The Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway Preservation Society

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A New Steam Locomotive for the R&ER?

Before building a new steam locomotive, it is important that the design is right, and to get the design right we need to know what its purpose is. The recent dependence on two visiting locomotives for the season has shown that an additional ‘Ratty’ steam loco would be of great benefit, but should we make a new locomotive the same as one of the existing ones? What exactly is it that the R&ER needs? What is the Preservation Society permitted to do through its constitution?

The genesis of this project was the bequest left to the R&ER Preservation Society Trust by the late Dai Pickup. Key extracts from the Deed of Trust indicate that preservation is considered to include not only maintenance and protection but also acquisition (the full Deed is available from the members page of the website,

“The objects of the Trust are to … preserve the railway line between Ravenglass and Eskdale … In furtherance of said objects … the Trustees shall have the following powers: … the acquisition of such items of plant railway equipment locomotives rolling stock and buildings as will enhance The Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway and is consistent with the objects set out herein;”

Discussions with the Railway Company have indicated that a new Society steam locomotive would be welcomed, but details of a hire agreement would need to be resolved and may have a different basis to the agreements for the Society’s other locomotives, River Mite and Douglas Ferreira.

A key decision is whether to attempt to acquire an existing locomotive or construct a new one. There is an attraction in gaining an existing locomotive with a history but also many risks, not least suitability for the unique nature of the R&ER with the rigours of its length and gradients. Market forces also come into play – there are simply very few locomotives which could be considered suitable, and enquiries (to date including the Far East, Europe and this country) have not yet identified any which may be for sale.

There have been many interesting ideas floated for a new-build locomotive, both presented to the Council and also banded about in conversation and social media. A Mallet! A streamlined loco! A large tank engine! The Council have considered many contributions, concentrating on those that meet the needs of the railway. The common threads are summarised below.

1)     Interchangeability We need to increase the availability of the steam fleet so the new loco needs to be similar to the other locomotives in terms of performance for operation and engineering departments so that it is interchangeable with the others.

2)     Technology Pushing steam technology into new territory is interesting, but a high risk strategy particularly given the high capital outlay. A high-tech locomotive may require extensive and time-consuming experimentation and development work. It is likely to be preferable to improve existing Ratty designs with proven technology: evolution not revolution.

3)     Powerful The trains are not getting bigger or faster and the hills aren’t getting steeper. A more powerful loco would just use more fuel. The R&ER doesn’t need anything more powerful than River Mite, but more adhesive weight to grip the rails better would be useful.

4)     Efficiency A more efficient steam engine is hardly an exciting topic, yet it is an area that could bring significant benefits to the R&ER. Good coal is getting harder to find and more expensive. A locomotive that uses less coal and can burn a range of coal qualities would be easier to deal with than a locomotive that is hungry or fussy about its fuel.

5)     Maintenance A new loco should be easier to maintain than existing ones. A loco that is quick to repair and overhaul will increase availability and minimise costs.

6)     Visual Appearance Most visitors to the R&ER are not railway enthusiasts and are not concerned about styling origins or liveries. However, a new loco does need to attract the general public who expect a traditional steam locomotive that fits with the heritage of the line. Each of the R&ER locos is different, so the new loco should have its own unique identity.

7)     Society Benefits Do we want to be able to take the loco to visit other railways to represent the R&ER? A loco that can negotiate Romney’s low bridge and Kirklees Light Railway’s tight corners will allow us more opportunities to promote the R&ER ‘abroad’ (otherwise known as ‘go and play’!)

Considering these requirements, the general description of a new Ratty steam loco might be as follows:

  • An outside framed loco with robust motion allowing the ability to incorporate sliding centre axle for articulation to reduce wear and maintenance costs.
  • 2-6-2 wheel arrangement as eight coupled locos don’t have much benefit on the R&ER but they involve more maintenance work.
  • 20 inch driving wheels to reduce piston speed and thus lower wear rates compared to River Mite.
  • A boiler of standard Ratty dimensions but with enhancements.
  • A tender engine will negotiate tighter corners than a tank engine with a standard boiler.
  • General appearance to match existing Ratty family look. Somewhere in between the full narrow gauge style of Northern Rock and the mainline look of River Mite.
  • Improvements to current R&ER loco technology, including but not limited to:
    • Roller bearings on axles and connecting rods (as used on Wroxham Broad)
    • Larger steam pipes and steam chests, but River Mite sized cylinders.
    • Better lagging of boiler and pipes.
    • Steam sanders to improve grip.
    • Modern regulator valve.
    • A handbrake (which it will need if it is all on roller bearings!)
    • Superheating could be considered, but it has maintenance drawbacks.

The description above is not yet a specification, merely a statement of current thinking to promote further discussion. The styling of the loco has not been determined, but the sketches show a number of different possibilities. Is this what we think we should be providing for the R&ER? Please let your thoughts be known to the Council.

A new locomotive is estimated to cost in the order of £400k to £500k. Whilst the Trust has benefitted from recent bequests, these would need swelling by a considerable amount to meet these costs and also to allow for the other projects which the Council wishes to promote. A major fundraising campaign will be essential to fund a new steam locomotive:

  • Do you have interest in being involved in fundraising for a new loco?
  • Do you have any ideas or experience of what has worked well for other comparable projects?
  • We are looking for someone to lead the fundraising campaign – could this be you?

We hope this update has whetted your appetite, and look forward to hearing from you.


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