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Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Margam Park Railway

In a nutshell

Gauge:         2'

Length:       Approx 1¼ miles

Opened:     2011 (?)


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Tel:        01639 881 635


Date of visit:     12 April 2014


Key Facts

  • The railway has one steam outline 0-4-0DH  'Margam Castle' and three carriages (two open one closed) built by Alan Keef Ltd.
  • The railway runs daily in the summer months (usually from 1 April to the end of October).
  • The railway runs from the car park near the entrance to the Park through the grounds, across the dam of the lake (New Pond) to the castle.
  • The line originally ran from the castle around the lake to the adventure playground.
  • There is a modest additional charge to take the train which run every half hour.
  • There is a cafe in the castle courtyard and play areas for children.


My Impressions

 Entrance to the park is free, though there is a charge (£3.50) for car-parking - which I consider to be very reasonable when one considers the cost of visiting other visitor attractions.

As we arrived before the first train of the day, we walked from the car park to the Castle, where we partook of a cup of coffee in the cafe. There was an opportunity to study the history of the park and the 19th Century Tudor Gothic Mansion, which was designed by the architect Thomas Hopper for Christopher Rice Talbot between1830 and 1840. I was intrigued to discover that a frequent visitor to Margam was Henry Fox Talbot, probably the country's most famous early photographer.

Just outside the courtyard of the Castle, the train was being prepared for her first trip of the day

The Alan Keef 0-4-0 DH loco is very similar in design to that used on the Blenheim Park Railway and the one closed and two open carriages provide utilitarian comfort for admiring the views of the parkland.

After watching the train depart to pick up its first load of visitors, I waited for its return.

It skirted the artificial lake (New Pond) before returning via the balloon loop to the Castle Station .....

...... where I boarded, the only Down passenger on this particular service.

After paying the fare, we set off around the remainder of the balloon loop........

...... and off to the banks of the lake .........

 ...... eventually crossing the dam which helped form the ornamental lake. At the end of the lake, in front of the adventure playground, is the old loop which originally formed the other end of the railway.

We branched off to the left to begin our descent through the parkland towards the car park.

Visitors arriving at the car park and taking the train up the line to the castle will get a good feel for the park and its attractions as the train passes through some of the parkland and woodland ....... the track meanders through the park. As the train approaches the lower end of the line it crosses a stream and heads on to the balloon loop beside the cricket pitch .......

 ...... before pulling into the lower station adjacent to the entrance and the car park.

The approach to the station is a short walk from the main entrance but there is easy wheelchair access and facilities on the train to take disabled passengers.

The railway is in a wonderful setting and it's good to see that it is performing a useful function. I should imagine that young families who have expended their energies in the play areas and following the walks in the park will appreciate a return trip on the train. It's still very pleasing to see how excited young children get when they are having a train ride - and the length of the trip is just about right. Far enough to retain their interest but not too far that it becomes boring.


Saturday, 26 April 2014

Evesham Vale Light Railway

In a nutshell

Gauge:        15"

Length:      1 mile overall

Opened:     2002


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Date of visit:     12 April 2014


Key Facts

  • The railway was built in 2002 and changed ownership in 2012, with most of the stock being transferred to the new owners.
  • It is located at the Evesham Country Park and runs from its main station through the park and an orchard to return via a balloon loop.
  • The railway possesses two steam locomotives presently in working order - Dougal, a Severn Lamb 0-6-0 and St. Egwin, an Exmoor 0-4-0. Another steam loco, Monty, an Exmoor 0-4-2, is currently being overhauled.
  • It also has two diesel locomotives - Sludge, a Lister and Cromwell, a Ruston. 



My Impressions

The main station for the railway is adjacent to the car park for the Country Park and looks very smart with two platforms, an overall roof, booking office, turntable and engine sheds. The buildings are painted cream and green to add to the atmosphere.

Our loco, 0-4-0 St Egwin was steaming quietly at the end of the main platform .....

 I made my way down the platform to take my seat in one of the neatly finished enclosed carriages......

..... and had a view of the other platform and an interesting pedal-powered vehicle standing on the intervening siding.

We then started our journey down the line.

After clearing the pointwork of the station ....

.... the loco picked-up speed and climbed towards the summit of the line.

The reverse-loop provided us with views across the Avon Valley ......

.... before we plunged into the tunnel.

When we emerged, we rounded the bend and pulled into Evesham Vale Station ......

.... where there was a five minute stop.

I decided to walk back beside the line to the main station. After watching the train traverse the pointwork for the balloon-loop.

I positioned myself further along the line to watch the passing trains, which run every half-hour.

 As the line is quite steeply graded, there is plenty of opportunity for the driver to give the locos a good work-out and for some satisfying lineside video shots.

A then spent a while watching shunting operations in the main station as St Egwin ran around her train.

