Talk by Carl John, Scottish Railway Preservation Society and Management Development Board. Association meeting – Tuesday 9 February 2016
Carl John, a working Councillor with West Lothian Council by day, revealed another side of his life which, from 1961 as a young ‘trainspotter taking numbers in a book”, he has matured into a fully-fledged geek or anorak (his words) regarding all things connected with stream trains.
Carl gave a brief background of railways from as early as 1919 from the unsuccessful attempts to nationalise the railways, to the modernisation plan of 1959 which came out of the controversial decisions of Dr. Beeching who, when the rest of the world was developing its railways, was responsible for getting rid of what was deemed to be non-profit making railways.
The Scottish Railway Preservation Society formed in 1961, got together in Edinburgh, leased the closed line of Murrayfield Station, started to receive donations acquiring stock from LNER, BR and some industrial railways. The National Coal Board also donated engines. With the acquisition of more items a lease was obtained for the depot here in Falkirk and the Bo’ness site was identified (now the main site by the harbour). It was in Bo’ness that a ‘loco shed’ was built with the help of the Young Offenders from HMYOI at Polmont. Over time, the track was extended to the present 8kms to Birkhill and a collection of freight, steam and diesel engines restored to working order.
Apart from the conservation of the engines, carriages etc. many people are unaware of the 1600 or so artefacts which are housed in the Museum of Scottish Railways beside Bo’ness Station. In a purpose built exhibition hall, display tracks show the variety of vehicles which carried essential goods from potatoes and fish to gunpowder and even an Army tank! Thanks to a variety of sources of funding a further extension is open to the public showing wagons ranging from 1862-1963. Included in the display is Scotland’s only Royal Saloon constructed in 1897 by the Great North of Scotland Railway and both Caledonian Railway coaches restored by the Scottish Region of British Railways in 1958. The Society’s emblem, No 419 Caledonian was one of the first locomotives acquired by SRPS and its overhaul was completed in 2000. The Society then purchased ‘Maude’ in 1966 which is presently in the Museum at Bo’ness This is railway heaven!
Such is the prestige of the SRPS, that the National Railway Museum York and North York Moors Railway sometimes borrow rolling stock!
So, what happens to these restored nostalgic beauties? Well, just consult the SRPS Railtours for a feast of travel in style. Tours range from The Fife Circle which is steam-hauled by 46233 Duchess of Sutherland, or the breath-taking scenery of a trip from Forth William & Mallaig, to Plockton & Kyle of Lochalsh. A popular run is the famous area of Grosmont (of Heartbeat country) & Whitby. For Beatles fans, the Liverpool tour is a must! Surely there is something for every taste here.
Highlights of the year are the Special Events which bring in hundreds of people, with most having a theme for children. What child could resist the “Easter Egg Specials” a “Day Out With Thomas” or the Santa Specials?
For the more mature train lover there is the special trip for “Father’s Day” the “Winter Diesel Gala”, a new and popular trip to experience “German Christmas markets in Lincoln” and the very popular, “Black Bun” special Trains. A truly unique taste of Scotland!
With 350 volunteers, which might seem a lot, there is always more and more work to be done from restoration and conservation to running the trains, with guards, firemen and drivers to timetabling, running the souvenir shop and organising trips. There is always room for more and the Society would welcome offers of help.
Chair Andy Christie thanked Carl for a most informative and interesting talk which was delivered showing his enthusiasm and passion for the preservation of our Scottish steam heritage.
Much more can be found on the SRPS website: www.srps.org.uk