News Archive 2009

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December 2009 - Progress with Site Acquisition

The most recent meeting between the Great Western Society, in the company of our local MP, Ed Vaizey, and Network Rail representatives, finally took place at the end of November.

The meeting began with the Manager who had been responsible for the Great Western Route Utilisation Survey (GWRUS) outlining what this had entailed. Amongst the suggestions were proposals to build a new flyover at Didcot East and two new platforms on the avoiding line. Both had been examined and costed in detail and we were told that neither stood up as a business case.  It is assumed by the Society therefore that any risk to the main demonstration line is beyond the horizon. However, Network Rail have reconfirmed their desire that this chord of land should be treated separately to all the other land at Didcot Railway Centre.

Frome Mineral Junction Signal Cabin
A wintry scene at Frome Mineral Junction Signal Cabin.

We then had a discussion as to what use Network Rail might wish to make of the site and none of the Network Rail representatives could see any reason for wanting to take back any part of the site.  This has been reiterated in a subsequent letter from Network Rail offering the Society a new 35-year lease and advising us that in the very unlikely event of the site being required for operational use, compensation would be offered in respect of any investment made. We accept that it is impossible to foresee the future and at some time in the future rail expansion could affect our site, but this would be subject to compensation terms.

Network Rail have taken away a number of points we made, including our desire for the period to be longer than 35 years and we will continue negotiations to try and better the terms. In due course the agreed proposals will need to be submitted to the Office for Rail Regulation and it is probable that this process will also take some time.

Nevertheless this is a very positive step forward with Ed Vaizey commenting that  “We are making progress, and we will get a lease that the railway centre can live with”. Richard Croucher, Society Chairman, added that “this is a great boost to the future - by allowing us to invest in refurbishing the historic locomotive depot buildings, which are listed, as well as realise our master plan for the site. The railway centre already has a collection of international importance, and site improvements will make it world class, on a par with any other national railway museum.”

September 26 2009 - Vintage Coach Enters Service for Brunel Weekend

Vintage Train
Locomotive 1338, of 1898, with 416 - a Dean 4 wheel brake third coach of 1891 on the main demonstration line

Over the weekend of 26/27 September Didcot Railway Centre marked the 150th anniversary of Brunel's death.

As well as replica broad gauge locomotive Fire Fly, two 19th Century locomotives, tank engines 1338 and 1340 were in steam. The event also marked the re-entry into passenger service of 19th Century Coach No. 416. This coach has recently been restored and was carrying passengers for what is thought to be the first time in more than 70 years!

Didcot Railway Centre West Yard Siding

Work in the West Yard
Concreting complete on our siding in the West Yard
18-Sep-2009 .
Thomas Arrives
Thomas is the first arrival on our siding in the West Yard
30-Sep-2009 .

With the recent closure of the rail siding at Milton Depot, Didcot Railway Centre temporarily had no means of getting large loads (such as visiting locomotives) on or off the premises.

We have therefore developed our siding in the DBS west yard to provide a concrete pad for coal deliveries and to infill the siding to allow locomotives to be unloaded.

As always this has required a large amount of paperwork in the background to ensure that the Great Western Society has guaranteed access, initially for a fifteen year period, and to gain the necessary permissions to undertake the work. We have also received confirmation that we can move locomotives and other heavy loads over the bridge giving access to West Yard, and that various transport firms are happy to use that route.

The work was completed on 18 September (on budget and five hours early!). As expected the first locomotive to use the new facility, on Wednesday 30 September, was 'Thomas' arriving for his October holiday!

Britain's Two Newest Main Line Steam Locomotives Together at Didcot

Tornado and Fire Fly
Tornado and Fire Fly at Didcot Railway Centre .

During Tornado's visit to Didcot, Britain's two newest main steam locomotives were posed together. A1 4-6-2 Tornado, completed 2009, and broad gauge 2-2-2 Fire Fly, completed 2005, made a unique scene, representing state-of-the-art express passenger steam locomotives of the 1940s and 1840s respectively.

23 August 2009 - Lord Faulkner Visits Didcot

Lord Faulkner Didcot Railway Centre
Lord Faulkner with his grandson Emile on the footplate of Tornado.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester visited Didcot Railway Centre on 23 August and discussed plans for the centre's future development with Peter Jennings, duty manager on the day, and Richard Antliff, civil engineering manager.

Lord Faulkner, who was chairman of the Railway Heritage Committee until he recently stood down on his appointment as a minister in the government, and was visiting Didcot in a personal capacity, said: “I was delighted to pay another visit, with my grandson, to Didcot. It is a vibrant, successful railway heritage centre, and plays an essential role in telling the story of the Great Western Railway and its wonderful history. My great-grandfather was a GWR driver, and my father worked for the company for a while too. During my visit I was comprehensively briefed about Didcot's plans for the future, and I hope that I may be able to help their aspirations come to fruition.

