The Diesel & Electric Preservation Group (The D&EPG) was formed in 1972 to promote interest in the modern railway scene. Back then it was known as the Diesel and Electric Group (D+EG) and published books and a magazine called “Inter-City Express”. The magazine was one of the first to cater for diesel enthusiasts.
The start of the D+EG’s move to loco preservation happened aboard the railtour held to commemorate the end of the Beyer-Peacock ‘Class 35 Hymek’ diesel-hydraulic locos. The “Hymek Swansong” ran on Saturday 22nd September 1973. The route was London Paddington to Hereford returning via Didcot. This allowed time to visit the steam centres at Hereford and Didcot for any steam enthusiasts in case there weren’t enough diesel enthusiasts to fill the tour. In any case the tour sold out.
Utilising D7001 and D7028 double-heading, the day went well. On the train, a group of travellers including D+EG members formed a vision that they should save a ‘Hymek’. The idea materialised, details and monies being quickly collected. In July 1975, D7017 was purchased and towed to Taunton, before being transferred to Minehead on the West Somerset Railway (WSR) on 25th March 1976. The first train she hauled on the WSR was the “Quantock Flyer” on the 19th March 1977.
Also in 1977, the Group was offered D7018. By May the transfer of ownership had taken place and the loco was duly moved to Didcot – the other base of the D+EG at that time. There was much work to do on D7018, including the engine being removed and repaired. The loco ran for the first time in preservation in August 1985. This meant the Group had locos based in two places – Williton and Didcot.
In 1979, the Group left Minehead for Williton, where the former goods shed had been made available by the WSR. Work was done to extend the shed to accommodate D7017 and other work was carried out to improve the building.
Swindon-built diesel-hydraulic ‘Class 14 Teddy Bear’ D9526 was the next loco to be acquired by the Group in 1980, from the Blue Circle Cement company in Westbury. Much work was done over a four year restoration period and the loco entered service on the WSR on the 14th July 1984.
In 1982, the Group bought the Park Royal ‘Class 103 DMU’ from the WSR, the idea being to overhaul it to support the railway. The Group overhauled it and returned it to the company for use on the railway for two years until she was made surplus to requirements. The Diesel Multiple Unit was eventually donated to the nascent Helston Railway in Cornwall, where she remains to this day.
In 1985 the Didcot team approached Foster Yeoman with a view to returning Swindon-built ‘D1000 Western Class’ locomotive D1010 “WESTERN CAMPAIGNER”, stored at their Merehead Quarry on static display, back to working condition. At that time, D1010 was disguised as D1035 “WESTERN YEOMAN”. The Company agreed to a three year management deal which would see the loco returned to working order within this time.
Following work to enable the loco to be moved on the mainline, she was towed to Didcot where restoration work began. In May 1987 she moved for the first time in preservation under her own power, on one engine. The custody agreement was extended and in 1993 the loco was purchased by the Group.
1986 saw the group become formally responsible for the Williton Goods shed with security of tenure which allowed the group to invest and develop the site.
In 1987, the Group changed its name to the Diesel and Electric Preservation Group and in 1988 following changes made to its’ constitution, it became a registered charity.
After several years of hard work, the Williton site was ready to receive ‘Hymek’ D7018 and ‘Western’ D1010 from Didcot, which happened in 1991 following the decision to focus all the resources at Williton.
Over Christmas in 1990, D1010 left Didcot for Williton via Cardiff Canton and Merehead. D7018 was soon to follow in June 1991, arriving at Williton on 18th September 1991 and ending our period of residence at the Great Western Society Railway Centre at Didcot. ‘Hymek’ D7018 entered service on the WSR during the spring diesel gala of March 1992.
In August 1995, D7018 suffered a major engine failure in traffic. The locomotive has subsequently undergone a complete overhaul that lasted 24 years, triumphantly returning to service for the very well attended WSR “Diesels To The Seaside” gala in June 2019!
In the mid 1990s, Group resources were used to construct a purpose built maintenance shed on the Williton site, and this work was completed in November 1997. A second application was made to the Heritage Lottery Commission to construct an educational visitor centre in 1997 and to help equip the new depot. This bid was successful and following four years of hard work, the Heritage Diesel Visitor Centre was completed in 2002.
