com­mer­cial man­ager of the Ecclesbourne Val­ley Rail­way, out­lines the im­por­tance of of­fer­ing mean­ing­ful ex­pe­ri­ences to the public.

Steam Railway (UK) - - Contents -

One of preser­va­tion’s new­com­ers, on learn­ing to ‘walk be­fore you can run’

If you had vis­ited Wirksworth sta­tion 18 years ago, you could have eas­ily over­looked that there was a rail­way there at all. Some 11 years or so of growth had hid­den the en­tire in­fra­struc­ture of the nine-mile rail­way un­der a thick layer of bushes and trees. Some­how, the prospect of clear­ing all of this un­der­growth didn’t seem to faze the eight vol­un­teers who boldly ven­tured into the wilder­ness in Novem­ber 2000 to be­gin the restora­tion of Der­byshire’s long­est branch line. Over the next four years, the line was grad­u­ally cleared un­til work could start on re­fur­bish­ment of the track, drainage and sta­tions with a view to open­ing the line to pas­sen­gers in stages. With mo­men­tum grow­ing and vol­un­teer num­bers in­creas­ing, a small sec­tion of line was opened be­tween Wirksworth and Gorsey Bank Level Cross­ing in Oc­to­ber 2004. It was a great oc­ca­sion for the band of vol­un­teers who had re­laid this half-mile sec­tion of line, and back then there was never any doubt that the goal of open­ing the line to Duffield would hap­pen, even if they weren’t quite sure how it would be achieved. Grant fund­ing en­abled the un­usual half-mile in­cline to Raven­stor to be opened in Septem­ber 2005. This stretch of track is a sort of twig off the branch line, run­ning from Wirksworth in a northerly di­rec­tion to the top of the 1-in-27 climb. Orig­i­nally it was used for quarry traf­fic and had never car­ried pas­sen­gers, so it was some­thing of a nov­elty to be op­er­at­ing pas­sen­ger trains on it. Steam ran briefly on the in­cline dur­ing the open­ing week­end and, more re­cently, has fea­tured the re­stored An­drew Bar­clay 0-4-0STs based on the rail­way. In March 2008 the line was opened to Idridge­hay (around 3½ miles) and, fol­low­ing grant aid and a clever mar­ket­ing push, called ‘Dash to Duffield’, the line was opened fully on April 8 2011. It was a very proud mo­ment for the vol­un­teers of this fledg­ling rail­way and to cel­e­brate the oc­ca­sion, ‘2MT’ No. 78019 vis­ited from the Great Cen­tral Rail­way for around six weeks. This was the first time that steam had op­er­ated in earnest with a train con­sist­ing of a Mk 1 Sec­ond Cor­ri­dor, an LMS Third Open and an LMS In­spec­tion Saloon. There­after, the rail­way set­tled into a rhythm of us­ing preser­va­tion DMUs, as they can pro­vide a cost-ef­fec­tive and re­li­able ser­vice, while pro­vid­ing great views of the line. The op­er­a­tion of these trains al­lowed for as much money as pos­si­ble to be in­jected into im­prov­ing the in­fra­struc­ture of the line and the fa­cil­i­ties that are des­per­ately needed for run­ning a pre­served rail­way. While the track was all in place, ev­ery inch needed re­fur­bish­ing, with thousands of sleep­ers to change. Wirksworth also lacked suf­fi­cient fa­cil­i­ties to be a main­te­nance de­pot, so those that are there to­day have had to be con­structed from scratch. In some ways this is one of the great­est chal­lenges for a new rail­way, as projects to con­struct main­te­nance sheds and ac­quire all of the nec­es­sary equip­ment re­quired, plus the train­ing of vol­un­teers to use it, are vi­tal parts of an ex­tremely costly ex­er­cise. Steam vis­ited the line twice in 2013, firstly in May with the GWR Col­lett 0-6-2T No. 5643 and then again with Lan­cashire & York­shire 0-6-0 No. 52322 for the sum­mer. The vis­its of these lo­co­mo­tives were learn­ing curves in a lot of ways, as it be­came ap­par­ent that fa­cil­i­ties to sup­port steam op­er­a­tion were still prim­i­tive, es­pe­cially when it came to pro­vid­ing wa­ter for a day’s ser­vice. The next few years were key, and in­volved ac­qui­si­tions and restora­tion of coaches to sup­port a grow­ing rail­way. A chal­lenge for any pre­served rail­way new­comer is ob­tain­ing ser­vice­able coach­ing stock, usu­ally of the Mk 1 va­ri­ety. The rail­way was able to source coaches but many of them re­quired par­tial or full restora­tion. Diesel events were grow­ing and the pas­sen­ger num­bers they at­tracted rapidly made it ap­par­ent that a rake of at least five coaches would be re­quired be­fore steam could re­turn to the line. There seems lit­tle point in op­er­at­ing steam reg­u­larly if you are un­able to pro­vide for the vis­i­tors who come to en­joy it. This in­cludes be­ing able to com­fort­ably get them onto the train, as well as sup­port­ing fa­cil­i­ties such as cater­ing and toi­lets. The rail­way prides it­self on pro­vid­ing a pos­i­tive cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence as their pa­tron­age is so cru­cial but also, at a ba­sic level, it needs to be able to get them onto the train if the ad­di­tional ex­pense of op­er­at­ing steam is to pay its way.


