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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 5 (September 24, 1926)

Smallest Railway in the World

page 18

Smallest Railway in the World

The smallest railway in the world is located in Cumberland, in the North of England, and connects the villages of Eskdale, Beckfoot and Boot with the London, Midland and Scottish Railway at Ravenglass. The line is seven miles long, of 15 inch gauge and is known as “The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway.” As originally laid down in 1876 as a 3 ft. gauge mineral railway to carry ironstone from the mines at Boot, it was a success. When the value of the ore, in later years, began to deteriorate, the receipts from the traffic carried over the railway also fell in sympathy, and about 1902 the goods and passenger services were discontinued and the line was abandoned.

The Ravenglass and Eskdale Miniature Railway

The Ravenglass and Eskdale Miniature Railway

During 1915 several gentlemen who had gained experience with various minature pleasure railways in parks at Rhyl, Geneva, Southport and elsewhere, conceived the idea of purchasing the railway lock, stock, and barrel, and converting it to the 15 inch gauge. The scheme intended was to run the line with scale model locomotives quarter full size types, but, recently, owing to the great increase in traffic larger locomotives approximately one third full size prototypes have been adopted.

In 1916 the main line was completed and passenger and goods trains commenced to run. The great supporter of the railway is the holiday traffic, but a small service is also maintained during the winter months. From the first, the success of the novel railway was assured. The seven mile journey, in small open cars drawn by realistic working models of modern express engines, has proved a fascination for children of all ages, and the advantage of viewing the magnificent mountain and lake scenery in such a novel manner has served only to heighten the popularity of this little line.

On public holidays, upwards of 1,200 passengers have visited Boot and travelled over this unique railway in one day. Taking the average train load as 100 passengers this would mean 24 trains have had to be run over the seven mile journey, and over a single line possessing only very primitive signalling arrangements and inadequate crossing facilities.

In fact it is not an uncommon thing during the summer months for a main line train to arrive at the London, Midland and Scottish Railway station with over 500 passengers all anxious to proceed by the first train to Boot, on the Eskdale line. As the line only possesses four engines, the largest of which barely weighs 8 tons in working order, it is an extraordinary matter how such a line can deal expeditiously with such comparatively large page 19 numbers of excursionists. And yet it is done.

Of course it is quite true that the passengers could be handled in far greater numbers if the gauge was altered to the standard and proper full sized trains run, instead of the diminutive rolling stock now used, but the circumstance is generally overlooked that it is chiefly the size and novelty of the railway in this case which draws all the traffic. It would, therefore, be poor business on the part of the management to convert the 15 inch gauge to the standard.

The grades on the line are not all easy. There are several stretches of 1 in 40, and 1 in 50, with a short piece at 1 in 34. As the trains frequently reach the equivalent of 500
The Ravenglass and Eskdale Miniature Railway—New “Pacific” Type one-third size Locomotive

The Ravenglass and Eskdale Miniature Railway—New “Pacific” Type one-third size Locomotive

scale tons, it can be seen that the diminutive engines have no light task in hand in hauling the trains. Many regular main line engine drivers who have paid the line a visit are said to have been genuinely astonished at the work the engines perform.

The engines, as previously mentioned, are one-third size models; the first type, the “Atlantic,” named “Sanspareil,” shown in the accompanying photo, has already travelled over 100,000 miles in the course of its career. Perhaps a few of the leading dimensions will interest our locomotive friends: cylinders 4 1/8in, by 6 4/3in.; driving wheels 20 inch diameter;— tender holds 60 gallons of water and 2 cwt. of fuel; total weight, engine and tender, 2 tons 5 cwt.

A later development is the 4-6-2 “Pacific” type with almost identical dimensions as the foregoing type, with the exception of a larger boiler. The respective adhesion weights on the coupled wheels are however 2,800 lbs. for the “Atlantic” and 3,800 lbs. for the “Pacific.” The latter engine is very fast and has done the seven miles in under 20 minutes, equalling 21 m.p.h.

Both these types have now given place to the pride of the line, a “monster” one-third full size 2-8-2 goods engine named “River Esk.” If it were a full sized engine it would be the largest goods engine in the British Isles, and also the only one with that wheel arrangement known as 2-8-2 (two leading wheels, eight drivers and two trailing). Another novelty is the employment of a patent valve gear using poppet valves, similar to those employed on a motor car. The engine has proved a success, and the London and North Eastern Railway have since equipped one of their locomotives experimentally with a valve gear of the same type.

The cab is very roomy, and the driver and a companion (none of the engines carry a fireman) can shelter in the cab in wet weather or in winter. The locomotive is capable of working, with ease, a 30 ton stone train, or a heavy passenger train of 220 passengers. It can perform the entire journey of seven miles without the fire having to be once touched. This is because a large wide “Wootten” firebox is fitted, and this engine like all the others on the railway burns the finest grade page 20 of coke obtainable—owing to the necessity for avoiding smoke or sparks soiling the clothes of the passengers riding in the open type carriages which compose most of the trains.

A rather humourous provision in the timetable—at least to a railwayman accustomed to full sized trains—is the remark that the “down” non-stop express will slip two coaches at Irton Road for passengers desirous of alighting at that station.

Recently a granite quarry has been opened at Bedfoot and a considerable stone traffic is now carried by this diminutive railway all the year round. The new heavy goods locomotive is largely used on this duty. Its larger cylinders 51/4 in. × 81/2 in. and eight coupled wheels give plenty of power; also, having a large bogie tender holding 1,700 gallons of water and 5 cwt. of coke, it is superior to the earlier type with a tender capacity of sixty gallons of water and only two cwt. of fuel, and capable of more trips without returning to the shed to re-fuel and water.

Fantham's Peak, Mt. Egmont

Fantham's Peak, Mt. Egmont

The rolling stock is all four wheeled with the exception of bogie covered cars used in the winter months. It is naturally very important to keep the tare-load as light as possible, and this is demonstrated by the fact that the tare-load is only one hundredweight per passenger for the four wheeled open coaches. The rails are twenty-four pound flat-bottomed type spiked to heavy standard railway sleepers cut into three pieces. This interesting little line, besides carrying passengers and goods, also delivers the mail regularly to the main line trains at Ravenglass. In the early days shortage of locomotives necessitated the use of a tiny wheel propelled by a 4-h.p. Douglas motor cycle engine—very similar to the motor jiggers of the four-wheeled type as used by the Public Works Department.

Now a “Ford” on rail wheels has been purchased and is used for miscellaneous duties, shunting, etc., and it is rumoured that the fame of the “Smallest Railway in the World” is increasing yearly to such an extent that a further increase in the locomotive stock will soon have to be considered to deal with the ever growing demands of the summer passenger traffic.

Perhaps because of the great success of the Ravenglass and Eskdale Miniature Railway, similar railways are now being constructed elsewhere.

A line to be known as the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Light Railway is now almost completed in the South-East corner of England. It is of 15 inch gauge and will be worked by one-third full size “Pacific” class locomotives having three cylinders. Huge model locomotives of the 4-8-2 type may be built later on. Some of the engineering difficulties encountered in making the line, include crossing forty-three streams or dykes and two tunnels under main roads, the longest being 36 feet. Standard semaphore signals will be used in conjunction with telephone train operation and most of the station buildings will be very substantially built in reinforced concrete, and conforming to the most modern methods of building in this material. Strange to say the line has a strong road motor service to compete against.

It is interesting to speculate at this stage whether we will ever see a similar kind of light railway in New Zealand. Rotorua, with its thousands of tourists who visit Whakarewarewa, Wairoa, etc., in the summer season offers a great field for private or Government enterprise in this direction. The climate is also far more congenial to “open air” travel than the average holiday maker in England usually experiences.

However, “Coming events cast their shadows before,” and from what the writer has heard there exists at least a possibility of a miniature railway of this type being built in Auckland in the future.