A HAMPSHIRE heritage railway is offering unlimited rides behind a range of steam engines at its Autumn Steam Gala.

The gala, hosted by The Watercress Line, will take place from Friday, October 6 to Sunday, October 8, and has a ‘branch line’ theme. Visitors will be able to ride behind visiting and home-fleet locomotives and also discover restoration projects and view exhibits.

The popular gala will showcase two of the Watercress Line’s own engines - 41312 LMS Ivatt, used on Southern region lines, and the 53808 7F, courtesy of the S&D Railway Trust, a local goods train.

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Visiting locomotives will include:

Bagnall locomotive No.401 ‘Vulcan’, courtesy of North Tyneside Steam Railway and Embsay & Bolton Abbey Steam Railway. Built in 1951 for the Steel Company of Wales and used at Port Talbot.

No. 72 ‘Fenchurch’, courtesy of the Bluebell Railway. This gave rapid acceleration on suburban trains of lightweight carriages on the South London line.

LNWR coal tank no. 1054, owned by the National Trust and courtesy of the Bahamas Locomotive Trust. Originally designed to haul freight (predominantly coal traffic).

The GWR Class 5205, 5239 ‘Goliath’, courtesy of the Dartmouth Steam Railway, Devon, will also be in operation. This engine was used to haul coal from the mines in South Wales to the ports for export.

The gala weekend will give visitors an insight into restoration projects at Ropley workshop and yard. Driver experiences will be available with ‘Kilmersdon’ 1788, and opportunities to take Queen Mary Brake Van rides on the Goods Train. The miniature steam railway will also offer unlimited rides.

Visitors will be able to visit the Goods Shed exhibition at Medstead and Four Marks, and browse the society stands and displays at Ropley Station. Artifacts from the Somerset and Dorset Railway Trust will be on show at the Old Goods Shed Museum at Alresford.

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Watercress Line CEO, Rebecca Dalley, said: “Most of our trains are operated by tender engines, so this is a rare opportunity to travel along the line by a variety of tank engines, smaller engines that tended to travel on branch lines, which 'branch off' the main line to serve local communities in rural areas.

“Our Autumn Steam Gala provides a fascinating day out for anyone interested in steam engines. Visitors can discover the Watercress Line’s picturesque heritage stations along the 10-mile line, visit the exhibitions and chat to our volunteers and staff. We look forward to welcoming you.”

Tickets for the gala can be purchased from the Watercress Line website.