Drive A Locomotive on the Wensleydale Railway
By James Grahame
Any Thomas the Tank Engine fan will tell you that diesels should be watched carefully, lest they cause trouble. The Wensleydale Historical Railway in North Yorkshire, England does just that. They maintain a number of vintage locomotives and rolling stock including a 1960s-era Class 101 trainset similar to Daisy the temperamental diesel from the Thomas books. Parts of the line date back to 1848, but passenger service began to decline in the mid 1950s and freight service ceased entirely in 1992.
The Wensleydale Railway Association was formed in 1990 in a desperate bid to restore passenger service along at least a portion of the line. Help came from an unusual ally. The Ministry of Defense provided funding to restore a significant portion of the line to transport armored vehicles to Catterick Garrison - the largest British Army garrison in the world. The MoD was only too happy to allow the Wensleydale Railway to take over the line, and continues to use it to haul equipment today.
Passenger service resumed in 2003, and five stations along the line have re-opened. The Railway now owns a number of diesels, diesel multiple units and even several electric multiple units. Trains run three times a day, with daily service throughout the summer months. It's worth checking the schedule in advance, especially since there is sometimes steam service on the line.
If you're the sort who likes to take control of the action, the railway offers a day long driver experience course that includes a safety briefing, instruction and a supervised driving experience on a diesel multiple unit train, along with breakfast and lunch. The cost is £225, which is reasonable for the opportunity to drive a 32.5 tonne DMU.