A devastating fire that destroyed a 1964 diesel engined multiple-unit at the Swindon & Cricklade Railway Society base at Blundson Station on Friday 20 May is being investigated by Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue and Wiltshire Police.
The emergency services were contacted at around 6pm but by the time they arrived the blaze was going strong and well on the way to completely wiping out any of recognition of a rare ‘Thumper’ train valued at more than £100,000, as well as three storage wagons parked next to it. The cause has yet to be revealed, but an overheard conversation suggests that vandalism was involved.
The name Thumper was given to the train built in 1964 because of the sound coming from the diesel engine. It was only one of three examples in the country and was a workhorse for the society, providing rides for thousands of tourists who visit the heritage railway every year. In readiness for the new season the volunteers who run the line to the north west of Swindon had spent six weeks renovating the interior of the carriage.
Society trustee and vice-chairman Dave Peacey said he was sickened when he heard of the damage and like the other volunteers who rushed to Blunsdon Station on Friday evening and returned on Saturday feeling despondent by the loss of an important piece of rolling stock. He said: “The destruction is too far gone. The unit and the wagons caught up in the fire are now no more than scrap.
“We’ve had a phenomenal response of the other heritage railways. Within an hour of the news breaking we received a call offering assistance from the Spa Valley Railway, and we’ve had other calls since.
“We’re slowly coming to terms with this disaster, but it’s really hard to accept that the ‘Thumper’ can’t be replaced because it was so rare. But the volunteers will pull together and continue our work to preserve the only working heritage railway in the Swindon region and provide entertainment to the thousands who visit us every year. It’s important we stay strong and keep moving forward.”
The railway was closed on Saturday 21 May but expects to open as normal on Sunday 22 May.
The society’s website says the railway was closed on Saturday 21 May ‘due to unforseen circumstances’ but expect to be open as normal on Sunday 22 May.
Readers are asked to support the railway by going along and riding their trains and taking part in special events throughout the year – including the Real Ale and Cider Bank Holiday weekend on 28, 29 and 30 May.
Find out more and find directions to the railway at www.swindon-cricklade-railway.org
All photos of Thumper before and after the fire by Richard Wintle of Calyx