First Lift for Carriage Jacks

Carraiage jacks in operation
One of the bogies is pushed out

The set of four jacks recently installed in the carriage shed at Didcot were used for a real job for the first time on Saturday 22 August to lift Mk1 brake first coach No M14007. Previously they had only been used for testing and training purposes.

The coach is owned by the Railway Carriage Company and is currently on hire to the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust as the support vehicle for Tornado. The opportunity was taken to carry out maintenance on the bogies during the two week rest from main line running while Tornado visited Didcot.

The jacks were obtained by the Railway Centre from Swindon and refurbished by Matterson Cranes of Rochdale, the original manufacturer. In the process the lift capacity of each jack was increased from 6.5 to 8.5 tons, making them capable of lifting the Ocean Saloons which are the heaviest coaches at Didcot.

Augsut 2009 - Tornado visits Didcot

Tornado at Didcot Railway Centre
60163 Tornado on Didcot Railway Centre turntable
Photo: Jonathan Holmes
Tornado at Didcot Railway Centre
61063 Tornado attracts admiring looks from visitors

On Sunday 16th August A1 Pacific 60163 Tornado, Britain’s newest main line steam locomotive, arrived at Didcot Railway Centre for a short stay.

The locomotive stayed until 2 September.


13 & 14 June - 3650 Official Launch into Traffic

3650 on teh turntable
left to right, on the footplate Rick Webster and Pete Jennings;
on the turntable David Fry, Andrew Martin, Kevin Evans, Derrick Thompson, Geoff Hinks, Tim Jones, Tony Coulin, Mick Coulin, Kevin Dare, Brian Thompson and Bob Fry.

3650, now resplendent in GWR green with ‘shirt-button’ logo, was officially launched into traffic over the weekend of 13 -14 June.

3650 has been restored over the last 20 years, and the launch provided the opportunity for those who had been involved to re-acquaint themselves with 3650 and the 3650 group.

May 2009 - Super Saloon progress

Stella Whatley and her painting of Clifton Down
Mick Howse and Dick Werrell at work on 9113 Prince of Wales

The Great Western Society owns three of the eight Super Saloons introduced by the Great Western Railway to carry passengers from Plymouth to London who had disembarked from the Trans Atlantic liners.

9113 - Prince of Wales, is at present undergoing a full restoration which started with major repairs to the timber framing. The latest sign of progress is the first of the large picture windows being fitted over the May Day bank holiday weekend.

3 May 2009 - Clifton Down Painting Presented

Stella Whatley and her painting of Clifton Down
Stella Murray Whatley GRA presents her painting

A painting of Clifton Down station by the artist, Stella Whatley GRA, was presented to the Great Western Society at 12.30 on Sunday 3rd May.

Stella is a member of the Guild of Railway Artists, being one of the first to be elected to full membership on foundation of the Guild in 1979.

2 May 2009 - Radstock Signalbox Centenary

Cutting the Centenary Cake
Andrew Hook opens the event

The 100th anniversary of Radstock North Signalbox was celebrated on Saturday 2 May.

The celebrations featured a 100th Birthday Cake, and musical accompaniment from the Goring and Streatley Concert band, which includes a member of the Signal & Telegraph department among their number. There was also a small exhibition showing how the signalbox was rescued and restored.

Radstock SIgnal Box 1st March 2009
Joyce King and a GWR memorandum

The occasion was also marked by the opening of King's park, a newly landscaped public area opposite Radstock Box.

Eric King was a long time supporter of the Bristol Group's signalling project and we were pleased to welcome his widow Joyce King to declare the park open. Joyce also presented a GWR memorandum, given to her late husband in 1931, to the Great Western Trust. Eric, a Radstock resident, had won a scholarship to study at Bristol University and went to Radstock GWR station to enquire about season tickets. The memo shows the rates at the time - 1 month £1.13s.0d (£1.65) and 3 months £4.8s.6d (£4.43).

Radstock North Box, built at the Great Western Railway’s signal works at Reading, replaced an earlier MacKenzie & Holland box, at Radstock on the North Somerset Line from Frome to Bristol, in 1909.

In 1975 the signalbox, which was no longer required for railway operations, was purchased by the Bristol Group of the Great Western Society. With roofing slates and windows still in place it was transported to Didcot by low-loader and transferred to the railway centre by rail. It has subsequently been re-erected, on a new brick base, and now controls the steam trains on the centre’s convincingly reconstructed branch line.

Negotiations to acquire the site - Update March 2009

The Great Western Society met representatives from Network Rail during January to press its case to acquire the land currently occupied at Didcot Railway Centre. We hoped this would bring about the long term security of the site. This will allow the gradual development to enhance access to the collection.

