.
GWR ‘Small Prairie’ No. 5532, which is owned by the Llangollen Railway Great Western Locomotive Group, continues to reside at the rear of No. 4 road in the main shed. The ‘bottom end’ is virtually complete – while the boiler is due to go to Tyseley Locomotive Works for contract overhaul shortly.
The Telford & Horsehay Steam Trust’s GWR 0-6-2T No. 5619, which arrived in March on hire for the 2022 season, remains stored in the shed. On its last boiler washout, one of the washout plug mountings was found to be badly corroded, resulting in it being withdrawn from service on July 21.
Thickness testing is to be carried out on the backhead where grooving has been discovered. The loco, which is seven years into its boiler ticket, also needs new tyres. The ‘56XX’ is expected to leave Llangollen before Christmas for repairs to be carried out.
The MPD is currently home to two ‘Austerity’ 0-6-0STs. Partly dismantled, discussions are underway for an agreement which could see privately-owned Hunslet (3777/1952) No. 68030 return to action. The boiler is with a contractor in Greater Manchester.
The other ‘Austerity’, Hudswell, Clarke 0-6-0ST No. 68067 (75091/1943) arrived on hire from its Great Central Railway base on August 24. While the loco is due to remain at Llangollen until the end of the year, there is a possibility that the hire period could be extended.
“We reached the end of our scheduled running season on Sunday, September 11,” said Terry Pickthall, the railway’s press and communications officer, who is also a diesel driver and longstanding member of the Diesel Group.
“With 39 diesel turns successfully completed, this has been our most intensive season for many years. We are proud to have provided high levels of reliability, with no trains cancelled, albeit a couple of delays resulting from minor issues on the Class 26.”
All three larger diesel locos have played their part. To put that into perspective, Class 26 No. 5310 (26010) completed 15 turns, approximately 710 miles; Class 31 No. 31271 Stratford 1840-2002 operated 13 turns, approximately 580 miles; and Class 47 No. 1566 (47449) ran 11 turns, approximately 570 miles.
The Class 26 and Class 47 are owned by Llangollen Diesel Group, while the Class 31 is owned by A1A Locomotives.
“Warren Coppack and John Gibbons from A1A Locomotives have visited us several times this year to ensure that No. 31271 has remained an extremely reliable and dependable loco,” explained Mr Pickthall.
“Although some people quite liked the authentic and grubby BR-era look it had acquired, there is no doubt No. 31271 looked much better after the heavy clean it received in July. A leaking bogie brake cylinder has been the only minor niggle all season. This really is an excellent loco, arguably one of the finest of the fleet to survive. The railway is very grateful to owners for their continued support.”
The railway’s Class 08 No. 13265 (D3265, 08195) remains operational and on the day of The RM’s visit was offering ‘Drive for a Fiver’ in Llangollen station.
Following the transfer of ownership of Class 03 No. D2162 (03162) from Wirral Council to the LRT, the future of the 0-6-0 is now secure as a permanent resident at Llangollen. The loco requires a lift to attend to some sheered mounts on the final drive, a good tidy up and some engine work, all of which will be attended to in due course.
The DMUs, which are operated by Llangollen Railcars, continue to be based at Pentrefelin carriage shed and remain an essential element in the railway’s motive power fleet.
How you can help
Donations can be by bank transfer. Account No. 40038008; Sort code 20-51-08; Payee name: Llangollen Railway Trust Ltd.
Anyone interested in joining the ranks at the Llangollen Railway must be a member of the Llangollen Railway Trust, which provides insurance cover. Active volunteers must be aged over 18, but younger people are welcome join the Youth Group.
Visit https://llangollen-railway.co.uk/volunteering for details.