And the line's other locos basked in the Spring sunshine.

After watching one more departure, I made my way back to the car park to resume my journey home.

 I found the Evesham Vale Light Railway to be well maintained and run with a great deal of care and attention by its staff. Its proximity to the attractions at the Country Park means that it must get a steady stream of appreciative visitors. Whilst most will be attracted by the opportunity to experience live steam in miniature form, it is also pays homage to the versatility of Heywood's vision in providing an industrious minimum gauge railway (see Minimum Gauge Railways Chronology)


Friday, 18 April 2014

Brecon Mountain Railway

In a nutshell

Gauge:      1' 11¾"

Length:      5 miles

Opened:     1980


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Date of visit:     10 April 2014


Key Facts

  • The route follows part of the abandoned Brecon and Merthyr Railway which closed in 1964.
  • The summit of the railway is at Torpantau which is 1313ft above sea level.
  • Beyond Torpantau is the highest railway tunnel in the British Isles.
  • Construction of the railway commenced in 1979 and the railway opened for service between Pant and Pontsticill in 1980.
  • In 1995, the railway was extended by 1½ miles from Pontsticill to DolyGaer.
  • In 2014, the railway was further extended to Torpantau, its present terminus.
  • The railway passes the lower and upper Taf Fechan reservoirs on its route up the valley.
  • The railway has rive steam locomotives - a 2-6-2 Baldwin (No. 1 - Santa Teresa), a 4-6-2 Baldwin (No. 2), a 2-6-2 Baldwin (No. 3 under construction), a 2-4-4 Forney (No. 4 under construction) and an 0-6-2 Arn Jung (Graf Schwerin - Lowitz)
  • The line also possesses three small steam locomotives which are exhibited in the steam museum at Pontsticill: Sybil, an 0-4-0 quarry Hunslet; Pendyffryn, a De Winton vertical boilered locomotive and Redstone, a 2ft gauge replica of a 3ft gauge vertical boilered locomotive built in 1897
  • The railway also has several diesel locomotives used for shunting (and emergency passenger duties - see below)




My Impressions

The station building at Pant was quite prominent as we drove into the car park, as were the ventilation shafts of the former standard gauge railway which runs in a tunnel beneath the site.

We had reserved our tickets online previously and so picked them up at the booking office before climbing the ramp to the platform.

Before long, the train arrived, hauled by the railway's 0-6-0 diesel hydraulic locomotive - the usual Baldwin steam loco was undergoing repairs, having her brick arch replaced.

Before boarding, there was an opportunity to admire the locomotive which was built in the railway workshops and is reminiscent of Accucraft's 16mm scale model of a Baguley Drewery.

After running around the train and coupling up, ..........

...... we took our seats in the leading carriage.

Before long, the train departed winding its way along the hillside ......

.... towards the reservoirs at Pontsticill.

After passing the extensive storage sheds we passed through Pontsticill station without stopping ......

...... and made our way alongside the reservoir.

After passing the remnants of Dolygaer station which was the terminus for the line until this year, the railway started its climb up the side of the valley........

........ towards its new terminus, called Torpantau.

 The facilities at the station are presently minimal as the station has only recently been opened, however the views are quite spectacular and certainly helps justify the title for the railway. There was an opportunity to explore the locality while the loco ran round its train.

Ten minutes later we departed for the descent down the valley.

After passing Dolygae, which is now a Scout Camp .......

........ we arrived once more at Pontsticill, where we had a twenty minute break for a cup of tea and a Welsh Cake in the cafe.

There is also a small steam museum and a playground for the children. After re-boarding, we set off once more for our final destination. After passing the remains of the quarries, we followed the curve of the valley and pulled slowly back into Pant station, passing the workshop facilities .........

 ........ where much of the maintenance and construction of stock takes place.

After disembarking, there was an opportunity to admire some of the line's rolling stock .......

....... and view the workshops, where the line's steam locos were undergoing repair and construction.

There is a range of facilities at Pant Station, including a cafe and souvenir shop. After enquiring, I discovered that a guide to the railway is presently being prepared and will be available sometime during the coming year - in the meantime there is a fair amount of information and some archive photos of the railway and its standard gauge predecessor on the Railway's website.

Being located in the Brecon Beacons National Park, the railway is certainly very picturesque, even in early Spring. The recent extension to Torpantau adds a new dimension to the journey, providing a contrast to the waterside stage of the route lower down the valley. The railway is unique in the UK in amassing a collection of USA built locomotives and when they are all in service they should present an impressive spectacle as they power up newly opened steeper section of the railway. I hope to return when I will have a better opportunity to see them in action.

In the meantime, we were able to take a slight detour on our return journey and caught a fleeting glimpse of the railway's operational Baldwin as it departed Torpantau. A foretaste, maybe?