Author Archive: Charlie O'Mahoney

March Update

With only a few weeks left until we reopen at Easter, work is now starting to focus on making sure we are ready for trains to run again on the 29th March.

This winter’s ‘big job’, putting in the new point at Launceston station, is now nearing completion. The main line and run round loop are connected, the point has been ballasted and the old point lever frame has been moved and reconnected to the new point.

Removing the old connecting line between the loop and the old point, click for larger view Clearing the area for a new section of track to connect to the loop, click for larger view Area cleared for new connecting track, click for larger view A few days later and the loop has been connected up to the new point, click for larger view A few days later and the loop has been connected up to the new point, click for larger view Adaptor rails brought down to fill the gap between the point and platform main line, click for larger view Adaptor rails in place, click for larger view Trackwork finished and ballasted, ready for trains to run again at Easter, click for larger view Trackwork finished and ballasted, ready for trains to run again at Easter, click for larger view

One of the smaller projects this winter has been refurbishing one of our toastrack carriages – namely replacing the floor. Some small corroded sections were replaced and new floor boards are being fitted.

Toastrack carriage with floorboards removed, click for larger view Welding new sections in place on the toastrack, click for larger view Needle gunning the chassis before repainting, click for larger view New floor board supports ready for fitting, click for larger view New floor board supports fitted in place, click for larger view First new floor boards fitted to the toastrack carriage, click for larger view

All four engines were in steam on Thursday for a visit from the boiler inspector. Each locomotive is inspected annually (actually every 14 months), both cold and in steam, to ensure our insurance company are happy with the condition of their boilers. Following the retirement of the boiler inspector who has been visiting us since we opened, our new boiler inspector decided this year it would be more efficient to conduct the in steam inspections for the four locomotives on one day before the season started, rather than spread throughout the season as had previously been the case. All are approved for another season’s use, and the opportunity was taken to give both Lilian and Covertcoat (our main engines) a test run through the station and our new points.

Covertcoat waits for the boiler inspector, click for larger view Lilian tries the new points out for size! Click for larger view A reunion of 'old friends', as both Lilian and our new points originally came from Penrhyn Quarry in North Wales. Click for larger view.

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye…

The main event today, as a break from the work in the station (see below), was the loading onto a lorry of a large amount of our old surplus 30lb/yd rail. Although no longer of use to us, it has been sold to the smaller Lappa Valley Steam Railway near Newquay who will be laying it in their track – the perfect example of recycling!

The lorry has arrived and gets ready to load the first batch of rail, click for larger view The first load of rail is lifted onto the lorry, click for larger view An hour later and the lorry is ready to depart with all the rail loaded, click for larger view Preparing to load rail at Hunts Crossing on Tuesday, click for larger view Loading the rail near Newmills on Tuesday, click for larger view

Working in a Winter Wonderland!

With roughly two months left until we reopen, this week we have started work laying one of our ‘new’ points at Launceston station. The first point is being laid at the western (Newmills) end of the station, to replace the point currently there. In turn this point will be moved to the eastern (car park) end of Launceston station, to replace the point which gives access to the siding on our platform.

With the temperature having dropped recently, we have been treated to some snow showers this week, and the railway was attractively dusted with snow when we started the second day of point work this morning (Tuesday).

Some excavation is undertaken to allow the larger point to fit, whilst the first section of the point sits on the flat wagon alongside, click for larger view Our Unipower Forestry Tractor is used to move the next section of point for loading, click for larger view The Simplex and flat wagon are moved into place, click for larger view The middle point section is carefully lowered onto the wagon, click for larger view The final piece - the crossing section - loaded onto the flat wagon, click for larger view The morning of the second day of putting in the new point, and Launceston has been coated in snow overnight, click for larger view The morning of the second day of putting in the new point, and Launceston has been coated in snow overnight. Notice the point components laid out along the right hand side. Click for larger view The first rail is removed where the new point will be laid, click for larger view First rail removed, click for larger view All rails removed, with the sleepers waiting to be lifted, click for larger view Rails removed, viewed from the Newmills end, click for larger view Sleepers removed and set aside for reuse elsewhere, click for larger view Ballast is levelled with our minidigger, click for larger view First point section laid in place, click for larger view First point section laid in place.  The different angle and length of the new point can be seen clearly - the new point will actually end roughly where the current point ends! Click for larger view

4th February:

Another day of work completed, with the old point now removed and new point in place.

