Restoration project gets rare train back on tracks

Carpenter Tony Vollans working on the 1903 autocar and (inset) one of the autocars as they used to look in the early 20th century
Carpenter Tony Vollans working on the 1903 autocar and (inset) one of the autocars as they used to look in the early 20th century

WORK has started to restore the world’s first electric train to its former glory.

The rare autocar, which was one of two trains that served between West Hartlepool and Hartlepool stations and Scarborough to Filey, was discovered by a rail enthusiast in a field in North Yorkshire.

The trains, which were numbered 3170 and 3171, were powered by hybrid petrol electric engines, rather than steam.

The 3170 carriage, which was built by North Eastern Railway in York in 1903, is now being carefully restored thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of almost half a million pounds.

Once the work is complete the train will carry passengers for the first time in more than 80 years.

Volunteers say the restoration could be more significant than that of the Flying Scotsman.

In 1923, number 3170 was fitted with a larger engine so it could pull larger carriages of passengers.

It ended up being sold to a North Yorkshire landowner who made it into a holiday home at Keldholme, near Kirkbymoorside, where it remained in the field until carriage restorer Stephen Middleton bought it in September 2003.

Mr Middleton, of Harrogate, said: “You would hardly know under the foliage and undergrowth that there was a train underneath.

“I could not believe my eyes as we hacked away the brambles to reveal the body in remarkable condition.

“Entering for the first time was like going in to a time capsule, with etched glass and curtain rings still intact.”

The Heritage Lottery Fund has now awarded a grant of £465,800 to help the volunteers restore the 3170 train and coach, which is a four-year project at Embsay, near Skipton, run by the NER 1903 Electric Autocar Trust, which Mr Middleton chairs.

The restoration work includes fitting, woodwork, painting and welding.

Volunteer Simon Gott said: “In terms of its history, it is unique and very significant.

“When complete, there will be nothing else like it.

“It is the grandfather, or the great-grandfather, of modern passenger trains and in railway heritage terms could be more significant that the restoration of the Flying Scotsman.”

The trust also intends to use it to teach school parties about the railways.

Only two autocars were made and both were withdrawn in 1930.