On Tuesday 31st March Georgie Adams, author of ‘The Railway Rabbits’ childrens’ book series, enjoyed a birthday train ride up the Kensey Valley behind her favourite engine Covertcoat – also known as ‘The Red Dragon’ in the popular book series inspired by the LSR. Georgie thanks Kay & Nigel Bowman, LSR owners, for her special birthday treat!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
Another day of work completed, with the old point now removed and new point in place.
Day four of “pointbash” and the blades are fitted to the point, and the point then connected to the mainline.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.