Why Light? Railway

Derwent Valley Light Railway


Q. Was the name a misnomer from the outset?


Weighing up why DVLR was a light railway.

The Light Railway Act of 1896.


The Derwent Valley Light Railway was light in name but was surely heavy in presence. It was a standard gauge railway from its inception and it always carried heavy goods traffic despite its name and the rural locations of its stations. Fair enough, there were increases in permissible axle loadings over time. From the opening of the line in 1914, the maximum permissible axle loading was 15 tons. With track improvements that was increased to 17 tons in 1938 and to 20 tons (at 10 mph) in Summer 1978. "Why then," you might wonder, "was it called a "Light" railway?" Well, the word "Light" has to do with describing the Act of Parliament under which DVLR was enabled. Until the Light Railway Act of 1896, a separate Act of Parliament was required for each new railway, but subject to meeting certain criteria, new railways could thenceforth be started up without a separate Act and thus with much less expense. For DVLR, if anything was light, it was the maximum speed allowed under the Act. "Light" railways were restricted to 25 mph.

Stories such as those of the Blackberry Specials relate to special interludes on the line. Such occasions gave the line an agreeable public image and its affectionate name. Nevertheless, the day to day core business, responsible for the financial underpinning of the line's success in its heydays, was heavy goods traffic.


Shell-Mex & BP Ltd. tank wagon. No. 5081. Built 1938.


The magnificent tank wagon pictured below is now at DVLR. The photograph is by Trevor Humbey. Tank wagons of this type were used extensively during the Second World War. Details researched by Trevor, reveal that some 6,500 vehicles passed to the Petroleum Board in September 1939, apart from over 3,000 in the Air Ministry Fleet. These first wagons were all class ‘A’ vehicles, which were designed to carry 14 tons of liquids with a flashpoint less than 75 F, i.e. petrol and aviation spirit. Due to the Railway Clearing House regulations, discharge was by means of a siphon tube on the top of the barrel, as bottom discharge was prohibited at that time due to poor valve design. The tank has a capacity of 4,275 gallons.

In the image changer below, look for tank wagons in the typical daily freight train in June 1960, at Osbaldwick.

The changing nature of the DVLR traffic over time.


From the outset, farmers particularly championed the building of the line. Inevitably, livestock transportation was a good source of regular income for the railway. "Arables" obviously varied from season to season. In Autumn, sugar beet and potatoes were to be transported out. At other times, seed and manure came in. Various other freight carried, smoothed out the workload, and the income stream. The goods carried varied widely over the years and included timber, cement, coal and oil, so that a wide range of various types of wagons were employed on the line. With the rise and fall of businesses along the line, the DVLR management always reviewed and exploited the contemporary opportunities.

Passenger Services and Specials.


In the early years, there was income from passenger services too, until numbers dwindled to make the services uneconomic. The last regular passenger train between Layerthorpe and Skipwith was in 1926. Some passenger specials, including the Blackberry Specials, ran at various times. It is worth mentioning here that the DVLR diversification helped it stay in business for so long by getting income from the leasing out of various plots of land it owned. This second string to its bow, effectively was a second business as property company.

When visiting the DVLR, you may want to envisage the trains of goods wagons of all kinds which were passing along this very line in those heydays. Many many more pictures than will be posted here, along with the line's interesting varied history, stories and explanations will be found in the book;


"Rails Along The Derwent. The Story of the Derwent Vally Light Railway".(link).

Two dependable former old DVLR associates who have retuned to perform loyal duties on heritage DVLR.

Come along to see Churchill, our native loco.


Heading this page and repeated here is the ruggedly handsome John Fowler 0-4-0DM pictured by Trevor Humbey. Built 1947. No. 4100005, named Churchill, is an example of Fowler's 0-4-0 diesel mechanical designs. It has a six-cylinder engine with drive from jackshaft to rear axle. It started its working life at Cropper & Co. Ltd. Thatcham in Berkshire.


