NELPG publishes its own bi-monthly newsletter NELPG NEWS, which is posted free to all of the group's members. The history of the group is chronicled in its pages.
The K1 has had to be withdrawn from Jacobite service due to excessive flange wear that has resulted in the tyres reaching the minimum allowed to run on Network Rail. The number of Trustees on the Board now comprises just five, following the recent resignations of Bill Dobson, Nigel Hall and Roy Marshall. Chris Lawson, has relinquished the role of Chairman, now taken on by Colin Foxton.
We seem to be on a way out of the awful Covid-19 pandemic, with cases falling and vaccinations increasing, day by day. This has led the central and regional Governments to steadily relax the Covid-19 restrictions so that, hopefully, by the middle of June, we will be back to some semblance of normality.There is every likelihood that the Jacobite steam service will commence on Monday 26th April and run through to the end of October, with the K1 operating alternate weeks from the week beginning 26th April through to the end of September. The NYMR intends to resume servicers on 15th May, based on the bronze timetable but subject to the sort of social distancing and booking procedures that were employed when running last year on services between Pickering and Whitby.
Unfortunately the optimism expressed in the December NELPG News was recently dashed by a communication from Darlington Borough Council that the length of the shed needed by NELPG to carry out various operations on engines and the coach in a safe manner could not be provided. Detailed discussions have taken place, and unfortunately there does not seem to be a solution in sight. We were being asked to make a commitment by 12th April to move into the 1861 Shed in the autumn of 2022, otherwise to vacate our base in the Carriage works at that time. At a recent meeting the Board decided we could not make that commitment, so it looks as though we will have to find alternative accommodation within the next 18 months.
Despite the pandemic, over the last year our two working locomotives amassed an unexpected but welcome 5,312 miles between them – 4,320 for the K1 and 992 for the J27. Sadly, the expected use of the locomotives on the NYMR in January and February has not proved possible because of the lockdown imposed after Christmas.
At the end of a awful year that no one could have predicted, it seems, at long last, that there is now a way out of the terrible worldwide pandemic. Let us hope so. I believe that the NELPG has come out of this relatively unscathed in terms of the virus adversely affecting our working members, though we have no way of knowing how it might have affected the wider membership. Hopefully, it has not.
The K1 duly completed its sojourn at Fort William on 28th September. The K1 managed 35 trips to Mallaig, covering just over 3,000 trouble free miles in the process. The long-heralded Q6 boiler lift finally took place on Monday 7th September. The J72 boiler was dispatched for repair on 14th October.
The Covid-19 situation has curtailed our activities. It is encouraging to see a return of working parties though, of necessity, in a controlled manner. Despite the restrictions, this seems to be working well, with good progress on all our locomotives. After a time when there was a big question mark over operations on the NYMR and the Jacobite and, therefore, the prospect of no locomotive hire earnings in 2020, both the J27 and the K1 have seen some use and have earned some unexpected income. Despite restricted capacity, the Jacobite has loaded well, prompting West Coast Railways to extend the period of the two train working.
In these unprecedented times we have had to adapt to a new way of life in general and NELPG business has had to change, too. Regular Board meetings are now taking place by Skype where we can all see and talk to each other via our computer screens, and most effective it is too. The main business has been the overhaul of the J72, in particular the replacement of the cylinder block he refurbishment of the boiler, and this is dealt with in much more detail elsewhere in this issue.
Thanks to the Corona virus pandemic, this has turned into a very different and challenging period to what we were all expecting. The Trustees have been closely following the Government's response to the outbreak and considering the implications for the Group's activities against our duty of care and responsibility for the safety of members. On 16th March, the guidance and direction from the Government changed significantly. Following this change in guidance, the Trustees decided that all our planned activities should be cancelled, postponed or suspended until further notice. All were discretionary, and none could be regarded as essential in the national context.
Very real sadness of the passing away of long standing NELPG volunteer and supporter, Dave Whitfield. The Masterplan for what is designated Darlington’s Railway Heritage Quarter has been approved by Darlington Council. The prospects for the occupants of the site, including the NELPG, are, to say the least, potentially quite exciting.
After 50 years on the NELPG Committee and Board in a variety of capacities, 20 of them as Chairman, John Hunt has decided not to seek re-election as a Trustee when his term of office comes to an end at the 2020 AGM. On 11th November, epresentatives of Darlington Borough Council attend a Board meeting so they could present their latest thoughts on the redevelopment of the Hopetown site as the Railway Heritage Quarter. This issue carries obituaries for John Richardson and Len Clarke.