The Kirklees Light Railway

By Peter Bowyer

If small narrow gauge steam locomotives working hard up long steep gradients on tight schedules through attractive scenery are something you like to see then the Kirklees Light Railway is well worth a visit.

[[No Image]]Opened in October 1991 the railway has tended to be overlooked by enthusiasts. Yet the KLR is deserving of a place high in the league tables of fifteen-inch gauge railways. Built on the track bed of the old Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways' Clayton West branch this is no seaside miniature railway but essentially a true minimum gauge line.

The construction and subsequent operation of the railway is the brainchild of one man, Brian Taylor. Taylor had previously operated the miniature railway at Shibden Park in Halifax and wanted something bigger to get his teeth into. After a search for a site that covered almost the length and breadth of the British Isles the disused Clayton West Branch, which has its origins, back in 1879 was selected.

[[No Image]]At first trains ran only as far as the small halt of Cuckoo's Nest giving a run of just one mile. The line was extended to Skelmanthorpe in 1992 and finally to the lines terminus at Shelley in 1997. This final extension gave the railway a three and three quarter miles of running line on a ruling gradient of 1 in 72. A gradient that stiffens in parts to allow the gradient through the stations to be eased to 1 in 200. Another notable feature that came with the final extension was the 511yard long Shelley Woodhouse tunnel. The longest on a fifteen-inch gauge railway in the world.

Since the final extension the railway has not remained stagnant, a new station building and café have been constructed at Clayton West. A three road locomotive and carriage shed was erected in time for the winter of 2000 a construction which allowed all the railways locomotives and items of rolling stock to be housed undercover for the first time.

Developments for the future are planned including a water tower and the possibility of an independent locomotive shed.

Whilst developments have taken place in the infrastructure around the railway the carriage fleet has been slowly expanded over the years and at the present time numbers twelve vehicles. These are a range of open, semi open and closed vehicles. Ten of these seat twenty whilst the two guards carriages seat sixteen. In winter the closed vehicles are steam heated, another unique fifteen-inch gauge feature.

The locomotive fleet has also changed and expanded over the years. The current resident steam fleet that have all been built by Brian Taylor and include Fox a 2-6-2T built in 1987 based on a Hunslet design. Badger a 0-6-4ST built in 1991 and shows a distinct Kerr Stuart parentage. However the pride of the fleet are undoubtedly the two articulated locomotives that embody the railways policy of unusual locomotives.

Hawk is a 0-4-4-0T Meyer based on an Andrew Barclay design whilst Owl is a 0-4-4-0GT that is based on an engraving of the Avonside Engine Company's proposed Twin Heisler locomotive. These locomotives were built in 1998 and 2000 respectively.

[[No Image]]The locomotives all see frequent service, Fox and Badger which have significantly benefited from modifications to include simple Gas Producers amongst other things generally work turn and turn about. Be it the winter weekend service or the daily running season that occurs from May to September where one turn is one week. The big locomotives see use at peak periods and special events although it is not unknown for them to see service on weekdays or off peak weekends.

The railway has also played host to both SR&RL No. 24 that was resident on the line for several years in the mid 1990's and a visitor to the anniversary gala weekend in 2001. Sian was temporally based on the line in 1998 and the Lister tram engine from Cleethorpes has also visited the line.

Internal combustion power is not neglected in the railways home fleet either as the railway has one 4wDH Jay which was built in 1992 using a 1947 Dorman diesel engine which was used on one of the locomotives at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. There is also a 2w-2PH Toby the tram engine look-alike that is a delight to visitor young and old.

Prior to these machines the railway was also home to Tracey Jo of Fairbourne and Dudley Zoo fame. A locomotive that has gone on to have an illustrious career on the Bure Valley railway in Norfolk.

Whilst Brian Taylor still owns the railway he has tended to take a back seat in recent years and the operating and continued development that takes place is very much a combined effort between the permanent KLR staff and its small band of loyal volunteers.

There is always a friendly atmosphere on the line whether you are a visitor just having a ride or a perspective volunteer. The KLR is well worth visiting, after all where else can you travel behind a Meyer or Heisler locomotive in Britain, and the sheer thrill of a medium sized fifteen inch gauge locomotive bucketing along at fifteen miles an hour up through the darkness of Shelley Woodhouse tunnel is a treat to behold.