2013 has certainly been an interesting year for everyone in the Night Mail team. A large number of the former Travelling Post Office Group have been unable to commit to regular workings on the coaches so are only available for the drops themselves. This has led to an influx of newer volunteers who had previously been operating under the International Railway Preservation Society (IRPS) banner (IRPS being another department of the NVR, just as the TPO Group is) and as part of the NVR’s youth group, also led by IRPS members. Whilst this new influx of volunteers has breathed new life into some aspects of the TPO events, it has meant we were somewhat playing catch up at times.
Unfortunately this culminated in us having to pull the TPO drops from the Great Train Robbery Weekend in October. The issue around this was the seized brake linkage in the coaches which would result in the brakes dragging on the coaches. In service coaches would be running regularly and have regular maintenance and overhauls, however due to the nature of the volunteer base, this has not been possible. To rectify this, the coaches will have to be lifted and all the brake gear and bogies overhauled.
The railway’s carriage and wagon department have to concentrate on the Railway’s revenue earning coaches, understandably. They are however happy to give us guidance, so this will be a new skill we will have to learn. This therefore takes us onto the slightly more positive news on The Night Mail Museum.
In order to overhaul the running gear of the coaches we have decided to put all our efforts into the Ferry Meadows site so we are able to perform coach lifts on site by next spring. When the concrete foundations for the shed are laid we are planning to install concrete pads suitable for use as jacking points using a set of jacks which have been placed on loan to us. (Using the railway’s steam crane would involve firing it up at least 4 times per coach so this is not a cost effective way to do it.)
Over the autumn a number of track panels have been laid at the west end (furthest from the point) of road 1 of the new shed. This currently has Alco 801 on it. Over the winter/spring, the holes for the foundations will be dug, concreted, and track will be laid to link the two sections up.
Red sections show track already laid. Green sections show the parts that will link these together and which will be laid next.
On site we now have two cabins with a third being moved from Wansford shortly. This will enable to us to fit out a workshop in one, a museum display in the second and a store in the third. Getting power and water on site so we do not have to rely on generators and the station building opposite will also be a priority. Site levelling and preparation for the running shed have also taken up a lot of time.
Of course we haven’t been standing still in 2013. One of the biggest changes on site is the new 5 inch gauge model railway that we’ve built. It’s amazing how much work has been involved in digging the track bed down, levelling this, laying a layer of limestone, concreting, laying paving slabs, making bridges, fabricating track and laying each section all to within a centimetre! This will be open to the public in 2014. Five points for anyone who can answer why the station on the miniature railway is called ‘Overton’!
In terms of the events in 2013 we had relatively successful Mail by Rail, Kids TPO and a final Great Train Robbery Weekends. Of particular note was the Great Train Robbery Weekend in October which saw an exhibition on loan from the British Postal Museum & Archive and tours of M30272M, the only surviving coach from the robbery itself, now under restoration at Wansford. Hopefully by the 60th anniversary we’ll have M30272M operational!
So what does this mean going forward? Early work next year will concentrate on preparing the site for visitors. From Easter to September we plan to have The Night Mail Site open for visitors every Sunday. The Mark 1 TPO coaches will be moved to Ferry Meadows and the vehicles not under restoration will be open for exploration. Our ever expanding road vehicle fleet will also be based on site including the MPO which will have a shop to help fund the museum inside. The miniature railway will be open, complete with a picnic area in the middle.
In relation to the events, we have decided to concentrate our efforts on one Mail by Rail event towards the end of the year. This way we can spend the majority of the year overhauling the coaches. We intend to relaunch the TPO events in a larger fashion in 2015 with a number of different events throughout the year.