Beamish Transport Online: Review of 2020

Beamish Transport Online: Review of 2020

Any review of 2020 is inevitably going to be dominated by a single subject, Cornavirus. In the interests of offering a change in diet for readers, I am going to avoid referring to this as far as possible, and instead reflect on what we did achieve during 2020, under trying and difficult conditions. Whilst at the time of writing the Review of 2019 ( none of us could have forecast the impact upon the World of the pandemic, and in particular on museums and heritage sites such as ours, it is worth looking at back at what my predictions for 2020 were, for interest if nothing else!

A review of the 2019 review predictions for 2020

So firstly, it seems appropriate to look at the projects and work I thought would see progress and even completion in 2020:

Puffing Billy – the repairs and modifications were completed and the locomotive saw some service in 2020 prior to the national lockdown taking effect. The brake mechanism modifications have been successful.

Tramway infrastructure – work was underway to complete the checkrail re-spacing to provide a more uniform gap through the checkrailed sections of route, following introduction of revised standards to the permanent way (PW). Work was due to start on re-sleepering between Pockerely and the Town, with the materials procured. This work will now take place in 2021.

Narrow Gauge projects – Samson’s adaptations are described elsewhere in this post, similarly work on KS 721. The track was due to receive attention, to introduce a new turnout into the system to ease a number of curves and provide a new siding, one that will eventually be covered over for additional undercover storage.

Great North Steam Fair 2020 – so much work that went unrewarded! We had a terrific event lined up, featuring heavy haulage and one or two surprises that we won’t be able to repeat. The event was closest to the lockdown and for a little while it was first doubtful, then known to be impossible. The GNSF will probably make a return in 2022, all being well.

Fiftieth Anniversary celebrations – these were put on-hold until 2021 – we are fortunate in that there are a number of years ahead where we can look back fifty years, so will review the programme in due course.

Crosville 716 (Leyland Cub bus) – this project progressed well and is reported elsewhere in this post.

Dunrobin – the restoration of the locomotive has been paused until further notice.

Gateshead Tram 10’s reconstruction – no progress was made on the project prior to the 2020 lockdowns, though it will be one of the engineering team priorities once workshops are reopened in 2021.

Dodge bus and Ford Model T Ton Truck – both projects on hold pending reopening of the workshops for volunteers.

Savage Steam Gallopers – completed, tested then mothballed – such has been the nature of 2020!

What we did do in 2020…

So, perhaps after that rather truncated programme, what did we manage to do in 2020?! It was the year of the bus for Beamish, with the versatility of buses being used to maximum effect, supported by the new bus depot which enabled us to operate an effective service at minimal cost. Here is a month by month review, with those months that are missing revealing the periods that we were closed or when projects were unable to progress.


Above: Staff from the Tramway/Bus team are seen practising using the emergency ramps carried on the Wheelchair Accessible Vehcile (WAV) J2007 during one of the training sessions held as part of the Mutual Improvement Classes held for all transport team staff and volunteers each January. Whilst we hope never to need these ramps, it is well worth practising the procedure to safely deploy them in the event of the failure of the powered lift. Crosville 716 has the same arrangement for covering a lift failure, and this sort of exercise will form part of the training once 716 is ready for commissioning into service.
Above: The Savage Steam Gallopers – after two years of work and delays, the ride overhaul reached the stage where the newly rebuilt centre engine was fitted to the centre truck, the ride assembled and tested and then… closure! The ride was in use (using its electric motor as we hadn’t time to refresh the steam operator competencies) in the late summer, before closure came again.
Above: Another job that should have taken weeks and will probably see its first anniversary is the gearbox and clutch repairs to the B-Type, which was seen here being dismantled so that the assembly could be attended to be a contractor. With the parts back, but not all of the staff, we were unable to progress this job though hopefully it will see some work carried out in 2020 – if we can squeeze it in. It will make the bus mobile once again as, once we reopened in late July, it was stored outside for much of the summer and early autumn as we were unable to move it easily and the usual plant equipment had been off-hired that would have enabled it to be shunted. In the end it was hand-power that returned it to the pit in late October, where it remains at the time of writing.
Stop Press – Gearbox refitted on the 3oth December and the bus was able to drive itself back to the depot, with work to be completed in 2021.


