The Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway has announced that it will welcome flagship Hunslet locomotive ‘Russell’ back to the railway to take part in the heritage railway centenary celebrations which begin this year
The event, which will take place on July 30 and 31, will see Russell operate heritage trains between Dinas and Rhyd Ddu, which is, according to steam train expert Mike Holden, a ‘preservation first’.
Young vapor enthusiasts may be delighted to know that Russell inspired “Fearless Freddie” in the Thomas the Chariot Engine stories, an old locomotive that returns to the narrow gauge railway after many years, boasting of being the fastest locomotive in the hills and challenging its fellow locomotives to a race.
Russell was built by the Hunslet Engine Company in 1906 for the never completed ‘Portmadoc, Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway’ (PB&SSR) and subsequently sold to the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway (NWNGR), as part of a agreement for a two-year contract delay in the electrification of its line by this company.
In 1922 the locomotive became the property of the Welsh Highland Railway (WHR), which acquired the NWNGR and the partially completed PB&SSR, and was in turn taken over by the Ffestiniog Railway (FfR) in 1924.
At this point Russell was too tall to pass through the tunnels and under the bridges of the FfR line and was reduced in height to allow him to run trains on the line.
Although the chimney, steam dome and Russell’s cabin had been lowered, the locomotive was still too wide to pass through the long Moelwyn tunnel.
When the WHR closed in 1937, Russell ran the last train before being left in the Dinas sheds.
During the war it was requisitioned, adapted and refurbished before spending the post-war years first in Dorset and then in Birmingham, where it was secured for preservation.
In 1955 it was put on display at Tywyn Wharf station on the Talyllyn Railway before returning to the reformed Welsh Highland Railway Limited base in Shropshire a decade later.
Undergoing further refurbishment and adaptation during the 1970s, Russell steamed again at Gelerts Farm Works in 1987 and has since operated regular trains on the Welsh Highland Railway at Porthmadog and visiting and operating trains on the way iron Ffestiniog.
Since 2000 the locomotive has again been refurbished between visits to different parts of the WHR, attending the 150th anniversary of the Talyllyn Railway in 2015 and then undergoing a trial run on the mainline railway in Wales, reaching Beddgelert for the first time in over 80 years. .
Speaking to RailAdvent, Mark Seale, who coordinates on behalf of the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway, said: “As guardians of the ‘Russell’ narrow gauge steam locomotive, built by the Hunslet Locomotive Company in 1906, the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway is constantly striving to keep it in the best possible condition.
“Recent work undertaken by our small mechanical engineering team on its valve gear and timing will now ensure that narrow gauge railway enthusiasts will be able to enjoy its peak performance for many years to come.”
Graham Farr, Chairman of the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway, added: “We are delighted to confirm that it is expected that, subject to final testing, Russell will compete in the Dinas WHR 100 event on July 30-31, 2022.
“It will be accompanied by our heritage train, including the original Buffet car and Gladstone car, along the replica Ashbury Corridor and newly built Pickering Brake cars.”
Paul Lewin, Managing Director of Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways, said: “We really enjoyed working with the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway team on the preparations for this event.
“Their volunteers have done a great job getting the locomotive ready, and of course we are all looking forward to sharing the thrill of seeing Russell in action with our many supporters and friends.”
Tickets for the centenary events will go on sale later this month and more details can be found here
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