20th Annual Railcar Convention
Ecclesbourne Valley Railway, 25th-27th September 2015.
Report by Chris Moxon
The 2015 annual Railcar Convention was held at the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway in Derbyshire on September 25th-27th. This was the second time the railway had hosted the event, the first being in 2009, however much had changed since then with a larger line and fleet of railcars being used this time around.
A total of five railcar sets were in service with a further three on site for inspection, totalling 13 individual vehicles on site, a record for a convention event.
After several month of preparation behind the scenes, day 1 of the event was the traditional Driver Experience Day. Approximately a dozen members and associates took the controls of either Derby Lightweight single unit M79900 (Iris) or newly formed Class 101 3-car set E50253/E59303/E50170 (Former set 101692).
Whilst Iris is always an old favourite and universally popular, star of the day was E50253 which was undertaking its first runs following completion of its restoration at Wirksworth. The completion of this vehicle, the fifth Class 101 vehicle in the EVR's fleet, allows both a fixed green liveried Class 101 3-car set to be formed, as well as releasing other vehicles in the fleet to be formed neatly into fixed sets for the first time in the railway's history. Previously, vehicles tended to be formed in any combination with interesting hybrid sets as a result.
The day was a success with all the driver experience slots being booked by participants, who all enjoyed the day. Two highlights were the first use of the railway's new passing loop at Shottle which doubles the number of trains the nine mile line can handle each day, and Iris hauling a tail load from Wirksworth to Duffield during one of the experiences, in the form of a Mark 1 coach which was being tripped down to act as a mobile buffet for the weekend.
Saturday followed a gala format with the gates being thrown open to the public and all operational vehicles in service for the day. Iris and the 101 3-car (already mentioned) were joined by a second 101 set in blue livery (M51188/E51505), a Class 108/119 hybrid set (E53599/W51073) and "bubble car" W55006. All worked between Wirksworth and Duffield in various multiple combinations throughout the day, with some sets also in use on the short 1-in-27 branch from Wirksworth to Ravenstor. All of the railway's usual facilities were open for business, and the Llangollen Railcars sales stand was also in attendance on the platform at Wirksworth.
Also at Wirksworth open for viewing was the unique Derby Lightweight twin set M79018/M79612 recently transferred from the Midland Railway Butterley. This had the interior of the powercar (recently stripped out to prevent further water damage) open to visitors with interpretation displays inside the centre salon. Staff of the Derby Lightweight Preservation Group were on hand to engage with interested visitors. It is hoped by all concerned that the restoration of this sole surviving set will thrive at the EVR.
The trains in the morning were well filled with much networking between members as the DMU's covered the line. Between 14:00-16:00 the annual general meeting of The Railcar Association was held in the Red Lion pub in Wirksworth (see section below). For those with a reasonable walking pace, the last round trip from Wirksworth-Duffield could be caught before all the DMU sets returned to Wirksworth.
The festivities did not stop there however, for at this point all the operating vehicles were coupled into a mammoth 9-car formation (8 of which were powercars!) for the traditional Fish & Chip special in the evening. This trip is always particularly sociable and this year was no exception. A lovely run down the valley was hand in the evening sunlight before passengers disembarked at Duffield for the chips to be served. These were consumed as darkness fell and the Class 108/119 hybrid was also used for four "turn up and go" driver experiences to Hazelwood and back. These completed, the 9-car was reformed and returned to Wirksworth marking the end of the day.
