A summer event planned for the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway is expected to transform the countryside of the Banwy Valley as never before.
While the fields will still be full of sheep, some of them might be pantomime sheep. A lost Roman legion may march on Castle Caereinion. And the appearance of invaders from space may herald a frightening future for Llanfair.
Of course it’s all for fun and entertainment – special Sunday trains are to be run by the Llanfair Line on 7th July, during which travellers will be treated to what is thought to be Britain’s first ever ‘Theatre from the Train’.
Frequent train departures will allow travellers to view the wild goings-on along the railway’s eight-mile route and these will be matched by colourful events at the stations in Llanfair Caereinion, Castle Caereinion and Welshpool Raven Square.
The event has the support of Welshpool Town Council and has secured sponsorship from the Welshpool-based Potter Group.
Organisers are planning for choirs, musicians and street entertainers to join a host of amateur artistes, young and old, to create a spectacle that will be remembered for years. Several groups have already signed up for the event – anyone interested in joining them and putting on a show is being asked to contact the railway now.
“It looks as though passengers on our special trains may be listening to the beautiful music of the harp one moment, and witnessing an invasion of zombies the next – anything is possible,” says W&LLR member Carol Davies, who is organising the event on behalf of the railway.
“Since the idea of Theatre from the Train was first put forward we have had some great suggestions put to us from local people, some with experience of performing and some with none at all.
“We’ve heard from music societies, drama groups, young farmers, a ladies golf team, and many individuals with imaginative ideas.
Carol adds that to her knowledge an entertainment of this kind has never been tried in Britain before; “We are in unchartered territory, but we are open to ideas from everyone and the Welsh countryside provides a huge open-air theatre space.
“We would like to hear from anyone who has an entertaining idea, whether it’s for a solo act or a dramatic group performance.”
A meeting for anyone with an interest in taking part in Theatre From a Train will be held from 7.00pm at Welshpool Town Hall on Friday, 11th January. Potential participants can also contact Penny Jones for information at penny400 [at] outlook.com
Keep an eye on this website for further details leading up to the event.
Llanfair Line and locomotive Dougal star in Taiwan
15th December 2018
A small piece of Wales made a big impression in the Far East on Saturday 8th December, when the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway signed a ‘Sister Railway’ co-operation agreement with the Taiwan Sugar Corporation (TSC).
The signing ceremony was held in the city of Chiayi as part of the launch of TSC’s annual Sugar Festival, which for 2018 is taking a theme of ‘Taiwan and British Railway Culture Exchange.’
Star of the Festival is the mid-Wales heritage railway’s 0-4-0T tank engine ‘Dougal’. The Andrew Barclay locomotive, built in 1946 for a gasworks in Glasgow and resident on the Welsh line since 1967, was specially shipped to Taiwan for the event by TSC.
First connections between the W&LLR and TSC were made in 2004 when the Welsh line purchased a 1979-built Diema diesel locomotive from the corporation. Then after the W&LLR signed a sister railway agreement in 2017 with the Alishan Forest Railway, another major line in Taiwan, TSC suggested similar co-operation.
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, while the return benefits include technical assistance, particularly in the maintenance of the W&LLR’s Diema, and cross-level tourist promotion – the UK and Wales are now becoming increasingly attractive destinations for travellers from the Far East.
TSC suggested the visit of Dougal to the sugar festival, and this proved a very popular move – this year’s first festival weekend attracted large crowds of visitors. The presence of Dougal and the signing ceremony, between W&LLR company secretary Michael Reilly and TSC chairman Charles Huang, was covered extensively in the Taiwan media, including several reports on national TV news.
“The level of interest in our little locomotive and our railway that we saw in Taiwan was quite incredible,” said W&LLR markeitng and publicity director Andrew Charman. He and Michael Reilly attended the festival as the guests of TSC, Andrew also making a presentation on the W&LLR to an international railway forum held the day before the signing ceremony.
“The railway’s profile has certainly been raised in this increasingly important market, as has that of Wales as a nation and a tourist destination for Far-East travellers,” Andrew added. “We have already had meaningful discussions with TSC as to how both parties can see further significant benefits from our co-operation.”
