Tickets for the annual Steam Gala on 30th August to 1st September are now on sale. Save on the weekend prices by purchasing your Rover Tickets on-line.
Full-line steam-hauled trains headed by “Countess” and “Joan”, with short-turn diesel goods and passenger service to Cyfronydd. Lots of attractions including steam road vehicles at Welshpool and Llanfair, together with traders, model railway exhibits, pump trolley, demonstrations and the new Llanfair Connections museum opening for the first time. Musical entertainment, buskers, Saturday night photography and beer served at “The Earl”.
Please note that owing to the work required to get our visiting Austrian locomotive “Zillertal” inspected and ready to run, it will likely not be able to steam at Gala, but it will be on display in the workshop along with 699.01” Sir Drefaldwyn” in the final stages of its overhaul. Keep an eye out for news announcing “Zillertal's” readiness to work passenger trains.
Llanfair Line celebrates success of Disability First project
30th July 2019
A celebration at the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway’s Llanfair Caereinion station on Sunday (28th July) marked the successful completion of the line’s ‘Disability First’ project, a major investment that has helped open up the popular Mid-Wales tourist attraction to less-able visitors.
In early 2016 the W&LLR was awarded £42,500 as part of the £1 million Heritage and Community Rail Tourism Innovation competition, run by the Challenge Fund of the Department for Transport and the Rail Safety & Standards Board (RSSB). The railway’s Disability First project aimed to improve access to trains for wheelchair-bound passengers – at the time the restricted dimensions of the narrow-gauge rolling stock and the use of wheelchair ramps meant that only manual wheelchairs could be accepted on trains.
The funding firstly allowed the W&LLR to invest in two specialist wheelchair lifts, which were based at its two terminal stations and immediately proved both more comfortable for visitors to use and easier and safer for the railway’s volunteer train crews to operate.
Phase two of the project, expertly managed by W&LLR member Philip Crook, saw the line’s two former Hungarian State Railways ‘MAV’ bogie carriages sent for modifications at specialist Rampart Engineering, in Barrow Hill near Chesterfield.
Each carriage had one of its end balconies extended to allow access to the larger wheelchairs now used by most people with mobility issues. The doors and internal layout of the carriages were also changed, the former fixed seating replaced by tip-up versions.
“The new seats allow total flexibility which was an important part of the project,” said W&LLR general manager Charles Spencer; “We want our less-able travellers to enjoy a fully inclusive journey, not segregated into their own compartment.”
The two carriages were also repainted with funding from W&LLR resources, while the grant also covered the building of accommodation for the wheelchair lifts when not in use, and advertising and media coverage in publications catering specially for the disabled audience.
One of the modified carriages went into service in 2018 and the other joined it in time for the start of the 2019 season. The W&LLR has since seen a significant increase in the number of people visiting who would not otherwise have been able to travel, and comments on the lifts and carriage space have been universally positive.
“It has not just been wheelchair users who have welcomed the changes,” said Charles. “Many less able-bodied visitors, those using walkers or canes for example and who otherwise would struggle with the carriage steps, have been able to stand on the lifts and rise to carriage level in safety and comfort.”
At Llanfair on Sunday the official conclusion of the project was marked by the High Sheriff of Powys, David Lloyd Peate, cutting a symbolic barrier ribbon across the entrance to one of the carriages.
“This project is already a huge success,” Mr Peate said. “I have seen the smiles and delight on the faces of those who have already used the lifts, including the families of wheelchair users as they are being elevated onto the carriages.
“This has been a big investment for the W&LLR which will open up new experiences for so many people, and I congratulate the railway for taking the initiative.”
Charles Spencer paid tribute to the W&LLR members who ensured the project went ahead, including the line’s appeals director Iain McLean who made the successful grant application, and Philip Crook who oversaw the design and modification of the carriages.
“This was a project properly managed and delivered to plan – it will enable more visitors to travel in comfort with us, which we are delighted about, while the railway will also benefit as a result,” Charles added.
Anyone requiring more information on the W&LLR’s facilities for less-able visitors can read the railway’s Access Statement on the website, www.wllr.org.uk, email info [at] wllr.org.uk or call 01938 810441.
