Narrow Gauge Pleasure

The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway

The Railway Today

The turntable at Ravenglass.
Black Prince was on loan from
New Romney (Kent) in 1993

The Ravenglass and Eskdale railway is a 15" gauge railway located in the western part of the lake district. From its headquarters at the port of Ravenglass the railway runs along the bank of the estuary before climbing along the flank of Muncaster fell and finally crossing its northern end into Eskdale. The line continues along the valley to the terminus at Dalegarth station, if the passenger has alternative transport available he can continue eastward to the Hills of Langdale via the spectacular Wrynose and Hardknot passes.

The coaches on the Ravenglass and Eskdale are built to a wider loading gauge than most 15" gauge stock and are correspondingly more roomy. While the locomotive stud is composed mainly of fascinating near scale versions of full size main line engines it also includes engines which are definitely narrow gauge locos in their own right built with functional large cabs, domes and chimneys. These machines and the railway they work have a unique appeal which can only be enhanced by the beauty of the countryside in which they lie!

History and Origins

The original Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway was built in 1875 to link Ironstone mines around Boot and Dalegarth to the sea at the port of Ravenglass. The original railway was a rough and ready mineral line laid to a gauge of 3', although no British railway to this unusual gauge has survived it was used for several industrial railways of this period.

Once the railway was in service the local population began asking for a passenger service but much work was needed before the railway was fit to carry paying customers. It was 18 months later in November 1876 that the first passenger trains ran, only a further six months elapsed before it became apparent that Ironstone mining could not support the railway and the line went into receivership. The railway limped along, steadily deteriorating, in the hands of the receiver until its closure in 1908.

Mineral extraction was revived periodically in the Dalegarth area resulting in re-opening in 1909, shortly followed by closure. The line was again opened in 1911 with slightly more success but final closure came in 1913 and the track was left to rot in situ.

It was in this state that the directors of Narrow Gauge Railways Limited found it in 1915. The company had operated fairground and exhibition railways before the war but this activity ceased with the outbreak of hostilities, which threatened its very survival. So the company directors sought locations where their 15" gauge equipment could be put to use by providing a public transport service, they were more than happy to avoid engineering works by adopting the existing track bed and this was leased in July of that year.

Initially the 15" track was provided by the simple expedient of moving the existing rails onto the sound center part of the rotting sleepers and the first passenger trains were hauled a mile or so to Muncaster Mill only a month after signing the lease. The line was subsequently extended to Dalegarth and began to operate a service over the full length of the old railway. The Railway continued as a passenger line for many years with an intermittent role hauling granite from Murthwaite quarry but, like all British narrow gauge railways of the period, it suffered from competition from the roads and ceased to be commercially viable.

In 1960 closure of the railway was announced and there were several unsuccessful attempts to sell. Ultimately the, hurriedly formed, Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway Preservation Society acquired the railway at auction. In 1961 the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway Company was formed to take over operation of the railway while the society provided support and volunteer labour. The new company set up it's headquarters at Ravenglass and brought the railway very much up to date.

The Ravenglass works deserves its place in railway history, having built complete locomotives both for the R&ER and external customers. In addition the railway has pioneered new operating methods including radio control working where train movements are supervised by a controller in radio touch with all the drivers out on the line. This system was passed by the Railways Inspectorate who drew it to the attention of British Rail, it was adopted experimentally on a branch line in Scotland and is now use in place of a conventional signalling system on many minor branches.

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