Posts Tagged ‘Talyllyn Railway’

The Great Little Trains of Wales…

Saturday, 12 December 2009

A thumbnail of the home page of The Great Little Trains of Wales website. ©Bruce Yarborough

(Click on the thumbnail to go to the TGLTW website.)

Regular readers of BTWT may be wondering what new calamity prompted yesterday’s sad soliloquy and whether today’s post was really intended for Tunnel Vision. Rest assured, no new narrow gauge railway has collapsed overnight and there are no new plans, apart from those that we have already written about, to muck around with Wolsztyn. Instead of a single calamity, a series of unfortunate events culminated in a conference about how Polish regions could gain competitive advantage. The conference organisers not only invited me to speak, but actually paid me to do so, so you may be wondering why this attack of depression. Read on gentle reader, read on.

It seems that the secret ingredient that this province is focussing on is tourism, and I was asked to speak about railway tourism. Professor after professor got up and spoke about really important matters such as the proper definition of tourism and what the word product really meant. During the morning panel discussion a distinguished professor got up to ask why the Poles were using words derived from English like: mapowanie (mapping), walidowanie (validation) and klaster (cluster). After spending 5 minutes outlining the reason for his question, he spent another 5 minutes hypothesizing on the answers that he expected the panel members would give, and then 5 more minutes commenting on the hypothetical answers that he never received. Learned professors like him regularly act as paid advisers on EU projects.

By the time the second session started we were already running late. The chairman not only had to claw back some of the lost time, but also to make room for a member of the Polish Senate who just wanted to add his threeha’pence worth to the proceedings. I was booked to speak for 20 minutes and 15 minutes through my presentation, just as I reached the climax on how the Great Little Trains of Wales had created their own klaster in 1970, the chairman started making frantic signs for me to wind up.

The whole junket was paid for from EU funds and I am sure left most of the participants even more puzzled than they were before they came. And if you would like a little more information about The Great Little Trains of Wales then click on the thumbnail above or on the links below.

Dr Colin Parsons – Great Little Trains of Wales

Talyllyn Railway

Llanberis Lake Railway

Festiniog and Welsh Highland Railways

Welsh Highland Heritage Railway (Portmadoc)

Welshpool & Llanfair Railway

Vale of Rheidol Railway

Brecon Mountain Railway

Bala Lake Railway

Snowdon Mountain Railway

Where it all began!

Monday, 11 May 2009


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.

(Click to see original and for details of licensing.)

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!


70 years ago… (part 1)

Saturday, 28 February 2009


Welsh Highland Railway (ex South Africa Railway) Beyer Garratt NGG16 No.87 poses with Ffestiniog Railway locomotives at Porthmadog in a dress rehearsal for today’s golden spike ceremony. Picture is a still from a You Tube clip from a DVD available from the WHR.

(Click to see video on You Tube.)

Yesterday, a short panel of track was laid next to the Ffestiniog Railway’s Porthmadog Station completing the £28 million rebuilding of the Welsh Highland Railway. Today’s ‘golden spike’ ceremony will mark the reconnection of the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland railways and the creation of a combined 40 mile (64 km) 1ft 11½ (600 mm) gauge heritage railway running through some of the most stunning scenery in Britain. Our heartiest congratulations to the Festiniog Railway Railway Company, the Welsh Highland Construction Ltd, the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway and all those who kept the dream alive and turned it into reality.

Today’s ceremony commemorates the completion of the UK’s, and arguably Europe’s, most ambitious heritage railway restoration scheme. But few, if any, of those attending today’s event will realise that they are also witnessing the completion of a volunteer-assisted railway restoration scheme that was the first ever such scheme to be proposed anywhere in the world. For it was some 70 years ago that a group of railway enthusiasts first discussed the possibility of forming a railway society and using volunteer labour to reopen and operate a closed railway. And it was the Welsh Highland railway, which had closed in 1937, which was the focus of their attention. With dark clouds looming over Europe nothing came of the idea at the time and most of the Welsh Highland railway track was lifted in aid of the war effort in 1941.

