4561 restoration project wins Transport Trust Commemorative Award

National Transport Trust (est. 1965 as Transport Trust) is the only national body which promotes and encourages the preservation and restoration of Britain’s transport heritage in all its forms – road, rail, wings and water.

The National Transport Trust Commemorative Awards comprise four Commemorative awards named after key founding members of the Transport Trust and represent the very best of the year’s nominated projects.

Small Prairie 4561 Steam Engine
Owned by the West Somerset Railway Association (WSRA)
The Alan Moore Awards for restoration assist preservation projects that are underway but not completed. Applicants need to show that some progress has already been made, that there is a clear and costed future plan and a realistic likelihood of completion within 12 months of the application being made. Applications will assessed on the basis of rarity, technical historic or social significance, quality of workmanship, proportion of work being carried out by applicant, originality of design and materials. in addition The Trust needs to be satisfied that, after restoration, the item will be seen and enjoyed at reasonable intervals by the general public and that, as far as is reasonably foreseeable, the item is not destined for the market place and will be retained by the restoring owner/s.

Designed by G J Churchward and built at Swindon Works in 1924, Small Prairie 4561 is typical of the steam locomotives that would have run in the West Country and beyond between the 1920s and the mid-1960s. It spent 32 years of its working life on branch lines in Devon and Cornwall, before finally being withdrawn from service and scrapped in May 1962, having notched up 997,635 miles.

The next 13 years were spent languishing at Woodham Bros scrap yard in Barry, South Wales. In 1975 it was purchased by a group from the West Somerset Railway and transported by road to the WSR. After some repair work, the 4561 became a regular feature on the West Somerset railway between 1989 to 1998, and was a popular part of the locomotive fleet. Since this time it has been stationed in our restorative workshops awaiting repair.

In April 2018, a small group of WSR engineers, including the Head of Mechanical Engineering and the WS Restoration Engineering Foreman, met with a group of trustees and the ex-CME Andy Forster and all confirmed their agreement that Small Prairie 4561 was the right locomotive to prioritise for restoration. That decision was endorsed by the full board of WSRA Trustees and it was agreed to re-start the restoration project in earnest. The bulk of repair work will be completed at the Restoration works in Williton by a team of trained staff, volunteers and apprentices. It is a smaller locomotive than some of the others which are regularly run which makes it ideally suited to the West Somerset railway, which mainly transports visitors and tourists along the 23-mile line.

The Small Prairie offers a cheaper alternative to some of the larger steam trains as it is more efficient and designed for a smaller track. Furthermore, running their own locomotive would reduce the cost of renting steam trains for the line, in turn saving  around £40,000-£50,000 a year.

The West Somerset Railway (WSR) is a 23-mile long railway running through the heart of West Somerset. WSR is one of the largest tourist attractions in the area, bringing around 200,000 visitors each year. The organisation has become an integral part of the wider local community, providing employment and volunteering opportunities and contributing around £9 million a year to the local economy through tourism.

West Somerset Railway Association is a community led, member driven, charitable association that supports the West Somerset Railway. The aim is to preserve and restore the heritage of the WSR, to fundraise, promote education, ensure community involvement, and to leave a legacy for future generations. The WSR operates heritage steam trains along its line as its core activity, however, it also has a large number of other activities including educational visits, heritage restoration, museums, local events like the 1940s weekend, to steam galas and even Santa trains for the younger generation! Thus the restoration of this iconic locomotive will secure its place in the local and national transport heritage scene and is therefore thoroughly deserving of a restoration award.

The award, which under normal circumstances would have been presented in June, is now hoped to be presented in October at Brooklands.