W&LLR chairman Steve Clews was disappointed to be unable to attend the ceremony due to a prior commitment, but he recorded a video message of welcome that was played at the event. “We are very pleased to be entering into this relationship with our friends from TSC and we look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relaitonship,” Steve said.
Dougal is expected to remain in Taiwan for at least six months. Further events involving the locomotive to benefit both TSC and the W&LLR are currently under discussion.
Railway marks Armistice with special trains and ceremony
3rd November 2018
The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway’s main operating season ends on Sunday 4th November but a week later two special trains will run to commemorate the Armistice that ended the 1914-18 Great War.
To mark the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, the railway will run separate trains from Welshpool and Llanfair Caereinion to meet at Castle Caereinion for a brief ceremony.
In order to accommodate other events organised on Armistice Day by the respective branches of the Royal British Legion, trains will depart each terminus at 1.15pm on Sunday, 11th November. They will be piped into Castle Caereinion station, where the Last Post and Reveille will be sounded along with a performance of the renowned poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’. Each train will arrive back at its departing station at 2.25pm.
Subject to availability, one of the locomotives rostered on these services will be No. 823 ‘Countess’, built in 1902 for the opening of the line, and which operated during both wars.
The fare is a flat £5 per person for the return trip to Castle. However, anyone wearing their own earned medals will travel free, as will anyone whose family name appears on the War Memorials at Llanfair Caereinion, Castle Caereinion or Welshpool.
The tearoom at Llanfair Caereinion and the station at Welshpool Raven Square will be open for hot and cold drinks and confections from 12 noon to 3pm.
“The railway was opened in 1903 and supported the local community through both World Wars”, said W&LLR general manager Charles Spencer. “As the son of parents who both served in the Canadian forces during the Second World War, I am very proud to be honouring those from this area who served.”
Welshpool & Llanfair trains are accessible for wheelchair users at both terminal stations. However, passengers with mobility issues should not alight at Castle Caereinion but observe the ceremony from their carriages. There will be heated carriages on both trains.
Please note that it will not be possible to make a journey from Welshpool to Llanfair Caereinion and back. The railway also requests that uniforms are worn only by those entitled to do so, out of respect for serving personnel. The railway is grateful for the support of Welshpool Town Council in mounting this commemoration.
Following the commemoration the W&LLR will then be closed for the winter, the next trains the popular Santa Specials on 9th, 15th, 16th, 22nd and 23rd December. More details of these can be found on the website at www.wllr.org.uk, while intending travellers requiring more informaiton on the Armistice trains can also call the railway on 01938 810441.
Dougal heads for Far East
25th September 2018
A narrow-gauge locomotive normally resident at the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway is to visit the Far East as part of a new co-operation agreement between the mid-Wales line and the Taiwan Sugar Corporation (Taisugar).
Andrew Barclay 0-4-0T ‘Dougal’, built in 1946 to work at a gasworks in Glasgow, and acquired in 1969 by the W&LLR’s then general manager, will be spending around six months in Taiwan, during which it will be a star guest at a major festival in December.
The initiative is the result of a twinning arrangement that has been agreed between the W&LLR and Taisugar. Similar to an agreement signed in 2017 between the Welsh line and the Alishan Railway, another major line in Taiwan, the twinning promotes long-term mutual co-operation and exchange between the two railways.
The Taiwan Sugar Corporation once owned more than 40 mills around the country, but as sugar production has declined it has diversified into other areas, and Taisugar now operates five short heritage railways at former mills that it owns.
Part of the agreement will see the W&LLR providing the benefits of experience gained in more than 50 years of tourist railway operation to Taisugar, while the return benefits will include technical assistance, particularly in the maintenance of 1979-built Diema diesel loco no 17, which the Welsh line purchased from Taisugar in 2004. Cross-level tourist promotion will also be undertaken at a time when the UK is becoming increasingly attractive desitnations for travellers from the Far East.
