The Season is now in full swing with a commitment and dedication to run what is quite a punishing schedule for both ‘staff’ and ‘hardware’ alike. SIX trains a day, SIX days a week can be a ‘big ask’, but the complete team have been working towards this task for months. This year there will be only three engines taking their turn to be in steam LILIAN, DOROTHEA, and COVERTCOAT, as VELINHELI has a ‘poorly boiler’. She rather overdid it last year with all her gadding about the Country, but she is on display and can still be viewed. That too, has undergone some changes during the last few months, and many ‘new’ exhibits can be found there, including Nigel’s 1926 Austin 7, another very worthwhile work in progress project. Do allow enough time when planning your visit to take in all the railway has to offer, including the museum.
In a slightly different vein, this whole website has for a number of years been kept up to date by Charlie O’Mahoney, who has recently taken over the running and management of the WATFORD MINIATURE RAILWAY. All of us wish Charlie well and know that with his expertise and dedication that project is in good hands. If you are reading this and have a spare half a day anywhere near Watford, or are looking for something different railway-wise to do with the family, then head for Watford (details on the WMR website).
Of equal interest locally will be a unique visit to LAUNCESTON on 2nd,3rd, and 4th August by Richard Holder’s scale model of the Launceston Steam Railway. Richard has faithfully reproduced this in miniature in such detail that one wonders how in such a small space (12’ x 6’) so much can be achieved. Do come early (and stay late!) as it will be a treat for all ages. The exhibit will be open from the time the café opens at 10.30am until the last train has returned from NEW MILLS.
During the last month the lineside scenery has changed dramatically, and with all the recent rain there is hardly a better time to see the unspoilt Kensey Valley, and no better way than during a leisurely ride on the train. Once again, your ticket will allow you to ride to NEW MILLS and back as many times as you wish during the day of issue.
So the team look forward to welcoming you either as a first time visitor or as a ‘regular’ to experience something unique in Cornwall, and to talk to those involved with the actual day to day running of modern day history in the making.
A fantastic model of our railway has recently been completed and will be touring the country this year.
The 009 Gauge model has been built by modeller Richard Holder, who has been a frequent visitor over the last few years whilst measuring buildings and taking photographs to help build the model. The resulting layout captures the atmosphere of the railway fully, including lots of extra details – such as Lulu the Austin 7 (the regular commuting vehicle for our guard Bob) parked outside the museum. The working locomotives themselves are a marvel of miniature engineering, as they are no longer than a small matchbox and all hand built from parts by Richard.
A seventeen minute video of the railway can be seen above. However, if you would like to see the model in person, we are pleased to announce that it will be visiting us in August for several days – dates and details will follow nearer the time once confirmed.
Further details of the model, and other locations you can see it exhibited, can be found at www.richardholder.org.uk/launceston.htm
At Velinheli’s annual boiler inspection in March, our boiler inspector identified a few areas where work would be required to the boiler before it was passed fit for another year of use.
The boiler currently fitted to Velinheli was built in the 1920s by Dinorwic Quarry. When the boiler was last stripped for full overhaul in 2012, the condition was assessed thoroughly and the view taken that the boiler was nearing the end of its economic life. Following this year’s boiler inspection, Velinheli’s owner James Evans has been considering a ‘mission plan’ that sees Velinheli return to service in a reasonable timescale, but also helps to secure her long-term future.
After nearly a century of service, the decision has been taken to retire the boiler currently fitted to Velinheli. For the foreseeable future she will therefore be withdrawn from service and placed on static display in our museum.
However in conjunction with another narrow gauge railway we have started initial work developing a new, improved Quarry Hunslet boiler design. This will incorporate modern ‘best practice’ for boiler design and lessons learnt from over 50 years experience operating the locomotives. The intention is that a boiler to this design will be built for Velinheli, and potentially more will be built concurrently for other Hunslet locomotives. Construction timescale will depend on the progress of design work and budgeting over the next few months.
Whilst Velinheli will be taking some time off, our three other locomotives (Covertcoat, Dorothea and Lilian) remain in ‘fine fettle’ and will be in regular use this summer. Trains will be running again for Easter between the 12th-14th and 16th-19th of April.
Over recent years we have normally relayed a short stretch of track during the winter closed period, and this year was no exception. This year’s focus was on the stretch of track between the river bridge and the first cattle creep, a length of around 300 yards. This is one of the oldest sections of track and, although regular maintenance work had been undertaken, a number of sleepers were becoming life expired and it was evidently time to complete a thorough relaying of this area.
Initial work before Christmas focused on the preparation of new sleepers ready for relaying the track. This involved drilling four holes in each sleeper, to which the baseplates (which hold the rail in situ) are then screwed. With several hundred sleepers required, a significant amount of drilling and screwing was required – as the photos show, the platform (which was used as an easy area to work on the sleepers) soon started filling up!
At the beginning of the new year the old section of track was lifted. Although some of the sleepers were life expired, some were of reusable condition and set aside for ‘spot replacement’ elsewhere, whilst the still-serviceable rail was also set aside prior to sale for reuse on another railway. Once all the track material was cleared out of the way, the ballast was scraped level using the ballast plough fitted to the back of our Fordson tractor.
