The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway has launched a project to create an ‘African Train’, with the help of a £22,800 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The project will see the railway celebrating the connections it, and the UK as a whole, has with the west African nation of Sierra Leone.
Under the initial phase, one of the Llanfair line’s most popular locomotives will undertake a ‘Grand Tour’ of UK heritage sites, from Leeds where it was built via London and Birmingham to the Shrewsbury Steam Rally in August.
Hunslet 2-6-2T locomotive No. 85, built in 1954 for service in Sierra Leone and purchased from a scrap dealer by the Welshpool & Llanfair in 1975, has been out of use since 2010 when its boiler ticket ran out. For the past five years the locomotive has been on display at the Locomotion Museum in Shildon – an ‘out-station’ of the National Railway Museum in York.
No. 85 has fulfilled a vital role at Shildon helping to promote links with the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum.
This was opened in Freetown in 2005, after British Army Colonel Steve Davies, serving in Africa following the civil war, discovered a host of British-built stock from the former Sierra Leone Government Railways stored in the line’s former workshops. The Sierra Leone museum has since forged a strong relationship with the UK National Railway Museum and today enjoys the support of a very active UK-based Friends group.
Now that No. 85’s time in Shildon is at an end, the plan is to take the locomotive on a summer tour around the UK, accompanied by a travelling museum exhibition, children’s activities for schools and families, plus interpretation items, and staffed by volunteers from the W&LLR and the Friends group.
No. 85 will be used to tell the story of slavery and freedom, and the links between the UK and Sierra Leone, while helping to raise funds for the building of a new workshop at the W&LLR’s Llanfair Caereinion base – it is intended that No. 85 will be the first locomotive to be restored in the new facility.
When restored the loco will be able to form the African Train, running with two Gloucester-built Sierra Leone Railways bogie carriages that the railway also purchased in 1975.
First stop on No. 85’s Grand Tour will be the Armley Industrial Museum in Leeds, the town where the locomotive was built. It will then tour the country before the final stops on the Grand Tour are are expected to include the Shrewsbury Steam Rally on August 27-28 before a triumphant return to the Welshpool & Llanfair a week later as part of the annual Steam Gala on September 1-3.
Iain McLean, Vice-Chairman and Appeals Director of the W&LLR, described the awarding of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant towards the project as terrific news.
“It means that we can showcase our African Train in places that are crucial to the British history of slavery and liberation – it is fitting that our locomotive will stop in Hull, the city of William Wilberforce and the abolition of the slave trade,” he said.
More details of No. 85’s Grand Tour will be published as they become available.