Refurbishment of Unit 1125
Back in August, I visited the Mid Hants railway for a couple of trips in Unit 1125. At that time I think it is fair to say that the interior of both carriages was starting to look a little tired. Vandalism with deep scratches on the window glass was noticeable and some of the seats were held together with tape. The window surrounds were worn, rotting and leaking and some of the door interior panels had seen better days. It did not detract from the experience but it was noticeable, although not particularly surprising considering the unit is now around 50 years old. So it was with some anticipation that I attended the railway again on the 29th September 2012 to check out the refurbishment.
At 1045hrs I was fortunate to be shown the unit by George Acourt who is one of the small team that has been involved in the project. His pride in showing me the teams work was clear to see. I was first shown the 1st Class cabin in the DTC and the immediate impression was the clean lines and the transformation that the compartments had undergone. Gone was the tired old blue upholstery; which had been replaced with subtle green upholstery with blue trim. The effect was to give the space a clean cut and tidy appearance and the quality of the finish means that it feels like a 1st class experience; and with real people paying real money, that is important.
1st Class cabin - centre seat
The second class cabin had also been overhauled. Different coloured upholstery has been used from that in First class and I have to say that the visual effect as you enter the cabin is very impressive. You are struck by the neatness, the clear cut lines and the quality of the finish. The batons on the top of the seats are finished off with brass coloured screws and shoulders, giving an expensive quality feel to the cabin. But the improvements did not stop there.
Second Class Cabin
Both carriages have undergone a serious internal paint job and the windows, some of which had been seriously damaged with a mindless vandals “tag” have in the main been replaced. On my previous visit some of the windows had obviously been leaking but this has now been rectified with the replacement of the mahogany window frames with identical ones that had been donated to the railway by the Eastleigh works. Ample use of marine ply wood has also been used to replace the worn out and damaged, inside door covers. When standing at one end of the second class cabin, who cannot fail to be impressed by the general overall effect. If you did not know any better you would believe that you were in a different unit.
Second Class Cabin
What makes this all the more remarkable is the fact that this was all undertaken by a small number of volunteers in just 4 weekends. The unit is a credit to their attention to detail and ability, and has put a breath of new life into this unit.
Nice attention to detail
Whilst I have only really looked at the cabin refurbishment, I am aware that whilst the seats were taken out, many other jobs were undertaken, including some rust treatments.
When a Unit reaches this stage in its life, some serious decisions need to be made. Do you go for a complete, authentic refurbishment which is likely to cost a large fortune; do you leave the unit to deteriorate further with the expectation of scrapping it when it gets beyond economical repair, or do you do something in between. The decision is likely to be a difficult one and one that is based on what priority the unit is within your fleet.
Some railways clearly prioritise steam engines and that is based upon their popularity and potential revenue generation. Some railways prioritise their diesel fleet as they are relatively cheap to run and can virtually be started up at the turn of a switch. The layout of some railways means that they do not have the facility of a “run-around” at each end of the line and this can mean that you have to double up your motive power with a unit at each end, thereby potentially doubling your costs. (In this example the push-pull, double ended design of the Thumpers is a real asset). All these things as well as the cost of refurbishment need to be added to the equation in order to make the best informed decisions within a cost effective business plan. After all, without a very rich guardian angel, heritage railways need to be run as a business in order to survive.
The decision the Mid Hants railway have made is to make a compromise on authenticity and I am sure some of the purists will not be happy. For my part, I think the team has performed a minor miracle and whilst the First class cabin upholstery may have come from the “Southdown” motor services Bus Company and the second class upholstery has originated from “Virgin trains” I genuinely don’t think it matters.
The upholstery may only be an approximation of the original and may lack some authenticity but it has been beautifully done and will help to extend the units useful working life. The upholstery colour is not far removed from the “authentic” colour and the quality of the work, including the stitching on the upholstery (lift up one of the seat covers and look for yourself) means that the whole thing has been a complete transformation. As with all such projects, little things still need to be finished off, but I believe that the renovation team can be rightly proud of what they have achieved. Well done!
I am also aware that the railway website will be updated shortly with a number of photos and more details on this refurbishment. Check out "Hammy News" on the Mid Hants official site.