1920’s steam locomotive hauls train on mainline for the first time in 52 years

Steam locomotive no. 31806 on mainline test at Yeovil Junction
Credit: Andrew P.M. Wright

History has been made when a 1920s Southern Railway ‘Mogul’ steam locomotive (No. 31806) hauled its first train on the Dorset mainline for the first time in 52 years.

Swanage Railway resident ‘U’ class steam locomotive No. 31806 hauled the five carriage test train on Friday, 13th April 2018 between Worgret Junction and Yeovil Junction. In tow was a class 33 diesel-electric locomotive on the rear of the train.

Included in the test run were two five-mile climbs between Weymouth and Dorchester as well as a five-mile climb from Maiden Newton to Evershot.

The five carriages, which was empty for this test, have also been upgraded, like the locomotive, to run on the mainline.

Steam locomotive no. 31806 on mainline test at Yeovil Junction
Credit: Andrew P.M. Wright

No. 31806 took on the seven-hour test run of 115 miles on the mainline, it took the train up to speeds of 60 mph.

The upgrade of the locomotive has been made possible thanks to a £75,000 Government grant to the Swanage Railway Trust from the Department for Transport as part of its Heritage and Community Rail Tourism Innovation Competition. The trust paid £25,000 of labour towards the work.

No. 31806 took on water at Yeovil Junction and Weymouth during its test run which saw the locomotive keep to time throughout its test run. The locomotive crews for the test run were supplied by West Coast Railways with Swanage Railway staff also being on the locomotives.

The test run is ahead of the steam locomotive hauling part of the mainline special ‘GB X1’ from Cardiff to Swanage on Thursday, 26th April 2018, with the special train running from Swanage to London on Friday the 27th April 2018.

What did the officials say?

Swanage Railway Company chairman Trevor Parsons said:

“The successful test run of a Swanage Railway steam locomotives on the main line was a marvellous and very special piece of railway history – the first time since 1965 that a Southern Railway ‘Mogul’ class steam locomotive had run on a Dorset main line.

“No. 31806 performed very well and kept to time throughout its test run through Dorset and Somerset – the locomotive is certainly capable of hard work and has earned its main line spurs.

“The seven-hour test run on the main line was a tough one – the locomotive hauling a 358-tonne train up the steep gradient between Weymouth and Bincombe twice and also tackling the challenging climb between Maiden Newton and Evershot on the line up to Yeovil Junction.

“I would like to thank all the people on the Swanage Railway who have worked so hard to make this test run happen as well as Network Rail, for allowing the test run to take place on the main line, and the Government’s Department for Transport for its £75,000 grant towards 31806’s main line upgrade work.

“My thanks also go to the staff of the Yeovil Railway Centre, next to Yeovil Junction station, where No. 31806 was watered and serviced before its return to Dorset as well as West Coast Railways which provided the crews for the test train.

“Designed by Southern Railway’s Richard Maunsell and built in the late 1920s, 31806 made a startling sight as it passed modern main line Class 444 ‘Desiro’ electric trains, built in the early 2000s, between Wareham, Dorchester and Weymouth.

“No. 31806 also passed 1980s and 1990s diesel trains running on the line from Dorchester up to Yeovil. Some passengers probably couldn’t believe their eyes as they saw a steam locomotive pass the window of their modern train,” added Mr Parsons.