An early start for the ‘most intensive’ year at Llangollen
LLANGOLLEN Railway staff and volunteers had cause for celebration on February 19 when the line’s Class 104/108 and Class 109 DMUs operated the first trains of the 2022 season.
Following the two named storms of Dudley and Eunice, much of the Welsh main line network remained at a standstill. However, an early-morning inspection of the line between Llangollen and Carrog found no issues and so two-train DMU service was possible – and trains were well loaded, despite the poor weather.
Much work was carried out during the winter to ensure that the railway was able to run trains this early in the year, with considerable focus to redress a backlog in permanent way work.
Among the work completed was the changing of worn rails and resleepering work around Deeside, and relaying track at Platform 1 at Llangollen station. This has been completed by a regular volunteer group, supported by two part-time permanent way staff that the railway has been able to re-employ. A further delivery of sleepers arrived on February 16 for use in Berwyn Tunnel.
Steady progress continues to be made to having the new Corwen Central station ready to open during this summer. Trackwork is now virtually complete, with only tamping and final ballasting required, and is scheduled for April.
The rebuilt former Weston Rhyn signal box is externally complete, with the original lever floor sat on a substantial new concrete base which has been clad in wood to give an authentic appearance. Efforts are now turning towards rebuilding the interior and installing a lever frame.
Full signalling is a longer-term objective with the station opening, utilising a ground frame for running locomotives round. It will also be possible to station and ‘lock’ a locomotive in the run-round loop headshunt, should this be required for future gala operations.
The traditional-style station building is approaching fitting of the roof and a Government Levelling Up grant has been secured to allow the canopy to be finished. Class 26 No. 5310 became the first main line locomotive to reach the western extremity of the station at Green Lane on November 20 when it collected a Mermaid ballast wagon.
The line’s sole operational steam locomotive, GWR 2-8-0 No. 3802, has undergone a winter overhaul, with the motion, pistons and vacuum brake cylinder stripped, and it has visited West Coast Railway’s Carnforth base for tyre turning. The aim is to have it back in steam to handle Easter services over April 16/17 and 23/24.
The Llangollen Railway Trust’s Kitson 0-4-0ST Austin 1 has had its hire period to the Somerset & Dorset Railway extended for the 2022 season. It is too small for use over the 10-mile journey to Corwen but is appropriate for the shorter running line at Midsomer Norton, and the loan is bringing in welcome revenue.
The steam fleet should be bolstered by trust-owned GWR 0-6-0PT NBo.7754 returning to steam later in the year, with the boiler soon to be returned to the frames. Work also continues on GWR Small Prairie No. 5532, working towards being steamed in 2023 for the first time since withdrawal from BR.
The 10-year overhaul of BR Standard 4MT No. 80072 has also begun, with the tanks and cab removed for repair and the boiler soon to be lifted. Work to return privately-owned Hunslet Austerity 0-6-0ST No. 3777 of 1952 – masquerading as J94 No 68030 – to steam has also begun, with the boiler lifted at the end of January.
A two-train service will run for the new season, with a diesel locomotive covering the second diagram. It is hoped that No. 5310, Class 31 No. 31271, and Class 47 No. 1566 will be available.
The DMU fleet will handle all other services through March. With 33 running days, it will be the most intensive scheduled working of the line’s fleet for many years.
Diesel running dates are: April 16/17, 23/24; May 14/15, 28-30; June 4/5, 25/26; July: 2/3 (classic transport weekend), 16/17, 30/31; August 6/7, 13, 20/21, 27, 29; September 2-4 (diesel weekend), 17/18; and October 8/9 (DMU railcar weekend), 15/16.