Railway group keen to pick up steam

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If patience is a virtue then a group of railway aficionados based in Leven take the attribute to a whole new level.

Nearly 50 years after the founding members of what is now the Kingdom of Fife Railway Preservation Society first volunteered to help a local train lover with a locomotive, they are finally about to start work on restoring their own steam engine.

And when the train, which was the last working steam engine in Fife, eventually steams into life and pulls passengers along a track on the outskirts of Leven, it will be another milestone in ambitious long-term plans to create a railway heritage centre.

The beginnings of the group, which now has around 80 members, was back in 1966 when a few members of Thornton Railway Club offered to help John Cameron, of Lochty Farm, near Anstruther, clean-up an A4 Pacific called ‘Union of South Africa’.

In 1973, British Railways lifted a ban on steam engines, which allowed the development of Lochty Private Railway as a summer tourist attraction.

Rather than just be a collection of volunteers, the arrangement was formalised with the creation of the Fife Railway Preservation Group to run the railway and collect items of rolling stock and other artefacts common to the railways of Fife.

With falling visitor numbers at Lochty, the railway closed in the early 1990s but the group by then had built up a large collection of items and a decision was made to look for a permanent site on which a heritage centre that would eventually show the restored collection could be created.

The group’s framework was reformed into a charitable company, and renamed the society, and in 1994 the collection was moved to temporary storage at Methil Power Station and the nearby Barclay’s Yard.

This temporary arrangement was to last nearly 10 years before the society was able to acquire around 20 acres at the old Kirkland Yard mustering site from British Railways.

As well as a half-mile track, there is now a large workshop and numerous engines and trucks at various stages of restoration.

The collection includes a number of diesel shunter locos. There is the ‘River Eden’, which was from Leuchars aerodrome and was donated by the RAF; the ‘Largo Law’ and ‘Garvie Flyer’, both from Methil Power Station, and the ‘Babcock’, which came from the dockyard at Rosyth.

However, the big news is the ‘Dubbie Pug’, which worked at the Frances pit at Dysart and was the last working steam engine in Fife.

To see it dismantled and lying in pieces, with the 30 years of its disuse reflected in the rust and corrosion, it is difficult to believe it will ever move again.

But retired engineer Jim Danton, who actually served his time with the National Coal Board at the Wellesley working on engines just like the’Dubbie Pug’, has high hopes that with patience, determination and a lot of hard work, the engine could be steaming in about two years.

“It’s key to our plans to create a railway heritage centre that could become a major visitor attraction in Leven,” said chairman Edgar Shields.