Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Evesham Vale Light Railway...

The Evesham Vale Light Railway is a 15" Gauge Steam Railway based at Evesham Country Park in Worcestershire. We've visited the railway no end of times now and it gets better every time, but our latest visit was on New Years Eve 2008. Operating 1.5 miles of railway including two stations, substantial gradients, a tunnel and 6 steam locomotives (4 of which are operational), the EVLR is slowly turning itself into a 15" Gauge treasure trove! Since its opening in 2003, the railway has developed from a single line of around 1/2 a mile between two stations up to a 1.5 mile line with a large baloon loop relieving the need to run round at Evesham Vale. The main station, Twyford, situated in the country park's car park, hosts a covered 3-road platform area, water column, engine sheds, turntable, booking office and varying sidings. The country park itself includes a large garden centre, a small shopping village and a large expanse of land for walks and picnics. The EVLR operates throughout the year at weekends and is owned by its builders, Jim & Helen Shackell.
An adult return ticket is only £2 (what a bargain) and the journey lasts approximately 20 minutes. After leaving Twyford, the trains pass through the apple orchards and pass the open green with views towards the garden centre. The trees then engulf the line for a meer moment before the train approaches the junction at Evesham Vale. Once passed the junction the train descends on a large right hand at the beginning of the baloon loop. (The image below shows a train traversing the baloon loop with the view over the Vale of Evesham). Following a run around the baloon loop the train passes through the tunnel before curving left into Evesham Vale Station. Here there is a 5-minute or so wait whilst the guard clips the tickets for the return trip and passengers can alight for a riverside walk or simply to admire the locomotive. The staff are always happy to explain the workings of the little engines, a trait which I believe the staff of all railways should hold. Leaving the station, the gradient is a sharp upward one (demonstrated above with Barnes Atlantic "John"). Trains climb hard up the bank before descending back into Twyford. The engine is then uncoupled and turned on the turntable before running round.
Well its New Years Eve 2008 and its the coldest morning I've seen in a long while! I telephoned the EVLR before we began the hour or so journey. The voice on the end of the telephone said that they had experienced problems in the morning with the severe frost but trains would be running from lunch time onwards. We arrived at 1:25pm and quickly bought our tickets before catching the 1:30pm train. 1921-built 4-4-2 Barnes Atlantic "John" was in charge of the day's trains and once the guard had blown his whistle we were away! "John" chugged merrily down the line and after around 7 minutes were at Evesham Vale. After a chat with the driver about the locomotive I reboarded the train with my family and "John" duly started on the climb. The 4-4-2 chugged hard, sounding flat out(!), up the gradient with her 3-coach train. The frosty weather allowed for very good steam effects, resulting in a very good trail of steam from "John" after the attack on the bank! "John" then coasted back around the sharp left hard curve through Twyford Yard before arriving in Platform 1 once again. She was soon turned and put back on the front of the train. The 2pm train left and I decided to play "Chase-The-Train". One of the beauties of the EVLR is that you can RUN(!) ahead of the train and get to many different vantage points all within one trip! This resulted in the lineside photos you see in this blog. I did get many more but I don't want to bore you all with too many!

Now for a discussion about the locomotive. "John" was built in 1921 by Barnes for the Rhyl Miniature Railway in North Wales. Being a 4-4-2, her wheel arrangement is of "Atlantic" specifications. The above photograph shows you everything you in the cab. The large gauge to the left of the cab is the pressure gauge with the "red line" set at 125psi. The smaller gauge underneath the pressure gauge is the "air brake gauge" with the large grey handle below that being the air brake lever. The two gauge glasses can be easily seen with the "push-in" regulator located in between the two. The pole reverser can be clearly seen to the right of the cab. The black lever under the "air brake lever" operates the cylinder drain cocks. "John" also features two steam injectors, one each side of the cab. The locomotive itself however has no brakes but the tender boasts a footbrake! Oh the safety aspects in place in 1921! The 4-4-2 also features a chime whistle and gravity fed sanding gear! In my opinion, this engine is very modern considering she is 87 years old! "John" was restored to her current condition by EVLR staff but still wears Rhyl livery and the letters "R M R" on the tender. Obviously the air brakes wouldn't have been fitted as-built and these were fitted by the EVLR. I was told that "John" was a good steamer and a good workhorse and this was to be proven to me sooner than I thought...
The 2:30pm was about to depart Twyford when the driver said to me..."Would you like to come for a ride on the engine?".Well, when a driver says that, what else is there to say other than..."Yes please thank you!". I clambered into the small tender on the left-hand side. We departed on time and "John" was soon in her stride. The driver opened the regulator gradually wider as we climbed away from Twyford and over the first public crossing. The climb over the bank whilst Evesham Vale-bound is not as sharp as the climb in the opposite direction but this also means that the downward grade is sharper. Once the back was topped the driver immediately shut off and had his hand on the air brake ready to operate it. As he worked the lever the "air gauge" pressure was reduced before rising again with the release of the lever. With no brakes on the engine, a fall in the air pressure meant a jurk from behind as the brakes took effect on the coaches! Once through Evesham Vale junction the driver surprisingly had to open the regulator again to keep the train moving.When aboard the coaches, this particular section of line seems to head downgrade but actually it goes upgrade! How deceiving! Once half way around the baloon loop the line steepens to a very strong upward grade. This saw the driver push the regulator in ALL the way!! The bark was fantastic as "John" forged up the steepest bank on the railway.
On nearing the tunnel the driver shut off before blowing the chime whistle after passing an "SW" board. The brake was being worked "on" and "off" before the train drifted around a tight left hand curve. It was then time to open up again for the final short stretch of straight track into Evesham Vale Loop. Here the train halted as usual with the "air brake" being fully "destroyed". Myself and the driver then stepped off the engine so that the firehole door had the space to open within! With the fire built up and the boiler's water level replenished, "John" was simmering nicely with 120psi on the clock. A few minutes later the guard, Jim, gave the "right away" and, following a blast on the whistle, "John" restarted. Out of the station and up the first part of the bank she went before her driver opened "right up"! The 4-4-2's bark was amazing, especially for 15" gauge. Its a very inspiring and enjoyable feeling...listening to a locomotive in full cry! The engine topped the bank with steam to spare before the driver shut off. The train then drifted the last 1/4 of a mile into Twyford. The "air brake" was once again "destroyed" as the train halted in the platform once again. I gave my thanks to the driver and Jim before rejoining my family and leaving. Another enjoyable day at the EVLR, very very enjoyable...as usual! See you in Spring!

No comments: