Railway’s £80,000 steam engine appeal

Published on: 01 Oct 2014

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PEOPLE in the Downend area are being urged to back an £80,000 appeal to restore a steam engine at Avon Valley Railway in Bitton.

Volunteers are rebuilding Avon Valley Railway’s Avonside No. 1798 to bring it back into service on the heritage line.

Its restoration has become a matter of urgency as the attraction’s other engine, RSH 7151, has come out of service for overhaul, leaving the team facing the cost of hiring in other engines.

Rail enthusiasts, history lovers and fans of Avon Valley Railway are being called on to bring in the cash needed to fund a new boiler, firebox, motion, cab, bunker and water tanks.

Members of the public are being offered the opportunity to either sponsor a piece of equipment on the team’s wish list, ranging from £15,000 for a new inner firebox down to £5 for a waterspace stay, or to join the Avonside 1798 Club by donating £200 or more.

Donors who give £200, either as a lump sum or in instalments, will be invited to open days to see the loco in action and meet the restoration team and will receive a family ticket to travel behind the loco on its first day back in service as Bronze members.

Anyone who pledges £300 to become a Silver member will receive all of the above as well as a ride in the cab of the Avonside. Gold members, who donate £400, will receive all of the Bronze membership benefits but will also get the honour of driving the Avonside on a full round trip.

The appeal was officially launched at Avon Valley Railway’s 1940s Weekend on September 27 and 28, when visitors were invited to find out more about everyday life during the war for civilians, military personnel and, of course, those working on the railways.

Avon Valley Railway trustee Chris Bates said: “Although a lot of work has already been done, the restoration process has now reached the stage where, if we are to finish it, we need to spend serious money, mainly on the boiler and firebox. Unlike 20 or 30 years ago when there were plenty of steam engines available, the increase in the number of heritage railways and the cost of keeping steam engines going has meant that there is now a shortage.

“As it is obviously cheaper to use our own engines rather than meet ever increasing hire costs, we need this engine back in service as soon as possible.

“The other element is that this is a First World War engine, albeit that it did not see active service, and it would be rather special if we could complete the restoration before 2018, its centenary year and also the end of that war.”

Avonside works no. 1798 was originally ordered to help the war effort but wasn’t completed until after the war finished in November 1918 and was subsequently sold to the Imperial Smelting Works at Avonmouth, where it spent its entire working life before finally retiring in 1972.

It was bought by the Avon Valley Railway and stored at Fry’s chocolate factory in Keynsham until it was moved a year later to Bitton for restoration work to begin.

It made its first trip in 1974 and for many years was Avon Valley Railway’s only steam engine, undergoing a number of overhauls over the years.

Volunteers, led by resident engineer Jon Miles, have already restored the chassis and working motion and are waiting for a report on the condition of the boiler, which will determine exactly how much money is needed for the project. Any excess funds will be spent on the engine next in line for restoration at Avon Valley Railway.

To find out more about the appeal and to follow the progress of the restoration project, visit www.avonvalleyrailway.org. Members of the public can also get in touch on 0117 932 5538 or atinfo@avonvalleyrailway.org.

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