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was realigned on a high embankment slightly west of its old course allowing the 1:50 ruling gradient to be eased to 1:100.At 2km (1 1 / 4 miles),this new circuit was a little longer than before.The following year,Ceawlin was dismantled,emerging from the shed as so often in the miniature railway world - as something completely different.For the 1989 season the Rio Grande was reborn as a tank engine,with the diesel engine hidden in the boiler.Initially 2-8-0T,she later became an 0-8-0T,then an 0-8-2T! The most recent major changes came in 1998,with the construction of a tunnel, artfully sited to increase the drama as the train bursts from the wooded section out beside the lake.In late 2005,the long serving Dougal was sold to the Evesham Vale Light Railway and replaced with a powerful new locomotive manufactured by the Exmoor Valley Steam Railway.The new 0-6-2 tank engine,No 6,was named John Hayton as a tribute to the man who had saved the railway in 1976 and gradually developed and improved it over 30 years.
Today After a very difficult season during the Foot & Mouth crisis,the Longleat Railway has gradually recovered,and is now busier than at any time in its long history.The line is still managed by John Hayton,now officially in semiretirement,but still working five days most weeks.There are three other regular staff: John’s wife Anne,who sells tickets,Glyn,who has been with the railway on and off since leaving school in 1980, and Tony,a ‘new boy’ with a mere 11 years service.As a general rule,Glyn drives and Tony works on maintenance, but everyone can do just about everything,and there’s part-time help in the form of Mike who,in his 68th year,still helps out when the line is busy. Trains are usually hauled by John Hayton (the engine,of course,not the manager!), with diesels Ceawlin and Lenka in reserve.The rather grand Longleat Central has three platforms,but in practice all trains arrive and depart from platform 1 rather than the shorter platforms 2 and 3,the engine turning and running round through platform 2.This is partly because platform 1 is the longest,but also due to the modern fixation with Health & Safety regulations,as there is no footbridge to the island platforms.Visitors to theme parks are not renowned for their common sense,but accidents are almost unknown - a credit to the professionalism with which the railway is run. The railway has ten carriages,each carrying between 16 and 20 passengers,and new stock is all constructed to the 20-passenger design.Platform 1 can accommodate eight carriages,giving a maximum loading per train of about 150 people.An interesting wheelchair carriage is currently awaiting a rebuild.The railway introduced this voluntarily
Miniature Railway 1 a few years ago,the coach being marshalled into trains at 10 or 15 minutes notice, allowing for the time-consuming process of swapping the carriages.Unfortunately, Longleat House had a tendency to send wheelchair-bound visitors straight over,and a minority would demand immediate attention.The answer was a cleverly executed 16seater coach with a low centre well and four folding seats that could remain in the train formation throughout the day,the seats folding back to make space for a wheelchair. Running on a ‘one engine in steam’ basis,trains run as required,completing the circuit in 10 or 11 minutes.At maximum capacity,the staff can turn,water and run the engine round in four minutes,giving a headway of 15 minutes between trains,and throughput of 600 passengers per hour.Running at that level all day gives the figure of 5,000 passengers, and as the railway runs most days from March to November,a total capacity of around half million per annum is entirely believable. Increasing capacity would require safe access to platforms 2 and 3 and extensive track alterations.Since the removal of a diamond crossing early in 2006,trains can depart clockwise around the loop from any platform,but can only arrive at platform 1! The exception is in November and December when the railway runs its universally oversubscribed Santa Specials.These trains run hourly on selected weekdays during the Christmas holidays,and half-hourly on Saturdays and Sundays throughout late November and December.This is the only time of year when scheduled stops are made at the lonely Stalls Halt,renamed North Pole for the occasion.Trains run anti-clockwise to North Pole Halt,where passengers make their way to Santa’s log cabin,returning once the children have received their presents.The anticlockwise running allows trains to make a downhill start from the station,the departure being radio-signalled as the second train prepares to leave Longleat Central.Drivers carry walkie-talkie radios all year round,to keep in touch with the station,but for this brief Christmas period,the radios are used for signalling too.Longleat Central itself is fully semaphore signalled. Safety is taken very seriously on the line,but there are hazards here you won’t find elsewhere.Hippos are vegetarian,but they can be unpredictable,so despite an electric fence on the water’s edge,visitors are banned from this part of the grounds.This has the incidental advantage of keeping wandering day trippers away from the railway.Trains rarely exceed 7mph and are air-braked throughout,but rails can be slippery (John Hayton carries an automatic flange oiler) and visibility is poor in places,particularly around the tunnel.Glyn was busy mowing the grass here one afternoon when he turned to find a curious hippo looking over his shoulder.At Longleat you must always be on your guard...
FACT FILE Longleat Railway
Location : OS183 ST808 431 Length : 2km (1 1 / 4 miles) Gauge : 15-inch Speed : 7mph Locomotives : John Hayton, Exmoor 0-6-2T steam 2005 : Lenka, diesel railcar 1984 : Ceawlin, 0-8-2T steam-outline diesel 1966 Open : Daily March-November, hours vary Santa Trains : Tues & Wed 19th & 20th December : Sat 2nd, 9th, 16th December : Sun 26th Nov,3rd,10th and 17th Dec : Advance booking essential Operator : Longleat Estate Telephone : 01985 845408
Getting There Public transport links to Longleat are appaling.The nearest railway stations are six miles away at Warminster,and five miles away at Frome.After this,you’re on your own.Either route can be walked,but a bicycle is easier,although roads from Warminster can be busy.From Frome,follow the A362 for about a mile,then turn right on a minor road,right again to the hamlet of Cole Hill,then left into the Longleat Estate.Ignore the sign ‘all traffic turn left’(!) and continue straight towards the house.The railway is just beyond the car park.Alternatively,Frome station has a taxi office!
Miniature Railway 1