A STEAM railway enthusiast is spearheading a remarkable international project which will see a locomotive shipped more than 1,000 miles to Britain from the heart of the Swiss Alps.
The "crazy idea" is the brainchild of Mike Ellis, originally from Thirsk, North Yorkshire, which involves transporting the uniquely designed Brienz Rothorn Bahn (BRB) locomotive and a carriage to the Snowdon Mountain Railway to operate a passenger service for three weeks next autumn.
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Locomotive No 12, built at an angle to deal with the steep gradient. Picture: ANDREW DOUGLAS
"It is the first time an operational Swiss steam loco is coming to the UK and it's the first time this type of loco is going to run here," he said. "It is only going to happen once and it is going to happen next year."
Mr Ellis, who has lived in Switzerland for the past 30 years and works for BRB part-time, said talks are underway over the possibility of displaying the 1891-built Locomotive No 2 at the National Railway Museum in York once its stint in North Wales is over.
Mr Ellis, whose first job was in the British Rail telecoms office in York, first had the idea of transporting a loco to the UK over a few glasses of wine while representing BRB at an international tourism fair in London. However, despite efforts to create interest, the project failed to get off the ground.
That was until a chance meeting last June when Mr Ellis was asked to show "a guest from England" around the BRB. That guest turned out to be none other than Mike Robertshaw, Snowdon Mountain Railway's Operations Manager.
"I took him for a ride on the loco's footplate and we got talking and realised we had two 'sister' railways with the same gauge, both using the same rack and pinion system over a similar sort of gradient and I asked him how he felt about having one of our trains running on his railway!"
And so 'Switzerland to Snowdon' was hatched between the two mountain railways in conjunction with main sponsors Switzerland Travel Centre and Switzerland Tourism.
Mike Ellis pictured at the Planalp halt. Picture: ANDREW DOUGLAS
The project is jointly led by Mr Ellis and James Wilson, who is Business Development Manager at Switzerland Travel Centre.
BRB staff have already visited Llanberis to ensure the track is indeed compatible - carrying out various tests on the loading gauge, pitch of the rack, maximum gradient and points design.
The loco and carriage is due to depart Brienz on August 3 next year and will be transported to London where it may go on display outside the transport museum in Covent Garden before continuing its journey to Wales.
At 7am on September 4, it is scheduled to be lifted onto the tracks when the Swiss crew will carry out various tests over four or five days to iron out potential teething problems.
On September 9 the BRB train will go into service operating three return trips a day, six days a week until October 2nd - including the 'Sausage Express', where passengers can sample Swiss sausage cooked in the loco’s steam kettle.
It is also intended to create a new station platform a third of the way up the Snowdon Mountain Railway which will be remodelled as a mini-Switzerland - all part of the locomotive's ambassadorial role to promote both BRB and Switzerland.
"I think my upper thoughts are of immense satisfaction that a simple crazy idea has caught the interest and support of professional people and serious organisations, who want to be an active part of it," said Mr Ellis.
"No idea succeeds without the right people and I’m very lucky to have those in this instance."