The railway is currently in its peak season, running every day until the end of August and in September on every day except Monday and Friday. The website also includes full timetable details.
Llanfair Line to host Austrian narrow gauge locomotive in UK
14th July 2019
The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway has signed a contract with the Zillertalbahn in Austria which will see the Mid-Wales line hire newly overhauled U-class 0-6-2T locomotive, No. 2 ‘Zillertal’, for approximately two years.
The agreement will further cement a relationship between the two 2ft 6in gauge railways that dates back to the earliest years of the W&LLR’s preservation, when the Zillertalbahn donated four carriages to the Mid-Wales line.
The W&LLR is the longest and one of only three 2ft 6in gauge lines operating in the UK, and it is believed that a U-class locomotive has never run in this country before. Zillertal will also be the oldest locomotive on the line during its stay – built in 1900, it is two years senior to the W&LLR’s original locomotives ‘The Earl’ and ‘The Countess’, both of which were built in 1902 for the 1903 opening of the line and still operate on it.
Zillertal was one of two locomotives built for the opening of the Zillertalbahn and has always been based on the community-owned railway, which runs nearly 32km from the mainline at Jenbach to its terminus at Mayrhofen. Two other steam locomotives operate a mid-day heritage service on the line, alongside regular diesel railcar services.
The U-Class has been under major overhaul over the winter and was first steamed successfully on 24th May. Earlier this month representatives from the W&LLR’s mechanical engineering department travelled to Austria to observe further testing, which proved equally successful.
Assuming that the remaining testing, crew training and final contract arrangements proceed as planned, the locomotive is expected to arrive in Wales around the end of July, and following further testing on the W&LLR Zillertal should enter service on the railway’s service trains in the summer.
The locomotive is also set to play a starring role at the W&LLR’s annual Steam Gala between 30th August and 1st September. At this event it will be paired with its former carriages to form the ‘Austrian Train’.
SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT - 'ZILLERTAL' - 9 AUGUST 2019
We regret that it is most unlikely that we'll be able to complete "fitness to run" work and testing for visiting Austrian locomotive 'Zillertal' before this year's gala event. Therefore, at present, we're not planning for 'Zillertal' to be in steam during the event, though it will be part of the workshop display along with newly re-wheeled 'Sir Drefaldwyn'. We'll keep you updated via this web page and social media of any changes to the situation.
The four open-balconied carriages donated to the W&LLR by the Zillertalbahn arrived in Wales at a time when the Welsh line was desperately in need of more passenger accommodation. They immediately became very popular with travellers and have formed the backbone of passenger services ever since. A fifth carriage arrived in 1975 and the W&LLR’s collection of Austrian passenger vehicles has been further bolstered by other carriages from the Salzkammergut Lokalbahn (SKGLB).
The hire of the U-class will not only provide a new and major attraction on the W&LLR but also relieve pressure on the home locomotive fleet while several key engines are out of service under overhaul.
No. 699.01 ‘Sir Drefaldwyn’, built in 1944 for the German military but which spent all of its pre-preservation life in Austria, is not expected out of the railway’s workshops until the end of 2019. Original Beyer Peacock No. 1 The Earl has already been taken to the Vale of Rheidol Railway at Aberystwyth for overhaul, and is expected back at Llanfair in the middle of the 2020 season, while the Ziller hire period will also cover a planned start to the overhaul of the popular former Sierra Leone Railway Hunslet 2-6-2 No. 85 – it is hoped that this will begin as soon as Sir Drefaldwyn is completed.
W&LLR general manager Charles Spencer, who has led the hire negotiations, says that the Welsh line has always valued the historical connection with the Zillertalbahn. “It has been a pleasure working with them on preparations, and it has also been an ambition to bring an iconic U-class to the UK, using its Alpine technology to haul its former carriages up the steep gradients on our line.”
Wolfgang Stoehr, head of the Zillertalbahn’s operating company Zillertaler Verkehrsbetriebe AG, is also looking forward to the completion of arrangements, saying; “Our workshop has done an excellent job overhauling our No. 2; while our other two engines handle our popular daily steam service in the season, it will be exciting to see Zillertal represent our railway with its former carriages in Wales.”
