Didcot Railway Centre July 2013

Published January 24, 2014
GWR Railcar

GWR Railcar inside the beautifully framed goods transfer shed. ©2013 Philip Price

Last July I had the pleasure of accompanying Vincent, Rob, & Steve to Didcot Railway Centre. I’ve been once before, some years ago, & looked forward to reacquainting myself with this great site that has a feast of interesting & unusual railway memorabilia. First, as it is surrounded by mainline tracks, you need to come through the site’s unusual entrance. You park by the mainline station, head inside & then, via a tunnel, pass under the mainline tracks of the station to reach the site. After handing over your entrance money you pass by the working coaling stage & head over to the main site premises.

It was lovely to be able to freely roam the majority of the site as there seemed to be very few ‘keep out’ or ‘keep off’ signs. We started off by taking a ride on the gorgeous GWR railcar along the short ‘branchline’ along to the goods transfer shed at the far end of the site where the broad gauge locomotive replica of Firefly stands.

We then wandered over to the ‘mainline’ & boarded carriages hauled by an 0-6-0 for a return journey down the full length of the site passing by an interesting variety of goods wagons stored round the back of the sheds. Alighting back on the platform some of our party got into an initially fascinating talk with one of the volunteers but when the discussion got on to the exact shade of paint used by GWR I lost interest & headed off to have a look at the engineers tools & sheds that were dotted around that end of the site.

Coupling Rod

Beautiful markings & workings on a coupling rod shown up by the dappled lighting. ©2013 Philip Price

A wander round the large engine shed, full of various shapes & sizes of locomotives, though informative, was sad as we read that most of these great engines were sat awaiting the work that would transform them back into working locomotives, the lucky ones with projected dates, some without. However, the sunshine cascading through the roof lights brightened up the engines & spiced up our pictures. As we were about to leave the shed the 0-6-0 called by to shunt one of the lines of locomotives & coaches, about 300 tons in all we overheard, which it did without fuss or bother once someone had realised the brakes were still on on one of the locomotives being hauled!

Next were two of the more unusual engines, firstly a steam railcar, unfortunately not running that day. However, reading the dramatic description of the conditions the driver & fireman had to endure working in the enclosed space with the boiler, it seemed better for them that it wasn’t in steam! Just round the corner was an experimental gas turbine locomotive, sadly now just an empty shell.

Didcot Railway Centre coal transfer station

A view of the Didcot Railway Centre coal transfer station with a mainline locomotive in the background. ©2013 Philip Price

A wander down into the air raid shelter with its realistic sound effects gave a sample of what those who worked here during WW2 had to endure. Afterwards, visiting the cafe was a purely pleasurable experience!

On our way out we found the coal transfer station to be in the marvellous state of that which is old, with its beautiful patina, but not looking stale, as it is still in use. The old coal wagons sat patiently lined up, waiting to discharge their loads, looking like they had done the rounds (but interestingly also had modern plates on). Through the grimy windows we had an elevated view across the site that seemed to have changed little over the years. In the gloom the sturdy but still bashed steel plate floor told the story of many years of hard wear suffered, ingrained with coal dust.

A great finish to our thoroughly enjoyable & fascinating day.

Phil.

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