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Thursday, 18 December 2014

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Steam trains back on Lake District track after 70 years

Steam trains have made a brief return to a part of the Lake District where none have run for more than 70 years.

Steam train photo
Sir Tom

Threlkeld Quarry and Mining Museum Railway was the busy scene as locomotives once more chuffed and puffed along the rails below Blencathra and steam billowed into the air within sight of the A66.

The occasion was an open weekend at the recently-opened narrow gauge line which once served quarries with names like California, Klondyke and Dawson City.

Visitors were invited to ride behind three survivors of a bygone age – locos designed to work in quarries, two of which were guest engines.

One such visitor was Edward Sholto, a quarry tank engine that had worked in the gigantic Penrhyn quarries of North Wales, eventually going to Canada – then being brought back to Britain by a collector.

The other was Jack Lane, a mint new engine from the Hunslet Engine Company which manufactured quarry trains for many years at Leeds. Now based in Staffordshire, this loco is one of the latest built in line with the prestigious marque of former days.

These “guest” locomotives joined the quarry loco now permanently in residence, all seven tons of it: Sir Tom, an 0-4-0 saddle tank locomotive that delivers approximately 50hp and takes all the gradients in its stride.

Name after Sir Tom Callender when the train worked in Kent on the site of British Insulated Callender Cables, it was restored by Ian Hartland, the driving force behind the line and legendary as a Fred Dibnah-type figure.

Two Carlisle engineers also played a part in its restoration – retired builder Derek Bouch re-tubed the boiler, and Alistair Bell, made the new saddle tank around the boiler.

Mr Hartland, who bought the quarry in 1989, restoring the track bed with rails from the former Royal Navy armaments depot at Broughton Moor said: “This is a two-foot gauge quarry railway we have recreated here. I am delighted to see it has been such a success with everyone paying compliments and saying how much they have enjoyed their day.

“We have had a great response. On Saturday scores of railway enthusiasts from all over England visited us to explore the line and see the locos, and on Sunday members of the public arrived in similar numbers.

“We are not trying to make the replica of a main line station. Rather, this is typical of its kind of the railway that once worked in quarries, now sadly gone.”

Mr Hartland said he would describe the railway as “steep and interesting”.

He added: “At its steepest bit of 1-in-25, the track equates with the Darjeeling Himalaya Railway.

“At least now we have tangible evidence of what was a thriving, busy part of Lake District life in a forgotten corner. It was in danger of vanishing for good.”

The quarry opened in the 1870s to provide stone ballast for the now-defunct Cockermouth, Keswick, Penrith Railway, and the railway began in 1900 as production increased.

This ceased in 1940 and the quarry closed.

It reopened in 1948 with excavators and dumper trucks as the means of transport and with no longer any role for locomotives – only to close finally in 1982.

Mr Hartland and a group of enthusiasts have restored half a mile of track into Bottom Quarry, which is the terminus for the present.

“We plan in the next 10 years to reach Spion Kop Quarry further up St John’s Vale,” he said. “That will be a further mile of track and will extend this grand little railway quite considerably.”

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