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SER O class
Preserved No. 65 on the Bluebell Railway in Sussex.
Power type Steam
Designer James Stirling
Builder Ashford Works (42)
Sharp, Stewart & Co. (45)
Build date 1882–1899
Configuration 0-6-0
UIC classification Cn
Career South Eastern Railway, South Eastern and Chatham Railway, Southern Railway
Class O
Retired 1923–1932 (O)
1923–1961 (O1)
Disposition 58 rebuilt to O1 class, remainder scrapped

The South Eastern Railway (SECR) O Class (some of which were later rebuilt, becoming the O1 Class) was a class of 0-6-0 steam locomotive designed for freight work, and were the main freight engines of the SER, and later the South Eastern and Chatham Railway for a number of years. However, they were displaced by the more powerful C class locomotives following the amalgamation of the South Eastern Railway and London, Chatham and Dover Railway in 1899. This relegated the class to working on the numerous branch lines in Kent, on both passenger and freight work. They worked most notably on the Kent & East Sussex Railway and East Kent Railway, operating coal trains from the Kent coal fields to London, as well as shunting work at such locations as Shepherds Well, Hoo Junction and Ashford. The majority were withdrawn before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, and those that remained were slowly withdrawn from nationalisation onwards.

The death knell for the final few members of the class came with the Modernisation Plan of 1955, which closed down many of the branch lines they continued to serve in Kent, which included the branch lines to locations such as Hawkhurst, New Romney, Tenterden and the Kent coal fields. Those lines which remained open generally either lost their freight services or were dieselised. All members of the class had been withdrawn by 1962, and only one member of the class has survived scrapping.

Contents

Preservation

Rear view showing tender

One O1 class, SECR No. 65 (SR No. 1065, BR No. 31065) has been preserved, and is currently based on the Bluebell Railway in Sussex.

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Pre-preservation history

No. 65 was originally built for the South Eastern Railway (SER) at Ashford railway works in 1896, and is the only surviving former SER locomotive. It was rebuilt in 1908, also at Ashford, into a form reminiscent of the more modern SECR C class. The engine was withdrawn by British Railways in 1961, its major claim to fame being the working of the last railtour to run over the Hawkhurst branch in Kent, along with C class No. 31592, also preserved at the Bluebell Railway. It was also a regular operator over the Kent & East Sussex Railway during the last decade of that line's operational lifespan. The engine went on to haul demolition trains.

Within a month of operating the special over the Hawkhurst branch, the engine was withdrawn from general traffic by British Railways and was moved to Bricklayers Arms steam shed for storage, along with a number of other former SECR engines. Work began on cutting the engine up for scrap, with the cutting of the locomotive's coupling rods, but work ceased and was later to be repaired prior to preservation.

Preservation (1963-1996)

Following withdrawal, the engine was purchased by Mr Lewis-Evans in 1963 for the scrap value of £850. The engine was moved from storage at Bricklayers Arms to the Ashford Steam Centre, based on part of the former Ashford railway works in Kent. There, the engine worked during open days along with the former 31592 and a fellow future Bluebell resident, H class tank no. 31263.

As well as the steam engines, the centre played host to a number other vehicles, including Pullmans which were to go on to form part of the fleet for the VSOE pullman train. When the site closed, most of these vehicles were dispersed, the majority going to both the K&ESR and the Bluebell, but this was not so 31065. The engine needed a heavy overhaul, and was removed to a private site elsewhere in Kent for the work to take place. Once there, the engine was largely dismantled, but after some initial work on the boiler, including removal of several boiler tubes, the work faltered and the parts were separated. The engine remained in this state for around 20 years, often stored outside and subject to the ravages of the weather.

Preservation (1996 onwards)

65, led by 592, operating in February 2009

During the late summer of 1996, the owner of the engine visited the Bluebell to inspect the facilities available at Sheffield Park with a view to restoring the engine properly. The rolling chassis arrived soon afterwards, and was followed by several of the other constituent parts of the engine, including the boiler, during the following months. With the impending centenary of the SECR due in 1999, work started swiftly on restoring the engine to traffic. A major overhaul ensued, as the engine had not received major work since before its withdrawal in 1961, and had been the victim of being stored outside.

The engine was returned to traffic for the centenary of the amalgamation of the SER and LCDR into the SECR in 1999, and was finished in the ornate SECR goods livery, the same livery carried by C class no. 592, which had been a regular performer at the railway since its arrival in the 1970s. The two engines briefly ran together, with many photographic charters bringing the two together on a regular basis. This lasted until the C class' boiler ticket expired in 2000, and following the retirement of the P class tank also operational (No. 323 Bluebell), the now-numbered 65 briefly became the sole operational ex-SECR engine in the world, until the restoration of another P class tank at the Kent & East Sussex Railway in 2001. It remained the only operational ex-SECR engine at the Bluebell Railway until the restoration to traffic of 592 in the summer of 2007.

The engine has performed regularly at the Bluebell Railway since its overhaul, often to be found operating the line's vintage trains, which is often formed of ex-SECR carriages. In May 2009 the engine made a historic return to the K&ESR, having been a regular on the line during the 1950s and 1960s, including working some of the demolition trains. This was the first time since its arrival that the engine had left the Bluebell, although a previous visit to the Mid Hants Railway for a gala appearance in 2007 had been planned, but was cancelled owing to a failure. Despite this, it has been a reliable and regular performer, popular with both crews and passengers alike.

The engine's boiler certificate expired in July 2009, but owing to the amount of work done during the last overhaul, it is not thought to require much work to restore it, and is likely to be boosted by the recent return of 592 and P class no. 178, and the impending return during 2010 of 263 and 323, thus creating the potential for five ex-SECR engines to be operational together for the first time since the 1960s.

Sources


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