30 April 2023
'Flying Scotsman' guest of honour at formal launch of MPower Kernow – a new Cornish rail engineering project in St Blazey.
The legendary Gresley ‘Pacific’, currently celebrating its centenary year with a programme of special events and appearances across the country, will haul The Railway Touring Company’s ‘Royal Duchy’ train from Bristol to Par before becoming the first locomotive to be turned on St Blazey depot’s newly refurbished turntable – the first to do so since 2018.
Repairs to the 65ft turntable have progressed rapidly in recent weeks and are now at an advanced stage. Much of the work is being carried out by a team of trainees and volunteers enlisted by MPower Kernow CIC (MPower), a new Cornish social enterprise company.
By mid-April, all corrosion repairs, riveting and fabrication work, as well as restored carriage sections and reassembly and testing of the turntable bridge components had been completed.
This first phase of the work is backed by £49,500 in funding from Historic England and a £54,500 grant from the Railway Heritage Trust, plus a local benefactor. Network Rail and DB Cargo UK provided extensive support to inspect and upgrade the turntable’s access lines. Rail industry specialists Ground Control Ltd, Taziker, GPX Engineering and Quattro also assisted MPower with ‘in kind’ sponsorship.
The ongoing restoration of the turntable and the creation of a servicing facility for steam locomotives is expected to provide many and varied training opportunities for a broad cross section of the community and MPower is already working with local education and training organisations to provide hands-on experience in a range of skills, from woodwork to plumbing, electrics, construction and engineering.
MPower is working to revive the town’s historic rail depot, including the turntable, the only one of its kind in Cornwall. It will ultimately establish a new servicing facility for heritage locomotives at the heart of the Cornish rail network. It will acquire, refurbish and install engineering equipment, allowing Cornish trainees to undertake wagon repairs and convert old railway vehicles into ‘glamping’ accommodation or catering outlets, both of which are much in demand, and will help MPower generate income from the local tourist industry.
Led by Duncan Mitchell, a locally-born Merchant Navy engineer, and Mervyn Allcock MBE, who booked his place in rail history by leading the dramatic rescue of Derbyshire’s Barrow Hill Roundhouse in the 1990s, MPower leased the St Blazey facilities, including the turntable, from DB Cargo UK two years ago. Since then the team have been busy clearing away vegetation, refurbishing redundant buildings and repairing the turntable.
Duncan Mitchell said: “This is the culmination of several years’ planning and hard work. It’s my passion to provide practical training and employment opportunities for disadvantaged youngsters in Cornwall. But it’s not just about turning a few steam locomotives; this is a long-term project to provide a sustainable and viable facility that will benefit this community and the region’s engineering industry. Cornwall has a rich engineering history and we want to exploit that to inspire the next generation of engineers.”
Mervyn Allcock, Barrow Hill Roundhouse General Manager and MPower Kernow Rail Operations & Commercial Director added: “I’m delighted to have been invited to be part of this project. The training scheme has huge potential for the area and for the wider railway. I’m very pleased to have been able to bring my skills and experience to help this very worthy project develop.”
Simon Hickman at Historic England South West, said: “Roundhouses, where locomotive sheds are accessed from a central turntable, were a common feature of British Railways in the days of steam. But since steam finished in 1968 nearly all have been demolished, leaving St Blazey as one of the last of its kind in the country. The repaired turntable will allow main line steam trains to be turned in Cornwall again, with each train bringing hundreds of visitors to the Duchy. What better way to celebrate its restoration than with Flying Scotsman, the most famous steam engine in the world?”