Record breaking temperatures are forcing changes to heritage railway operations across the country. Switching to diesel-hauled trains eliminates the threat of a stray spark from a steam locomotive starting a major fire in tinder-dry fields.
The Kent & East Sussex Railway found itself in urgent need of more diesel power and its plight resulted in an impressive example of how co-operation between railways is helping them overcome their latest challenge.
K&ESR volunteers were undertaking some track maintenance at the Epping and Ongar Railway and, during a casual conversation about locomotive availability, it was suggested that they might be able to borrow a diesel locomotive from the Mid-Norfolk Railway. A hire was quickly agreed and a couple of days later the engine - Class 33 diesel-electric number 33202 'Dennis G Robinson' - had made the 150-mile road trip to Tenterden and was being readied to run on the K&ESR.
K&ESR Operations Manager Peter Salmon said: “It was a huge relief given the forecast. It means we have another diesel to ensure we can deliver services in our peak month of operation in the main season. The continuing period of extreme fire risk means it would be irresponsible to operate our usual steam service." 33202 pulled her first K&ESR services on Saturday 13th August following testing, commissioning and crew familiarisation.
33202 joins a visiting Class 14 diesel, D9526, whilst repair and restoration work draws to a close on the K&ESR’s home-based Class 14 D9504. 33202 has Kent links: it was delivered new to Hither Green depot in South East London 60 years ago before transfer to St Leonards depot. 33202 would have often worked the nearby Tonbridge to Hastings line which the K&ESR joined at Robertsbridge. The 33/2 locomotives were constructed with a specially narrow body necessary to operate through the narrow rail tunnels on this route.