Founding Organisation

Ribble Steam Railway’s origins can be traced back to Steamport Southport.  The Southport Locomotive and Transport Museum Society was formed back in 1971 with a view of creating a museum to be based in the then derelict Southport Steam Shed, which was in a poor state of repair after it had been abandoned since its closure in 1966.

Whilst negotiations took place progressed with British Rail, the society went about various fund raising activities, and began restoring essential services to the site.  By 1973, an agreement had been reached with British Rail for a lease on the site, and the first locomotives, buses and other exhibits began arriving on site.  At this point, the charity Steamport (Southport) Ltd, a company limited by guarantee and Registered Charity was established to administer the project.

The site opened to the public on Spring Bank Holiday 1974, and continued to develop and operate for over twenty years on site, offering train rides on a short demonstration line, but featuring a number of authentic railway artefacts, such as a working signal box, water tower & turntable.

As development in the area began to progress, the organisation wanted to be in charge of their own destiny, and in 1984, following significant fundraising, the site was purchased from British Rail.

The shed had originally been built by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway in 1890, so over 100 years later the building was proving difficult to maintain & provide a museum facility fitting for the era – and coupled with the short running line and limited extension opportunities, the charity began to look for a new home for the collection.

Early view of 27C Shed before re-opening to the public in 1973

Preston Guild 1992

Every 20 years, Preston holds a celebration which has its roots in a royal charter issued in 1179 by King Henry I – with the first recorded celebration being in 1682.  Steamport Southport were invited to assist with these celebrations in 1992 with a view to running passenger steam train rides on the recently refurbished Preston Dock Railway.  The event was based on temporary platforms at each end of the line, and afforded a great deal of public interest over the May Bank Holiday weekends, with an intensive timetable operated using “Agecroft No.2” and two of our existing fleet of carriages.

Following the success of that event, Preston Dock Railway was to be considered as a potential new home, should the opportunity arise- however in 1992 the railway was still very much a commercial enterprise operated by the Preston Council.  This wasn’t the only location being considered, with other similar industrial and passenger railway operations being considered.

However, as the commercial traffic began to decrease, it felt that the proximity, and existing facilities in Preston provided an ideal opportunity to relocate and rejuvenate “Steamport”, and in 1996, backing was given to the directors proposal to move to Preston.

Operations were wound down at Southport, before finally closing to the public in 1997, with an event hosting the two remaining Lancashire & Yorkshire Pug locomotives on site to mark the occasion.

There are several videos on Youtube showing the event (and how sparse the docks were back in 1992!) – One which features a number of the operations

A New Start at Preston

RSR Site in 1999 (taken approximately at the entrance gates of today’s infrastructure)

A 105 year lease was signed in 2000 for the land now occupied by the railway’s buildings on Chain Caul Road, in addition to the 1.5 mile railway traversing the swing bridge at the entrance to the main dock.  After many years of supporting the petrochemical industry, significant efforts were required to clean up the land before any building works could commence.  The first building to be completed was the workshop & running shed, and some of the exhibits already moved from Southport during 1999 & 2000 could be moved under cover.

The Museum building was the second to be constructed – and this was eventually completed in 2004, and the railway opened its doors for the first time in on 17th September 2005, with Agecroft No.2 again doing the honours & hauling those initial passenger trains.

First Passenger Trains – 2005

Contributing Organisations

Whilst the core of the exhibits back in 2005 had originated from Steamport, the new Ribble Steam Railway soon began attracting exhibits and collections from other areas.  The Fleetwood Loco Centre collection moved to Preston in 2002, and in 2009 the Furness Railway Trust relocated from Haverthwaite to Preston, establishing a new base and shed in the process for them to continue their work.

Ribble Rail & Bitumen Operations

Whilst Ribble Steam Railway was being prepared for public opening, as the leaseholders we were approached to discuss the possibility of returning regular freight traffic back to the docks to support the Tar Refinery, which has been part of the infrastructure on Preston docks since 1929 – it is now owned by Total Energies, and we’re pleased to still be working in partnership with them as a key part of their logistics of moving their product from Haverton Hill in Teeside to Preston, typically in trains carrying well in excess of 1000tons of bitumen, taking countless heavy lorry loads from our congested highways.

One of our diesel fleet operating a bitumen train over the last 2km of it’s 200km journey from the North East

Improvements & Diversification into the future

Ribble Steam Railway has progressed so much since opening in 2005.  The collection has expanded, facilities improved, including our wonderful exploration centre, affording views over the museum collection from an elevated position, not to mention the introduction of our ever popular Cream Tea Services