The W&LLR board has also agreed to Taisugar’s request to send Dougal to Taiwan on a six-month loan, in order for the loco to appear at the annual Sugar Festival in December – the major celebration of the sugar industry’s year. The theme of this year’s Festival is to be ‘Taiwan and British Railway Culture Exchange.’
While basically in working order, Dougal has not run on the W&LLR since 2013, when significant and expensive boiler work was deemed necessary. As the loco’s small size prevents it being used for passenger traffic, it has remained out of use since with the line’s limited resources necessarily focused on the front-line fleet.
A member of the W&LLR’s engineering team will travel to Taiwan to oversee the locomotive’s unloading and a technical inspection by Taisugar. The sugar company has indicated that depending on the results of this inspection an offer may be made to carry out work on Dougal to bring it up to operating condition. No work will commence until the W&LLR has been fully consulted and agreed to what extent, if any, restoration should be undertaken.
All costs of Dougal’s visit to Taiwan are being fully met by Taisugar, and there will be no call upon the resources of the W&LLR at a time when the railway is fully committed to both current maintenance and future development of the line.
W&LLR chairman Steve Clews has welcomed the agreement with Taisugar, and the bold move to send Dougal to Taiwan. “We are already seeing benefits from our twinning agreement with the Alishan line and we would expect similar benefits to both sides from an agreement with Taisugar, particularly in the areas of promoting tourism,” Steve said.
“As Dougal is currently unable to work on our railway, the visit to Taiwan will enable the loco to make a major contribution to both cementing our growing relations with Taiwan and in promoting the W&LLR to the increasingly important Far East tourism market.”
Dougal will depart for Taiwan later this month. More updates will follow as the visit progresses.
Railway Gala promises Superb sight at Welshpool
22nd August 2018
The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway is now well into its summer timetable with trains running every day, while members of the line are preparing to welcome back a visitor for the big enthusiast event of the year.
Making a triumphant return visit to the W&LLR Steam Gala on 30th August to 1st September will be the locomotive ‘Superb’, kindly loaned to the railway by the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway in Kent. The Bagnall 0-6-2T loco, built in 1940 for service at the Bowaters paper mill at Sittingbourne, proved a big success on its initial visit to Wales last year.
For this year’s Gala Superb is planned to be used more extensively, including for the first time taking charge of passenger services over the whole line, including ascending the 1 in 29 Golfa bank out of Welshpool. There are also set to be some double-heading turns with one of the Llanfair line’s resident engines, most likely Kerr Stuart 0-6-2ST ‘Joan’ which is effectively a sister design to Superb.
A very different form of rail transport will also be visiting from the Sittingbourne line. A hand pump trolley will be stationed on the bay platform line at Welshpool Raven Square station.
The intensive three-day timetable also includes an evening train on Saturday, a lovely way to get a different perspective on the line.
Raven Square will host a miniature railway, miniature road steam engines, a model railway exhibition in the display shed and various railway-themed stalls. From here trains will be running on an intensive timetable to Llanfair Caereinion where there will be a host of further attractions.
Llanfair highlights will include displays in the workshop, traction engines and other vehicles in the yard, and a large 16mm layout and model engineering display in the former Colinette industrial unit adjacent to the station. A Real Ale bar will be available, as will refreshments from the tearoom, bacon rolls in the morning and a burger van on Saturday evening.
The station will also be linked by a free bus to the separate-entry Garden Railway show that will be held on Saturday and Sunday at Llanfair High School. This show, traditionally held alongside the Gala, features large-scale models, many steam powered.
Parking at either of the railway’s terminus stations will be charged at £3 per car, and a free double-decker bus shuttle will connect Raven Square with other carparks in Welshpool.
New this year will be a brochure/guide to the Gala – this will be on sale at the railway’s stations and will also be available from the Welshpool Tourist Information Centre from just before the event.
“The Gala is entirely run by volunteers and is always a highlight of the railway’s year”. said W&LLR general manager Charles Spencer. “We try to ‘get out all the toys’, and having two visiting vehicles from our friends at Sittingbourne is a great pleasure.”