To finish putting the new point in place, the old point required removing - here Alex starts by removing the fishplates at the joint between the two parts of the point.  Click for larger view A view showing the first two sections of the new point in position, Click for larger view The final crossing section waits for the old point to be removed, Click for larger view The first section of the old point is lifted out. Click for larger view The first section of the old point is lifted out. Click for larger view The second section of the old point is lifted out. Click for larger view The final piece of the new point is carefully dragged into position, Click for larger view The final piece of the new point is carefully dragged into position. Click for larger view New point in position, waiting for the blades to be fitted. Click for larger view New point in position.  Click for larger view

5th February:

Day four of “pointbash” and the blades are fitted to the point, and the point then connected to the mainline.

First thing in the morning and the point blades are brought up to be fitted. Click for larger view 'The Boss' fits the first point blade. Click for larger view Both point blades now fitted. Click for larger view Tightening the bolts at one of the joints in the point.  Notice the appropriate letters (the points were originally at Penrhyn Quarry). Click for larger view The flatbottom rail on the mainline and bullhead rail in the points have a different profile, so special fishplates had to be made in situ to connect them. Click for larger view 'A weld a day keeps the doctor away...'. Click for larger view End of the day and the points are connected at one end - just need to connect the other end! Click for larger view

12th February:

Work has continued apace over the last week, with the new point connected up and trains run over it, carrying surplus rail to the car park. Although only a small railway with an average daily workforce of 2.5, it has taken us a week to complete a job which many larger railways would need an army of workers and several weeks to finish. The next stage will be to lay the new connection from the run round loop to the new point.

Friday of week 1 and new sleepers are in place at the Newmills end of the point, click for larger view Friday of week 1 and new sleepers are in place at the Newmills end of the point, click for larger view Week 2 started with fitting the tie bar to the point blades, click for larger view Tie bar fitted to the point blades, click for larger view Tie bar fitted to the point blades, click for larger view The first train over the new points, carrying surplus rails for the Lappa Valley Railway, click for larger view Drilling new sleepers ready for the new section of connecting track, click for larger view Drilling new sleepers ready for the new section of connecting track, click for larger view

New Points

We have recently taken delivery of two sets of points which will be used as part of track relaying work over the next few years.

A fully loaded delivery lorry arrives in our car park, click for larger view Managing Director Nigel Bowman supervises unloading of the first point section, click for larger view Point unloading underway, click for larger view Point unloading underway, click for larger view The last point section is unloaded, click for larger view

The two points were both manufactured approximately 90-100 years ago, and were originally used on the Penrhyn Quarry Railway in North Wales, where our locomotive Lilian was also used. When the PQR closed much of its track was bought by the Ffestiniog Railway, and our two points were laid at south end of Minffordd station on the FR. After 50 years in use, the points have become too worn for the long and heavy trains run on the Ffestiniog and so were removed and replaced with brand new points earlier this month. However, as our trains are much lighter than those run on the Ffestiniog, from our perspective the points still have many years of serviceable life left. As there was a very real possibility the points would be cut up for scrap, we were happy to purchase them and give them a further lease of life.

Our 'new' bullhead points, dismantled into 3 sections each, temporarily stored in our car park, click for larger view The frog/crossing end of one of the 'new' bullhead points, click for larger view

The points themselves are quite unusual for a narrow gauge railway as they are made with bullhead rail, rather than the flat-bottom rail which is in near universal use across the world. We already have one set of bullhead rail points plus plain bullhead track laid at Newmills station, also from the Penrhyn Quarry Railway via the Ffestiniog Railway. In fact we believe that we may even be the last narrow gauge railway using bullhead points in our mainline (the Ffestiniog still have some in use in sidings).

The blades and locking mechanism on one of the points, click for larger view Our 'new' bullhead points, dismantled into 3 sections each, temporarily stored in our car park, click for larger view

One of the points is intended to be put in at the western end of Launceston station, next to the small locomotive shed. This would allow the point currently in that position to be moved to replace a near life-expired point elsewhere on the railway. However, our “new” bullhead point is much larger than the point it will be replacing. Points are often referred to by the angle that the two rails make when they meet at the point frog. The current point is a 1 in 5, whilst the replacement bullhead point is a 1 in 12! The bullhead point is much longer and will start further west once it is laid, whilst the run round loop will require some adjustment to match up with the point.

The track gang measure the location for one of the points, click for larger view View of where one of the points will be laid; it will start at the joint nearest the camera on the left-hand rail, click for larger view

Winter Works Update

After we closed at the end of October, we quickly switched into winter maintenance mode, undertaking lots of the big and little maintenance tasks needed to make sure we have the railway running well next season.

