The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway has signed a contract with the Zillertalbahn in Austria which will see the Mid Wales line hire newly overhauled U-class 0-6-2T locomotive, No. 2 ‘Zillertal’, for around two years.
The agreement will further cement a relationship between the two 2ft 6in gauge railways that dates back to the earliest years of the W&LLR’s preservation, when the Zillertalbahn donated four carriages to the Mid Wales line.
The W&LLR is the longest and one of only three 2ft 6in gauge lines operating in the UK and it is believed that a U-class locomotive has never run in this country before.
Zillertal will also be the oldest locomotive on the line during its stay – built in 1900, it is two years senior to the W&LLR’s original locomotives, ‘The Earl’ and ‘The Countess’, both of which were built in 1902 for the 1903 opening of the line and still operate on it.
Zillertal was one of two locomotives built for the opening of the Zillertalbahn and has always been based on the community-owned railway, which runs nearly 32km from the mainline at Jenbach to its terminus at Mayrhofen. Two other steam locomotives operate a mid-day heritage service on the line, alongside regular diesel railcar services.
The U-Class has been under major overhaul over the winter and was first steamed successfully on May 24. Earlier this month, representatives from the W&LLR’s mechanical engineering department travelled to Austria to observe further testing, which proved equally successful.
Assuming that the remaining testing, crew training and final contract arrangements proceed as planned, the locomotive is expected to arrive in Wales around the end of this month and, following further testing on the W&LLR, Zillertal should enter service on the railway’s service trains in the summer.
The locomotive is also set to play a starring role at the W&LLR’s annual Steam Gala between August 30 and September 1. At this event, it will be paired with its former carriages to form the ‘Austrian Train’.
The four open-balconied carriages, donated to the W&LLR by the Zillertalbahn, arrived in Wales at a time when the Welsh line was desperately in need of more passenger accommodation. They immediately became very popular with travellers and have formed the backbone of passenger services ever since.
A fifth carriage arrived in 1975 and the W&LLR’s collection of Austrian passenger vehicles has been further bolstered by other carriages from the Salzkammergut Lokalbahn (SKGLB).
The hire of the U-class will not only provide a new and major attraction on the W&LLR but also relieve pressure on the home locomotive fleet while several key engines are out of service under overhaul.
No. 699.01 ‘Sir Drefaldwyn’, built in 1944 for the German military but which spent all of its pre-preservation life in Austria, is not expected out of the railway’s workshops until the end of 2019. Original Beyer Peacock No. 1 The Earl has already been taken to the Vale of Rheidol Railway at Aberystwyth for overhaul and is expected back at Llanfair in the middle of the 2020 season, while the Ziller hire period will also cover a planned start to the overhaul of the popular former Sierra Leone Railway Hunslet 2-6-2 No. 85 – it is hoped that this will begin as soon as Sir Drefaldwyn is completed.
W&LLR general manager Charles Spencer, who has led the hire negotiations, said the Welsh line had always valued the historical connection with the Zillertalbahn. “It has been a pleasure working with them on preparations and it has also been an ambition to bring an iconic U-class to the UK, using its Alpine technology to haul its former carriages up the steep gradients on our line.”
Wolfgang Stoehr, head of the Zillertalbahn’s operating company Zillertaler Verkehrsbetriebe AG, is also looking forward to the completion of arrangements. “Our workshop has done an excellent job overhauling our No. 2,” he said. “While our other two engines handle our popular daily steam service in the season, it will be exciting to see Zillertal represent our railway with its former carriages in Wales.”