The Simplex

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This article is about the FR Simplex also known as Mary Ann. For the WHHR Simplex, see Simplex 264. For other Simplexes see Category:Simplex.
Simplex Tractor (Mary Ann)
Simplex Port 6.jpg
Not long after restoration
Type Motor rail Simplex
Home Railway FR
Original Railway WDLR
Status In service
Built by Motor Rail
Built 1917
1923 Arrived on FR
1971 Officially named
2004 Restored to '50s condition
2016 Restored to WWI condition
Wheel Arrangement 4wPM
Length 12 ft 5 in
Fuel Petrol

The Simplex (officially the Simplex tractor) also known as Mary Ann is a small petrol locomotive operating on the Ffestiniog Railway.

The loco was not originally named when she arrived at the FR and was known as 'The Simplex' when she became the first loco to work on the revived Ffestiniog in 1954 following Alan Pegler's acquisition of the FR Co on 24th June 1954. Later it acquired the nickname Mary-Ann which later became official as 'Mary Ann' (without hyphen). Since the locomotives restoration to 1950s condition for the FR50 events the loco is once again known as 'The Simplex'.



Built as a 4wPM in 1917 for service in World War 1, The Simplex is one of a small number of survivors from that conflict built for the Ministry of Munitions by the Motor Rail and Tramcar Company of Bedford, England. Designed for the use of the War Department Light Railways just behind the front-line in France, they were built with varying degrees of armour plate protection for the driver, to reduce the risk from bullets and shrapnel. Three types were produced: 'Open', 'Protected' and 'Armoured'. The power unit for all three variants was a Dorman 4JO petrol engine coupled to a Motor Rail patent two speed Dixon-Abbot gearbox. A number of the later-build models did not make it to France - the furthest they reached was a Ministry supply depot in Purfleet. These locomotives were sold on and, after repatriation, others were re-constructed following the war.

Arrival on the FR[edit]

The Festiniog Railway's example is a blend of the frames & running gear from an Open type and Protected type bodywork butchered so it appears as that of an Open Type. It was purchased for the Festiniog and Welsh Highland Railways in July 1923 from The Kent Construction & Engineering Co of Ashford, Kent, at a cost of £350 and was used mainly for shunting the wharves at Portmadoc and Minffordd, replacing a steam locomotive in these duties. Petrol costs were higher than desirable, and at the recommendation of Colonel Stephens the engine was adapted to burn kerosine (otherwise known as paraffin or TVO - 'tractor vaporising oil') once warmed up, bringing running costs down to around 60% of those of a steam locomotive. Stephens had hoped to use it on winter passenger services on the WHR, but the Board of Trade refused permission; it proved satisfactory for shunting and level work but could only cope adequately with two bogie carriages on the gradients of the main line and could not be used in passenger service without fitting a vacuum brake.

Its identity is not definitively known. It carries the builder's plate 507 of 1917 but this locomotive is recorded as having been rebuilt by Motor Rail for the Leighton Buzzard sand railway. Given that the FR example still has its builder's plate, one might suspect that the Leighton Buzzard one was identified incorrectly by Motor Rail from its engine number. As the FR Simplex was fitted with the bodywork from 596, a "Protected" locomotive, this is plausible. It is easy to understand that parts were exchanged in wartime or by dealers such as Kent Construction who made up complete locomotives from War Surplus equipment.

Early photographs such as this one on the Colonel Stephens Railway Museum site show that it was supplied with armoured plate on both ends and with a canopy fitted with visors, but without the armoured doors originally fitted to "Protected" locomotives, this made it an "Open" Type.

Preservation pioneer[edit]

The first locomotive movement on the FR south of Blaenau Ffestiniog for eight years took place at Boston Lodge on the morning of 21st September 1954 when the Simplex was coaxed back to life by Allan Garraway and Morris Jones (1892). (Mitchell & Smith, 1994) Allan Garraway in three articles in Ffestiniog Railway Magazine records early efforts to revive the FR up to the running of the first passenger trains in 1955 with detailed explanations of struggles to get the Simplex to operate.[1] Allan's description of the first trip across the Cob is worth quoting:

I shall never forget the feeling of elation on that run. The tractor is virtually unsprung yet it glided across with only one or two slight bumps. After getting more points to work at Portmadoc we proceeded along beside the main road. Here we had our first derailment, the tarmac being too hard for the flanges, but we hacked a flangeway and proceeded as far as the town side of the bridge, where a length of rail was missing. From there it was not too far to carry petrol from Williams' garage.