100+ performers to join ‘first of kind’ theatre event
25th June 2019
More than 100 local actors and performers are now confirmed for a dramatic experience on the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway billed as the first ever to take place in Britain.
‘Theatre from the Train’ on 7th July will feature at least a dozen events happening along the eight-mile length of the Llanfair Line, entertaining passengers who have pre-booked tickets on one of the five special steam trains operating.
Superheroes, undead zombies and friendly characters from ‘The Wind in the Willows’ will appear along the route, together with choirs and musicians playing at stations.
Gunfire will be heard at level crossings where re-enactment societies will put their historic weaponry to use, while passing trains will be menaced by Martians that have invaded the Earth.
Junior actors with Montgomeryshire Youth Theatre will perform alongside experienced older hands as a host of local performance groups and societies come together. And organisers say there is still time for others to come forward if they wish to participate.
Inspiration for the event came from Germany, where performances took place in fields bordering a main-line railway. It was thought that theatrical skills could be better displayed around the narrow gauge Welshpool & Llanfair line, where the steam trains travel at a maximum of 15mph.
Carol Davies, one of the event organisers, describes the enthusiasm of those taking place as exciting. “We gathered local groups and performers together in Welshpool Town Hall last year and the ideas flew around – now it’s all coming together and it’s going to be a unique day,” she said.
“Nothing like this has ever been organised before in Britain, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if other heritage railways decide to copy our idea.
“We are praying for good weather because many of our actors are going to spend a long day outside in the countryside. But I know they are getting prepared with umbrellas and gazebos just in case the sun doesn’t smile on us.
“Our special thanks go to local farmers who are lending us their fields alongside the railway to use as performance areas. Their response to our requests has been great.
Groups participating in the event include:
Castle Belles Choir
Llanymynech Golf Club (ladies section)
Montgomeryshire Youth Theatre
The Cosplay Group
Llanymynech Amateur Dramatic Society
41st Foot Re-enactment Society
Signal Corps Re-enactment Group
Dennis Duggan Classic Cars
Visitors wanting to experience this one-of-a-kind experience are strongly advised to pre-book their tickets from the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway. More details can be obtained by calling 01938 810441 or from the website at http://theatrefromthetrain.org.uk
W&LLR receives Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service
2nd June 2019
The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway has been honoured with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the highest accolade a voluntary organisation can receive in the UK.
The award, often described as ‘the MBE for volunteer groups’ was announced by Buckingham Palace in a special edition of The London Gazette published today. The citation reads that the W&LLR is honoured for "Operating an eight-mile steam railway to demonstrate how it served its rural Mid-Wales community from Edwardian times."
Volunteers reopened the W&LLR as a heritage railway in 1963, seven years after the 2ft 6in gauge line was closed by British Railways. They have now been running the railway for longer than all of its previous operators combined, and have built it into one of the major tourist attractions in Mid Wales.
Even today the line has only five salaried staff – crewing of the trains, staffing the stations, maintenance and restoration of the rolling stock and track, even keeping the lineside vegetation at bay, are duties all principally carried out by a team of around 290 volunteers. These are backed up by close to 2,000 company members who while not directly working on the line support it by such means as donating to restoration appeals.
The W&LLR was nominated for the award by Stephen Kaye, the Mayor of Welshpool, and he highlighted the educational value of the railway’s activities and the benefit to the area of the more than 26,000 visitors which the line brings to the region each year.
Two long-standing and dedicated volunteers of the W&LLR were advised of the impending award in confidence and invited to a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace on 21st May. John Jacobs, a Duty Manager who volunteers on the line four days a week, said, “the railway draws volunteers from all walks of life, and it was an honour for steam fireman John Meekums and me to represent all of them on this very special occasion.”
Steve Clews, chairman of the railway and also a volunteer added; “I am delighted that our railway has received this award. This is a real honour for all those volunteers who have worked so hard over the last 60 years to make the railway what it is today.”
Tia C Jones, the Lord Lieutenant of Powys who will present the award to representatives of the W&LLR at the line later in the year, commented; “I am absolutely delighted at this well-deserved award being presented to this iconic organization in Powys.”
