M56182 (North Norfolk Railway)
Our current main project is the restoration of our unique driving trailer vehicle M56182. Preserved in 2000 and stored for 15 years, the vehicle had fallen into disrepair and a full restoration was the only option if the vehicle was not to slip towards complete dereliction. A new team was set up on the North Norfolk Railway and have been working on M56182 since January 2014.
The scope of works is a complete top to bottom overhaul with no stone unturned. Although there were still some areas of M56182 that were in good condition despite the years in storage, nevertheless everything has been dismantled, cleaned and reassembled as the absolute minimum, with most areas requiring a lot more work. Everything from metal bodywork, interior woodwork, rewiring, mechanical overhaul and extensive repainting is being progressed simultaneously, although in general terms the restoration of the vehicle is being tackled broadly from the front end back towards the rear.
No date has been set for when M56182 will operate with passengers for the first time in preservation at the North Norfolk Railway.
E53556 (East Lancashire Railway)
In a complete contrast to M56182, the team at the East Lancashire Railway are currently taking a break from 104 restoration and are instead attending to more sobering duties, the dismantling and eventual scrap of driving motor composite E53556. This work started in earnest in July 2020.
E53556 was a vehicle in our collection that had been stored its entire preservation life. With resources not being available to attend to the vehicle in the 1990's, its condition deteriorated to the point of dereliction, after which only a complete rebuild could save it. After 15 years in storage at the Telford Steam Railway, they asked for its removal and with no other options available it was moved to our headquarters for dismantling for spare parts.
The space that E53556 occupies at the ELR is needed for other vehicles so the continued stripping down of the vehicle is now in progress so that the final remains can be scrapped in due course.
Reformation of Spare Parts 2 (2018-2020)
Following the group's move to the East Lancashire Railway, the essential collection of spare parts had been thrown into disarray once again. These were not able to be sorted out immediately as we had to prioritise the return to traffic of M50455 & M50517, so following their relaunch in November 2017 the next project was to improve the facilities to securely house spare parts.
This work was done as part of a wider Bury Unit Team project, 2018 being the most effective time to collaborate given they had just completed a 20 year restoration project themselves. It was therefore agreed to join forces, share resources and enjoy the benefits of economy of scale. A large part of the work was transferring stores from rail mounted locations into more secure buildings. During the work a further two of our Mark 1 support coaches were emptied and disposed of to other organisations, reducing our liabilities and giving a clean slate for future restorations.
Remarkably, this "bit of a spring clean" took until the summer of 2020 to complete!
M50455/M50517 Overhaul (2015-2017)
After our initial move to the East Lancashire Railway had been completed, operational 2-car set M50455/M50517 was used as a novelty for a few months before being withdrawn in May 2015 for bodywork and a repaint.
M50517 had received far more thorough repairs than M50455 during its first major restoration (see below) so required some minor welding followed by a standard repaint. Given the scale of work required on M50455, this was contracted out with the ELR staff tackling the welding and Heritage Painting the repaint.
M50455 absorbed the bulk of the time and labour, with two-and-a-half years of body repairs being required, most of which was spend completely rebuilding the extremely rotten cab front. This work had really been deferred from M50455's original restoration, and had been causing problems whilst it was in service in the early 2010's.
The completed unit, was freshly outshopped in November 2017, with the opportunity taken to change the livery from BR green to blue.
Relocation to East Lancashire Railway (2014-2017)
After the original 10 year running agreement was fulfilled at the Churnet Valley Railway in 2014, the group were unable to agree to the new terms required of us by the railway, so a new home was required. Thankfully the East Lancashire Railway agreed to have us, so we set about moving.
This was no easy task with vehicles, spare parts and facilities being accumulated and built up on the railway over the 20 years we had been resident. The first items to leave was the operational 2-car set M50455/M50517, but it would be a further three years before all of the stored vehicles, support coaches and spare parts were all gathered up and moved off site.
The moved also forced us to thin out several of our vehicles as the ELR were not in a position to house them all. Whilst M56182 found a home at the North Norfolk Railway, three of our Mark 1 support vehicles had to be sold and moved to other railways (or scrapped).
Reformation of Spare Parts 1 & Securing of Vehicles (2012-2014)
In 2012 the group suffered a series of thefts, with metal thieves attacking our stocks of spare parts, our support vehicles and 104's in storage. The coaches holding spares were particularly badly ransacked and were no longer fit for purpose. The thefts hit us at a particularly vulnerable time, as M50455/M50517 had suffered multiple engine failures and the restoration of M59137 had already been stalled. The group were at a crossroads.
