‘Grange’ to go main line with Tyseley
New-build 4-6-0 running on Vintage Trains’ ‘Shakespeare Express’ has been agreed in principle.
Recreated GWR 4-6-0 Betton Grange could be running on the main line as early as 2020, if plans by its construction team and Vintage Trains come to fruition. Vintage Trains Chairman Michael Whitehouse said that an “agreement in principle” has been reached between the Tyseley organisation (which is hopeful of establishing an independent main line train operating company) and 6880 Betton Grange (Society) Ltd. Vintage Trains has identified a future requirement that will necessitate more than just its in-house locomotive fleet to shoulder the anticipated increase in main line tours, and has already signed ‘8P’ No. 71000 Duke of Gloucester for at least a dozen trains a year (see story, right). However, VTL’s regular ‘Shakespeare Expresses’ between Birmingham Moor Street and Stratford commonly rely on smaller engines – and it is here that No. 6880 Betton Grange is expected to find its niche, alongside No. 4965 Rood Ashton Hall. Indeed, VTL anticipates that, in collaboration with West Midlands Transport, deeper integration into the national network timetable will mean that protected paths for the ‘Shakespeare Express’ will be available seven days a week – six more than the current arrangement. Both the ‘Hall’ and ‘Grange’ are severely restricted on the national network because of their width over cylinders, but 6880 Society Publicity Director Paul Appleton says that a regular tranche of annual work on the North Warwickshire Line would still satisfy the group’s original aim to put the ‘Grange’ on the main line. “The number of places where steam can go is getting smaller all the time, and we’re restricted to where we can operate, which is now probably over one or two routes, and that is quite acceptable,” he told Steam Railway. “For a lot of people, from Day 1, it was a key objective… We would be letting the membership down if we didn’t continue in that direction.” The ‘Grange’ has been built to main line standards since construction began in September 2004. Its 5ft 8in driving wheels permit it to be registered for running at up to 60mph. Although there is not yet a formal contract in place for VTL operation, Mr Appleton “imagines that it will go to Tyseley for a three to five-month stint”, between running periods at the Llangollen Railway and other preservation outfits. Mr Appleton cautioned: “If it’s part of a pool of engines, we would be looking for an agreement over a number of years… it has to be worthwhile to repay the initial investment.” The boiler of No. 6880 – formerly belonging to Willington Hall – is at an advanced stage of restoration at Tyseley Locomotive Works and should be delivered to the locomotive’s Llangollen base by the middle of June (see panel). With the chassis also near to completion, the society is hopeful of running in the ‘68XX’ at the Llangollen Railway this autumn, ahead of an anticipated public launch in 2019. Betton Grange will initially run with a tender borrowed from another GWR 4-6-0 (currently under negotiation) and therefore it will not be available for Network Rail certification until it has its own tender that is compatible with the installation of electronic safety and signalling equipment. The society has said that supporters would be asked to help fund these elements, which are expected to progress once No. 6880 has proved itself on 25mph-limited preserved railways for at least 12 months. “It will be on the main line in 2020 at the earliest,” stressed Mr Appleton.
A sight not seen at Tyseley station for over 50 years… On September 26 1963 No. 6877 Llanfair Grange runs through the outskirts of Birmingham with a Wolverhampton train.