Plans for HS2 have been in the news recently, and much of the discussion has focused on the journey time reductions rather than the increased capacity that the scheme will deliver.

A few commentators have suggested that the slots freed up on existing lines could be used to accommodate extra goods trains and passenger services, helping reduce carbon emissions and removing juggernauts from the nation’s roads.

There was a time when rail was the mode of choice for goods traffic and freight was far more important to the railways than passengers. In the mid-1920s, the Great Western Railway owned almost 90,000 goods wagons!

Those days will be recalled at Didcot Railway Centre’s Delivering the Goods Weekend on February 15 and 16 as the curtain-raiser for the 2020 season. Special demonstration freight trains and wagon movements will take place with two steam and two diesel locomotives in action working goods trains alongside the usual passenger trips allowing visitors enjoy unlimited rides.

The locomotives running will include No.31, currently visiting from its base at Fawley Hill. She was constructed in 1913 for Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons and worked at the company’s Hayes depot until the 1960s when she was saved by the late Sir William McAlpine. No 31 has worked on the family’s large garden railway ever since.

No. 31’s duties will include propelling wagons loaded with coal up the steep incline to the Centre’s Coal Stage – the only surviving working example of a type of building that was once commonplace at locomotive depots. Once up the incline, our volunteers transfer the coal into tubs which then tip to fill the bunker of a steam engine waiting below.

We will also be running our own stalwart GWT No 4144. Typical of locomotives which worked on post war passenger and goods services, 4144 will be working both on the centre's main demonstration line and will be in charge of a 'mixed' train of passenger carriages and goods wagons - these were operated either to save money or when fresh produce such as fruit or milk needed to be moved quickly. We will also be running two of our own diesel locomotives, D9516 and 08604.

As well as the full-size trains, visitors will also be able to see a working model layout of a goods yard that featured in the grand final of Channel 5’s Great Model Railway Challenge. Following the weekend, we are open daily through half-term with steam trains running on February 19, 22 and 23.