In 1950, at a special meeting in Birmingham regarding the impending closure of the 2ft 3in (686) gauge Talyllyn Railway (TR), Owen Prosser, one of the enthusiasts who attended, recalled the volunteers formed into a railway society formula proposed before WW II for the WHR, and commended it to those seeking ways to keep the TR in in existence.

The TR went on, under the leadership of Tom Rolt, its first general manager, to become the first line to be saved and restored by a railway preservation society. The now proven methodology, was successfully replicated to create hundreds of heritage railways all around the world.

Returning to our tale of the WHR, after the 1941 track lifting, only the branch leading to the Croesor slate quarries remained, but that, apart from a few hundred yards, was lifted in 1948. One WHR locomotive, Baldwin 4-6-0T, 590 was cut up for scrap, another, Hunslet 2-6-2T, Russell, was put to work mining ironstone in Oxfordshire and a third, Moel Tryfan, remained in bits at the Festiniog Railway Company’ s Boston Lodge works only to be scrapped in 1954 to provide much needed funds to kick start the restoration of the FR. It seemed that the WHR was doomed and destined to be sold off as lots of little parcels of land – a fate that befell another 1ft 11½ railway, the picturesque Lynton and Barnstaple Railway in Devon.

But it was not to be. The line’s particular legal status made it difficult for the line to be legally abandoned, even if the track was no longer present. Apart from some property at a couple of stations which were sold off by the receiver of the bankrupt pre-war company, the railway land remained intact, large sections becoming a unofficial footpath through some of the most attractive scenery in the Snowdonia National Park.

In 1961, the Welsh Highland Railway Society was born and the campaign to rebuild the railway started in earnest. The early preservation history of the WHR is complex and contentious. Suffice it to say that the early WHR restoration pioneers had to deal with road ‘improvements’ which would have obliterated key sections of the line, a proposal to turn the line into a long distance footpath, a proposal to run a 12¼ inch gauge miniature railway over the most scenic section of the line and hostility from local residents and farmers.

Finally, in the early 1990s, when at last the project to restore the WHR looked set to go ahead, the original WHR pioneers were faced with the decision of the then Transport Minister, John MacGregor, that it was not they, but the Festiniog Railway Company. who were to build the new Welsh Highland Railway. Eventually after a period of hostilities the two groups reached agreement. The original WHR group would concentrate on building up a heritage museum and their own short demonstration line at Porthmadog, and enjoy ‘running rights’ over the WHR ‘main line’. The main burden of negotiating for funds, restoring the railway formation and relaying the line would fall on the FR.

The original campaigning group, whose name changed over the years – Welsh Highland Railway Society, Welsh Highland Railway (1964) Ltd, Welsh Highland Railway (Portmadog) – now trades under the name Welsh Highland Heritage Railway, while the FR manages the WHR under the brand The Welsh Highland Railway (Caernarfon). Detailed negotiations regarding WHHR running rights over the WHR are continuing, and we hope that the ‘feel good factor’ from today’s ceremony will spill over and assist both groups to negotiate a detailed operating agreement which will be of benefit to both parties.

BBC News:

Sources – the railways:

Sources – legal and restoration history

WHR route:

With the earthworks still fresh, the course of the rebuilt WHR can easily be traced on Google Maps. Why not start at Dinas Junction (see below) and trace the line of the railway back to Porthmadog?

A good idea of the scale of the work that was involved in restoring the WHR can be obtained by looking at photographs of one particular location through the ages. Here we have arranged links to photographs of –

Dinas Junction Station:

Source websites for the above:


Competition – mystery picture 2

Monday, 24 November 2008

Entries now closed.


So where’s this? What is this.

Dyspozytor’s ‘hump competition’ continues. Part 1 is now closed. We asked, Where is this? What is this? Gavin Whitelaw and Gordon Dudman earned one point each by identifying the location correctly as Dolgoch on the Talyllyn Railway – the first railway in the world to be ‘rescued’ by volunteers. Each then received a reminder that they should also try to identify the subject of the picture more precisely. Gordon identified the water rushing out of the hillside as the ‘water extraction point’ for the old water tower and gains an extra point. BTWT acknowledges the use of one of zadabiel’s Talyllyn Railway photographs on flickr in our previous competition post. (Details of licensing here.) However, the competition continues, there’ll be more questions and even if you didn’t succeed first time round, there’s still time for you to fight your way to the top.

