Full steam ahead!
Lincolnshire Wolds Railway, the county’s only standard gauge steam railway, is open for business once again. Kate Chapman learns about the volunteers helping to bring the past to new life.
Volunteers at the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway are on track to preserve their heritage for future generations after reinstating part of the line between Louth and Grimsby so their beloved steam trains can continue running and enthralling visitors young and old.
The group, which formed after the line was closed in 1980, owns around 10 miles of track bed and has so far re-opened more than a mile of the line, as well as redeveloping Ludborough Station, erecting new carriage and locomotive sheds and rebuilding the signal box and waiting room, which now houses a small shop and museum.
The railway – Lincolnshire’s only standard gauge steam railway – opens on selected Sundays between March and January, plus Wednesdays in August, when visitor numbers are up to 300 a day. Steam enthusiasts can buy an all-day ticket to ride classic heritage engines along the scenic route between North Thoresby and Ludborough, which takes about 40 minutes.
Company secretary Pauline Neal says: “It’s so important that we carry on for the next generation, if we don’t they won’t even know what steam is. They won’t understand what the industrial revolution did for our country.
“The more money that we can raise, the more of the track we can get reinstated. We’ve been going quite a few years, but the whole total is just too big to think about.
“It’s an ongoing process as we’re doing it sectionally. Once the money is raised the contractors can come in, as without the funds it’s all down to the volunteers and that means it all takes even longer.”
The East Lincolnshire Railway was initially a main line railway linking Boston, Louth and Grimsby. It opened in 1848 with stations between Louth and Grimsby at Ludborough, North Thoresby, Holton-le-Clay and New Waltham. Passengers and freight used the line, which was nationalised in 1948, when it became part of British Rail.
North Thoresby and Louth stations closed to passengers in October 1970, although the line remained open for goods traffic to the maltings at Louth for another decade, with the double track being reduced to a single line.
Following the final closure in December 1980 the track was lifted, including most of the ballast, and all the station buildings and signal boxes were demolished before the line was abandoned.
Following a public inquiry in 1991 the Great Northern and East Lincolnshire Plc was granted a Light Railway Order in Parliament, allowing it to buy the track bed and develop the railway.
Pauline says a company had to be formed to buy 10 miles of track bed and since then volunteers have fundraised and worked to reinstate the line and provide amenities, including a toilet block and accessible car park. The redeveloped station is also home to a shop selling souvenirs and books, while rail-related artefacts are on display in a small museum, which the team would also like to expand. Two carriages have been turned into a café, serving sausage and bacon rolls and drinks to visitors, who can also take a tour of the engine shed while they are on site.
“To help raise funds, we host a range of special events throughout the year – there’s our 1940s weekend in September, we run fish and chip suppers and two or three times a year we host cream tea events too,” says Pauline.
“We also organise car boot sales, Teddy bear trips, our Halloween Spooktacular, Santa Specials and vintage car groups come and display their vehicles.
“There is a lot going on, but it’s mostly things that don’t cost us too much to host, as the idea is that we are trying to raise money for the work that we’re doing.
“Our membership fees also help and we rely on our visitors, some of them are so supportive, they come time and time again to support us.”
Visitors to the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway can also book to enjoy other experiences, including riding the footplate or working the signal box for half a day. None of this would be possible without the dedicated group of people giving up their time to keep the railway running.
“We have a great bunch of volunteers here – and we are all volunteers, everyone from the managing director down, there are no paid members of staff,” adds Pauline, who has been volunteering herself for more than 25 years.
“They are split into two groups: those who come on our working days, Tuesday and Saturday – they mainly do the work on the trains, keep the track in working order and other tasks like painting and maintenance. And then on the other side we have people on our running days, who take on the public facing duties. We’ve got about 50 volunteers across the two groups but we are always looking for more to get involved.
“There are all sorts of jobs to do – everything from mechanical and working with the engines to picking up a brush and sweeping the platform. It really covers anything and everything. People do not have to come all the time, as long as they let us know, then that’s fine.
“Our volunteers range in age from people in their 20s up to those in their 80s. There are not many under 50, we’re quite top heavy in age. If we had a few more youngsters, we could better spread the workload and get more things done, because at the moment we have to choose which jobs take priority.”
The railway is home to two Peckett small industrial steam engines, as well as a Barclay and an 08 diesel.
Volunteers are currently fundraising to extend the line south towards Louth, a project which began in 2019. The first target is the ¾-mile section to the Pear Tree Lane level crossing, near to the site of the former Utterby Halt station.
Pauline adds: “A few years ago, one young boy, he was about six, was looking at the engine and asking how it worked, so we told him about putting the coal in and making the fire – but he didn’t know what coal was!
“There’s a great community spirit here – it’s like a family. We’re all working together so that youngsters can see what goes on and understand it. After all it’s our heritage, we cannot afford to lose it.”
For more information about volunteering with the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway or to donate visit www.lincolnshirewoldsrailway.co.uk
Photographs: Lisa Harding / Kristian Bristow / Thomas Woolley / Lincolnshire Wolds Railway