The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service was created in 2002 to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, and aims to recognise outstanding work by volunteer groups to benefit their local communities. Winners are announced each year on 2nd June – the anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation – and the Welshpool & Llanfair is one of 281 charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups to receive the prestigious award this year.
The number of nominations and awards has increased year on year since the awards were introduced in 2002, showing that the voluntary sector is thriving and full of innovative ideas to make life better for those around them.
Notes to editors
Lord Lieutenants represent the monarch in each of the UK’s ceremonial counties.
Any group of two or more people that has participated in voluntary work for more than three years can be nominated for the award. Full details on how to nominate are available at http://qavs.direct.gov.uk/
Nominations for the 2020 awards close on 13 September 2019.
Song with the steam on Llanfair Line
25th May 2019
Live music comes to Llanfair Caereinion on Saturday 8th June when the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway holds its first ‘Rock ‘n’ Rails’ music festival.
Between 11am and 8pm eight acts will take to the stage at Llanfair Caereinion station, with rock, country and folk all represented. Artists appearing include Hell’s Gazelles, Dan Dunlevy, Alex Worth, the Shropshire Boatmen, Blue Genes, Karnival Knowledge, Barry Williams and James Charman.
Throughout the day there will be an on-site bar and refreshments available, and the railway is encouraging visitors to ‘take the train to the gig’. Free parking will be available at Welshpool Raven Square station, with regular fares applying on trains, and at the conclusion of the festival a special evening train will run from Llanfair Caereinion to Welshpool to return festival goers to their cars.
Organising the festival with the W&LLR is Stewart Charman, who is becoming well known under his Charman Promotions banner for live music events around the Welshpool district, and who is also a volunteer on the railway. “Live music and railways go naturally together,” Stewart said. “We have attracted a wide range of music styles to our first Rock ‘n’ Rails event – there will be something for everyone.”
Rock ‘n’ Rails is the first of two major new events for 2019 on the Llanfair Line. 7th July will see ‘Theatre from the Train’ – a first on a UK railway when travellers will be treated to a wide variety of entertainment and tableaux along the entire route of the line. Organisers promise something different in every mile of the train journey, with a host of theatrical, drama and entertainment groups already signed up for the day. Pre-booking of train tickets is strongly advised for what is intended to be a once-only happening.
‘The Earl’ to be overhauled at Vale of Rheidol Railway
14th May 2019
The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway is to send one of its two original locomotives, 0-6-0T No. 822 ‘The Earl’ for a major overhaul at the Vale of Rheidol Railway’s Aberystwyth workshops, taking the engine out of a long queue for work at its home line.
Built by Manchester firm Beyer Peacock in 1902 for the opening of the W&LLR a year later, 'The Earl' and its sister locomotive ‘Countess’ have been stalwarts of the mid Wales line through its entire life. 'The Earl' hauled the first public train of the preservation era on 6th April 1963, and the two sisters worked most passenger trains until the arrival of Franco-Belge locomotive 699.01 ‘Sir Drefaldwyn’ from Austria in 1969.
'The Earl' continued to work until 1978 when major repairs became necessary, and the loco was withdrawn, afterwards going on extended display at the National Railway Museum in York, the Birmingham Railway Museum and the Great Western Society’s Steam Centre at Didcot. Mounted on a standard gauge well wagon, 'The Earl' also took part in the 1980 ‘Rocket 150’ cavalcade at Shildon celebrating 150 years since the Rainhill Trials and the advent of public steam railways.
The loco returned to the Llanfair Line in 1991 and in 1996 a Heritage Lottery Fund grant enabled a major overhaul to begin including replacement of the boiler – this work was finished in time for the W&LLR centenary celebrations in 2003.
Since then 'The Earl' has been a core member of the line’s loco fleet – in the 2018 season it ran 3,310 miles, or 32 per cent of the total engine mileage that year, before being withdrawn with a fault in October, shortly before its 10-year boiler ticket expired.
