All aboard the Jumbo Express


The Whipsnade Zoo railway leads a quiet existence and is rarely reported on. Peter Brown visited the railway for an update.

The last time I visited the Whipsnade Steam Railway, I vividly recall seeing a giant Rhodesian steam locomotive and sleeping car in a siding towering above the much smaller-sized trains running past.

Having learnt that these two specimens of rail transportation in Rhodesia moved away in the 1990s, it was undoubtedly time to return to the railway that plays a major role in the running and tourism aspects of the Zoological Society of London’s Whipsnade Zoo, which two years ago reached a milestone by welcoming its five millionth passenger.

Nearing the end of its journey, 1920 Kerr Stuart-built Baretto class 0-6-2T No. 4 Superior, approaches the 2ft 6in gauge Whipsnade Steam Railway station on July 6.

It was indeed a milestone that has seen a gigantic growth and importance in the 2ft 6in gauge railway, in fact the whole zoo, situated on the beautiful Dunstable Downs in Bedfordshire has been progressing ever since it opened to the public in 1931.

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Possibilities of having a railway were first mooted in 1968, when letters between the zoo and Pleasureland Ltd, which operated it in the early days, led to a short line which began running return trips to the rhino enclosure two years later.

This marked the expansion and success of the railway which was officially opened, with its just under a two mile loop for a 15 minute journey, in 1973 by Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon; the same layout is in use today. The popularity of the line running around the zoo’s Asia section soon became evident, when in 1975 a total 94,132 passengers used the service.

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