Quarry Siding, Talyllyn Railway – An unprototypical signal box has replaced the earlier ground frame which itself replaced the weighted point lever used in pre preservation days. Apart for a few yards used for shunting permanent way trains, the siding is unused and the quarry abandoned. Yet some of the magic still remains.
Photo Tivedshambo, Wikipedia Commons.
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The pickaxe sank into the quarry face and dislodged a great lump of Talyllyn mudstone – so called by geologists because it consists of 50% stone and 50% mud. Eager hands wielded shovels and pitched the stuff into hopper wagons conveniently situated on a portable track just below the quarry face. When the wagons were full, the Chief Engineer called us into the brake van and the Ruston Hornsby diesel towed us and the hoppers half a mile down the line. Here the operation was reversed – the ‘ballast’ was dumped unceremoniously on the railway track and was shovelled over the side of a low parapet on to a farm road below. Later, the farmer would pick it up with a tractor and trailer and use it to fill in a few potholes elsewhere.
The scene was Quarry Siding on the Talyllyn Railway, the time, the mid 60s and during the next few years the TR was to be my teacher as to how all ‘proper’ preserved railways (‘heritage railways’ had not been invented then!) were to be run. When we were not labouring, our working party leader organised trips to local slate quarries to show us why these lines had been built. I was drawn to the outdoor lifestyle and decided that railway preservation was to be the life for me.
Roll on six years and I am in the offices of the Chairman of the British Railways Property Board overlooking the magnificent arches of Liverpool Street station. The Department of Transport had ordered the urgent lifting of the track on ‘our’ railway to stop the efforts of our group of preservationists, but we had orchestrated such a storm of protest that BR had been ordered to strike a compromise. A deal was duly struck – in return for our ‘switching off’ the storm of complaints, BR were to retain an extra half mile of track, leave the ballast and a few other items in situ. These days I am made of sterner stuff and would have demanded more, but in my defence I had only left school a few years earlier and my negotiating skills still left much to be desired!
The next six years are a blur of meetings and letters. In fact, so many letters had to be written to counter the efforts of officials and opponents that a team of volunteer secretaries had to be engaged to type them all. After attending hundreds of meetings, I learnt the art of lobbying the hard way – by making mistakes. Eventually, having adopted the motto that ‘the best way to fight bureaucracy was with bureaucracy of our own’, we prevailed – the key agreements were put in place and our railway started to be painstakingly rebuilt.
My dream of an ‘outdoor job’ physically rebuilding railways slowly evaporated. Having given 6 years of my life to the cause of rescuing one particular railway in England, I decided that enough was enough and that in any further contact that I was to have with preserved railways my role would be limited to that of passenger and visitor. Whatever else might happen, I promised myself, THERE WOULD BE NO MORE MEETINGS!