Of particular note to us is where the loco ended its commercial working life. Alongside the DVLR in the early 1980s at Highlight (Grain Handling) Ltd., Dunnington, it was drawing wagons for filling with grain from hoppers. It is therefore particularly appreciated that this indigenous DVLR loco was donated to continue to work with DVLR. More details of this, including how it may have contributed to your tipple if you were a Scotch drinker in the 80s as well as details of other rolling stock can also be found on our Rolling Stock Page.

We are proud of this "neo-native" which has come to "near home."

At DVLR, see this faithful Ruston & Hornsby 4wDM. Built 1960.

No. 441934. Rowntree No. 3, now Ken Cooke.

The connection with DVLR is that Rowntree No.3. used to work inside the Rowntree & Co. factory at York. The line serving Rowntree's factory connected the DVLR at Layerthorpe with the main York-Scarborough line, by Field View, Burton Stone Lane, York. After the closure of DVLR's Wheldrake to Cliff Common section, the line past Rowntree's was an esssential adjunct to DVLR, being Derwent Valley's only rail connection to the rest of Britain. This superb engine was named Ken Cooke in 2016, in honour of the regular Légion d'honneur visitor to DVLR, who used to work along with the engine at Rowntree's. The story and pictures can be found on "Some Reports from 2016."


The picture here was taken by Trevor Humbey some time prior to the naming of the locomotive. Trevor also supplied the following information. Originally delivered to the Rowntree chocolate factory in York in April 1960 and became No.3. Twenty years later in 1980 it was moved to Rowntree’s factory in Fawdon near Newcastle where it was renumbered to No.2. It was surplus to requirements in 1987 and went into preservation on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. It did not see any use on the Moors and was loaned out to the Middleton Railway in Leeds in 1991. In March 2006 it was moved to the National Railway Museum at Shildon. It was purchased by DVLR members in 2013 and moved here to Murton, York.


Rowntree No.2 is also at DVLR. In an act of admirable self sacrifice, No.2 stands by with its donor card for such times as No.3 may get sick and need transplants.

There are website pictures of all Locos & Rolling Stock to be seen here at DVLR: click the Rolling Stock tab at the head of any page.

Come to see this unusual wagon which had a more recent first use on DVLR.



In the picture by Trevor Humbey is the elegant British Railways ballast wagon No. DB993312 with a less than elegant name, Dogfish. Built in 1957, this ballast hopper was brought to the DVLR in 2003 to help with trackwork. The wagon made the whole process of ballasting the track so much easier.

Changing the line's image too. Hello DVR.

Your opinion?




After reading the facts above and seeing the pictures, do you think the railway deserved the word Light in its title?


A. So, the answer to the question at the top of this page is: The word "Light" was not a misnomer, from the point of view of the Light Railway Act. However if you think this railway did not deserve the word "Light," the DVLR's directors in 1973 would have agreed with you. They did not think the word "Light" suggested a fitting image for the railway.




After nearly 60 years of its existence, as from 23 March 1973, the thenceforth Derwent Valley Railway, had dropped the word "Light."

Joem at Dunnington.




The picture by Jonathan D. Stockwell shows the remarkably prepossessing locomotive, "Joem" at the buffers at Dunnington Station, in August 1979, six years after the name change. Notable also is the sign on the station building. It clearly shows the shortened name of the railway, Derwent Valley Railway.

But the word Light had been there through the DVLR's successful heydays.


Little could the directors have guessed when they had changed the name in 1973, that the original name would eventually appear again on the rescued heritage line and it only seems right that as the line was restored, then also restored was the full name which the railway had carried during the periods of its greatest successes, Derwent Valley Light Railway.

Derwent Valley Light Railway,

c/o Yorkshire Museum of Farming,

Murton Lane, Murton, York, YO19 5UF.

Derwent Valley Light Railway Society is a Charitable Incorporated Organisation.

Registered number 116162