How one of preservation’s pioneers is developing its plans
Considered by the NRM as a possible ‘outstation’, the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway is now taking stock and looking to improve its visitor experience.
The Bahamas Locomotive Society’s museum is like a TARDIS - it looks small from the outside, but it’s huge when you step inside.” That description of the unassuming Midland Railway goods shed at Ingrow West was coined by former National Railway Museum director Steve Davies, around the time that the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway was being put forward as an official ‘outstation’ of the NRM. But it’s a metaphor that could just as easily be applied to the KWVR itself. This preservation pioneer from the 1960s has only ever been one of the movement’s shorter lines - just a few chains shy of five miles - yet it seems to defy the laws of physics. With five stations and a halt, two tunnels, and a viaduct packed into that distance, it somehow feels twice as long as it really is. It’s also a ‘TARDIS’ in the sense that it’s a time machine - or at least, one of the closest things to it that you can find on the preservation map. To walk through the door of any of the KWVR’s stations is to pass through a portal into a carefully cultivated re-creation of the 1950s, where the locomotives are black, the stock maroon, and the stone stations covered in BR enamel. A ‘living museum’ seems the only apt description for it - yet, as we shall see, it was not until the NRM proposal was put forward that the KWVR really began to consider itself in such terms. And so, while the NRM partnership has been put on the back burner as circumstances changed, it has started trains of thought that will help to turn the Worth Valley into an even better railway experience.
The first community railway?
But how exactly do you improve what is already such a fine re‑creation of a bygone age? In fact, taking that further, isn’t being a ‘living museum’, to a greater or lesser extent, one of the key concepts behind pretty much any preserved line? “That’s a very interesting point,” replies KWVR Chairman Matt Stroh, “because actually, for some of our volunteers, I wouldn’t say that it is. “It was never our original intention to be a tourist attraction ‑ we simply set out to keep the line open as a transport provider.” Local residents make good use of a long‑standing railcard offer ‑ and, says Matt, in heavy snow the line can still be the only way in and out of Oxenhope. “So we never close,” he concludes. This doesn’t quite mean that it’s a 365‑day‑a‑year operation, but it certainly keeps running throughout the winter ‑ and so it doesn’t have any long period of downtime for maintenance, like more tourist‑ oriented railways. This is why, even in the height of summer, there will often be only one locomotive in steam ‑ to ease the pressure on what is, almost entirely, a volunteer‑run operation, without even a general manager. “A workers’ collective” is how Mike Holmes, vice‑Chairman of the Vintage Carriages Trust at Ingrow, describes the democratic structure that was set up by founder Bob Cryer back in the 1960s. “We’re fiercely proud of our volunteer ethos,” says Matt. “We’ve never been big on employees, and we don’t want to be.” For that reason, the step to a full‑blown daily commuter service ‑ something that has been discussed with the local authorities ‑ is one that the KWVR remains very wary of. “Having a national rail operator running it could be a real clash of cultures,” comments Matt. “We wouldn’t want to
see ‘156’ units on the line, and would national rail staff want to work by gaslight, or have to light coal fires when they start work in the morning?”
Steeped in history
And so, largely left to its own devices, the KWVR is now looking afresh at its national treasure of a steam-era timewarp - and what stories it can tell to visitors. The other thing that the KWVR is “fiercely proud of,” says Matt, is “being a complete branch line - like a model railway. “Yet when it comes to the experience… we expect people to understand the railway, without really explaining it.” “Everything here works,” says Bill Black, vice-president of the Vintage Carriages Trust and the KWVR Preservation Society. “The block bells, the telegraph wires - even the internal ‘omnibus’ telephone system is pretty historic. “These are all little things that we’d miss if they weren’t there - but trying to articulate that to visitors is more difficult, and we’ve lacked a museum curator to represent the passengers and put themselves in their shoes.” That remark underlines the extent to which, whether as a transport provider or as a tourist attraction, the Oxenhope branch has been preserved in aspic. To the KWVR, it had become a natural and accepted way of life; to the NRM, it offered a golden opportunity that static displays at York and Shildon could not. “The NRM couldn’t tell the story of an operational railway, and in five miles we can,” says Matt. “We were built to serve this valley and its mills - you can see the whole history of the Industrial Revolution here.” As things panned out, with cuts in funding, changes of personnel, and the shelving of ‘NRM-Plus’, none of the ideas put forward would come to pass - such as additional NRM branding for the KWVR, or regular shuttle trains between it and York, as well as loaning locomotives and stock. “The door is still open,” says Matt, “but it’s gone quiet, and is now more something for us to manage.”
Right tools for the job
Taking the first steps in those shoes is the Bahamas Locomotive Society, which - as part of the Heritage Lottery-funded overhaul of its eponymous ‘Jubilee’ No. 45596 (see pages 30-32) - is setting up a ‘Learning Coach’ in LMS tool van No. DM395470 (originally 1924-built Corridor Composite No. 3515). The rebuilding of this vehicle by Rail Restorations North East of Shildon has given the BLS an educational facility that’s up there with the best of them, with the former tool
storage area turned into a classroom, and the remaining compartments restored - one to original condition, and another housing an IT room. The third compartment is the office of Deborah Cross, who - as well as being the ‘Audience Development Co-ordinator’ for the HLF project - also now works for the KWVR and the Vintage Carriages Trust two days a week, giving the railway the ‘museum curator’ that it needs. ‘Rail Story’, as the development has been christened, aims to weave Ingrow station, the independent BLS and Vintage Carriages Trust all together into one cohesive whole, making it a major attraction in its own right. Already, says BLS press officer John Hillier, visitor figures to the society’s museum were up by 86% last year and a further 11% this year. “Right from the beginning, someone had the foresight to make Ingrow - the one site that has flat road access - into a railway centre,” says Matt, “but there’s more that could be done with it, and the BLS have to take the credit for that.” Rather like the BLS’ goods shed, the VCT’s accredited museum houses much more than its unprepossessing appearance might suggest: an eclectic mix of nine vintage carriages spanning 74 years, from 1876-built Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire four-wheel Tri-composite No. 176 to Bulleid Open Third No. S1469S of 1950. And, as Mike Holmes is keen to stress, “they’re not just stuffed and mounted” - with the exception of GNR Lavatory Brake Composite No. 2856, which is stopped for frame repairs, and the one remaining restoration project, Midland Railway six-wheel Composite No. 358 “the only Midland coach on a Midland branch” - all are operational.
Even within a ‘TARDIS’, though, space isn’t infinite, and one vehicle in the collection - Metropolitan Railway Third No. 465 - has been on loan to the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre for the last four years, simply to keep it under cover. The trust has therefore funded a £150,000, 30-foot, single-road extension to its shed. Due to a sewer beneath the sidings, between the shed and the running line, an extension to the rear was the only option - but even then, it was “a very difficult piece of land,” says Bill Black. Because it overhangs a culvert, to build the extension across both roads of the shed would have cost £300,000: “£150k is manageable, and it gives us the flexibility we need.” Such is the crowded nature of this heavily industrialised valley, space everywhere is at a premium, and “every project we do is an engineering nightmare,” says Matt. The extension to Oxenhope carriage shed, for instance, also had to be built over a culvert.
