HAMPSHIRE Police are appealing for information after more than £80,000 of parts were stolen from the Mid Hants Railway.
Sometime between the evening of Tuesday (April 17) and early the next morning thieves broke into containers at Bighton Hill in Ropley. Parts from steam train 828 Harry Frith, which is undergoing extensive restoration, were taken.
A Mid Hants Railway spokesman said it was “so sad” as a lot of people working on the engine “may never see it finished”.
What makes the crime particularly galling is that the pieces are unique and not widely produced, so to have them replaced will be difficult and costly.
Add in the fact that the metal was likely taken for scrap value and it’s left enthusiasts from Eastleigh Railway Preservation Society, who were undertaking the works, devastated.
“To say I’m gutted is an understatement,” said society chairman Paul Allwood.
The items, many of which are brass, included valves, injectors, pipes, and slide bar oil pots.
“They are things that are rare to say the least,” Mr Allwood added, “and nigh on impossible to get remade as they’ll need to be recast.
The setback could add years to the restoration project. As such the society has already taken its first steps to recovery, setting up a fundraising initiative to make a dent in the costs - justgiving.com/crowdfunding/erps828.
“With these items now missing and the cost to replace this could sadly mean Eastleigh Railway Preservation Society coming to an end working on loco 828 Harry Frith,” the Mid Hants Railway said in a statement. “Hopefully the group can recover from this.
“If anyone has any information leading to their recovery, it will be greatly received.
“Please call with any information on 01962 733810 or e-mail [email protected]. Please spread the word.”
People took to social media to share their sympathy with the victims.
“Will probably have gone to a scrap dealer for a fraction of what they cost to make,” commented Martin Boyle.
This, The Watercress Line added, is “the very sad reality”.
“What’s next?” Michael Hemchaoui asked. “The heritage circle is suffering lately with vandalism and now this…”
Built in July 1927, E828 was one of a class of 25 heavy freight locomotives designed for the Southern Railway.
Eastleigh Railway Preservation Society acquired the train in 1981 and work began to restore it. This restoration was completed in 1994 and E828 was back on track. In 1996, after the passing of Harry Frith, E828 was named Harry A Frith in honour of his efforts on the engine.
The loco was moved to the Swanage Railway where it remained until the end of its boiler ticket in 2002. In 2004, it moved to Ropley where the second major overhaul began.
Mr Allwood said after working so hard for so long, that last week’s theft was “a hell of a blow to us”.
Hampshire Constabulary said some items are “stamped with engine name and number” and could, therefore, be identifiable.
However, if indeed taken for scrap, it’s likely they’ll be smelted sooner rather than later.
Anyone with any information is urged to call the police on 101, quoting reference number 44180141961. Alternatively, contact the Crimestoppers charity anonymously on 0800 555111.