When Fife Heritage Railway – then called Kingdom of Fife Railway Preservation Society – first arrived on site at Burmill Industrial Estate in 2003, nothing but empty waste ground (a former railway marshalling yard) greeted them.
Fast-forward to 2016 however and there’s a certain hustle and bustle to the place... and that’s nothing to do with the constant hum of the generator.
Head down to the ‘Kirkland Yard’ – which was formally used to store coal from the local pits before it was taken to the Docks to be exported – on any Tuesday or Saturday and you’ll find a dedicated bunch of around 15 volunteers hard at work. Whether that’s building platforms, moving parts, painting the side of engines or completely restoring them, this is definitely hands-on work.
Over the last decade, the group has built up its collection too, and there are now several engines and coaches on site which group vice-chairman Jim Rankin is more than happy to show off.
One of the jewels in their crown is the Norwegian coach, which they acquired last year simply by chance.
One of the group members bought the coach for just £100 and Kennoway firm Williams paid for the transportation.
The group is now in the process of completely restoring the coach with a view to using it on future open days.
In order to help pay for the resotration, they are running a Sponsor a Seat campaign for the 30 seats which will evenutally be installed.
“We’ve already sold 14 and we’ve got another two promised,” said Jim, “so we’re over half way there. Each seat costs £100, so we’re hoping we can get a few more sponsors this year.”
And aquiring this coach has led to another development down at the 22 acre yard – a brand new platform.
During the Fife Heritage Railway open days, of which the next takes place this Sunday alongside the Leven Veteran and Vintage Rally, one of the most popular draws for visitors is the chance to ride on the back of the River Eden, the group’s Diesel Hydraulic engine.
“On the rally day last June, we were filled to capacity the whole day,” said Jim. “There’s room for about 12 people in the coach we have just now, and it was completely full.”
But in anticipation of the Norwegian coach taking to the track, changes had to be made. In the UK, British Standard Guage means most trains will fit in every station in the country. However, given that the coach is from Norway – which has a different guage – it just simply wasn’t going to fit their existing platform.
So over the past few months, the volunteers have been busy creating a swanky new one which wouldn’t look out of place at your average Fife station.
Once it is finished later this summer, it will be around 60ft long.
Another big project which is nearing completion is the group’s first steam locomotive, the Forth.
Jim Danton, a former engineer and volunteer with the group for a number of years, has been working on the restoration of the engine, which was gifted by the Strathspey Railway.
The engine has had to be completely restored and re-piped (the copper piping took the eye of someone while it sat at the former Power Station) and when it’s done it will be painted in the Wemyss Coal Company colours.
But as Jim explained, there’s still a few stumbling blocks.
“It has been hydraulic tested, but we’ve still to steam test it yet.
“And our biggest issue after that will actually be sourcing the coal.
“You can buy it locally, but not in bulk. In a day, it will take about half a tonne of coal and right now it costs about £300 per tonne. So if anyone has any coal they’d like to gift us that would be good!”
Right now, the group is looking ahead to its series of open days, which are running on the last Sunday of the month until October, and are happy to welcome those interested in finding out more on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
“It’s amazing what the brown tourist signs have done for us,” said Jim (Rankin). “When we first applied, we realised that Kingdom of Fife Railway preservation Society might be a bit too long for a sign! So it was decided to change to Fife Heritage Railway, which suits us pretty well.
“There’s always someone down here and we’re happy to take half an hour out of the day to show people round.”