Zoo’s train is full of puff on her centenary
Monday 18 August 2008
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s Jumbo Express is being pulled by a special lady this weekend - centenarian Excelsior is celebrating her 100th year of construction, making her the oldest “inhabitant” in the zoo by some distance!
Built by Kerr, Stuart & Co Ltd, Excelsior came to the zoo in 1970 and together with Superior her fellow engine, she can be seen pulling the carriages full of excited zoo visitors every day providing a unique way to view the animals.
Excelsior is very sprightly for her age but like any grand dame she has required the odd adjustment here and there to keep her in top condition. A new boiler was fitted two years ago and a few other parts since 1908, but otherwise, she’s good as new.
Railway engineer Kevin Edwins said: 'Excelsior was one of the first engines here and we are delighted to have restored her to her former glory so that visitors can see her at this great age. She takes a lot of cleaning and looking after... but she’s worth it!'
Engineers have been busy ‘buffing up her bodywork’ and with a familiar “Toot, toot!” a resplendent Excelsior will be taking rides this Bank Holiday weekend.
Did you know?
- Excelsior uses 20 buckets of coal per day, sourced from Poland. She is cleaned, polished and prepared for work two hours before the first rides.
- The engine pulls five carriages with up to 120 passengers on board and can operate for a six hour period on Sundays and Bank Holidays.
- Commentary is provided on the Jumbo Express by a team of explainers who tell visitors about the animals and news from the zoo.
- The train tracks were initially built in 1970 by Bill McAlpine of the McAlpine Construction family. The line was initially built in two halves. The first area originally went from the existing railway yard to the yaks and back and was then extended.
- There are three drivers who do various shifts across the day and start at 9am in the morning. It takes two to three hours to get the engines ready. They pull 125 passengers each around the zoo.
- Each engine pulls five carriages which carry up to 125 visitors on the 15 minute ride through the Asian region of the park.
- Animals which can be viewed from the train ride are: Asian one horned rhino, Bactrian camels, yaks, onagers and a host of deer and antelope.