The meeting was opened by Eric Boultbee, a director of the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway, who presented a talk on the development of the railway since we last visited in 2009. 2015 was the 15th anniversary of the railway and the focus since 2011 has been to make the railway "wider" rather than longer i.e. development of the stations and facilities along the 9 mile route. The April 2011 grand opening to Duffeld was covered (at the last convention only the three miles to Idridgehay was open) including a BBC news video featuring the event. Some pictures were shown of the regular testing work that forms valuable income for the EVR during the mid-week and the relationship between the railway and mainline operator East Midlands Trains was explained. The railway are also working on promoting the town of Wirksworth itself, which has always been a poor relation to the more famous Matlock and Bakewell, with the railway as a key access point. Talk then turned to the current facilities of the railway and how they are currently limited – an example being the maintenance facility which now requires extending and more development before it can handle large steam engines. The Shottle loop project (recently opened) was mentioned as well as the next fundraising initiative: a booking hall building at Duffield. The presentation closed with the figures that there are around 20-30 separate projects at any one time being progressed around the railway, so the future looks bright indeed.
Paul Moxon, Chairman of the association, gave a welcome to the 20th convention and made brief introductions. He expressed that there had been fairly balanced positive and negative developments this year and that things were overall going fairly well. There were still problems with several DMU vehicles considered "at risk" and parts availability of some key components continues to be a challenge. After a personal mention of positive experiences restarting the restoration of Class 104 M56182 at the North Norfolk Railway, he concluded by registering disappointment at the costs of the EVR's driver experiences at this convention, which were triple the price of previous years and had put off several of the regular TRA members who support the experiences and usually book every year.
Chris Moxon, Secretary of the association, gave his annual roundup of the year which chronicled all the additions, deaths, restorations and movements within the DMU community in the last 12 months. Four railcars had entered preservation but were mainly offset by three others which had been cut up. A further six vehicles are currently considered as at risk with disposal imminent. 11 vehicles had made movements by road to new homes (often with new owners) and several of these are now under restoration having previously been in storage. A further 6 vehicles had moved to outside facilities for contract work to be undertaken, including at the newly established Grinsty Rail at Peak Rail (Rowsley) which appears to be specialising in DMU contract work. Customers included the Severn Valley and Great Central Railways. A single movement was made by Class 122 W55006 for the gala event at Llangollen. A summary of the major and minor restorations that had either been started or completed during 2015 then followed and the talk was then concluded with some facts and figures of the overall DMU fleet. There are now 281 DMU's preserved, of which 144 (51%) are in service). Interestingly, there were 44 vehicles currently under restoration which was a significant increase from 2014 (36).
Evan Green Hughes, of Llangollen Railcars, shared his recent developments made on behalf of the association (TRA) involving the Heritage Railway Association (HRA). It had been explained how TRA were an informal self help group which worked very well but had no official integration with the outside world, namely the HRA. The HRA had recently become far more practical and had been encouraged by the Office of Rail and Road to be the official line for heritage railway policy. HRA had recently been very interested in what we do and they asked if TRA would be interested in corporate membership of HRA, therefore getting official representation in a policy making environment for the first time. Following several issues regarding the HRA being able to recognise TRA as a proper organisation (given our informal set-up, lack of accounts etc) Evan GH was pleased to report that HRA had agreed to waive some of the membership requirements to accommodate our type of organisation. A proposal was then made to join the HRA and take our place officially as an organisation. The support in favour was unanimous with 40 votes for and none against. A whip round was made to cover the HRA membership fees and immediately two years of subscriptions were generated.
Alan Pitt, of the Nottingham Railcar Group, then made a brief presentation on brake rigging, starting with an explanation on how the drop links work and apply the brake shoes to the wheel. An interesting demonstration then followed showing the snow-ball effect of mechanical wear on the combined components. Trevor Daw then took up the talk and explained how his group at the Severn Valley Railway had rebushed and refurbished several bogies worth of brake gear. Refurbishing links often showed up other issues such as bent tie rods or even distorted bogie frames.
Trevor remained on the floor to share his experience of organising replacement fluid flywheel gaskets. He found them fun to research and had learned a lot about these components during the research process. He showed how there was machined evidence (a groove) in the flywheel showing that a nitrile chord should be fitted to prevent leakage. Moving onto flywheel gland seals, he warned that professional lapping is required (he used a firm in Runcorn) following a failure of one of them.