Llanfair line offers child’s fare treat to Fathers’ Day dads
11th June 2018
Children will be able to give their dads a Fathers’ Day treat by taking them for a ride on the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway on Sunday 17th June, while not spending too much of their pocket money.
On that day fathers who travel on the popular mid-Wales steam railway with one or more of their children will pay only £4.50 return for each ticket, the standard fare for children aged 3-15 (as always, children under three travel free). This compares to the standard adult return fare of £13.70.
And it doesn’t matter how old the dads are – if a grandfather, father and child all ride together they will need only three £4.50 tickets. And any great-grandfathers that visit on the day will get a ticket for free.
Any dads that come along for the Fathers’ Day trip will also be offered a tour of the sheds at Llanfair, to see part of our collection of locomotives, carriages and wagons. Unfortunately we can’t take children into the sheds, but perhaps mum could help out here?
The 17th June timetable features two return trips from Welshpool Raven Square, at 11.15 and 14.05, and three from Llanfair Caereinion at 10.00, 13.00 and 15.30. We expect the day to be busy, so dads wanting to take advantage of the offer are advised to guarantee their space by booking online at www.wllr.org.uk, where the child’s ticket is only £4.00. Dads should just book themselves a child’s ticket along with the tickets for their children.
The railway is now operating five days a week – trains are running every day except Monday and Friday – more details are on the timetable page. And the tearoom at Llanfair Caereinion station is open every day.
Visitors travelling on the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway will enjoy the benefits of a £42,500 project from this weekend – especially those who suffer from mobility issues.
In May 2016 the mid-Wales heritage line won a £42,500 Government Grant to improve access to its trains for wheelchair-bound visitors. The grant, announced by then Minister for Rail Claire Perry MP, was made 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 Llanfair Line’s ‘Disability First’ project, combining carriage modifications and platform lifts to allow visitors in wheelchairs to board and alight from most service trains in comfort and safety, was one of 17 winners announced by the Government.
Disability First sought to address access issues for wheelchair users, always a challenge for heritage railway operators as the passenger carriages on such lines were built long before society recognized the importance of disabled access. That challenge is increased on narrow gauge railways such as the W&LLR, due to the more restricted dimensions of the carriages and lower platforms.
The first phase of the project saw portable platform lifts purchased for Welshpool and Llanfair stations, allowing much more effective access for motorised wheelchairs to most of the line’s carriages. These lifts came into full use for the 2018 season and have proved highly popular with passengers, both those using wheelchairs and those with limited mobility who find the steps up into the carriages a challenge.
Phase two is focusing on the Llanfair Line’s two most heavily-used bogie carriages, built in the 1950s for the Hungarian State Railways (MAV) and highly popular with travellers due to their large viewing windows. The plans involved modifying the balcony at one end of each vehicle and redesigning the internal layout by fitting tip-up seats to accommodate more of the larger wheelchairs that have become more common in recent times.
In February MAV carriage No. 418 was dispatched to Rampart Engineering at Barrow Hill, Derbyshire, for the modifications to be made, along with a general refurbishment and repaint. Following completion of the work, carefully monitored by W&LLR member Phil Crook, the vehicle was returned to the railway on Monday 21st May ready for a return to service on 26th May. The lorry that brought MAV 418 home then loaded sister carriage MAV 430 to be taken to Rampart for similar treatment.
Everyone at the W&LLR is delighted with the work done by Rampart, which as well as greatly easing access for those with mobility issues also presents a much-better looking carriage for all passengers. The green external paintwork is much brighter and glossier than the previous colour worn by the carriage, while remaining historically accurate.
W&LLR Appeals Director Iain McLean, who helped secure the grant, said that the financial support by the DfT and RSSB to improve access for those with mobility challenges had been very welcome. “We want to be able to welcome everyone to our railway, to fulfill our mandate to educate the public about the railway and the important role it played in this agricultural community,” Iain added.
The W&LLR now plans a programme to communicate the improved facilities to wheelchair users and disabled access groups and to encourage them to enjoy the 16-mile return journey through lovely Mid-Wales countryside. The MAV carriages are rostered in most but not all trains – intending passengers can check by calling 01938 810441. Visitors are also welcome in the Llanfair Caereinion tearoom and in the fully accessible stations at each end of the line, where disabled parking is available. Any intending visitor with mobility challenges can access the railway’s access statement at www.wllr.org.uk/access-statement or call 01938 810441 to confirm that their wheelchair can be accommodated.