So what about today’s picture? (Click to see an enlargement.) With the two ashtrays in the middle ground, the dark varnished furniture, and the railway layout bridging the gaps between the furniture, it looks like Dyspozytor’s dream pub. Tell us where it is and what it is and you could earn two points.

Links to some Dolgoch photographs:

A most remarkable survivor!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


The Wisbech and Upwell Tramway in its heyday.
G15 loco and two coaches. Photo BTWT archives

Although the Wisbech and Upwell Tramway closed in 1966, most English schoolchildren would immediately recognize the steam locomotive above, thanks to the Rev W Awdry immortalising one of the line’s steam engines as Toby the Tram Engine.

The line opened to Outwell Basin in 1883 and was completed to Upwell opened a year later. The trains were operated by three distinctive looking 0-4-0T tram engines, which looked like brake vans with cow catchers! These were the Great Eastern Railway G15 class (LNER Y6) designed by Thomas Worsdell. There were six passenger trains a day in each direction, and with an initial speed limit of 8 mph (13 km/h), the journey took one hour. The tram competed with a canal that ran between Wisbech and Upwell. At first the tramway benefited the canal. Coal would be carried to Outwell Village where it was loaded into barges for transport deeper into the fens. But the canal was in a poor financial condition and was abandoned shortly after the start of WW I. Freight traffic boomed and in 1903 the GER started to replace the G15s with the more powerful 0-6-0T C53s (LNER J70).

The Wisbech & Upwell Tramway entered the ownership of the LNER in 1923. The speed had been raised to 14 mph (24 km/h) and the journey time reduced to only 39 minutes, but this was insufficient to compete with the motor buses that had started to operate. Passenger services were withdrawn in 1927. Freight traffic, however,  continued to flourish. By 1949, eight trips were scheduled to leave Upwell on weekdays, and three on Saturdays during the fruit season.

In 1952, two Drewry Shunters (BR Class 04) were introduced to replace the J70s, and gave the Wisbech & Upwell the distinction of being Britain’s first all-diesel line! Lorries started to steal the freight traffic during the 1950s, and only one daily service each way was operated in the 1960s. Beeching listed the Wisbech & Upwell as one of the lines to be closed, but it won a reprieve and survived until 1966.

After passenger services on the Wisbech and Upwell Tramway had ceased, two bogie tram coaches Nos. 7 and 8 were transferred to the Kelvedon & Tollesbury Light Railway. Here they worked until that line closed in 1951. By this time passenger coaches which had seen continuous service since 1884 were pretty rare in Britain. (In fact, only the Talyllyn Railway operated older passenger rolling stock. Its passenger coaches dated back to the line’s opening in 1866.) Nos. 7 and 8 were then stored at Stratford Depot together with the sole surviving G15 tram engine. No 8 was used as the buffet coach during the filming of Titfield Thunderbolt and was returned to Stratford when filming ended, but sadly plans for the preservation of the W&U rolling stock came to naught and the G15 and coach No. 8 were broken up in 1953 or 54.

No 7’s story was more fortunate. It was sold for scrap in 1957 and the body ended up being used as an onion store. In 1973 the coach (by now without its chassis) was rescued and moved to the Cambridge Museum of Technology. In 1983 it was acquired by the Rutland Railway Museum at Cottesmore. In 2002, the coach was purchased by the Midland & Great Northern Railway Society to be rebuilt on the North Norfolk Railway. A new steel frame has been constructed and mounted on new bogies. The restored coach had its inaugural run in September this year. Our congratulations to everyone involved.

Wisbech and Upwell Tramway coach No 8 starring in The Titfield Thunderbolt

Come back for lost narrow gauge railway?