Early in 1955 the Simplex failed with a bent connecting rod and a smashed piston at Cutting Gwlyb. Morris Jones obtained a connecting rod off a 20hp Simplex found abandoned in some bushes on the site of the old WHR Portmadoc New station. The 20 hp engine was a two cylinder edition of the 40hp job, the double cylinder blocks being identical and Morris and Allan made subsequent raids on this engine to recover other useful parts. The manufacturers of the Simplex, Motor Rail of Bedford, kindly gave the FR the spares they supplied - new pistons and new big end bearings. On 23rd July 1955 the Simplex hauled the first passenger services on the reopened FR.

Key fleet member[edit]

In 1960, the Dorman petrol engine was replaced with a diesel engine from the same maker, replaced again in 1969. It became the main PW locomotive from about 1966 and was used on engineering trains when a lot of heavy materials were being hauled for relaying to Dduallt and beyond. According to Fred Howes it regularly hauled (or propelled) eight RAF waggons full of ballast with a top speed of 15 miles an hour. [2]

At some point around 1963, certainly before 1964,[3] The Simplex acquired the name 'Mary Ann'. According to the obituary of Allan Garraway, "Mary Ann" was his mother, Connie's, name for a maid-of-all-work. [4]

In "News from the Line" in the 1960s it continued to be referred to simply as 'Simplex' or 'The Simplex'.

It lost its slot as the PW Dept.'s front line motive power when Moel Hebog was acquired for PW use in about 1977. In 1971 the name Mary Ann became official (plates replacing the painted-on name)[5][6][7] and the following year a canopy was fitted that was claimed by some to be reminiscent of that fitted to the "Protected" locomotive type, but to others more resembled the roof of a pagoda. A member of the engineering fleet, she was outclassed by later and more modern additions to the diesel stable, but her historic importance was not forgotten.

Recent years[edit]

Recently she has had another overhaul, which included re-installing her petrol engine, a new fuel tank made, chains & sprockets replaced, a new bonnet and a larger radiator added along with numerous other jobs, including a re-paint. The locomotive no longer carries a name.

In 2016 the Simplex was fitted with a new reproduction roof repainted into an all over green livery to represent its first world war condition. In this state it visited P'tit train de la Haute Somme in France with Moelwyn during the first week of May. They also visited the Tracks to the Trenches event at Apedale on the 13-15th May before going on to Beamish for more first world war themed events.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ 1954 - 1955: The Railway Reawakens Parts 1 to 3, Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 187 - 189, page(s): 413, 481 & 542
  2. ^ Heritage Group Journal, No 111, page 21, FR Diesels
  3. ^ Mitchell, Vic; Allan Garraway (1997). Festiniog in the Sixties. Midhurst, Sussex, England: Middleton Press. ISBN 1-873793-91-X. OCLC 39747976. 
  4. ^ Allan Garraway, 1926-2014, Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 228, page(s): 812
  5. ^ Johnson, Peter (1992). Portrait of the Festiniog = : Portread o Rheilffordd Ffestiniog. Shepperton, Surrey, England: Ian Allan. ISBN 9780711020511. OCLC 26724457. 
  6. ^ Mitchell, Vic; Keith Smith (1995). Porthmadoc to Blaenau. Midhurst, Sussex, England: Middleton Press. ISBN 1-873793-50-2. OCLC 36589826. 
  7. ^ Weaver, C Rodney (1988). Festiniog Railway Locomotives. Leicester, England: AB Publishing. OCLC 59838875. 
  • Mitchell V and Smith K (1994) Branch Lines Around Porthmadog 1954 - 1994, plate 25, Middleton Press, West Sussex, GU29 9AZ
  • Bradley, Vic (1993) [1992]. Industrial Locomotives of North Wales. London: Industrial Railway Society. ISBN 0-9010-9672-5. OCLC 27769657. 
  • Colonel Stephens Railway Museum

External Links[edit]

  • [1] - More details on the type and a history of the Simplex name