Urgent appeal to repair WW1 locomotive

778 at Pages Park Station
778 at Pages Park Station

The Greensand Railway Museum Trust needs to raise £10,000 in the next three months to ensure an iconic wartime locomotive is fully overhauled and back in action for crucial 100th anniversaries in 2016.

Baldwin 4-6-0T War Department Light Railway No.778, currently the only operational Class 10-12-D Baldwin in Britain, has to be withdrawn soon for overhaul – and it is imperative this work is completed in time for No.778 to return to operation for the main 2016 season.

Returned to steam in 2007 following restoration from near-derelict condition, it is based at Leighton Buzzard Railway and enthusiasts say it is a crucially important in telling the story of the contribution of narrow gauge railways during the First World War. The train is itself a war veteran having served in France on the War Department Light Railways battlefield lines.

No. 778’s initial boiler ticket expired in March, hence a couple of ‘last runs’ were made during Leighton Buzzard Railway’s Santa season.

Following discussion and a change of boiler insurance company an extension to its boiler ticket until October 2015 has enabled it to continue running for a few more months.

It has to be withdrawn around summer/autumn and sent to contractors for the necessary work to be undertaken with sufficient time to ensure No. 778 is back in action for the start of the 2016 season.

Thanks to steaming fees and other income earned since 2007 including a £1,000 donation by model railway manufacturer Bachmann Europe, the Trust has built up funds towards the forthcoming overhaul– but not sufficient to cover all required work.

Cash is available to send No.778 to be stripped, have the boiler lifted and sent to a specialist for overhaul, have the boiler refitted with a modified ashpan (essential to provide proper access for future boiler inspections), steam tested and returned to Page’s Park.

However, there are insufficient funds in hand to cover mechanical works to the motion . To commission the required work the Trust needs an additional £10,000 on top of the cash already in hand.

“As things stand, we can finance the boiler works needed to secure a new ticket and return No.778 to operation, but that would simply be storing up a potential problem for a few years hence,” said Trust chairman, Cliff Thomas.

If the mechanical work is not done while the boiler is receiving attention there is a real possibility this popular and high-profile locomotive could have to be withdrawn prematurely within a couple of years, wasting part of its new boiler ticket. This, in turn, would result in even greater costs involving transport and a further boiler lift, with questions as to whether such work could be afforded.

“Opportunities for the locomotive to earn income are limited and the trustees are not wealthy individuals able to finance shortfalls in the cost of required work,” observed Cliff Thomas. “We really need to be able to do a full and proper job over the coming winter - it would be dreadful if No. 778 was unable to celebrate its 100th birthday by hauling a celebratory train!”

Donations can be sent to The Greensand Railway Museum Trust,c/o Page’s Park Station, Billington Road, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire LU7 4TN. Gift Aid enabling tax to be reclaimed would boost the value of the donation by 25%.

For every donation of £100 or more the donor will be offered a footplate ride around the loop at Page’s Park. For every donation of £500 or more donors can travel on the footplate over the length of the LBR line to Stonehenge Works!

NO.778 is representative of a design which was crucial to the 1914-1918 allied war effort and, post-war, a number of which were employed on British narrow gauge railways throughout the country. The last working example in Britain was scrapped in 1951 and the locomotive is considered an icon of British narrow gauge railway history.

Since restoration to steam in 2007, No.778 has run at its home base, the Leighton Buzzard Railway and been made available to be seen by as many people over a wide-ranging geographic area. Visits undertaken have included the Froissy-Cappy-Dompierre line on the Somme battlefield in France, Welsh Highland Heritage Railway, Apedale Valley Light Railway and the Golden Valley Light Railway – where it worked with an ex-Ashover Railway coach and wagon.