While this will be the first time the W&LLR has sent a locomotive away for an overhaul, the move is no reflection on the capabilities of the line’s own mechanical engineering department, which is extremely busy. The W&LLR workshop team are currently in the final stages of a nut-and-bolt restoration of 'Sir Drefaldwyn'; with the popular Sierra Leone Hunslet No. 14/85 in the queue for overhaul and two more locomotives coming to the end of their boiler tickets in 2020 and 2021, it was decided to accelerate the work required on 'The Earl' by having the VoR carry out the overhaul in parallel with the in-house projects.
“We considered several highly qualified suppliers for this overhaul”, said W&LLR Chief Mechanical Engineer Bruce Webber. “The Vale of Rheidol impressed us with its excellent engineering standards and very strong references from previous customers.”
As well as restoring its own 2-6-2T locomotive ‘Owain Glyndwr’ to service after many years out of use, the VoR has also recently fully overhauled the Talyllyn Railway’s Hughes 0-4-2T ‘Sir Haydn’ and is currently restoring a Baldwin 4-6-0T for the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway.
The VoR also shares a common heritage with the W&LLR. Despite a difference in gauge (the W&LLR 2ft 6in gauge, the VoR 2ft), both were operated by the Great Western Railway and later British Railways. Indeed cattle wagons built for the Rheidol line were transferred to Llanfair and on the W&LLR’s closure in 1956 one went to the Ffestiniog Railway, before being bought back by the VoR in late 2017 and restored to its original specification.
Both railways are key players on the Welsh narrow gauge scene and members of the Great Little Trains of Wales marketing group, through which they have a history of sharing information and technical expertise.
Commenting on the decision, VoR General Manager Llyr ap Iolo said that everyone at Aberystwyth is delighted with the commission. “We are proud that the W&LLR has entrusted such an iconic and historic engine to us – we will be working hard to meet the specification and timeline,” he added.
'The Earl' will be transported to Aberystwyth in June for disassembly and forwarding of the boiler to another firm for specialist work. The overhaul will start in earnest in September and a return to steam is scheduled for June 2020, in time for the busy high season on the Llanfair Line.
Dougal returns from epic global adventure
29th April 2019
The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway’s smallest steam locomotive returned to familiar rails on Thursday 18th April, after an epic seven-month adventure that involved an almost 8,000-mile round trip to the other side of the world.
Andrew Barclay 0-4-0T ‘Dougal’, built in 1946 for a gasworks in Glasgow and resident on the Llanfair Line since 1967, had set off for the Far East nation of Taiwan in September. It was fulfilling an invitation to be the star guest at the signing of a ‘Sister Railway’ co-operation agreement between the W&LLR and the Taiwan Sugar Corporation (TSC).
TSC once owned more than 40 sugar mills around Taiwan, but as sugar production has declined the corporation has diversified into other areas, and now operates five short heritage railways at former mills that it owns.
Under the agreement the W&LLR is making its knowledge and experience gained in more than 50 years of tourist railway operation available to TSC. The return benefits include technical assistance, particularly in the maintenance of the W&LLR’s Diema diesel locomotive that was purchased from TSC in 2004, and cross-level tourist promotion – the UK and especially Wales are becoming increasingly attractive destinations for travellers from the Far East.
TSC fully funded the shipping of Dougal to Taiwan for the signing ceremony on 8th December in the city of Chiayi. This formed part of the launch of the corporation’s annual Sugar Festival, which took the theme of ‘Taiwan and British Railway Culture Exchange.’
Large crowds attended the event, while the presence of Dougal and the signing ceremony, between W&LLR company secretary Michael Reilly and TSC chairman Charles Huang, resulted in extensive coverage by the Taiwan media, including several reports broadcast on national TV news.
Dougal then stayed on in Taiwan and was decorated for Christmas, while its final event before returning home was to take part in the Lantern Festival, an important celebration in the Pacific nation. For this a group of local supporters crowdfunded the making of a special Welsh Dragon lantern for the locomotive to carry, and have since donated the lantern to the W&LLR, sending it home with Dougal.
Dougal was able to be steamed, at reduced pressure, for demonstration purposes in Taiwan. But significant boiler work is required to the locomotive and currently the W&LLR cannot allocate resources, both in terms of funding and volunteer time, to carry out the repairs – particularly as Dougal is too small to haul passenger trains on the steeply graded and challenging route of the mid-Wales line.
