LLANFAIR LINE’S AFRICAN TRAIN TOUR
By Ann Evans
Lovers of old steam locos won’t want to miss the opportunity of getting up close to the Hunslet 2-6-2T locomotive No. 85, built in 1954 for service in Sierra Leone. The locomotive was purchased from a scrap dealer by the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway (W&LLR) in 1975 and will be spending the summer up until 25th August as a feature exhibit in the festival of ‘Fire, Furnace and Steam’ at Blists Hill Victorian Town.
Blists Hill is one of ten Ironbridge Gorge Museums in Shropshire and the locomotive has been placed beside the London and North Western Railway goods shed, where visitors will see it as soon as they enter the Town. Displays created by the Friends of the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum (FoSLNRM) accompany No. 85, telling the stories of slavery and freedom, colony and independence, and the special story of the Sierra Leone Railway.
The Hunslet 2-6-2 which last ran on the mid-Wales heritage railway in 2010 is enjoying a tour of the country having spent six years on display at the Locomotion Museum in Shildon, an outpost of the National Railway Museum. Since leaving there in April, it has visited the Armley Industrial Museum in Leeds, the city where it was built, then Hull, the 2017 City of Culture, the Museum of Water and Steam at Kew, and the 50th Anniversary Weekend of Tyseley Locomotive Works in Birmingham.
The grand tour of UK heritage sites, funded by a £22,800 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, celebrates the many links between the UK and Sierra Leone. The Tour has been organised by the W&LLR in partnership with the FoSLNRM and is helping to promote the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum and 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.
There will be even more steam at Blists Hill Victorian Town, with the ‘Blists Hill in Steam’ event on 19th-20th August. Throughout the summer visitors will be able to see many of the Blists Hill engines in steam, with different engines running on different days. While No. 85 is of mid-20th-century construction, its technology is thoroughly Victorian.
Visitors will be able to see the locomotive until 25th August when No. 85 will travel to the Shrewsbury Steam Rally on 27th-28th August before a triumphant return to the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway a week later as part of the line’s annual Steam Gala on 1st-3rd September.
For further information, call the Ironbridge Tourist Information Centre on
01952 433 424 or visit <http://www.ironbridge.org.uk>