Leighton Buzzard Railway
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Internal Combustion

The First World War saw the rapid development of petrol-engined narrow-gauge locomotives, for service on the vast network of supply lines for the trenches in France and Belgium. One of the leaders in this field was the Motor Rail & Tram Car Company, which set up its works in 1916 in nearby Bedford, where hundreds of their Simplex designs were built for service in the Great War.

When the war was over, many were sold on to industrial railway operators, including the newly constructed Leighton Buzzard Light Railway. The original 20hp Simplex type was used in the line’s construction, and subsequently on quarry branches, while the larger 40hp version replaced steam on the “main line” in 1921. We believe this was the first railway in the UK to be operated entirely by internal-combustion power, over ninety years ago.

Diesel engines replaced petrol from the 1930s onwards, and our collection covers both types, from the early wartime machines to modern “antiques of the future”.

The following is just a selection from our large collection.

Type: 4-wheel diesel-mechanical
Date: 1939
Builder: Ruston & Hornsby, Lincoln, England (Works No 194784)

On the eve of World War 2, this locomotive was supplied to the Royal Air Force underground weapons storage facility at Chilmark in Wiltshire, to act as motive power for its fire-fighting train. Following the closure of the base, both locomotive and train were donated to us by the RAF Museum, and have been restored in their authentic livery of fire-engine red.

Type: 4-wheel diesel-hydraulic
Date: 1999
Builder: Alan Keef, Ross-on-Wye, England (Works No 59R)

Built to LBR specifications for passenger train and standby duties, “Beaudesert” used many parts from an earlier 900mm-gauge T-Series Simplex locomotive, supplied to the National Coal Board in 1979, and later used as a shunter on the Channel Tunnel construction project. It is powered by a 112hp Dorman diesel engine. Named after a school in the old part of Leighton Buzzard, and the school which replaced it, near the Railway, in the Planets Estate.

Type: 4-wheel diesel-mechanical
Date: 1936
Builder: Motor Rail, Bedford, England (Works No 7036)

Typical of the dozens of 20hp Simplex diesels that worked in the Leighton Buzzard sand quarries from the 1930s onwards, several of which are in our collection. It was one of the last to be withdrawn from commercial service in 1981. Formerly owned by the George Garside quarry company, and named after a racehorse, like most of their locos.

Type: 4-wheel petrol-mechanical
Date: 1929
Builder: Motor Rail, Bedford, England (Works No 4570)

The oldest locomotive that is original to the railway, “Festoon” was built in 1929 to the "bow-frame" 20hp design developed for the battlefield supply lines of the First World War, and is probably a rebuild of a wartime machine. Initially used on contracting work, it was sold to the George Garside quarry company in 1931, and hauled sand trains at Leighton Buzzard. It survived the arrival of newer diesels, by being converted to a self-propelled fitters’ workbench. To highlight the centenary in 2016 of Simplex locomotive production locally, it took place in a display at the Higgins Museum, Bedford, close to where it was manufactured. With a Great War wagon later used at Leighton Buzzard, it formed the centrepiece of the museum's "Bedford's War Machines" display.

Type: 4-wheel petrol-mechanical
Date: 1917
Builder: Motor Rail, Bedford, England (Works No. 461)

LR2182 is the only known survivor, in original mechanical condition, of the fully armoured version of the Simplex 40hp design. Built in 1917 for the War Department Light Railways for the supply lines to the tranches, Bought after the War for a brickworks railway near Barrow-in-Furness, it  was donated by the National Army Museum. The locomotive is being reassembled after a major overhaul.

Type: 4-wheel battery-electric
Date: 1973
Builder: Baguley-Drewry, Burton-on-Trent, England (Works No 3702)

One of three built for the Royal Air Force, for use in their underground weapons store at Chilmark, Wiltshire. Like AMW165, it was preserved by the RAF Museum after the closure of the base in 1994, and donated to us in 2010 – our first electric locomotive. It is used mostly as a shunter at Page's Park – much quieter than either steam or diesel, in an increasingly suburban environment, But is also used as a rescue loco, and works the occasional passenger train.

Type: 4-wheel diesel-hydraulic
Date: 1994
Builder: Hunslet, Leeds, England (Works No 9347)

Narrow-gauge locomotives are still being built for specialist work, such as tunnelling contracts, and this is a good example of a modern design. One of the last products of the famous Jack Lane works in Leeds, it was supplied to the contract to build the Jubilee Line extension of the London Underground, and is powered by a 90hp Deutz engine. As featured in the pop-science series "Bang Goes The Theory" on BBC television.

Type: 4-wheel diesel-mechanical
Date: 1954
Builder: Motor Rail, Bedford, England (Works No 10409)

A 6-tonne, 40hp Simplex diesel, built for the Leighton Buzzard Light Railway as part of the replacement programme for the First World War fleet. In over 60 years of service, it has never left this railway. In 2013, it was named after the nickname of its long-time driver, the late Bob Turney. The photo (right) is an old one, showing the tipping dock where the sand was trans-shipped into standard-gauge wagons. The Billington Road/Chartmoor Road roundabout now occupies this spot, and of the Dunstable branch line there remains only the level-crossing keeper's house, surrounded by new development.

Steam ⇐

Wagons and Coaches ⇒

Phone (UK): 01525 373888
Phone (International): +44 1525 373 888
Email: station@lbngrs.org.uk
Web: www.buzzrail.co.uk

Registered Office:
Page's Park Station, Billington Road, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire LU7 4TG. United Kingdom
Company No. 2319743.   Place of Registration: Country of Origin: United Kingdom

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