Above: This short piece of track has been one of best earners of 2020 (and one of the most intensively maintained pieces of track anywhere!), with it remaining in use by students from Gateshead College who have participated in several courses throughout the year. Once the colleges could reopen, they returned to this site, which is isolated from the wider museum and therefore could be used for educational work. Further courses are planned, though I would hope that once we can get to some of the tramway infrastructure renewal in 2021, students will be able to gain some experience of changing sleepers and packing on an operational railway too.
Above: There was a concerted effort last winter to complete an overhaul of Puffing Billy. This included fitting a new chimney and modifications to the handbrake (below). Here the chimney lies ready for fitting, which was completed and meant that Billy was one of the few steam engines to see service in 2020 at Beamish.
Above: The new handbrake screw, manufactured to replace less robust components fitted to Puffing Billy and which had progressed beyond any realistic further adjustment (it uses HGV/JCB components within its brakegear, a feature in common with most of the replica early locomotives). I don’t actually have a photo of Puffing Billy in steam, so short was its season in 2020!
Above: February half-term – a reminder that we did run some transport this year! Here Peckett 2000 is at work on the line at Rowley. This loco is still on site but has been off-hired as it will be some time before we can consider re-starting operations at the station again, the hire costs being one factor in this consideration. There was also a planned amount of work on the infrastructure that has had to be deferred. The overhaul of 4085 Dunrobin for use at Beamish has also been put on hold, again a result of the lost income in 2020 and the contractor also closing their workshops for part of the year and having their own fleet of locomotives to sustain. We will review this position in 2021.
Above: Having just arrived in the RHEC, the Dodge bus was placed onto axle stands and its condition assessed for reactivation (not really a restoration as we want to keep it as original as possible). Sadly, with the closure of the museum, the volunteers have been unable to make any further progress, though once we are able to, this project will be an early candidate for a restart. Similarly the Model T Ton Truck, which is well advanced and ideally placed for work to recommence once we can safely reopen workshops and reintroduce the volunteers.


Above: Whilst we were becoming well aware of Coronavirus, as March began little did we imagine that we would shortly close, and for how long the disruption would last. One of the last activities in the workshop was the ongoing preparation of Kerr Stuart No.721’s boiler for inspection, which is our engineering apprentice Zoe’s task. Tube removal had been completed by the time of this photo, with work concentrating on removing the front tubeplate rivets to allow the tubeplate to be removed. This was as far as work got and the project, like all of the other engineering work, remains on hold.
Above: Samson was steam tested at the tram depot, where it had been moved in order to access the machine shop faciliteis whilst a number of modifications, including the new cast iron buffer beam, were made. It proved to be a fortuitous move as it has meant it spent two winters in rather better conditions than would have been the case if it had remained in its own shed during the last 12 months. It is interesting to note that having been examined and tested by the boiler surveyor, it has not steamed since and has bene prepared for its next examination this winter, without having carried out any work whatesoever!


Above: April, May and June saw little activity other than large amounts of planning and risk assessing. However, Gardiners were able to continue progress on Crosville 716, whose restoration made great strides during the lockdown. It is seen here in July, with th rear doors finally fitted and the paintwork well advanced.
Above: Back at Beamish, the small team put together ahead of July’s reopening spent their time installing hand sanitising points (around sixty of them) and copious numbers of signs around the museum. It will be good when we can remove all of these when the national situation allows.
Above: We received grant assistance to enable us to ensure our operation was resilient and Covid-19 Secure (words I have typed the most frequently in 2020!). This enabled us to purchase pallets of hand sanitiser, but also the rather stylish glass screens that adorn most of the counters around the museum now. Again, it will be good to see the back of these in due course, but they certainly worked to protect staff and visitors and reduce the transmission risks, and hopefully their design has not been too obtrusive for those encountering them. This is the chip shop screen, an impressively long run of glass.
We opted for a high-quality solution to the screening as it was felt it had to endure the rigours of regular cleaning and wiping.
Above: The warm weather and absence of maintenance during the early summer soon resulted in an explosion of weed-growth across the railways – Rowley Station being one od the worst areas to suffer as can be seen here – nothing we could do but watch them grow!


Above: Towards the end of August we were in a position to reintroduce the WAV service around the museum, this being the first transport operating for visitors since March (I had been using the Crewe Tractor throughout the year, so there was a period vehicle out and about a few times a week at least, even if there was nobody to see it!). With appropriate precautions, the WAV re-started the transport operation on an on-call basis.


