Just down from where I live in Banks, is another village called Hesketh Bank. There is a large lake behind the houses along the main road, and a small heritage railway also has its base there…
West Lancashire Light Railway
This area, including the area around the Lake around the far side of the site, has long been part of the Hesketh Bank brickworks, and clay was dug out of a large pit which became the lake to create the bricks. At the same time, in 1967, a group of six schoolboys were interested in the notion of Narrow Gauge railways and decided to build their own, and found this site. They bought some equipment as well as a large amount of scrap rail, and created a short 2ft gauge railway totalling 150 yards long.
The first engines on the railway were two diesels, which they bought off the Burscough Brick & Tile Works. The first steam engine followed in 1969, when they bought a Hunslet Quarry locomotive called “Irish Mail” from the Dinorwic Slate Quarry in Wales. The group gradually restored the loco, which was in various pieces when they bought it. By 1980 it was ready and steam trains began running up and down the line. The group also bought some axles and created their own rolling stock, as well as building warehouses to house the engines and all their equipment. Today the line runs for 430 yards (393 metres), with expansions also planned for the future.
The railway operates as a Charity organisation, and all the staff are volunteers. Gemma and I joined in November 2013, and since then we have done various jobs, from engineering, restoring locos, Guard training and Fireman on the loco. I even got a chance to drive the train on a few occasions! New volunteers are always welcome so if you can spare a Sunday or Thursday (for maintenance) then come on down and give us a hand.
The railway is open every Sunday between April and October, as well as both Sat/Sun the two weekends leading up to Christmas for their well known Santa Special trains, where Santa might just appear at the other end of the line with presents!
These are the three steam engines that are regularly used for passenger trains. The grey engine is called Joffre, and was built in by Kerr Stuart & Company, Stoke-on-Trent for the French Government, with whom it saw action during World War I. The railway acquired it many years ago and gave it a full restoration and it now looks better than ever.
The other two locomotives both worked in the Utrillas Mine in Spain, and were built by a German company called Orenstein & Koppel. They are sister locomotives, and the first is called Utrillas, the engine with the orange wheels, whilst the other is called Montalban.
Irish Mail is still at the railway but in storage at the moment, along with another steam engine called Sybil which is being restored.
The engine behind Montalban is called Cheetal, and was built by John Fowler & Son in Leeds. It worked at the Karachi Port in India, which still operates today It is on loan from Leeds Museums & Galleries to the railway for restoration, and hopefully one day it will be steaming down the line again once more. It is similar to the loco sat outside on permanent display, although I am unsure what it is called. Built in Chrzanow in Poland it was in use for the Sugar Beet Railway also in Poland. You can see it on the panoramic shot at the start of this post.
Aside from the steam engines, the railway also owns an impressive collection of diesel engines, like the one shown above. We are currently involved in helping with the restoration of a large hunslet diesel engine for use on the railway, around the size of one of the steam locomotives. There is still a lot of work to do but so far the main chassis has been completed along with the braking system, pistons and the engine.
This is the starting station, called Becconsall, as this area is part of the parish called “Hesketh with Becconsall”. Interestingly, there used to be a West Lancashire Railway which ran past this site just south of where I took this picture, and ran between Southport and Preston, with stations in Banks, Hesketh Bank and the next village along, Tarleton. Sadly it closed in 1964, with the track removed the following year. There is no trace around Hesketh Bank of the line, as the area that would have been the trackbed is now part of Altys, adjacent to the WLLR. This in turn has now been sold is and a housing development is going to be erected here. You can tell where the railway once ran however as a bridge goes up and over the Altys site from here, further into Hesketh Bank, and the railway previous ran beneath it.
When the train pulls back into this station at the end of the journey, the engine uncouples, and pulls forwards and then around the back of the sheds via a small level crossing, to couple up to the other end of the train. A similar action occurs at the other end of the line, so the engine is pulling on the outbound journey and pushing on the inbound journey.
The passenger train we run is made up of one of the three steam locomotives at the front, with two carriages created on site. At the end of the train is the guard van, which includes a brake so the train can be held stationary as the train runs around at the end of the track to attach to the guard van end of the train to pull it back to Becconsall. Whoever is rostered as guard for the week rides on the guard van and looks after the passengers.
This is the end station, called Delph, where passengers are free to disembark and explore the line for a few minutes before the train heads back.
As I said, we have been volunteering at the railway, and above is a montage of the various jobs we have done. Both of us have completed a day of guard training so we are now certified to guard on the railway and are rostered as such periodically. I have completed 3 turns as fireman, and the next step for the two of us is to learn to drive the diesel engines. Both of us have also taken turns in the on site shop, selling tickets and various other souvenirs.
You might have noticed Gemma wearing a large bear suit, and there is a good reason for that. Throughout the year there are various special events:
1) Friendly Engines Day
Two engines run on this day, with special painted faces on the front.
2) Teddy Bears’ Outing
As the trains steam through the woods to the other end of the line, some large friendly teddy bears come out to wave at the train!
3) Summer Gala Weekend – August
All three engines run on this day, with multiple trains running on both the Saturday and the Sunday, and this year it falls on the 9th/10th of August.
4) Autumn Steam Gala – October
Two locos are steamed up and sometimes locos from other heritage railways visit the WLLR, as do our locomotives. Recently we visited the Threlkeld Quarry Railway, and the South Tynedale Railway, both in Cumbria, where Montalban and Joffre respectively were visiting for special events.
5) Halloween Specials
These trains run on the last Sunday of October, and run into the night, and you are welcome to come in fancy dress. Just watch out for the ghouls!
6) BBC Children in Need
Every year we run free trains for a Sunday in November to raise money for Children in Need, all contributions are much appreciated.
7) Santa Specials
The Santa Specials are by far our most popular events, and run on the the two Saturdays and Sundays before Christmas. A cafe is open on these days, and we serve Hot Dogs, Mince Pies as well as hot and cold drinks. The engines run all day and a special guest sometimes comes along for the ride…
So that is the West Lancashire Light Railway, one of the best attractions in West Lancashire, so come on down and visit us on a Sunday between April and October, or even at Christmas. Tours of the sheds and workshops are available, and it is a paradise for enthusiasts, photographers and the whole family. You can also visit our official website here, where a full list of all our locomotives is available, including steam, diesel and electric.