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Historic locomotive finds permanent home at Welsh Highland Railway

11 Feb 2023 3 minute read
590 at Dinas Junction, 1923, shortly after being delivered to the railway, image from WHHR Blog

A world-travelled locomotive which is over 100 years old and has seen action supporting the trenches of WW1 and the defence of the Afghan border has found a permanent home in the care of the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway.

The Imperial War Museum has revealed that it has permanently transferred ownership of Baldwin Locomotive WDLR 794 to the Welsh Highland Railway Ltd in Porthmadog, where it has been on long term loan for 20 years.

As part of a continuing review of its collections and with consultation from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the IWM decided that the heritage railway would make the most appropriate long-term home for 794.

Built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia in January 1917 and originally numbered 44699, the locomotive was one of nearly 500 which were shipped to Europe to support WW1 trench lines, subsequently being renumbered as WDLR 794 by the Railway Operating Division.

According to RailAdvent, after the war, 50 of the class were moved to India where they were used in defending the Afghan border after the 3rd Afghan War.

They were then sold for industrial use in India and this is where WDLR 794 ended its career working for the Upper India Sugar Mills in Khatauli.

WDLR 794 went on display at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford after being repatriated to the UK in 1985, where it underwent some initial refurbishment work.

It was only when it went on long-term loan with the Welsh Highland Railway in 2003 that a more substantial restoration began.

A fundraising campaign enabled the extensive refurbishment of WDLR 794, which has now reached its final stages and it is anticipated that the locomotive will be unveiled at the West Highland Heritage Railway in the spring.


In 1923, when the original Welsh Highland Railway opened, WDLR 794’s sister locomotive, WDLR 590 was purchased from the Government Property Disposals Board as War Department surplus.

WDLR 590 worked on the railway with locomotive ‘Russell’ No 901 where both locomotives operated goods and passenger services, until it was closed during the Summer of 1936. Later, as part of the Government’s WW2 scrap drive, WDLR 590 was scrapped.

Last year Russell rejoined the railway to take part in the heritage railway’s centenary celebrations. Russell inspired ‘Fearless Freddie’ in the Thomas the Tank Engine stories, an old engine who returns to the narrow gauge railway after many years, bragging about being the fastest engine in the hills and challenging his fellow locomotives to a race.

A long-term ambition of the Welsh Highland has been to re-create locomotive 590 so that visitors can enjoy the pair of locomotives hard at work together again.

WDLR 795’s transfer will allow this to become a reality as permission has been received from the Imperial War Museum to refurbish 794 as 590.

For more information about the railway and timetabled events visit the website and further history about the Baldwin locomotives can be found here

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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 year ago

‘The Life and Times of Loco 794’ just waiting to be written, what a story, an Atlantic crossing, two wars and a colonial workhorse for 70 years and now semi-retirement in the beautiful highlands of Cymru…

A rail journey through the 20th century, it would make a terrific documentary…

1 year ago

Why hasn’t Wales got a proper steam engine (passenger type) instead of these old work horses? I have a good idea who has an abundance of them though.

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank

Whilst I take pleasure in riding behind and seeing the old steam locos that were an integral part of our life in my youth, I have much higher aspirations for Cymru. My ambition is to see modern, comfortable and rasonably fast electric trains running from Swansea to Bangor via Aberystwyth. We need to keep on pressing for this to be a top transport priority for the Cardiff Crew when they manage to get theor hands on the money that Cymru should have had for HS2 compensation.

PS: They have a decent collection of steam locos in the Llangollen collection.

Last edited 1 year ago by Peter Cuthbert

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