This Steam Engine That Has Been Under Restoration For 21 Years Is Ready To Make Its First Trip

The East Somerset Railway, established in 1974 by the renowned wildlife artist David Shepherd, is preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary with its most significant event yet. Scheduled for March 16th and 17th, the gala will feature a notable guest: Britain’s newest steam engine, 6880 Betton Grange, making its inaugural journey on the railway following a meticulous 21-year reconstruction project.

The initiative to restore the ‘Grange’ class locomotive began in 1998 with the formation of the 6880 Society, driven by a group of steam enthusiasts intent on resurrecting this historic class. With £1.1 million raised by volunteer members, Betton Grange was rebuilt using salvaged parts from other decommissioned locomotives, with the majority of the work conducted at the Tyseley Locomotive Works in Birmingham.

The Grange locomotives, once a common sight in Somerset, played a crucial role in transporting freight and passengers along the Great Western Railway line, particularly to destinations in Devon and Cornwall. The presence of Betton Grange at the anniversary event holds special significance, as it reconnects the railway with its historical roots.

Simon Bending, Business Manager at the East Somerset Railway, expressed excitement at welcoming Betton Grange for the anniversary celebration, highlighting the symbolic significance of witnessing a GWR Grange locomotive on GWR tracks for the first time since 1965. Volunteers are diligently preparing for the event, conducting maintenance work to ensure the railway is in top condition for the new season.

Phil Wilson, one of the railway’s youngest volunteers, emphasized the financial challenges of maintaining the infrastructure, underscoring the importance of visitor contributions to sustain the railway’s operations. With sections of the track nearing the end of their lifespan, significant investments are required to replace rails and sleepers.

Beyond maintenance, efforts are underway to modernize the railway, including upgrades to signaling systems and platforms to enable simultaneous use of both tracks and platforms for the first time. Additionally, a heritage center dedicated to David Shepherd, the railway’s founder, has been constructed, featuring his old model railway donated by his family.

The upcoming anniversary celebration signifies a significant milestone for the East Somerset Railway, marking five decades of preserving heritage railway and commemorating the legacy of David Shepherd. As preparations continue, anticipation builds for the debut of Betton Grange, symbolizing a union of past and present in the journey of this historic railway.

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