Trevor's last topic was problems regarding engine oil pressure switches. A new rising pressure switch had been found and was only £24 for a drop in replacement. This was discovered after no less than 6 weeks research!
The highlight for many at the meeting was the next talk by Nigel Tilly, ex British Rail and fleet controller of the Class 124 Trans Pennine fleet in its final years in operation on BR. He shared how that because few in BR really cared about DMU's, those in control had plenty of freedom to exercise. He opened with a history of the Class 124's including the withdrawal of the buffet cars in the 1970's and also the fleet's demise which sadly resulted in none entering preservation. A route map and first class seat survives in Nigel's own collection however! The talk was full of interesting bits of information, such as how the fibreglass cab fronts made the curved glass a nightmare to fit and some of the interesting hybrid DMU's that were formed out of 124 sets when a powercar went down. One story involved a Class 124 with a backwards-wired thermostat resulting in the vehicle running for 18 months without any coolant ever making it to the engine. The problem was never flagged up as the rest of the Class 124's were so prone to overheating in daily service! The talk then covered the acquisition of the similar Western Region Class 123 fleet which had been withdrawn at Cardiff. Nigel was instrumental in combining the two fleets at Hull and shared some stories of the sets including a crash which resulted in a gutter from a crunched DMU entering a Class 123 and making it was far back as the first passenger compartment. The talk then turned to other classes of DMU at the time, one tongue in cheek comments that Cambridge depot solved problems whilst Norwich depot created them! Nigel talked of how the bubble cars were pushed out of service as soon as possible as their braking systems were far more prone to failure than other DMU's. It was also Nigel who pushed for Class 101's to remain on BR in favour of Class 108's. This conclusion was reached following some nasty results of the weaker Class 108's in collisions. The talk concluded with a return to the Class 124's and how the team involved with operating them did absolutely everything they could to see a set saved. However they were to prove unsuccessful, the entire fleet being withdrawn practically overnight after the last day's services (13th May 1984). The North Yorkshire Moors Railway got close to saving a set but asbestos contamination destroyed the plan. The Severn Valley made an approach later to get a set but were too late.
Chris Nesbitt then followed gingerly admitting that he had purchased one of Nigel's withdrawn Class 108 sets just this year for restoration at the Mid Norfolk Railway! Following the discovery of a cracked leaf spring Chris has been investigating spring types on DMU's as a follow up to his previous work on wheelsets. There are 12 types of wheelsets used on DMU's and he has created a table of the differing leaf springs for each bogie. He finished with an appeal from different DMU owners to check their leaf springs (many of which are stamped with numbers) so he can fully populate the table prior to its general release.
Kevin Dowd, of the Birmingham RailCar Workgroup (East Lancs Railway), shared his idea to reconstruct a Class 128 parcels car (none of the originals survived). He considered it an achievable project, with help, as they are only single units so represent a far easier project than some other extinct classes, for example a 6-car Class 124. He invited opinions from the floor. It was agreed that before any project could begin in earnest a suitable donor vehicle would have to be obtained at the right time. The Class 115 is the closest relation mechanically to the 128 but this was faced with opposition as the spare parts situation of Class 115's is dire. General opinion was that the public wouldn't have too much concern what the configuration mechanically was, and that a mechanically standard Class 117 vehicle would be a better donor vehicle and more practical, albeit less historically accurate.
Some minor points were covered within "Any Other Business" before the meeting was closed.
On Sunday the same timetable (minus the 9-car special) as Saturday was operated albeit with slightly fewer passengers so there were plenty of services to enjoy for those who had stayed over. Some took the opportunity to look around the maintenance facility at Wirksworth where the two ex Severn Tunnel departmental cars were located. Whilst one is a stores vehicle with a questionable future the other is currently being made operational to act as a Permanent Way support vehicle for the railway. With nine vehicles in traffic it was impressive to find more in the yard under restoration. As always, the host railway and railcar group deserve the thanks of the association for making delegates so welcome and putting on such an enjoyable event.