At the meeting Network Rail tabled a new proposal which would break the current area occupied into separate lots:

The Society reiterated its desire to acquire the freehold or a long (99 year) lease on the land with the exception of the area occupied by the main demonstration line, in order that it can develop Didcot Railway Centre for future generations to enjoy.

The consultation process with the various railway operating companies is still on going, but we have heard subsequently that possible proposals to increase the capacity in the Didcot Parkway area and between Didcot and Oxford may impact on some parts of the site area currently occupied by the Great Western Society although nothing specific has yet been put forward.

The negotiation process continues. Many people and organisations have come forward to offer their assistance and we are encouraged by the support which has been shown. A member of the public, who is not a member of the Great Western Society, has set up a petition on the Prime Minister’s website and we would like to thank everyone for their support.

February 2009 - Ocean Saloon seats re-upholstered

Mick Howse, Gary Morley and Mark Werrell
Mick Howse behind an unrestored seat, Gary Morley with the restored one, and Mark Werrell with a partly restored example.

Were ever chairs more elegant than these provided for railway passengers? The Great Western Railway’s legendary Ocean Saloon carriages, built in 1932, were the ultimate in luxury travel, and their Queen Anne wing armchairs reflected the furnishings in drawing rooms of great country houses that the clientele could be expected to frequent.

Now after forty years in preservation at Didcot Railway Centre the chairs are looking tired, so 54 are getting a makeover at Asnew Upholstery in Abingdon. The Didcot team have sourced moquette from John Holdsworth of Halifax and have raised funds for the work from sponsors of individual chairs.

Three Ocean Saloons are preserved at Didcot – 9112 Queen Mary, 9113 Prince of Wales and 9118 Princess Elizabeth. 9113 is going through a major overhaul at present.

The Ocean Saloons (also known as Super Saloons) were introduced by the GWR to capture a share of the transatlantic traffic. The thirties were a decade of great ocean liners and intense competition to capture the blue riband for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic. The GWR did not have an ocean liner port, but ships were able to anchor off Plymouth for a short while and unload the time-sensitive mails into small steamers that carried them into the harbour for the train journey to London.

Passengers in a hurry to get to London would also go ashore on the steamers and then be whisked from Plymouth to the capital in four hours in a train of Ocean Saloons. By then the liner would have upped anchor and continued to Cherbourg to land passengers for mainland Europe, before crossing the channel to dock in Southampton a day or two after the passengers who went ashore at Plymouth had arrived in the capital.

14 January 2009 - Railmotor - Bogie Move & Open Day News

Unloading at Llangollen
The Boiler being unloaded at Llangollen

The Power Bogie and Boiler for the Steam Railmotor project, which had been on display in the engine shed, have now gone to Llangollen to be united with the rest of the vehicle which is under restoration there.

The boiler was loaded into the Society’s Sleeper wagon, and the power bogie onto a ‘Salmon’ hired from D.B. Shenker (the new name for EWS). After an inspection by the D.B. Loads Inspector, the vehicles made the short trip to Didcot’s West Yard, for transfer by crane to road transport for the journey to North Wales. The trip to Llangollen was without incident, unloading being done on Friday 16 January in the station goods yard.

The bogie and the coach body, which is under restoration, are not in a position at Llangollen where they can normally be viewed, but we are pleased to announce that there will be a further opportunity to inspect progress at a gala event in April. This will be during the Llangollen Railway's ‘Steel, Steam and Stars II’ gala, from 18 to 26 April 2009.

The Boiler and Power Bogie will be on display in the Locomotive Works at Llangollen and the body and underframe (which will by then have been reunited) will be on display at Pentrefelyn Carriage and Wagon Workshop. Members of the project team will be on hand at weekends, to answer questions on the project.

5 January 2009 - New Centre Operations Manager

Roger orchard

Roger Orchard has taken up the post of Operations Manager as of Monday 5th January 2009 and is responsible for the day to day operation of the Railway Centre. Roger was successful in the recent interviews held for the post and comes with experience of project management, resource management, health and safety and many heritage railway aspects.

Roger describes himself as “a 54 year old who luckily lives about 3 miles from Didcot”. Asked about his background Roger sums himself up as follows:

“Having spent most of my life somewhere near the main Bournemouth to Waterloo main line I do have a passion for things Southern (not a good start!). My interest in railways started with the usual Triang train set then swayed towards railway preservation which has resulted in 40 years involvement, the majority of which has been with the Swanage Railway. I still have a 16mm garden railway and play drums in a local band. My working life has mainly been in telecommunications with BT but I have recently had 4 years experience of working in Formula 1 as a Facilities and Health and Safety officer. So I promise I won't start painting things Southern and erecting Bulleid signs everywhere. I'm here to carry on the work of the Society and ensure that the Centre's operation and its standing in the preservation world is best in class.”


Recreating the golden age of the Great Western Railway