Electric pioneer triumphs in HRA Awards


A trail blazing seaside railway, a brand-new steam locomotive and a whole fleet of historic coal wagons were among the big winners at the Heritage Railway Association Annual Awards 2024, sponsored by Inspire Structures. 

The Volks Electric Railway has beaten stiff competition to be named ‘Railway of the Year’ at the biggest awards event in heritage rail. Judges were impressed by the authenticity, attention to detail and dedication to the unique history of Brighton’s seafront line.  

The World’s oldest working electric railway, built in 1883, just knocked the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway and Seaton Tramway into joint second place to take the title. It is the first time a railway with no steam traction at all has won the honour. 

Top steam locomotive honours on the night were divided between the exquisite restoration of a Victorian express engine, and the construction of a brand new narrow gauge ‘Double Fairlie’.  

The team based at the Swanage Railway in Dorset that restored ex National Collection London and South Westen Railway ‘T3’ Class 4-4-0 No. 563 were handed the ‘Chairman’s Special Award’. The prestigious award, not handed out every year, was given to the 563 Locomotive Group for the stunning results achieved in bringing a locomotive that hadn’t steamed in more than 75-years back to life.  

Also winning at the glamorous evening in Brighton on Saturday, 10 February, was the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways. The North Wales line’s reinterpretation of long-lost ‘Double Fairlie’ 0-4-4-0T No. 8 James Spooner took the Coiley Award for Steam Locomotive Engineering, sponsored by Hargreaves, back to North Wales. Judges felt that the technical challenges faced in constructing such a complicated locomotive from scratch, almost exclusively in-house, merited winning this engineering focused honour. 

Meanwhile a small team dedicated to the rescue and restoration of an important part of modernising the railways in the 1960s were surprised to pick up a top honour. The National Wagon Preservation group, based at the Chasewater Railway, took home the Morgan Award for Rolling Stock Preservation, sponsored by Paint Man Paints, for their work on a train of ‘Merry Go Round’ coal hoppers, which transformed the transport of fuel to power stations but have now all but vanished.  

Heritage Railway Association Chief Executive, Steve Oates, said: “This is the biggest event in heritage rail and it’s specifically designed to celebrate the achievements and successes from every part of this varied and dynamic sector.  

“To see unique railways like the Volks Electric triumph over far bigger and more famous lines is proof that the heritage rail world is flourishing in all manner of different ways, despite the adversity we so often face. And to have a train of down-to-earth galvanised steel coal hoppers pick up a top award, on the same night as a gleaming Victorian express steam engine, also demonstrates the depth of passion and commitment that is key to everything that heritage rail is good at.” 

In the Diesel and Electric Locomotion category, sponsored by Give Life 365, the Severn Valley Railway left Brighton with their hands full. They picked up the award for their special events programme celebrating 50 years of mainline diesel locomotive preservation.  

The Award for Innovation in Business and Customer Experience, sponsored by PNP events, has a long way to travel to its new home.  It was won by the Keith and Dufftown Railway for the conversion of a redundant diesel multiple unit trailer car into a whisky bar known as the ‘Dram Tram’. The conversion has opened up a range of new business opportunities for the Banffshire-based line. 

The 15in gauge Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway won the Award for Marketing and Communications, sponsored by Fox and Edwards Events. The Cumbrian line impressed with the depth and thoughtfulness of their marketing and communication activities, but also for the amount of research and measurement the team undertook to ensure that it was delivering on wider business goals.  

The Infrastructure Award, sponsored by Ernest R Shaw, was won by the Llangollen Railway for their Corwen station project. The completely new station returned passenger trains to Corwen permanently for the first time since 1964 and went on to serve 30,000 visitors in the first month since opening.  

Seaton Tramway won the Environmental Innovation Award, sponsored by Premier Park. They beat the competition with a festival designed to celebrate the rich natural and cultural heritage that surrounds the unusual 2ft 9in gauge electric tramway in Devon. 

The HRA Annual Awards does not just focus on the physical parts of a railway, there’s also a growing element of celebrating the people who make heritage rail a success.  

In the Rising Star category this year, sponsored by Purple Lighting, Osian Hughes of the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways was the victor by an extremely narrow margin. Osian moved to heritage rail from the education sector and has spearheaded a fresh perspective to the marketing of the famous narrow gauge line. He was heavily involved in the development of the train ‘experiences’ that the FfWHR now promotes successfully.  

The Talyllyn Railway’s ‘Tracksiders’ group of young volunteers scooped the prize in the Team of the Year category, sponsored by Expian. The team was first formed in 1997 to encourage young people to participate in hands on tasks at the Talyllyn. Going from strength to strength, seven of the original recruits are still active volunteers 24 years later and the Tracksiders recruit new youngsters every year. 

Moving from 2ft 3in gauge to 5ft 3in gauge, the Lord Faulkner Young Volunteer of the Year for 2024 is Jonathan King of the Downpatrick and County Down Railway. Jonathan is the youngest steam locomotive fireman in Ireland, has been playing a vital role in recovery from a devastating flood and also became a director of the line at the age of 23. 

The victory for the Downpatrick and County Down Railway also means that all parts of the UK were represented by winners at the 2024 awards.