The Dean Forest Railway Society is pleased to announced that it has purchased 50% ownership in Austerity locomotive ‘Wilbert’, in agreement with the Forest of Dean Railway Limited. The Society will now take responsibility for fundraising to finally progress a heavy overhaul of the locomotive, which was withdrawn from service in early 2016. In due course, a dedicated fund will be established for this purpose; before this, the locomotive will be fully assessed to identify restoration work required and a budget established.
Wilbert dates from 1953, as one of 485 ‘Austerity’ locomotives built by Hunslet between 1943 and 1964. The earlier date within the Second World War shows how urgent it was to renew Britain’s stock of ageing or war-damaged locomotives with easily-maintained, small – yet powerful – locomotives which could operate on industrial sites. Wilbert, like many of its classmates was a veteran of the National Coal Board and came to the embryonic DFR at Parkend in 1976, temporarily placed on a short length of isolated track north of the level crossing.
At that time Wilbert, as a mere industrial locomotive, had never been deemed worthy of a name but acquired the moniker ‘G.B. Keeling’ in 1981, after the first Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Severn and Wye Railway. G.B. Keeling became a regular performer at Norchard Steam Centre after the DFR expanded from its original Parkend site from 1978 onwards. Renamed, Wilbert then visited various railways around the country and operated regular trains in the Forest until being withdrawn for major overhaul in 2016. Since then other projects such as track renewal and carriage renovation have taken precedence. Indeed, DFR’s many visitors have travelled behind Wilbert’s sibling ‘Rennes’ since it arrived in the Forest.
In 1994, ‘Wilbert’ was immortalised with a dedicated Thomas book written by Christopher Awdry. As well as the Island of Sodor, the locomotive has previously visited various railways around the country.
The news of this acquisition follows the success of the Society’s Emergency Fund appeal in 2020. The appeal has seen over £75,000 raised from members of the Society and public following the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, helping to secure the Dean Forest Railway for future generations to enjoy. Further donations are welcomed; more details can be found at https://www.dfrsociety.org.uk/dfrs-emergency-fund