One of the ‘big jobs’ undertaken recently is the manufacture of a set of tree shears for our mini-digger. These will ‘grab and chop’ smaller trees; a video of a similar set of tree shears can be seen here. Although they can be bought as ready made attachments, we already had a hydraulic ram of the correct size in stock, and it was much cheaper to build our own in our fully equipped workshops! Initial successful tests have been carried out with a temporary blade, and the final blades, manufactured from ‘Hardox’ steel, have just been delivered and are awaiting fitting. In the new year we will be using the tree shears to carry out extensive clearance of our lineside; although sections were cleared when we first relaid track, many smaller saplings have grown in the past few decades and are blocking views from the train. Therefore we will be removing the smaller trees to help open up the views, whilst leaving the established, mature trees.

Our new tree shear (missing its blade) fitted to the mini-digger, click for larger view Our new tree shear (missing its blade), click for larger view

Our café building was originally a wooden bungalow shown at the Ideal Home Exhibition in 1919. Subsequently erected in Surrey, it was donated, dismantled and transported to Launceston in the 1980s, and then rebuilt to serve as our café. Unfortunately after 95 years the damp Cornish winters have taken their toll on the building, and parts of the building’s timber framework at the western (Newmills) end has rotted and requires replacing. The platform side of the lower portion of the western end has now been replaced with a concrete block wall, which will be clad to return the building to its original appearance. Fortunately the museum side has fared a little better and will require slightly less work.

New wall at the western end of our café, click for larger view Original framework uncovered on the museum side of our café, click for larger view

We have recently taken delivery of some rolling stock which was originally at the Dinorwic Slate Quarry, where our locomotives Covertcoat and Velinheli first worked. This includes a pair of slab wagons, which were used for transporting the large slabs of slate before they were cut down into individual slates, and the ‘yellow coach’, used for conveying important guests around the quarry (including royalty – Queen Victoria allegedly rode in it). For the last few years these have been on display at the Devon Railway Centre, but following a few changes at the DRC, owner Peter Nicholson has decided to place the coach and wagons on loan to us. They will be on display to the public in our museum when we reopen next year.

Dinorwic Quarry slab wagons, click for larger view Dinorwic Quarry 'Yellow Coach', click for larger view Dinorwic Quarry 'Yellow Coach', click for larger view

Fortunately none of our four Hunslets require major work this winter and are just having minor maintenance carried out; for example, currently Dorothea is being prepared for a visit from our boiler inspector, whilst one of Velinheli’s pistons has been removed for work. However work has started on fitting boiler cladding to Perseverance, the small vertical boilered locomotive based here. The cladding itself was made at Laira depot in Plymouth – probably the first time Laira have had to work on boiler cladding in 50 years! The steelwork to finish the bodywork for our railcar has also arrived, with the intention of having the railcar ready to enter service at some time next year.

Trial fitting of Perserverance's cladding, click for larger view

TRAC Project – A Final Update

In 2009 Cornwall Council launched the Tourism and Rural Access (TRAC) Project. This project intended to build new multi-use trails at Launceston and Bude, and the Council received a £1.5 million grant from the South West Regional Development Agency (later absorbed by DEFRA). The stated objectives at Launceston were ‘creation of a new off-road multi-use trail from central Launceston traveling west 8km to Egloskerry along the route of the old railway line, together with 7.7km of quiet lanes…(and to) enable the parallel extension of the existing Launceston Steam Railway for the final 3.5km to Egloskerry’. The Project was cancelled by Cornwall Council in December 2012, following the Council’s removal of the railway extension from the project and the subsequent withdrawal of funding by DEFRA, with no part of the Launceston to Egloskerry trail having been constructed. Further background reading and documents can be found here.

Cornwall Council has now prepared a report into the failure of the TRAC Project. The final public report, dated July 2014 and published in November 2014, can be read here. An earlier draft report completed in November 2013, which contains some differences from the final report, can be read here. A public meeting to discuss the failure of the project was held in Launceston on the 18th November, and notes made at this meeting can be read here.

We can confirm the relationship between the LSR and Cornwall Council has improved from that in 2012, and also that it still remains our ambition to eventually extend the railway to Egloskerry. We would fully support any revived scheme, by public or private bodies, which allowed an extension of the railway to be built in conjunction with the construction of a new multi-use trail between Launceston and Egloskerry.

26th November – An article in local paper, the Cornish Guardian, about the failure of the project can be read here.

