May 22, 2024

Welsh railways collaborate to share old steam locomotive this year

Two Welsh railways are collaborating on a special hire agreement for the 1864-built steam locomotive ‘Palmerston’.

The Vale of Rheidol Railway (VoR) at Aberystwyth has agreed to display and then overhaul “Palmerston” for the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways (Ff&WHR), based at Porthmadog. Both railways are members of the ‘Great Little Trains of Wales’ consortium.

“Palmerston” will arrive in Ceredigion in late February and will spend the first half of the 2024 season on static display in the VoR’s brand new Museum, Display and Events building at Aberystwyth station.

The locomotive will then enter the VoR workshops in July for work to return it to traffic in time to feature in steam as the star guest at the line’s ‘Rheidol Steam Festival’ event from August 24-26, when it will be hauling trains to Devil’s Bridge.

‘Palmerston’ is one of the original locomotives built for the Ffestiniog Railway, where it worked from the 1860s to the 1930s. During this time, it was hired to the VoR to help with additional traffic generated by the opening of a large Territorial Army camp at Lovesgrove in 1912-’13. It also helped to haul timber in the Rheidol valley to support the war effort.

‘Palmerston’ is the oldest surviving engine to have worked on the VoR, which will open its brand new museum on March 23.

The Ff&WHR will also be launching their own ‘behind the scenes’ tour at the line’s Boston Lodge Works later in the year.

Both railways have worked hard to create a new visitor experience, which means that passengers will have the opportunity to see first-hand and learn more about a wide collection of narrow gauge locomotives up close. Locomotives which are normally hidden away from public view will become accessible.

Llŷr ap Iolo, VoR managing director, said: “We are very grateful to Paul Lewin and the team at the Ff&WHR for agreeing to the loan of ‘Palmerston’ for the 2024 season. We are excited to have it running on the Vale of Rheidol Railway at our event in August.

“It has been 10 years since its last visit to Aberystwyth, so it will be great to have it here again for all to experience once more.”

Paul Lewin, Ff&WHR general manager, said: “The Ff&WHR are striving to bring our railway alive for our visitors in a new way. We have invested heavily in interpretation and conservation of the historic loco works at Boston Lodge.

“Rather than simply catching a fleeting glimpse of our locos and workshops, we will invite our visitors right in to the heart of the place. Similarly, the Rheidol team are making their impressive collection openly available for the first time.

“This is all great news for visitors and it makes so much sense for us to work together. For those looking to make the most of precious leisure time, a visit to Wales has never looked more appealing.

“As we prepare to celebrate our platinum jubilee, we can only begin to imagine how pleased our founders would be to see us working together, striving to continue to be the best place to see narrow gauge steam.”

Visitors to the VoR will be able to see ‘Palmerston’ on public display in the restored 1938 engine shed at Aberystwyth station.

This building has recently been transformed into a museum, display and events space as part of a larger project called “Wales to the World”, which is developing the terminus at Park Avenue into a Great Western-style station suitable for the modern tourist.

The building will also contain locomotives from the VoR’s collection, as well as engines from elsewhere. In July, ‘Palmerston’ will move into VoR’s workshops at Aberystwyth, which will allow work to be undertaken to return the locomotive to steam.

‘Palmerston’ will play a starring role in a three day ‘Rheidol Steam Festival’ event at the railway over the August bank holiday, alongside the home fleet of locomotives. The weekend will include an intensive timetable of trains, with plenty to see and do across all three days of the event.

Event organiser Phil Budd said: “It will be an exciting weekend to be in the Rheidol valley, with plenty to enjoy. It will be great to see ‘Palmerston’ in steam, hauling trains alongside our resident locomotives. With the long summer evenings and fantastic Aberystwyth sunsets, it will be a brilliant time to visit Ceredigion”.

‘Palmerston’ will then return to Porthmadog in late September, in time to play a starring role in the Ff&WHR’s annual ‘Bygones Weekend’. This annual event celebrates the rich heritage of the Ffestiniog Railway, with historically accurate train formations and costumed characters.

Picture caption:

Steam locomotive ‘Palmerston’ which will be visiting the Vale of Rheidol Railway this year.