The green shoots of autumn

As a photographer I find the changing colours of autumn irresistible, when the foliage turns to varying shades of gold, bronze, scarlet and brown, before it’s back to winter and the long dark nights.

However, for me green has been by far the best colour this autumn.

We have seen the main line passenger train-hauling debut of Bulleid Merchant Navy Pacific No. 35018 British India Line in BR green, not the shiny black livery in which it undertook its trial runs. Yes, it failed with a bearing problem at York, but no passengers were inconvenienced or deprived of a steam-hauled return journey, and the locomotive was fixed and running again within a few days.

I remain supremely confident that British India Line will be a star performer for many years to come.

On a purely personal basis, I was delighted beyond belief to see another locomotive make its debut in Southern green, this time a brand-new one. The addition of replica Baldwin 2-4-2T Lyn to the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway’s fleet will give this fairytale line, one of the West Country’s sleeping giants, a complete, original train, in advance of its eagerly awaited big push westwards to Blackmoor Gate.

Thirdly, there now emerges the prospect of LSWR T3 4-4-0 No. 563 being returned to running order by experts in the field of restoring Victorian locomotives.

There has been much controversy over the National Railway Museum’s recent decision to ‘gift’ this locomotive, part of the National Collection, to the Swanage Railway, which runs on LSWR metals.

Yet for me, the prospect of seeing such a locomotive in steam, either on its home territory or on loan elsewhere, is far more satisfying than viewing it as one of a multitude of engines on static display in a part of the country where it has comparatively scant relevance.

Finally, my faith in the heritage sector has been greatly boosted by the offers from several venues to help out Coventry’s Electric Railway Museum in its hour of dire need, by giving items of rolling stock from there a home.

As a result, the museum will be able to re-home every exhibit, following Coventry City Council’s decision to take the site back for redevelopment.

I too am very disappointed that the city, home to the famous Coventry Transport Museum, because of its historic position as a focal point of the UK motor industry, could not find a brownfield site for the relocation of the Electric Railway Museum.

Did it really try?

There is a huge local relevance here because Coventry lies on a prime electrified railway, the West Coast Main Line.

Electric stock is far from being the most fashionable item on display at heritage lines, and because it cannot run under its own power, unless it has batteries, comes a very poor third after steam and diesel in the public popularity stakes. ‘Useless’ stock will take up valuable siding space, and is likely to come bottom of the maintenance priority stakes.

However, as said before, if we are serious about railway ‘preservation’, we should preserve aspects of the entire spectrum of the national network, not just those that have a sexy second-hand use.

Having attended the final open day at the site next to Coventry Airport on October 8, I sincerely hope the museum will one day find a new site on which to reassemble its substantial collection. Maybe in years to come, one or more of its EMUs might even be restored to main line standard for occasional charters.

As it stands, the Electric Railway Museum is a guardian of a significant slice of our railway heritage, and should be treated as such.

Robin Jones, Editor

Enjoy more Heritage Railway reading in the four-weekly magazine. Click here to subscribe.