The 71A locomotive Group was founded in 1996 by a group of Eastleigh train drivers who wanted to preserve class 33; 33008 ‘Eastleigh’. The Group was not limited to railway employees and membership quickly grew to around 20. Fundraising continued while many class 33s were considered and inspected. About this time, the Group was involved with the Mid Hants Railway and two of its members joined with 71A to acquire a locomotive each.
The Group successfully tendered for 33012, 33109 & 33208 when EWS offered several class 33s for sale in March 1997. 33204 was acquired as a source of spares. 208 was delivered to the MHR in April and following bodywork repairs was the first preserved ‘Crompton’ to haul a passenger train on 21st June 1997. In November ‘97, 208 was the first class 33 to be certified for mainline operation under the then new system of open access for privately owned locomotives. Being only the third diesel loco to do so. It successfully hauled the diesel legs of a steam railtour.
January 1998 saw the Group achieve another first when Cardiff Railway Company hired 33208 to haul commuter trains between Cardiff Central and Rhymney. This contract lasted for 5 months until the loco suffered a fire in its train heating generator. During 208s time at Cardiff it returned to MHR via Eastleigh and delivered 012 and 109. The damaged generator was eventually changed for the one from donor loco: 33204.
In the meantime, the group re-assembled the partially stripped engine in 33109, which had been withdrawn with leaky cylinder liners. Following a protracted bodywork overhaul, 109 was restored to mainline status and worked a number of specials during 2000. 208 earned a reputation for strength and reliability on the mainline, EWS showed faith when they hired the loco back for a weekend!
33012 was gradually repaired and eventually moved to the Swanage Railway in October 1999 and a change of management at the Mid Hants Railway saw them take over responsibility for 33109 & 33208 in 2001.