The Ribble Steam Railway paid host to a “Teddy Bear Special” this weekend.Advertisement
Families and young children were served free food and drink from the buffet car as the steam train took its two mile route, skirting along the River Ribble.
Seizing the opportunity to visit, myself and Joseph Stashko went along to investigate this out of the way tourist attraction.
Opened in 2005, the Ribble Steam Railway runs for just over a mile from Preston Riversway station on Chain Caul Road up to the crossing over Strand Road.
In this short period there are no fewer than three level crossings, including the unique Navigation Way bridge which sees the train run down the road for a few hundred yards across the mouth of Preston Docks.
The line was built by the North Union Railway in 1849 as a goods line and diverts off what is now the West Coast Mainline at the southwest corner of Preston station in a brick lined cutting. From the junction it turns sharp left and descends down a 1 in 29 gradient into a tunnel, emerging at Fishergate Hill, a section of line which is not used by the Ribble Steam Railway.
Originally the line was laid to serve Victoria Quay on the River Ribble and was called the Victoria Quay Railway, for very obvious reasons! An extension into Preston Docks was completed in 1882 and freight used the line until 1995.
So what of today’s railway operations?
For a few years the line remained unused with no plans of reuse until 1999, when Southport Railway Museum needed a new home. Work started later that year with the first building at the line’s Chain Caul headquarters opening in 2001.
Over the next four years more buildings were completed, more locomotives and rolling stock arrived and work done on preparing the track for trains to run past the docks again.
Today over forty locomotives are listed on the line’s official website, with a variety of diesel and steam powered machinery based at Preston. Not all of them are easily accessible to the public and they are all in a variety of states with only a handful in working order.
The museum next to Riversway station houses around 20 locomotives of various sizes and eras which are painted in a wide range of colours.
Of these locomotives, only a couple have seen regular use on the national nail network. Built by British Railways at Crewe in 1950, loco no. 46441 takes pride of place in the entrance to the museum, resplendent in its maroon livery.
But there are many older exhibits too. Tucked away on the far side is the oldest exhibit of all. No. 1439 was also built at Crewe, however not by British Railways but rather the London and North Western Railway in 1865 and has been based in Preston since early 2009.
Although none of the locos housed in the museum are currently in working order, their superb external conditions are pleasing on the eye. But there are many more which although are not currently on display, are in the queue to be restored.
With locomotive overhaul costs often reaching six figure sums these days, it remains to be seen how many of them will be restored but there is plenty for the volunteers to get stuck into. Don’t think though that they have forgotten about.
So if you have ever arrived in Preston by train from the south and wondered where that line disappearing to the west ends up, now you know.