The May Day Bank Holiday is one of the weekends when many of the preserved railways hold special events and this year proved to be no exception. The Ffestiniog Railway marked the 150th anniversary of the first scheduled passenger trains over the line with a four-day event that featured a different era on each day.
Friday 1 May recalled the early days of Ffestiniog Railway passenger services; Saturday 2 May featured the heyday of passengers services, recreating the scenes from before World War 2 and the era of Colonel Stephens; Sunday 3 May took visitors back to the early preservation era; and, Monday 4 May brought the story of the Ffestiniog from the 1980s through to the modern age. In addition to the special trains, Saturday 2 May also witnessed the unveiling of two plaques — at Porthmadog and at Tryfan Junction (on the Welsh Highland Railway) — highlighting the success of the Ffestiniog Railway at the 2014 National Railway Heritage Awards when the signalling at Porthmadog and the station building at Tryfan were both major award winners.
Associated with the Ffestiniog Railway weekend, the Welsh Highland Railway operated an enthusiasts’ open weekend which provided the visitors with the opportunity to go behind the scenes and try their hand at some of the jobs required to make the railway function. An intensive timetable was planned and many of the line’s locomotives were in action. Another Welsh narrow-gauge railway to hold a special event over the weekend was the Talyllyn. The Quarryman Experience was one of a number of events planned to mark the railway’s 150th anniversary and was a celebration of the links between the line and the slate-quarrying industry. The event featured morning and evening photo-specials including original passenger and mixed trains. It was also anticipated that the locomotives Nos 1 and 2 would be formally launched on the Saturday in their new liveries. The South Tynedale Railway also held a special gala at which the newly- restored ex-Harrogate Gas Works locomotive — Barber — was introduced to public service. This was the first time that this particular locomotive had ever operated passenger services and the occasion was marked by the presence of civic dignitaries from Harrogate. On Saturday 2 May the Great Central Railway Nottingham held a day of services hauled by heritage diesel locomotives. The Bodmin & Wenford Railway held its first steam gala of the year over the three-day weekend. Amongst locomotives scheduled to operate were the ex- LSWR Class T9 4-4-0 No 120 and one of the two surviving Beattie 2-4-0 Well Tanks — No 30587 — in the guise of the one of the trio that survived until the early 1960s — No 30586 — but which did not survive into preservation. Also timetabled to operate were two of the surviving GWR 0-6-0PTs Nos 4612 and 6435. The Pontypool & Blaenavon Railway in South Wales travelled back more than four decades as the railway sought to recreate the ambience of the 1960s. Alongside the steam operation on the railway itself there were a number of classic cars and motorbikes from the period — an age when virtually all the vehicles on the road — both four- and two-wheel — were built in British factories.
Also celebrating the 1960s on the Sunday and Monday was the East Anglian Railway Museum at Chappel & Wakes Colne station in Essex. Going back a couple of decades to the dark days of World War 2 the Kent & East Sussex celebrated the vital role played by railways during the war at an event which also featured re-enactments, a home front display and a recreated air-raid shelter as well as the characteristic music of the era. The heroic efforts involved in transporting thousands of troops through Kent following the evacuation of Dunkirk 75 years ago were also commemorated. It was planned that an intensive train service would operate with four or more locomotives in steam each day. In addition Holocaust survivor Zdenka Fantlová was also scheduled to be present at the railway on Sunday 3 May signing copies of her book on her experiences at six Nazi death camps, including Auschwitz and Belsen. Another railway marking the wartime years was the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway at Brockford, a line that is celebrating being named as Suffolk’s Museum of the Year for 2014. Also marking an anniversary — this time the 50th anniversary of the shed’s closure — the Great Western Society at Didcot held a weekend gala that featured a number of visiting ex-GWR locomotives. These were scheduled to include two from the Severn Valley Railway — No 1501, the only surviving example of the 10 outside cylinder 0-6-0PTs delivered in 1949, and No 1450, one of the four surviving examples of the 0-4-2Ts supplied in the early 1930s. The Embsay & Bolton Abbey Railway operated a branch-line weekend with a 30-minute frequency service over the three days and featured a variety of locomotives and rolling stock. The Midland Railway at Butterley held the first of two Vintage train Events — the second is due over the weekend of 29-31 August — at which visitors were shown many of the line’s collection of coaches and other items of rolling stock from the 19th century. In addition to these a number of railways held more child-oriented events with the Epping-Ongar Railway transferring Paddington from the Western to Eastern Region, the Keighley & Worth Valley celebrating its role in the production of the film The Railway Children and others held a variety of Thomas events.
Next weekend there are also a number of special events planned. These include a diesel gala at the Swanage Railway from the 8th to the 10th, with a number of visiting locomotives and an intensive service, and a Southern at War events at the Bluebell Railway on the Saturday and Sunday.
Away from the varied delights offered by Britain’s preserved railways over the Bank Holiday weekend, the ongoing major story are the repercussions from West Coast Railways SPAD at Wootton Bassett in March with a letter being sent by the Office of Road and Rail looking at the possible revocation of WCR’s safety certificate. For industrial archaeologists, there was news of the discover of the remains of a long-lost London railway station. Network Rail says Thameslink Programme engineers have uncovered the remains of a south London station closed a century ago. Remnants of the old station were found during construction of the Bermondsey dive-under, which will see two Victorian viaducts partially demolished and rebuilt to allow Charing Cross trains from south east London and Kent to descend almost to street level, going under a new route carrying Thameslink services from Croydon, and back up again. Southwark Park station, perched on a viaduct above Rotherhithe New Road, only served passengers between 1902 and 1915 before it closed permanently. Now Thameslink Programme engineers have rediscovered the former ticket hall and platforms. Project Manager Greg Thornett said: ‘We uncovered the footings for the former platforms while we were preparing the top of the viaduct for new track and we are now working up in the roof space of the former ticket hall to fill in the old skylights, ready to carry the final track alignment. Much of the existing stretch of viaduct will be replaced by the ramps into and out of the new dive-under, but the arch that used to house the old booking hall will remain.’ Southwark Park station was one of several in the area, including Spa Road, closed as a result of competition from trams and buses and the coming of World War 1. The Bermondsey dive-under is situated where the former Bricklayers Arms branch left the main line and a new access road follows the former trackbed under the remaining viaducts. The site offices sit on the stub end of the trackbed leading towards the former locomotive shed.