The NRM couldn’t tell the story of an operational railway, and in five miles we can
Queensbury ruled out
One of the few other places that offers room for expansion is ‘GN Straight’, north of Ingrow, where the Great Northern line to Queensbury and Halifax branched off, and where land has been acquired to provide road access for another shed. Before anyone asks, by the way, the KWVR does not have - and has never had - any plans to extend its running line by rebuilding part of the GNR branch. “In the very early days, the decision had to be taken on which of the two lines to save,” says Matt, “so the GNR route hasn’t been considered and has never been an ambition.” Not having any extension dreams, though, “can make it difficult - we’ve effectively ‘completed the model railway’ but everyone wants a vision to work towards.” So while the NRM partnership may have failed to come off, the silver lining is that it has now given the KWVR those goals for the future. “The vision,” says Matt, “is to treat each station as a floor in a museum. “Keighley represents the big urban station, and we plan to use the [currently disused] base of the water tower for a small introductory display. “We need to get the message across to visitors that there are regular trains, and then make sure that there is something for them to do, wherever they get off. “At Ingrow, we have the BLS and VCT museums telling the story of railway preservation; Damems can be interpreted as the halt built for the workers at the valley’s biggest mill; and at Oakworth, we could provide some Railway Children costumes for the kids… another example of looking at it from a passenger’s point of view.” One of the most important improvements to the passenger experience will be on the cards at Oxenhope in the near future. For such a long-established railway, with 120,000 visitors a year, the KWVR’s catering facilities - housed in a Mk 1 coach at the terminus - leave a little to be desired. Bradford Council has approved plans for the 100-seater café adjacent to the locomotive display shed, and an extension to the car park to compensate for the space used but the project is now on hold (see News). “We own all the railway and paid off the mortgage in the 1980s, so we’re debt-free and cash-rich,” says Matt, “and we know the business case for the café stands up - but it is a big commitment.” The final ‘museum floors’, at Haworth and Oxenhope, respectively, are the locomotive and carriage workshops. Although passengers can get ‘up close and personal’ with the locomotives at Ingrow, Haworth shed and yard remains a ‘closed shop’, save for guided tours at special events. Proposals include a viewing gallery, public access to a new shed which will cover the ex-Bradford Hammerton Street wheeldrop, or even extending the running shed into the car park to provide a further display shed for stored locomotives In fact, the KWVR can already keep out-of-ticket machines safe and dry, thanks to the shed at Oxenhope that currently contains BR ‘4MT’ 2-6-4T No. 80002, LMS ‘8F’ 2-8-0 No. 48431, ‘Jinty’ 0-6-0T No. 47279, Longmoor Military Railway ‘Austerity’ No. 118 Brussels, and Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0T No. 31 Hamburg. This building is open to the public, but could also do with better interpretation, says Matt - who makes a very intriguing (not to mention ironic) comment as we look over the rows of unserviceable engines that are kept looking pristine by the railway’s younger volunteers. To the untrained eye, “they look like they should work,” he says. In comparison to those that other railways have left sitting outside rusting away for years, “it’s quite hard to explain to people that they actually need an overhaul!” A case in point is No. 80002. Beneath its still-presentable lined black paintwork, it has a replacement steel firebox that suffered some major problems during its last ten-year ticket. “It has already gone to Haworth for an initial assessment and been sent back as too expensive,” says Matt, “so the ‘8F’ and ‘Jinty’ are the options for the next overhaul.” Industrials like the ‘Austerity’ “won’t keep up with the timetable any more,” he adds. “We run trains of five to seven coaches, and with the Pullmans that can be quite heavy - so locomotives in our core fleet need to be big ones.” It was for this reason that the railway launched its first-ever appeal to overhaul a locomotive - namely its celebrated Ivatt ‘2MT’ 2-6-2T No. 41241, the pilot engine on the ‘Reopening Special’ of June 29 1968. It will be back in steam, in its 1968 red livery, to mark the 50th anniversary in 2018 - but at a cost of £325,000.
Every project we do is an engineering nightmare
“That was out of all proportion for a Class 2,” says Matt, “so it had to be an appeal.” A second ‘2MT’ - BR Standard 2-6-0 No. 78022 - is also undergoing overhaul, albeit at a slightly cheaper estimate of £200,000, and partially funded by its owning group, the Standard 4 Locomotive Society (SR459). Work has just commenced on stripping down Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway ‘Ironclad’ 0-6-0 No. 957, which has proved its worth on the vintage trains and ‘footplate experience’ duties. The operational fleet is currently looking “pretty sound” at five locomotives: BR ‘4MT’ 4-6-0 No. 75078, the unique wartime freight twosome of WD 2-8-0 No. 90733 and ‘S160’ 2-8-0 No. 5820 ‘Big Jim’, Taff Vale Railway ‘O2’ 0-6-2T No. 85 and Midland ‘4F’ 0-6-0 No. 43924. However, the WD’s ticket is due to expire in 2017, and ‘Big Jim’ is currently stopped due to cracks in its flue tubes - so the availability of a sixth engine will be especially welcome. This is ex-Lostock Hall ‘Black Five’ No. 45212, which is on a ten-year ‘restore-and-run’ loan to Ian Riley - putting it back on the main line for the first time since the end of steam in August 1968 - but will be available for several months a year in the winter season when not out and about on the national network. Recalling Matt’s earlier comments about the railway “never closing”, this will help to keep the pressure off the Haworth volunteers at a time when most other railways would be stopping their fleets for maintenance.
Signalling the way
Volunteer resource has been the limiting factor on another major project, and one that shows how, in fact, the KWVR is far from “completing the model railway”. 1950s timewarp that it is, there’s one important set-piece that, apart from the passing loop at Damems, it’s still missing: semaphore signals. Midland Railway signal boxes, recovered from Esholt and Shipley Bingley Junction, now stand at Haworth loop and Keighley respectively, ready for the day that those semaphores - all of which have been acquired and are in storage - can be erected. But it will still be a few years yet before either ‘box accepts its first train. Resignalling Keighley has been on the wish list for a number of years, ever since the KWVR first gained access to Platform 3 (in its earlier years, BR retained this as reserve capacity for trains from Skipton). “If we got contractors in we could do the signalling in six months,” says Matt, “but again, we don’t want to lose the volunteer ethos.” He sums up: “With 500-plus volunteers all working at capacity, sometimes you need new blood to realise that, with a few tweaks, you could do new things. “We really need a step change to compete as an attraction - Haworth is still seen as somewhere to go just for a couple of hours on a Sunday - and the NRM partnership would have given us that.” Perhaps this is a problem that, to a greater or lesser extent, all preserved railways can end up suffering from? Do we sometimes get so wrapped up in the business of running trains, restoring locomotives and coaches, and repairing ageing infrastructure, that we need to take a step back and, in Bill Black’s words, “put ourselves in the passenger’s shoes”? Just as important, if we are to stake a claim to being ‘living museums’, how many other railways have taken that step back from just running trains, to ask themselves ‘what can we teach our visitors with this?’ In so doing, the KWVR could once again be putting itself at the pioneering forefront of railway preservation - and showing others that it’s ‘Worth taking another look’ at what you can offer.
The timeless Worth Valley offers boundless opportunities for evocative re‑creations of the gritty northern steam era, although this view of Mytholmes Viaduct is only possible during steam galas with early morning trains. Stalwart ‘4F’ 0‑6‑0 No. 43924 is the appropriate Midland motive power during the recent ‘Autumn Steam Spectacular’ event on October 9.
The Bahamas Locomotive Society’s ‘Learning Coach’, former Southport tool van No. DM395470, in the dock at Ingrow. New signage directs the visitor to the station’s combined ‘Rail Story’ attraction of the BLS and Vintage Carriages Trust museums. A member of the station staff at Oakworth lights a recalcitrant gas lamp with the aid of a box of Swan Vestas on February 27.
Hauling two vehicles from the Vintage Carriages Trust’s collection (Bulleid No. S1469S and SECR-design ‘Matchboard’ Brake Third No. S3554S) the Bahamas Locomotive Society’s LNWR ‘Coal Tank’ No. 1054 departs from Keighley on October 9. The former Shipley signal box on the right awaits restoration to working order, while the base of the water tower on the left will be turned into a small museum to welcome visitors to the railway.
The two most recent additions to the working KWVR fleet were captured together just outside Haworth on October 1. Making its first trial runs, following overhaul by Ian Riley for main line operation, was end‑of‑steam celebrity ‘Black Five’ No. 45212, while BR ‘4MT’ 4‑6‑0 No. 75078 ‑ returned to steam in December 2014 ‑ was working the service train. DUNCAN LANGTREE One of the most prized locomotives in the KWVR collection, sole surviving WD 2‑8‑0 No. 90733, passes the Vintage Carriages Trust shed as it arrives at Ingrow West on June 5. In the yard, the Bahamas Locomotive Society’s Hudswell Clarke 0‑6‑0T Nunlow shunts one of the Trust’s coaches, GNR six‑wheel Brake Third No. 589.