Therefore for the present the locomotive has returned to its position in the railway’s display shed at Welshpool Raven Square station. Panels will be produced to tell the story of Dougal’s Far East adventure, and eventually the lantern will be included in a full display documenting the railway’s many global connections in a new visitor centre being created at Llanfair Caereinion station.
W&LLR marketing and publicity director Andrew Charman, who with Michael Reilly attended the Sugar Festival in December as the guests of TSC, described the visit of Dougal as a major success. “We have gained global recognition for our railway while making a host of new and valued friends in Taiwan,” Andrew said.
He added; “TSC has obviously taken the greatest of care of our little locomotive. It has been returned to us in pristine condition, and will certainly impress visitors to our display shed at Raven Square until such time as we can allocate the resources to return Dougal to steam.”
Celebrating a Welsh railway link with Africa
25th April 2019
The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway marks Sierra Leone Independence Day on Saturday 27 April with Sierra Leone carriages in the train, guests from the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum, a performance by a bagpiper of the national anthems, plus special displays and activities.
What's the connection? In 1975, when the W&L was looking to augment its passenger fleet with carriages for its unusual gauge of 2'6", it procured British-built carriages and a Hunslet steam engine from the Sierra Leone Railway which had closed the previous year. The engine served the W&L for many years and is now on display at Llanfair Caereinion, awaiting its turn for a major overhaul in the railway's workshops. The carriages at the W&L, part of a gift from the UK to Sierra Leone to mark independence in 1961, comprise a third class seating and a first class with just sixteen elegant upholstered chairs.
The W&L treasures its links with the African country and some of its members are also active with the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum. Two officials from the Museum will be guests of the W&L on Saturday.
Both the carriages will be in the timetabled train which will make three round trips between Llanfair Caereinion and Welshpool on Saturday. Seating in the first class carriage will be first come, first served at no extra charge, but visitors will be asked to travel only one way in this special carriage. Unfortunately dogs may not travel in the first class carriage and due to space limitations wheelchair users and pushchairs will have to be accommodated elsewhere on the train. W&L members' free travel is not valid in the first class carriage.
In addition to displays and activities about the fascinating story of Sierra Leone and how the W&LLR came to be part of its history, the tearoom at Llanfair Caereinion will be celebrating with a dish called "binch", a spicy vegetarian soup which is a speciality of Sierra Leone.
Easter Bunny answers sound of Llanfair Line whistles
13th April 2019
Steam whistles are sounding in the Banwy Valley again, the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway having opened its full 2019 operating season on Saturday, 13th April.
For the past couple of years the popular mid-Wales tourist attraction has run February ‘Winter Warmer’ trains over half its route, between Llanfair Caereinion and Castle Caereinion, to cater for school half-term visitors, but the full season traditionally begins just before Easter. The trains are running again, just in time to welcome a visitor expecially popular with children.
Over the Easter weekend, 20th to 22nd April, the Easter Bunny will be much in evidence around the line and children travelling on the train will be encouraged to spot the Easter Eggs placed en route, and on arrival at Llanfair collect their own free chocolate egg from the Bunny.
The Easter Bunny’s visit will be just the first of a number of special events the railway will run over the 2019 season. Some, such as the Vintage Weekends, Fish & Chips and Welsh Tea trains will be familiar, but there are new events too. These include a ‘Rock n’ Rails’ music festival at Llanfair on 8th June, and ‘Theatre from the Train’ on 7th July when travellers will be treated to a wide variety of entertainment and tableaux along the entire route of the line.
Over the winter the railway’s mostly volunteer workforce has been busy on essential but mostly unseen maintenance work, to ensure the line is ready for the new season. Major work undertaken out in the cold winter weather has included the dismantling and refurbishment of a bridge near Llanfair and essential groundwork for the extension to the railway’s stock sheds at Welshpool Raven Square.
Meanwhile in the Llanfair workshops teams have been busy on the extensive winter maintenance required on operating steam locomotives ‘Countess’ and ‘Joan’, while continuing the restoration of No.699.01 ‘Sir Drefaldwyn’ which it is hoped will return to service late in 2019.