In 1997, the British Steel Company, Port Talbot Works, donated two Brush Bagnall 0-4-0 diesel-electric master and slave locomotives to The D&EPG. Cosmetically restored master locomotive No. 501 was for many years on display in the Heritage Diesel Visitor Centre whilst slave No. 512 remained in store. After a lengthy stay with the Group, the locomotives were eventually returned to British Steel at their request.
The year 2007 saw the acquisition of BR Crewe-built example of the Brush ‘Class 47’ D1661 “NORTH STAR”, an already-famous locomotive that had achieved further fame by being the last locomotive to haul a scheduled cross-country express from the West Country to the North. This locomotive was frequently used on the WSR to haul the heaviest trains such as mainline charters, taking over from mainline steam at Bishops Lydeard. The loco was withdrawn from service in 2018 to undergo bodywork maintenance and a repaint into BR blue livery, in preparation for a return to service on the WSR or elsewhere in late 2020 or early 2021.
The most recent acquisition made by The D&EPG is a second ‘Class 14 Teddy Bear’ locomotive, D9518, which was received in a severely worn and dilapidated condition after many years of hard labour at the NCB colliery in Ashington, Northumberland. This loco is undergoing a complete strip down to basic parts, to be followed by a complete rebuild, the target completion date for which has not yet been established.
As well as our own locomotives, for many years the Group has also cared for a range of locomotives that were privately-owned. Three were owned by Dr. John Kennedy, a leading railway preservationist, his locomotives being ‘Class 03’ diesel-mechanical D2119, ‘Class 08’ diesel-electric D3462 and ‘Class 25′ diesel-electric D7523. The locomotives arrived at Williton in non-operational condition in 1996 and over the following eight years, each was restored to operational condition. All saw many years of active service on the WSR, with D2119 acting as the Williton yard shunter, D3462 being the Bishops Lydeard Station pilot and D7523’, by then named “DR. JOHN F. KENNEDY”, providing support to the steam engine fleet and undertaking winter infrastructure duties. The locomotives eventually left the Group’s care in September 2011 and moved on to the Epping & Ongar Railway.
The fourth privately-owned locomotive to enter the care of the Group was Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon Co (BRCW) ‘Class 33’ diesel-electric D6566 / 33048 purchased by one of our founder members, Clive Burrows in 1997. The loco became the first ‘Class 33’ to haul a service train in preservation shortly after its arrival on the WSR in 1997, and has been employed on many out-of-course workings. For many years, she hauled most of the excellent “Fish and Chip Specials”. The locomotive has proved a real winner and is very popular with the WSR operating department.
Also at Williton for many years was DH16, a chain-driven Sentinel industrial shunter purchased by volunteer/member Colin Girle had arrived at Williton in 2001. The loco had been restored to an excellent standard from a wreck condition and was usefully employed as the Williton yard shunter until it moved to the East Somerset Railway at Cranmore, in 2015.
Another locomotive that was purchased by Clive Burrows was his second BRCW ‘Class 33’, D6575 / 33057, which arrived at Williton as a wreck in 2005. This locomotive had been stored out of use for many years following a traction motor fire on the main line in 1996. Originally purchased as a spares donor for D6566, D6575 eventually underwent a complete overhaul and restoration to operational condition, largely performed by Cranmore Train Care and Maintenance with much additional input from The D&EPG. D6575 took over the duties of D6566 in order that this locomotive, by then showing its age, could also be sent to Cranmore for major attention. As of October 2020, both D6566 and D6575 are back at Williton and are fully operational and ready to return to service as soon as the WSR call upon them, either singly or in multiple.
Between 2009 and 2016, The D&EPG were the proud custodians of BR Swindon ‘Class 42 Warship’ No. D832 “Onslaught”, placed in our care by its owners, The Bury Hydraulic Group, based on the East Lancashire Railway at Bury. After essential repairs, including completely new springs, this wonderful locomotive spent several seasons back in service on its home territory on the WSR, before eventually returning north to Bury.
In addition, the Group owns several freight vehicles, both for use on the railway and around the yard at Williton. The D&EPG has recently restored both its former BR 20 ton brakevan and ex GWR five-plank wagon, which stands at Minehead in early Foster Yeoman livery.