Photo: Gemma Beck
The closure of the 7¼ inch gauge Little Melton Light Railway [LMLR] on 24 March 2002, was the catalyst for the Ashmanhaugh Light Railway [ALR] to be built. By 16 May, a group of ten enthusiasts had defined a set of objectives to build the ALR and bought most of the equipment from Little Melton. Initially just enough LMLR track was lifted to build Stage One, and this together with most of the rolling stock was transported to Ashmanhaugh.
Because all the sleepers were rotten over 250 yards of track and points were built from scratch. The track bed was dug out, lined with weed-proof membrane and the track laid. In addition to pure railway construction work, we designed and built our fully-equipped clubroom complete with kitchen and toilet facilities.
An awful lot of work, but nevertheless we managed to run our first train round Stage One on 26 July giving us just enough time to fine tune it for our first passenger services on our Opening Day on the 9 August 2003.
Our next objective was to recover the rest of the track from Little Melton - this task was completed with the last track panel being dismantled by 10 January 2004. The rails and fixing screws were all cleaned, examined and fettled as necessary before being rebuilt into new panels. All the rails needed for curves being worked through an in house designed and built, hand-operated machine that 'sets' the rail to the required radius.
While this was going on other members had built a comprehensive workshop and a loco shed with 90 feet of inset track. The purchase of an old South Bend lathe enabled the wheels of most of the rolling stock to be re-profiled, so providing passengers with a smoother ride and being kinder to the track.
A turf cutter was hired and the entire track-bed for Stage Two and the carriage sidings de-turfed in just one Saturday morning. Track laying started on 26 June 2004 and our first train ran round Stage Two late in the afternoon of 17 July.
An average of eight members having laid just over 250 yards of track and four points in five days, so doubling the track length in 12 months, just in time for our 2004 Open Day. This gave our passengers double the length of ride they had enjoyed the previous year.
During this time we had also built a nine-coach carriage shed together with associated sidings. Construction work then slowed a little because we wanted to play with our big boys’ toys, practice and gain experience. Nevertheless, we still managed to hold an Open Day in 2005 and again in 2006, by then the signal box and all the signals had been designed and built and installed.
Additionally, one steam locomotive (Hotspur), and one electric locomotive (The General) had been completely rebuilt and by 2007 we planned and were ready to hold not one but six Open Days. Unfortunately the July event had to be cancelled because of water-logged ground, but despite that over 2,000 passengers were carried during the five days the railway was open during the summer.