Track was then gradually laid out panel by panel, with the sleepers carefully positioned by hand before the rails were moved into place with some mechanical assistance.
Several lorry loads of ballast were delivered to our car park and then moved up to the new track using our Simplex diesel locomotive and ballast wagon. The ‘dumping’ of ballast in place is via doors in the bottom of the ballast wagon, which are manually controlled by a member of staff on each side. Once in place the ballast is then hand tamped to give the appropriate levels and elevations on the track. Although undertaking all this work manually is adequate for our needs at the moment, we are actively investigating the purchase of a ballast tamping machine from China to help speed up the process.
The relaying work was completed in mid February, well in time for the railway’s reopening at Easter. However, other areas of track have subsequently been the subject of attention; some minor adjustments were undertaken on the stretch of track relayed last year (after a year’s ‘bedding in’), and some sleepers were replaced in the platform and loop lines at Newmills.
Following a pause during the main 2016 running season, recently work has been picked up again on our experimental diesel railcar. This has been a long-term project, started in 2009 and worked on when time allows around running and maintaining the railway; further background information can be found here.
At the end of September some minor work was undertaken to ‘recommission’ the railcar after lying unused for a while. This was motivated by the 50th anniversary of the closure of the original railway; the last train on the 1st October was a single diesel railcar similar to the one we are building (although larger as it was standard gauge). Unfortunately we were unable to run a train at the same time as the last train ran 50 years ago, however, in commemoration we did run a special trip on the 3rd October (the official closure date of the original railway) which included one passenger who had been on the last train back in 1966!
The mechanical and electrical systems are now largely complete on the railcar, and so the focus now is on finishing the bodywork. A number of roof beams were manufactured from recycled timber, assembled and then bolted into place on the body framework. This gives a better impression of how the railcar will ultimately look. The roof will be a mix of aluminium and timber, and will be fitted shortly alongside the bodywork panels.
Modifications are currently being made to the braking system fitted to the railcar. Originally it was fitted with ‘straight air’ brakes, where air pressure applies the brakes. However, as this would require a second mechanical brake fitted to act as a parking brake, we have taken the decision to use a different braking system for simplicity. The brakes will now be held on by springs and pushed off by air, thus providing a failsafe braking system that will automatically provide a parking brake!
We will have available for sale shortly approximately half a mile of good, reusable 35lb/yd steel rail complete with fishplates and bolts.
Some pre-fabricated 2ft gauge pointwork on steel sleepers is also available.
For further information please telephone us on 01566 775665 and speak to Nigel Bowman.
Enjoy a discounted day out this October half term week in conjunction with our local paper The Cornish & Devon Post.
Once again we have teamed up with ‘The Post’ for one of our popular Locals Week special offers. Inside the 20th October edition of the paper will be a voucher offering generous discounts on our normal fares.
Enjoy the chance to ride through the unspoilt Cornish countryside behind a Victorian steam locomotive, fifty years after the original railway through Launceston closed.
The café, shop and museum will all also be open, and for those thinking of Christmas gifts for enthusiasts, this is the last chance to shop locally for railway books, DVDs and related items.
Director Jonathan Mann said: “We recently had a visitor from East Anglia who was bowled over by the beauty of the Cornish countryside seen from the train. She was very amused however when I told her of a conversation overheard in our café, when one person (from another part of the country) said to another ‘It’s all very well, but there is nothing to see but countryside!'”
The half-term service runs from Sunday, October 23 to Friday, October 28 inclusive, and if the good weather holds, it is an excellent time to enjoy the valley. Trains leave Launceston hourly from 11am to 4pm. Discounted fares only valid with voucher from ‘The Post’, normal fares apply otherwise.
Following a busy summer touring North Wales, Velinheli returned home to Launceston on Wednesday 28th September. She was quickly unloaded in our car park – visitors may have noticed the length of track in the car park for unloading materials, but as Velinheli will (just) fit under the bridge between the station and the car park it is also the easiest location to load and unload her.
With steam raised the opportunity was taken to run Velinheli as far as possible onto the site of the original Launceston station, nearly fifty years since it closed. Following a quick run up the line she was returned to her shed for a few weeks well deserved rest, but she will be in steam and hauling passenger trains for a few days during the half term week at the end of October.
Our particular thanks to Paul Lewin of the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways for looking after Velinheli during her tour
For a few years we have been working, as time permits, on a new second museum building to hold more exhibits. As many regular visitors will know our original museum building was packed full of interesting vintage vehicles and machinery – and with more items becoming available for us to display, we have had to refurbish a second building to hold them all!
The new second museum building has now been opened to the public and has a ‘motor museum’ theme as it holds three of our vintage cars plus a collection of vintage motorcycles (in addition to the motorcycles upstairs in our original museum). There are also items of rolling stock from the slate quarry railways of North Wales, and a photographic display of the early days of the Launceston Steam Railway.
To find the new museum, simply head through our original museum building out into the yard and turn right, following the roped off area and signs. Entry to our museum is free of charge.