Successful Half-Term week ends our 2014 season

We finished our 2014 season with a succesful October half term week, many visitors coming to enjoy their last opportunity this year for a train ride up the Kensey valley. In a break with our normal practice when just one of our locomotives hauls all the half term trains, all four of our steam locomotives were used throughout the week, with double headed trains on several days.
Lilian and Velinheli wait for their first passengers on the Sunday Velinheli Lilian & Velinheli wait for their next load of passengers Velinheli runs back into Launceston with a train Lilian and Velinheli at Newmills Covertcoat at Newmills Covertcoat and Velinheli wait to leave Newmills with the last passenger train of the year

The Sunday also saw the launch of ‘Trains to the Trenches’ by local author Andrew Roden. The book details the role the railways played in the First World War. After a short ceremony and a minute’s silence at 11am in commemoration of the railwaymen who gave their lives in the War, several visitors and enthusiasts took the opportunity to purchase a signed copy of the book, and talk to the author about the railways of the First World War.

We are now closed over the winter for maintenance, and reopen on the 29th March – our full calendar of 2015 opening dates will be available on the Times & Fares page shortly.

Updated DVD now in stock

Just in time for half-term week, we now have copies of our updated and extended DVD in stock. ‘Building a Dream’ tells the story of how Nigel and Kay Bowman built their own railway here at Launceston, and the extended version includes new footage of Dorothea in steam and the trials of the Lynton and Barnstaple replica locomotive Lyd.

LSR DVD

The DVD is available in our shop for £9.95, or we are happy to sell by mail order for £10.95 including UK postage, phone us on 01566 775665 to order.

October Half-Term : Locals’ Week and Book Launch

After a busy main season, we are currently taking a few weeks off for maintenance work, but will reopen on Sunday 26th for the school half-term week.

Once again, we are teaming up with our local paper, the Cornish & Devon Post, to run one of our popular Locals’ Week special offers. If you live locally, don’t forget to pick up your copy of ‘The Post’ next week (edition published Thursday 23rd), as inside will be a voucher giving discounted fares for the whole of half-term week (Sunday 26th – Friday 31st).

We are also hosting the launch of a brand new book on Sunday 26th, looking back one hundred years to World War One. ‘Trains to the Trenches’, by local author Andrew Roden, tells the story of the men, locomotives and tracks that took the world to war, including the hundreds of miles of narrow gauge railways which were built to serve the trenches. Appropriately our carriages have all been built using parts of wagons from the World War One trench railways, and much of our original track was recovered from the Royal Navy Armaments Depot at Ernesettle in Plymouth.

Trains to the Trenches

Summer Work in Progress

Trains have been running six days a week from the beginning of July, with all four of our locomotives in use hauling trains. Lilian and Covertcoat have been the main locomotives in use, but Velinheli and Dorothea have normally been steamed at least once a week.

Driver's view from Lilian - the view many young boys (and girls!) would like when they are older! Velinheli and Dorothea wait to leave with a full four coach train, click for larger view Velinheli and Dorothea run round at Launceston, click for larger view Covertcoat runs into Launceston under grey skies, click for larger view Velinheli is prepared for another trip from Launceston, click for larger view Kay Bowman prepares Covertcoat for another afternoon trip from Newmills, click for larger view Velinheli shunts slate wagons at the end of the day - just like she would have back at Dinorwic quarry, click for larger view

In July our latest load of coal arrived; one lorry load of approximately 20 tons will last us just over one year. For the last few years we have been burning Russian coal; despite the fact coal is available from Wales, the cost is approximately the same, and we have found the Russian coal has slightly better characteristics for the work we require our locomotives to do. Unfortunately the latest load of Russian coal has proved to be radically different to the last few loads we have had, resulting in relatively poor steaming in three of our Hunslet locomotives (Covertcoat proved to be the odd one out and has generally steamed well on this coal). Throughout the summer we have been trying different techniques of firing and making modifications to the Hunslets to improve their steaming on this batch of coal. For example, Lilian has been trialled with different diameter blast nozzles in her smokebox and has now been fitted with a new grate in her firebox; her ‘original’ grate was approximately 70% firebars and 30% airgaps between the bars, whilst her new grate is a copy of Covertcoat’s grate and has a firebar to air gap ratio of 50:50. The new grate has improved Lilian’s performance and returned her to being the ‘steady old lady’ our drivers know her to be.

Lilian's front end partly dismantled to aid fitting a new blast nozzle, click for larger view Lilian's new grate, click for larger view

Early summer saw some clearance work of lineside trees around Launceston, and this winter we plan to clear a large amount of the younger trees all the way along the line. To speed the clearance process up, we are currently building an attachment for our digger which can grab, cut and remove smaller trees – although these attachments can be bought, they cost several thousand pounds and we have found we have many of the parts needed to make one already!

Clearance of trees around the small shed at Launceston allow a slightly different view of Lilian, click for larger view Tree cuttings, in the Penrhyn fullersite wagon behind the Dilly, waiting to head up the line for disposal, click for larger view Parts for the digger attachment, click for larger view Parts for the digger attachment, click for larger view