Trains run on the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway at weekends from Easter to October and during the week from May to September. The regular timetable and special events calendar are available on this website.
Sierra Leone independence celebrated on mid Wales rails
22nd April 2018
Leading Mid-Wales tourst attraction the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway will be staging a new special event on Saturday 28th April, celebrating the anniversary of a small West African nation.
Remarkably the Llanfair line has a strong connection with Sierra Leone, today owning a complete train brought to Wales from the African nation in 1975, and on Saturday the line will be running specific stock and mounting displays to celebrate Sierra Leone independence day.
Sierra Leone gained independence on 27th April 1961 after more than 100 years of British rule. To equip the country for independence the British Government carried out infrastructure refurbishment, including significant repairs to the railway which ran 227 miles into the mountainous country.
A full rake of new carriages was ordered from Gloucester Carriage & Wagon Company and delivered to Sierra Leone in 1961. These became known as the 'Independence Coaches'. However in 1968 a decision to close the Sierra Leone Railway was taken as a result of advice from the World Bank – the railway was gradually phased out, with the final passenger train operating on 17th November 1974.
In 1975 the Welshpool & Llanfair was seeking to increase its passenger fleet and became aware that equipment was being disposed of in Sierra Leone. Following a visit to the capital of Freetown a substantial amount of equipment was purchased form the scrap dealer – as well as four Independence Coaches, the railway bought rail, signalling equipment, and SLR locomotive No 85, built by Hunslet in Leeds in 1954.
Until 2004 it was thought that the Llanfair vehicles were the only Independence Coaches to survive. However, while on military duty in Sierra Leone in 2004, following the end of the ten-year civil war, British Army Colonel Steve Davies rediscovered locomotives and rolling stock that had been saved from scrap and hidden away in the hope that they would one day become part of the national collection. Among this stock were two more Independence Coaches, which are now on display at the National Railway Museum that Col Davies subsequently helped set up in Freetown.
One of the Llanfair coaches was subsequently sold to the South Tynedale Railway for conversion to a buffet car, and another was dismantled for spare parts, but the other two are still in use, having been restored to their original condition – one, a first-class vehicle, is fitted with 16 white leather armchairs. The two Independence coaches in Freetown are unrestored and require significant work to bring them back to their former glory.
So on 28th April, the Welshpool & Llanfair will celebrate Sierra Leone independence, in partnership with the UK-based Friends of Sierra Leone National Railway Museum, who actively support progress at the museum. The third-class coach will be operating as part of the passenger trains, whilst the elegant first-class carriage will be available to visit at Welshpool Station.
Locomotive No 85 has been out of service since 2010 in need of significant boiler work, but went on a national tour in 2017 – promoting both the Welshpool & Llanfair and Sierra Leone, the tour was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. This loco will be on display at Llanfair Caerenion station while it awaits its turn for restoration to service.
The event will also feature displays and activities sharing the fascinating story of Sierra Leone and how the W&LLR came to be part of its history.
“Come and ride in a unique railway carriage and learn more about this special connection,” W&LLR general manager Charles Spencer said. “Regular fares and discounts apply – and the day will provide much of interest to visitors.”
Snow can’t stop steam railway’s Easter Bunny
19th March 2018
Leading Mid-Wales tourst attraction the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway is looking forward to opening its 55th season as a heritage line on 24th March, after a winter of hard work punctutated by some special new trains.
The railway’s first-ever Winter Warmer services in February, running to the intermediate station of Castle Caereinion during the two weeks of school half terms, proved a major success and thankfully were concluded just before the district was hit by very heavy snow.
Now, however, staff and volunteers are looking forward to reopening the full eight miles of line between Welshpool and Llanfair Caereinion, after having carried out a great deal of hard maintenance work over the winter. The major task completed has been the relaying of a section of track leading out of Welshpool Raven Square, the largely volunteer track gang working in the worst of the winter weather including the snow.
