The Bodmin & Wenford Railway’s auto train will be launched back into service on Friday 8 April, the first day of the line’s Spring Steam Spectacular, and will be in operation on all four days of the gala, offering the opportunity to experience train travel with a difference.
The GWR Autocoach (or auto-trailer) is a type of coach that was used by the Great Western Railway for push-pull trains powered by a steam locomotive.
The distinguishing feature of an autocoach is the driving cab at one end, allowing the driver to control the train without needing to be located in the cab of the steam locomotive. This eliminates the need to run the engine round to the other end of the coach at the end of each journey.
The auto coach based at Bodmin is No 232, built by British Railways in 1951 to a Great Western Railway design. It was withdrawn in the mid-1960s and purchased for preservation on the Dart Valley Light Railway, together with four other similar auto trailers. No 232 was purchased from the DVLR by the Bodmin & Wenford Railway Trust in 2008 and has received an extensive overhaul over the last two years, which has just been completed.
Resplendent in the later British Railways lined maroon livery, the auto coach will be paired at the Spring Steam Spectacular with GWR 64xx Class 0-6-0 pannier tank locomotive No 6435, also based at Bodmin and a regular member of the BWR’s steam fleet.
At one time there were forty locomotives in the 64xx Class, built by the Great Western Railway from 1932-37, all of which were fitted from new with the necessary equipment to work an auto train. Whilst No 6435 has been in service on the line for a number of years, the BWR has had to fabricate and refit all the auto gear, which was removed from the locomotive prior to its purchase in 2009.
Auto trains were once a regular sight in the Duchy until the 1960s, including on the nearby Lostwithiel-Fowey branch and along the main line from Plymouth into east Cornwall.
The Bodmin & Wenford Railway – Cornwall’s only working standard gauge heritage branch line and one of its principal tourist attractions – operates predominantly steam, and some heritage diesel, trains over a distance of 6½ miles from Bodmin Parkway to Boscarne Junction via Bodmin General through some very picturesque scenery in the heart of the county – a living museum of Cornish railway heritage.
The Bodmin & Wenford Railway relies on voluntary support from the Bodmin Railway Preservation Society and charitable support of the Bodmin & Wenford Railway Trust.
The gala event on 8-11 April will feature an impressive line-up of five locomotives from the Bodmin-based steam fleet, No 6435 being joined by London & South Western Railway pairing of T9 Class 4-4-0 No 30120 and the 1874-built Beattie well tank No 30587 (both courtesy of the National Railway Museum), together with GWR ‘small prairie’ tank No 5552 and GWR 0-6-0PT No 4612. All five are genuine Cornish engines or are representative of types that were regularly seen in the Duchy in times gone by.
No 4612 will again be appearing at the Spring Steam Spectacular in British Railways unlined black livery, which will be its last gala appearance for a while as the locomotive’s current ten-year boiler ticket expires in mid-May, whereupon it will be withdrawn for overhaul.
It had also been hoped that the Bodmin & Wenford Railway’s Spring Steam Spectacular would also see the reintroduction of traditional semaphore signalling at Bodmin General for the first time for 44 years. The original signalbox was closed in December 1967 and the box structure itself demolished by British Railways in the early 1970s, leaving little more than a ‘basic railway’ until final closure of the line in September 1983.
Reconstruction of the signalbox on its original site, at the end of the platform at Bodmin General, was completed in 1997 and was one of the first principal projects funded by the Bodmin & Wenford Railway Trust. Work on reinstating the signalling itself commenced at around the same time, but really ‘kick started’ in earnest two years ago.
However, although the ‘new’ signalling system – which will enable the railway to run a two-train service when required, provide more operating and commercial flexibility and further enhance the ‘period look’ of the station – is complete, regrettably it will not be in use at the Spring Steam Spectacular as the final testing, commissioning and certification will not be able to be carried out in time.
Both the work on the auto trailer and the Bodmin General signalling have involved a tremendous amount of work and reflect great credit on all the members of BWR staff involved.
At the Spring Steam Spectacular there will still be an intensive timetable of trains over the 6½-mile line between Bodmin Parkway and Boscarne Junction via Bodmin General.
The main passenger train set will have an on-train Buffet & Bar Car serving hot and cold drinks, snacks and light refreshments. There is also a Refreshment Room at Bodmin General Station and a Café in the old signalbox at Bodmin Parkway Station, both serving a range of home made food, snacks and non-alcoholic drinks. The Railway’s newly-refurbished souvenir shop at Bodmin General will also be open throughout the gala, offering a good range of souvenirs, gifts, books, models, postcards etc.
There will also be the opportunity for visitors to extend their day – or savour the action over the whole weekend – by enjoying a further whole-line trip on board one of the special evening trains that are being run as part of the Gala.
“Our Spring Steam Spectacular will again have a superb line up of locomotives and a unique charm,” comments Richard Jones, General Manager of the BWR, “and this year for the first time we will have the splendid sight of our very own Great Western Railway auto train. Despite the fact that the signalling at Bodmin General will not now be in use as originally planned, the gala still has much to offer and we look forward to welcoming visitors to Bodmin for what promises to be another great event and a four-day feast of Cornish steam!”
Full details of the Bodmin & Wenford Railway’s Spring Steam Spectacular can be found on our official website, or for more details please telephone 01208 73666.