It was agreed that to protect the long term, in addition to keeping M50455/M50517 in service, we would clear out four storage vehicles, catalogue our mixed spares and re-rack them properly for the first time. We also re-secured the three 104's in long term store. It was felt this would offer a clean slate to move forwards and get back on the up, with the idea of clearing all of the problems so that M59137's restoration could restart unhindered. Working on seven vehicles of course took up much-needed time, the process taking two years. We were about 75% of the way through before the project was concluded after the move to the East Lancs took over.
Prototype W86500 (2009-2013)
By complete chance in 2009 a member stumbled across the prototype Mark 1 General Utility Van (GUV) which was hours away from being cut up. The vehicle was an important one in the history of these coaches and contained several differences to the more common production vehicles, so it was hastily purchased in September 2009 and became the favourite of our support vehicles.
As always, the vehicle was un-restored, so over the next three years it was fully restored to original 1956 condition. For the first two years it was progressed as a contract so as not to interfere with our core activities, however for various reasons this was later stopped and in the remaining year was completed directly by group members after the restoration of M59137 had stalled.
W86500 was completed to a high standard in February 2013 and is used by us for storage whilst also being available for galas and photo charters. It later became the only Mark 1 support coach to be retained by our group.
Originally the group always aimed to run two sets at the Churnet Valley, so after M50455/M50517's completion in 2004, we thought we would restore M50437/M56182 as a second set. However the railway had experienced overcrowding during special events less than 12 months after M50455/M50517 had been launched, and requested a boost up to 3-cars. The group felt it could restore one centre car (M59137) quicker than a 2-car set so M59137 was moved up the restoration queue to the top in August 2005.
Sadly it was found that M59137 was in far worse condition than ever thought, it was clearly the worst vehicle at the CVR. Nevertheless we ploughed on and a serious body rebuild had been completed by 2008, after which the interior work was started.
Unfortunately problems with M50455/M50517, serious vandal attacks on all our stock at the CVR, and an eventual move to the East Lancs, led to M59137's restoration having to be stopped in 2011. M59137 is now the next (104) vehicle due to be restarted/completed at the East Lancs.
With M50517's bodywork coming to an end, it was felt the second half of a set was required to be started, so that the two could be .progressed at the same time to completion, so DMBS M50455 was selected to be restored. This was hard for us as a group and we have not restored any 2-car sets "together" ever since!
M50517 had taken so long that, with pressure building from the railway, the second vehicle, M50455, was completed slightly more quickly, with some areas having to be breezed over "until next time" to ensure we had a working 2-car set to our name. Over a period of three years the vehicle was completed externally and returned to 1960's green livery. The mechanics were repaired as required but proved to be fairly painless, the vehicle having not been in storage for very long. A great deal of interior work was undertaken, to match the high standards set by M50517.
M50455 was completed, having taken a "more" 5 years, in September 2004 along with M50517 as a 2-car, becoming our flagship set.
Fresh from the success of helping the Llangollen Railway with M50454/M50528, members settled at their main base, the Churnet Valley Railway, to tackle their first "proper restoration". The owners wanted more than a spruce up, a proper overhaul to set the vehicle up for many years in the future was desired.
M50517 was selected as the best vehicle to undertake first, and was thoroughly restored over a ten year period. With no distractions during these times, progress was pretty consistent throughout the ten years, with the usual exterior, interior and mechanical aspects all being worked through. Particularly difficult for M50517 was the severe corrosion in the cab front, which set the group back a few years given how inexperienced we were at that time.
For the second half of the restoration, the vehicle was sharing time with M50455 which was being progressed simultaneously so that we would have a complete set to run once M50517 was complete. This was duly achieved in September 2004 with the launch of the 2-car, becoming our flagship set.
The group have had very little input on the set (M50454/M50528) which was hired out the Llangollen Railway in 1994, with Llangollen Railcar Group deservedly being responsible for the set's continued service and upkeep. However owning members which would later concentrate on all our other vehicles spent around 12 months immediately after the set arrived there helping to get it into service.
With the vehicles fresh from BR use, a major restoration was not felt required at the time, preferring to deal with problems as they came along rather than withdraw the vehicles from service. Nevertheless there was a great deal of work to do to get the set suitable for a heritage railway setting. The work included a repaint into BR green livery.
Around the time the set entered service members retreated to the Churnet Valley to start M50517's restoration, leaving the Llangollen Railcar Group with M50454/M50528.