One of the gang’s final tasks before the line was declared fit for traffic was to dig away remaining snow drifts that more than two weeks on were still blocking short sections of the route which do not see much of the sun.
At Llanfair Caereinion just as much effort has been expended in the mechanical engineering workshop, carrying out essential winter maintenance on the three operating steam locomotives while also continuing the restoration of loco no 10 ‘Sir Drefaldwyn.’ There is always much to do in the workshop and the railway would particularly welcome new volunteers with skills in this area.
Other work carried out has included sending away one of the line’s bogie carriages for specialist modifications as part of a grant-aided project to improve facilities for wheelchair-bound passengers. The usual winter tasks of cleaning and repainting have continued apace, while the railway’s hedgebashers group has been busy clearing excessive growth of greenery and improving the views for the travelling public.
The first train of the new main season leaves Llanfair Caereinion at 10am on 24th March, and trains will also run on Sunday 25th and then daily from Tuesday 27th March until Sunday 15th April. Afterwards the railway will operate at weekends until midweek services begin in May.
Over the Easter Weekend, 31st March to 2nd April, the W&LLR will be running its Easter Bunny services. Accompanied children travelling on the train will receive a free chocolate egg, there will be eggs to spot along the route, and the Easter Bunny will be putting in an appearance too.
W&LLR spokesman Andrew Charman is looking forward to seeing steam in the Banwy Valley again, commenting, “The Easter Bunny’s visit is a sure sign that Spring is here, and that the snowy season is finished!”
Full information on the railway, including online ticket booking, can be found on this website or by calling 01938 810441.
Railway’s new wagon celebrates local family
19th July 2017
The influence of a local family on the fortunes of the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway has been celebrated in the latest open wagon to join the line’s heritage fleet.
John Lloyd Peate was a coal merchant based in Llanfair Caereinion, and when the railway opened in 1903 he ordered five private owner coal wagons from R Y Pickering & Co Ltd, the supplier of the railway’s rolling stock. Peate’s wagons carried coal between Welshpool and his Llanfair facility in the railway’s yard.
While used extensively by standard gauge companies, private owner wagons were very rare on the narrow gauge, with only the W&LLR and the Staffordshire-based Leek & Manifold Railway, closed in 1934, known to have employed them.
W&LLR members have long wanted to add an example of the Peate wagon to the heritage fleet, which replicates the type of trains that would have run in the railway’s pre-preservation days.
Among those contributing to the project were members of the Peate family, still well known in the district, and Shrewsbury-based coal factor J A Smallshaw, which supplied J Ll Peate in 1903 and still supplies the W&LLR today.
A team of volunteers led by John Bancroft built the vehicle over a period of 10 months. The wheel sets were recovered from stock on the line – one is a 1930s Great Western Railway set and the other dates from the railway’s construction in 1902. It is believed that it came from the carriages scrapped by the GWR in the 1930s.
Remarkably the axleboxes are correct original items dating from 1902 – they were acquired by the Talyllyn Railway after the W&LLR closed in 1956, and returned to Llanfair after being found during a clear-out of the TR’s workshops.
The wagon was launched into traffic with a special train on Saturday 15th July, and many members of the Peate family were present to travel on the train and to see their ‘family wagon’ make its debut.
The wagon is likely to be a popular addition to the W&LLR’s Vintage Trains, which now run as mixed rakes recalling what would have been normal practice between 1903 and the end of passenger services in 1931, and helping to fulfill part of the W&LLR’s mandate as an educational charity.
"John Bancroft and his team should be proud of the splendid reproduction they have created", said W&LLR General Manager Charles Spencer. "The railway is very grateful for their hard work, and for the generosity of members and others who made this slice of railway and local history possible."
The next Vintage Train weekends will be on 29th-30th July and 26th-27th August while the wagon will also be a vital part of the special trains run as part of the W&LLR’s annual Steam Gala on 1st-3rd September. When not running the wagon will be on show in the railway’s display shed at Welshpool station – this shed is open whenever train services are operating.