Pontypool & Blaenavon Railway 1st May 2016
31203 had been one of those class 31’s that had spent a long time in preservation and yet was about as elusive as they came! Unfortunately its initial return to service was cut short by an AVR problem on its first running weekend and then it looked as though it could have ended up meeting the cutters torch after 37216 ran away and crashed into it after its brakes bled off. Still, a few years on Nemesis Rail had worked wonders on the damaged cab and 31203 had been returned to Wales to take up where it left off; at the Pontypool & Blaenavon Railway.
Having tested 31203 upon its return it was advertised to work at a mixed traction weekend over the May Day Bank Holiday, on Sunday & Monday only. It would have been rude not to have a look and after a day at the Avon Valley Railway the previous day, and an overnight stop in Pontypool, we arrived at a very bleak Pontypool & Blaenavon Railway; where it didn’t stop raining all day!
The station at Furnace Sidings is out on a bit of a limb but does have a very good station buffet, thankfully! The staff were very helpful and explained which direction was which when asked. The line currently operates between Whistle Inn and Coed Avon with a spur off to Big Pit. Unfortunately due to industrial action the Big Pit Museum was closed until further notice so that was out of the question.
Services were split throughout the day with a shuttle service running between Whistle Inn & Big Pit using Andrew Barclay 0-4-0ST Rosyth No.1 and a main line service running from Furnace Siding to Blaenavon High Level via Coed Avon, where the loco would propel back from before running round at Blaenavon High Level. This service was split 50/50 between Hunslet austerity 0-6-0ST WD71515 and 31203; with 31203 working the 1120, 1310, 1500 & 1650 from Furnace Sidings.
Due to the fact that it was literally 31203’s first outing, coupled wit the fact that the crews were being trained on class 31’s and it was raining, it wasn’t the best of days for thrash as nobody wanted to brake the 31 and the sanders didn’t work so the crew were afraid it might slip to a stand if it was given what for. Unfortunately, with the entertainment, it did make for a long day, which I cut short after 3 trips and was already at Birmingham on the way home by the time the last trip arrived back into Furnace Sidings.
Rumour had it that 31203 would possibly be out during September weekends, when diesel traction was generally used at the railway so a return trip should be on the cards at some point later in the year. Despite the weather, lack of thrash and distance from my home town I was still glad I’d made the effort and will return at a later date.
Photos from the day: