Peak Rail is a dream, a dream that thanks to the hard work of hundreds of members, and supporters by the thousand, is slowly coming true. In the 1960s, British Railways (as it then was) closed many thousands of track miles on the recommendations of Dr Richard Beeching, on the grounds that they were unprofitable. In 1968, the section of the old Midland Railway main line across the Peak District, from Matlock to Buxton (a part of the line between London St. Pancras and Manchester Central) was closed. Access to Manchester was maintained by using other routes, but many Derbyshire communities suffered, and the wonderful journey through the heart of the Peak District National Park – and across the lovely Monsal Viaduct – vanished.
Now, a fervent group of dedicated railway enthusiasts has begun the ‘reconquest of the Peak’. Starting from a former goods siding at Rowsley, north of the beautiful town of Matlock, Derbyshire, they relaid and renovated the four and a half miles between that point and a newly created railway ‘halt’ called Matlock Riverside. Passengers on Peak Rail could walk approximately 400 yards to the main Matlock Station on the British Rail system, and thence onward to major cities. On the 2nd July, 2011 a breakthrough occurred, when a new section of the now single track line was completed, which ran from Matlock Riverside to Platform 2 of the main Matlock station. This allowed direct communication with existing mainline ‘metals’ – the objective of almost every ‘heritage’ railway in the United Kingdom.
Here we see a Peak Rail train, standing at Rowsley South Station, waiting to depart for Matlock Main station, It is drawn by ‘Royal Pioneer’, an 0-6-0ST 1C, the ST standing for ‘saddle tank’ in which the water supply for the loco is carried in a curved tank on top of the engine’s boiler, thereby, making it more efficient, by pre-heating the water before it reaches the boiler tubes. It was built in 1944, by Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns Ltd, of Newcastle on Tyne, and later rebuilt by the Hunslet Engine Co. of Leeds. Despite being finished in an all-over black BR scheme, complete with the ‘wheel & lion’ British Railways crest and a number, ‘68013’, suitable for the LNER J94 class of ‘Austerity’ shunters, this loco never saw service with British Railways. Seventy five of these durable saddle tanks were bought from the War Department at the end of the Second World War by the London and North Eastern Railway, after a hard life shunting cargo around Britains docks and performing utility work for the Army, especially where a short wheelbase was an advantage as they could handle short-radius curves with ease. They were called J94’s and given a BR power classification of 4F. The bunker carried 2 1/4 tons of coal and the saddle tank a total of 1,200 gallons of water. These powerful, if short range, saddle tanks were slowly withdrawn from service between 1959 and 1967.
‘Royal Pioneer’ – as she is now named – was WD 75186 in Army service, and was also owned by the National Coal Board, J. E. Warrington (when it was named ‘Warrington’), and the Dinting Railway Centre. It now forms part of the locomotive ‘stud’ of Peak Rail, and is used to pull regular services between Rowsley South and Matlock. Note that all trains have to be run ‘top and tail’, with a loco at each end, as there is no ‘run around loop’ at Matlock to enable a single locomotive to swap ‘ends’. Peak Rail run very popular Steam Driving Courses of either one or two hours duration, where you get a chance to actually drive ‘Royal Pioneer’! There are special events and luxury dining available in a restaurant car, too.
Peak Rail have a long way to go, and also a potential conflict with ‘Peak Cycle Links’ who want to construct bridges over their potential route which take no account of steam trains running along the track beneath them! However, I feel that the connection to Matlock was a huge step, and Peak Rail are to be applauded.