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Glyn Valley Tramway coach on the Talyllyn Railway,
photo Wikipedia Commons

(click to see photo in original context and details of licensing)

From the Glyn Valley Tramway website.

Just beyond Chirk lies the Ceiriog Valley, ‘A little bit of Heaven on Earth’ according to Lloyd George, and visitors to this now idyllic valley may be surprised to discover the area’s rich industrial heritage based on its rock and mineral deposits.

Initially slate was moved by packhorse from Glyn Ceiriog across the hills to Llangollen, and there loaded onto barges for onward carriage, a system that was at best slow and very uneconomical. In 1873 a narrow gauge railway was built, and pack horses gave way to horse power. Industry created the tramway and because the tramway existed it in turn gave birth to other industries. From out of the valley poured a steady stream of slate, to which in the following years was added granite, china stone, tarmacadam and even gunpowder. From the mills came cloth and perhaps the most innovative was the ‘export’ of live trout from the valley’s trout fishery.

With the arrival of steam the whole process accelerated and mixed trains of slate and other mineral products together with passenger coaches became the norm. On the journey passengers would catch glimpses of the River Ceiriog running alongside the track. When the train reached Pontfadog many passengers would take the liberty of expecting the train to wait for them while they enjoyed a drink at the Swan Inn. Often the last customers emerging from the inn would have to dash across the road and would only just manage to clamber aboard in time before the train continued along it’s way to Dolywern and then onto Glyn Ceiriog. A humorous postcard from this time claimed the tramways motto was ‘No hurry, no worry’ and that ‘ten minute stops were made to pick flowers!’

The last train ran through the valley in 1935. The news had gone round, and scores of locals turned out at Glyn to see the “tram” go by, never to return.

Now the Glyn Valley Tramway Trust have been awarded a £38,500 grant to engage external consultants to undertake preliminary work to enable the line to be reconstructed. £30,000 is being provided from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) via the Welsh Assembly Government, and an additional £8,500 is being orovided by Wrexham County Borough Council.

The Grant will be administered through Northern Marches Cymru and . The Grant will pay for the engagement of external Consultants to undertake all the detailed work required before re-construction of the Glyn Valley Tramway can begin at Chirk.

The First Part will be a High Level Study to look in detail at the overall future of the original route of the Glyn Valley tramway and how it might be re-instated in part or in total, either directly through the Trust or other interested bodies. The Second Part will cover all the detailed work required for a First Phase re-instatement at Chirk. This will include all the technical design work including Railway and Buildings, Environmental and other specialist reports. The Final Part will be a Public Exhibition / Event to present the results of the High Level Study and design of Phase 1.

More information:

  • Glyn Valley Tramway Trust website
  • Glyn Valley Tramway blog

Welsh narrow gauge railways scored

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

The jury – ignore mum and the kids at your peril

(click on picture to see photo in original location, on Ryd Ddu blog)

One of the problems of running a heritage railway is that while many railway enthusiasts can be enormously passionate about what colour their engines and carriages should be painted, but this enthusiasm becomes somewhat lukewarm when it comes to properly looking after their customers. One of our best experiences on a British heritage railway was on the Chosley and Walingford Railway simply because of the quality of conversation with which the volunteer station staff regailed their customers. Another memorable occasion occured during a visit to see that beautiful model of railways and 1930s rural England at Pendon Museum. Normally Pendon runs like a Swiss watch, but this time, due to an extended opening, the engines were beginning to run a little less sweetly because dirt had built up on the tracks. A model GWR 28xx 2-8-0 freight locomotive derailed its tender and became separated from its train. A member of our party managed to sound the alarm just before the locomotive pulled its off the rails tender through some complex and very delicate pointwork, with potentially catastrophic results. We were rewarded for our efforts by a most comprehensive detailed explanation of what went on ‘behind the scenes’ at Pendon with none of our questions left unanswered. We all had a wonderful time.

But we don’t all visit railway locations just for the quality of the conversation. Mr and Mrs Colin Lea devised an 18 point scoring system in order to rate the North Wales narrow gauge railways that they visited on their holiday.