2017 was a bumper year for the rail­way, 150 years since the line was opened by the Mid­land Rail­way. There were sev­eral other cel­e­bra­tions, in­clud­ing 25 years since the for­ma­tion of WyvernRail, the com­pany which op­er­ates the line. It was de­cided that steam should re­turn to the line and be a big part of the cel­e­bra­tion, and it was de­light­ful that ‘Jinty’ No. 47406, also from the Great Cen­tral Rail­way, could visit


from the end of May un­til the end of Au­gust. The hunch about the coach­ing stock was cor­rect as many happy cus­tomers vis­ited the line to en­joy steam in the val­ley once more, with a his­tor­i­cally rel­e­vant lo­co­mo­tive look­ing per­fectly at home in the Der­byshire coun­try­side. The lo­co­mo­tive as­sisted with a few ‘firsts’ for the line too, as it headed the first steam pas­sen­ger train to pass an­other on the re­cently com­mis­sioned loop at Shot­tle (the line wasn’t orig­i­nally equipped with a pass­ing loop). Pas­sen­ger rev­enues were up around 30% on the pre­vi­ous year, which high­lighted the need to im­prove fa­cil­i­ties, par­tic­u­larly at Wirksworth and so, with the as­sis­tance of a gen­er­ous legacy, con­struc­tion of the foun­da­tions for a new sta­tion build­ing be­gan in Novem­ber 2017. The age­ing por­ta­ble build­ings which house the toi­lets and book­shop are start­ing to look past their best and the in­crease in vis­i­tor num­bers also high­lighted that the buf­fet car, which is housed in a for­mer Gatwick Ex­press car­riage, was in­ad­e­quate. The suc­cess of last year’s sea­son and, in par­tic­u­lar the steam op­er­a­tion, made it ap­par­ent that pre­served trac­tion should reg­u­larly fea­ture on the line to sus­tain the mo­men­tum and pro­vide mo­tive power va­ri­ety for all vis­i­tors. While both a Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0T and a Bag­nall ‘Aus­ter­ity’ are un­der restora­tion in the main­te­nance fa­cil­ity at Wirksworth (and not too far away from be­ing com­pleted), nei­ther will be avail­able for the 2018 sea­son. It was a greater chal­lenge than ex­pected to try and source an­other lo­co­mo­tive to hire for a sim­i­lar pe­riod to 2017 but thank­fully, right on timetable print­ing dead­line day, it was agreed that No. 47406 would make a re­turn visit from the end of May un­til the end of Au­gust! You can now en­joy steam in the val­ley this sum­mer too.


Vis­it­ing ‘Jinty’ No. 47406 at Duffield on Au­gust 23 2017 dur­ing a Timeline Events char­ter.

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