50 years since the return of steam

While steam was fast disappearing from its last foothold on the main line in the north west of England in early summer 1968, at the same time it was returning with a vengeance to one of the region’s branch lines. The Keighley & Worth Valley Railway held a stunning eight-day gala from June 24 to July 1 to celebrate half a century since it was opened by locals using volunteer labour, report Robin Jones and Gareth Evans.

HAD I bought a 1949-built Ivatt 2MT 2-6-2T and painted it in a bright maroon livery that even a pre-Grouping company might have found somewhat over the top, I not only would be laughed to scorn, but our Platform pages would be overflowing with letters from angry purists for the foreseeable future.

Yet one such locomotive in its totally outrageous (for its class and era) crimson lake livery not only made transport history, but is now well and truly part of it.

It was on June 29, 1968 that, due to a rail strike, the only part of the national network in operation was a redundant branch line in West Yorkshire, and in an act of seeming defiance to the trend of the time, steam ruled the roost on the day – six weeks before BR ran its last main steam train of all.

Ivatt No. 41241, which was built by BR and of course would never have carried crimson lake livery, had been bought to run on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, the third standard gauge heritage line to open in Britain.

Coupled to the line’s Metropolitan Railway carriages, LNWR Coal Tank No. 1054 makes a fine sight as it passes Top Field on June 30 – the footbridge and fields helping to create a scene reminiscent of the EMI blockbuster The Railway Children. KENNY FELSTEAD

The Worth Valley branch was in the process of being acquired from BR, but to all extent and purposes it was by 1968 a private owner operation that was not much different to a pre-Grouping concern, and the Ivatt’s colourful livery reflected that, with ‘KWVR’ and the company’s badge in large letters on the tank sides.

The Ivatt headed the opening train, double heading with Southern Railway USA 0-6-0T No. 72, painted in an equally unseemly and non-authentic (but also attractive) ochre livery, with ‘Worth Valley’ in bold letters on each side.

Sadly, No. 72 was not available for the 50th anniversary ‘replay’ of the official opening train on June 29, as it is still under overhaul at the Ribble Steam Railway, but No. 41241, one of four of its type to survive, certainly was. Its overhaul completed, it was repainted into that crimson lake livery – and very smart it looks too. In the case of this particular locomotive, it is no longer condemned outright as inappropriate, but admired for the modern-day history that No. 41241 now represents.

The first standard gauge heritage lines to open in the UK were the Middleton and Bluebell railways, and to this day both debate which was the first. However, the KWVR took the concept several stages further and set out a blueprint for others to follow at what was a crucial stage of the embryonic preservation movement, when many were mourning the loss of the sight of regular steam trains from the nation’s railways.

Read more and view more images in Issue 244 of HR – on sale now!

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