Marks out of 5 for the following

  • Loco variety
  • Parking
  • Cafe
  • Shop
  • Carriage comfort
  • Staff friendliness/helpfulness
  • Days open in the year
  • Publicity
  • Walks
  • Revisit potential
  • On board service
  • Attractions along the line
  • Facilities for kids
  • Photography opportunities
  • Engines in use at peak
  • and up to 5 extra for special things such as being offered a footplate ride

plus marks out of 10 for the following:

  • Views
  • Interest along the length of the railway

I wonder what criteria you would use to score your own heritage railway experiences. Anyway, here are the results of the Lea review. (Click on railway to see their detailed comments and photos.)

  1. Ffestiniog Railway
  2. Talyllyn Railway
  3. Welsh Highland Railway (Caernarfon)
  4. Bala Lake Railway
  5. Llanberis Lake Railway
  6. Fairbourne Railway
  7. Welsh Highland Railway (Porthmadog)
  8. Great Orme Tramway
  9. Llechwedd
  10. Corris Railway

It was interesting that using the Lea points system the Corris Railway came last. Yet they reported, Both staff and cafe scored very highly – very friendly people, a relaxed atmosphere and the best cup of tea we had all holiday. We do wonder how the Leas would score the heritage railway sites in Poland.

Bieszczady Railway gets ready for season

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Track on the Wola Michowa – Lupkow section of the BR emerges from the undergrowth after more than 10 years.

The Bieszczady Forest Railaway is Poland’s premier narrow gauge railway. It was the first Polish railway to be preserved and achieves some 100,000 passenger journeys each year. The line has an excellent website with many photographs. The WWW pages sport a competent English translation. The line is one of the few Polish heritage railways that has achieved security of tenure. In 1997, the Fundacja Bieszczadzkiej Kolejki Lesnej (Bieszczady Forestry Railway Foundation) managed to acquire the railway, the associated land and buildings and some – but not all the former rolling stock – from the Polish Forestry Commission.

In some ways the line resembles the Talyllyn Railway in North Wales. Both lines run through an amazingly beautiful landscape, mountainous yet lush and verdant. After over a hundred years of doing without, the TR has only relatively recently fitted its trains with continuous brakes, the BR has yet to do so.

Talyllyn Railway

Bieszczady Railway

Spot the difference – the TR in North Wales and BR in Bieszczady

However, there are differences. The Talyllyn Railway relies heavily on its volunteers, the BR on its – seasonally employed – paid staff. The future of the TR – the first preserved railway in the world – is secure. The BR, like all Polish narrow gauge lines, operates on a financial tightrope. It only needs the Polish government to create one more thoughtless railway regulation – Polish heritage railways are the most regulated in Europe – and the delicate financial balance of the railway would be plunged into crisis.

Revenue from BR’s popular tourists trains covers operating expenses and generate a small surplus which the Foundation invests in repairing the track and rolling stock. In addition the BR, with financial help from the Carpathian Foundation, had started the task of restoring the disused 7km of track from Wola Michowa – to the standard gauge station at Lupkow. But spiralling prices meant that there was not enough money in the kitty to complete the job and the extension has been suspended. The rebuild of the Foundation’s Kp4 0-8-0 steam locomotive, a class which once ran on the line, has also been put on hold for lack of cash.

Most of Poland’s narrow gauge railways haul their tourist trains with diesel locos and the BR, which employs Lyd2’s for the purpose, is no exception to the general rule. It’s a pity that a Kp4 in working order was taken by the Warsaw Railway Museum from the BR to work the Sochaczew Museum Railway. It’s an even greater pity that Mr Sankowski, the director of the museum, does not see the mutual benefit which would accrue if the locomotive was allowed to return to the BR. The BR’s diminutive LAS 0-6-0T is not powerful enough to haul regular passenger trains on the line’s steep gradients, although it is sometimes employed on short special trains.

This year’s season on the Bieszczady Railway starts on May 1st. You’ll find the current timetable here. There’s plenty to see, both on the line and in the glorious countryside. The BR is certainly a line that I recommend checking out.