Above: By the end of August, after five weeks of opening, we were in a position to restart another transport service, a 1950s circular running Entrance to Town via Pockerley and Foulbridge. We had a fairly busy August and this enabled funds to be allocated to starting this route up, with numbers on the two buses (we used Darlington 4 and Rotherham 220) heavily restricted.
Above: On the 29th August Rotherham 220 departs from the depot yard to commence the first public run in general service since March. The speed the buses can cover the route was a great advantage to moving visitors in reasonable numbers, even with the reduced capacity on the vehicles themselves. This was also achievable within a very constrained budget, which was why we were not able to operate the tramway during the year.
Above: A few vintage running days were trialled, usually attended by heavy rain and very much limited in numbers for the participants. Here some local Ford Model A owners visit the Town, with the ever-trusty Ford Model T Crewe Tractor in the foreground.


Above: The only steam we enjoyed after March was the narrow gauge railway shunt in October, where Glyder was steamed in order to redistribute rolling stock to winter berths. It was nice to get a ‘fix’! Matt and I were also able to carry out some work on our competency management system associated with this, to provide some continuity of operational knowledge and skills in what was an otherwise very quiet year for railway operations.
Here Glyder stands next to the water tower base at the siding known as ‘Sinkers’. We have a rather nice riveted tank to place on top of this tower in due course, and an adjacent water supply too.
Above: A welcome relief from all of the Covid-19 work, and transport drought, was the progress on Crosville 716. Here it is seen after its first roll-out into daylight following completion of the painting and signwriting. It looks absolutely stunning and was a real boost in the early autumn. Still lots to do but all the same a welcome step in its restoration.
Above: A side view of the bus, showing the rear door adaptations to accommodate the wheelchair lift. The fuel tank was missing at this stage too. Work remains to be completed on the brakes and fuel system, but it is very near to completion now – something to look forward to next spring!
Above: A final transport running day saw Rambler relocated to the tram depot for the winter, a few vintae vehicles out and about and Go-North East’s RM making a visit. Rambler was moved in order to be prepared for its annual exam and to enjoy the more comfortable (less damp) environment of the tram depot.
Above: Darlington 4 and Rotherham 220 flank the Northern RM currently in the care of Go North East, which made a working visit to the museum in Octobe.


Above: Matt prepared a lengthy post on the winterisation of the steam exhibits, so I won’t repeat it here, suffice to say that as we locked down again, a huge effort was made to drain and clean the steam locomotives on site. There remains work to be completed to prepare them for their annual boiler exams, then to reassemble them in readiness for steam tests, but we could sleep soundly knowing they were now dry ahead of the cold winter temperatures.


Above: The closing weeks of the year saw two grottos established at Rowley Station. Here is the scene on Christmas Eve as the last visitors made their way home… The museum remained open until the end of the year, with the Duke’s saloon, No.58A, placed back into store on the 30th December.

Tramcar Mileages 2020

Inevitably the tramcar mileages for 2020 are lower – in fact, they are about a tenth of their normal totals. For the record, here they are, noting that Newcastle 114’s overhaul meant that it did not operate at all in this period, whilst Gateshead 10’s reconstruction means that this tramcar remains out of service for what will probably be one of its longest lengths of inactivity, certainly whilst at Beamish.

Sunderland 16 – 775

Blackpool 31 – 325

South Shields 196 – 475

Sheffield 264 – 1275

Looking (cautiously!) ahead to 2021…

I shall refrain from too many predictions for 2021. The museum has a number of horizons to plan for – firstly what we do in the next three months to survive the winter, then what we do to reopen in the spring, in whatever form that can take. We then have the medium and longer term horizons, taking us through to the end of 2021 and then beyond that, to make up the ground lost in 2020.

I conservatively estimate that we have probably been set back between three and five years in terms of maintenance and planned projects. The loss of nearly a year is a considerable set back (but the maintenance burden continued to grow), we have had a hugely depleted financial pot to draw upon for even essential work and this will take time to replenish to enable other works to re-start or commence.

The completion of Crosville 716 is imminent and I would hope to have it in service by Easter or thereabouts. I would also hope to see the Tramway and Waggonway return to operation in the first half of the year. These very much depend on the return of the maintenance and engineering staff from furlough, but we must make the best of every opportunity to safeguard the future of Beamish and so restrain ourselves from as much financial outlay as possible before we are in a position to start earning once again.

