DIDCOT RAILWAY CENTRE
Steam Trains in Oxfordshire
An eccentric engineer with the unlikely name of Isambard Kingdom Brunel conceived of a railway line which would carry First Class Victorian era steamship passengers from Plymouth and Bristol to London in speed and style, and one of England’s grand and unique railways in the west was built, the Great Western Railway. Originally a 7 foot wide broad gauge track allowed for faster speeds behind Brunel’s now legendary “Firefly” steam engine in the 1840’s. The standard gauge won out, but the broad guage tracks and the Firefly Engine live on at the Didcot Railway Centre in southern Oxfordshire. The Didcot Rail Museum is a journey back into steam history while high speed modern trains roar passed a short distance away.
marked the 50th Anniversary of the Great Western Railway Society and
at the engine sheds of the Didcot center. The Didcot Railway
Centre covers over 20 acres and includes not only the Grade II listed
engine shed building and coal stage, but the locomotive works, carriage
shed, turntable, transfer shed, signal boxes, museum, two standard
gauge demonstration lines
as well as the Brunel broad gauge railway line for special runs of the
The Didcot Railway Centre recently relaunched the restored mighty engine King Edward II, a glorious blue monster of steam at a ceremony in April, running again for the first time in almost a half century, joining the array of 20 locomotives at the rail yard. Edward II the Plantagenet of the 13th Century was a pretty weak monarch in his family of medieval royals, but the steam locomotive named for him, the 4-6-0 king class 6023 King Edward II locomotive was one of the most powerful engines to ever drive the lines of the Great Western Railway in the 1930's. The engine will make appearances at railway heritage museums before assuming main line duties as an ambassador of England steam heritage.
In May the Didcot Railway Centre will see the restoration launch of the Steam Railmotor No.93 self-propelled steam railcar, historic as the precursor to todays diesel and electric multiple unit trains/ modern. The Railmotor will see regular duty of the demonstration rails and branch line at Didcot on a schedule to be found on the centre’s website.
Only about an hour from London, the Didcot Centre has a wonderful collection of steam engines, one of the largest in the UK after the national msueum system (see York National Rail Museum) from grand Great Western Express “Castles” and “Manors” to smaller tank engines and a variety of period rolling stock on the 23 acre site laid out as an old time station and switching yard. Used in many film and television productions, the site has working signal boxes, a Science and Learning Center for the kids and on weekends and throughout the summer, offers steam train rides on a mix of the available trains, including the open coaches of the broad gauge replica Firefly, and the “driver for a fiver” chance to operate the throttles of an authentic operating steam engine. Steam days are Saturdays and Sundays May-September and Wednesdays in July-August. On special designated days, a “Thomas the Tank” engine is available for rides for children in love with the storybook and television character. (Apparently there are several of them that make the circuit around England to different sites.) And a new event at Didcot for steam and car racings fans, the Steam & Speed allows a steam adventure and Formula One experince at the RBS Williams F1 private museum (see Steam & Speed Experience).
The historic property built around the original engine shed and turntable is connected by a foot tunnel to the modern Didcot Parkway Rail Station and can be easily reached by rail from London, or take the A34 motorway toward Oxford and get off at the Didcot exit - easily landmarked by the massive cooling towers of the Didcot power stations, built on the site of WWII era Royal Army and Air Force bomb depots instrumental in the build-up to D-Day. You can actually get a free guided tour of the power station by appointment during the week if your interests lie in things technological. But for those in love with the beauty of an earlier technology and the glorious grand days of steam rail, the Didcot Railway Centre is well worth your adventure in trainspotting. © Bargain Travel Europe
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