716’s completion will put the bus fleet in a stable position, with each vehicle type being duplicated, so that we have a spare for service. The B-Type requires reassembly of the gearbox/clutch, but is otherwise fairly sound. The D-Type did very little work in 2020, with the brunt of the work being placed on Darlington 4 and Rotherham 220 (the two big Daimlers). These acquitted themselves very well to the circular operation, even with the social distancing measures in force.

The tramway requires inspection and maintenance, and there is a stockpile of material to enable spot re-sleepering on the section of line between Pockerley and the Town. The trams themselves have been dormant for many months and all will require the most comprehensive inspection – our D exam – before operation. Newcastle 114’s motors are to re-fit before it is also D examed.

The reconstruction of Gateshead tram 10 is a priority – we have many of the components we need and a considerable amount of work has been completed (at not inconsiderable cost) so the completion of this tram is important to safeguard the operating fleet. It will probably be another year before 10 is complete, and then it will require repainting, so don’t expect to see it running before 2022, but I would hope we will be making substantial progress towards this by the summer fo 2021.

Gateshead 10’s programme means that we will concentrate on overhauling one tramcar at a time. Oporto 196 is next in line, and it will see limited use until its own overhaul is completed. It was due to make a final working appearance at the GNSF in April, but the lockdown has at least bought it another year as a nominally operational tramcar. It will require work to the body as well as a mechanical/electrical overhaul. I anticipate it retaining the popular South Shields livery upon completion.

The Waggonway is in a relatively healthy position, with the work completed on Puffing Billy before the closure in March. We are down one coach, which was moved for overhaul in the workshops last winter and will need prioritising over the coming months. We may still be faced with social distancing for some time to come, and the extra three compartments of the semi-open coach will be very useful within the train formation.

Steam Elephant is in the workshop ready for its mechanical overhaul to begin. We will probably hold off an immediate start on this, as Gateshead 10 is going to be a priority as we utilise parts and materials already in stock for this project. This is all part of making the best use of our own labour and minimising any financial outlay in the early period of reopening.

Our apprentice Zoe will continue her project, the overhaul of Kerr Stuart 721 (the narrow gauge ex Dundee Gas Works locomotive), subject to the boiler inspection by BES indicating that repairs are within our means.

Trolleybuses will feature in my work stream for 2021 as, in collaboration with the Beamish Tramway Group, we move this element of the Remaking Beamish project forwards. There is much to design and a lot to plan, but a two-phased approach is currently anticipated following a review of the earlier scheme. Initially I anticipate an Entrance to 1950s town (Front Street) service, with a turning head to be created at the Entrance. If the latter is too expensive (it would be a substantial piece of civil engineering) then it may be more cost effective to include the second phase of work in the scheme, to create a full circuit of the museum site. All of this is now in hand, and detailed design work should restart in the spring.

Once we are able to safely open the workshops again, and expand the number of people working within them, the Friends of Beamish projects should be able to progress. These include the horse tram, Dodge bus and Model T Ton Truck. I would expect the latter to be well advanced during 2021, whilst the other two have some years ahead of them before completion. The Friends carry out numerous other jobs and repairs for the museum and it will be very good to see these volunteers back and bringing extra life to the workshops once again.

As for the blog itself, I felt it was important to maintain content throughout the year, despite the obvious shortage of material. A rough count showed there were something like 30+ articles produced after the March closure, and I am very grateful to those who assisted with some additional featured to enable me to keep the updates going. In particular, Ian Bean (one of the directors of the Friends of Beamish) supplied his fascinating and comprehensive four-part work on the museum’s cycle collection, something that has little featured on the blog or anywhere else for that matter, and and therefore an important piece of work for Beamish’s own archive.

In 2021 we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of one of our steam locomotives – Coffee Pot No.1. I will obviously cover this in more detail in due course, but we will make something of this as the locomotive is in working order and can celebrate the occasion in style – one of the oldest working locomotives (and most complete) in the World…

2021 will see the blog continue in the same vein, though in the spring I hope to be reporting on the further reopening and reawakening of the museum’s transport exhibits and, later in 2021, further progress on some of the projects that are currently on hold.

Thank you for reading this far and we wish readers all the very best for 2021…