Lottery grant helps Llanfair promote African heritage
7th April 2017
Leading Mid-Wales tourist attraction the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway has launched a project to create an ‘African Train’, with the help of a £22,800 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The project will see the railway celebrating the connections it, and the UK as a whole, has with the west African nation of Sierra Leone. Under the initial phase one of the Llanfair line’s most popular locomotives will undertake a ‘Grand Tour’ of UK heritage sites, from Leeds where it was built, via London and Birmingham to the Shrewsbury Steam Rally in August.
Hunslet 2-6-2T locomotive No. 85, built in 1954 for service in Sierra Leone and purchased from a scrap dealer by the Welshpool & Llanfair in 1975, has been out of use since 2010 when its boiler ticket ran out. For the past five years the locomotive has been on display at the Locomotion Museum in Shildon – an ‘out-station’ of the National Railway Museum in York.
No. 85 has fulflled a vital role at Shildon helping to promote links with the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum. This was opened in Freetown in 2005, after British Army Colonel Steve Davies, serving in Africa following the civil war, discovered a host of British-built stock from the former Sierra Leone Government Railways stored in the line’s former workshops. The Sierra Leone museum has since forged a strong relationship with the UK National Railway Museum and today enjoys the support of a very active UK-based Friends group.
Now that No. 85’s time in Shildon is at an end, the plan is to take the locomotive on a summer tour around the UK, accompanied by a travelling museum exhibition, children’s activities for schools and families, plus interpretation items, and staffed by volunteers from the W&LLR and the Friends group.
No. 85 will be used to tell the story of slavery and freedom, and the links between the UK and Sierra Leone, while helping to raise funds for the building of a new workshop at the W&LLR’s Llanfair Caereinion base – it is intended that No. 85 will be the first locomotive to be restored in the new facility. When restored the loco will be able to form the African Train, running with two Gloucester-built Sierra Leone Railways bogie carriages that the railway also purchased in 1975.
First stop on No. 85’s Grand Tour will be the Armley Industrial Museum in Leeds, the town where the locomotive was built. It will be on show on 22nd April with the theme ‘West Riding to West Africa’, and will then travel to spend 23rd April to 7th May in Hull, the 2017 European City of Culture, where it will be displayed as part of a ‘Spotlight on Sierra Leone’ event. Hull has many connections with Africa and Sierra Leone, and is twinned with Freetown.
Between 27th May and 5th June No. 85 will be on display as part of the ‘Steam Railway Adventure’ event at the London Museum of Water & Steam at Kew Bridge, supported by the Sierra Leone museum’s UK Friends group. The locomotive will then travel to Birmingham, another city with strong Sierra Leone connections, for the 50th anniversary open weekend at Tyseley Locomotive Works on 24th-25th June.
The final stops on the Grand Tour are still being confirmed, but are expected to include a visit to Shrewsbury Steam Rally on 27th-28th August before a triumphant return to the Welshpool & Llanfair a week later as part of the annual Steam Gala on 1st-3rd September.
How quickly No. 85 will be restored to service will depend on the success of fund-raising for the railway’s ‘2020 Vision’ major developments project, that includes the building of a brand-new workshop, and the availability of volunteers to do the work. The multi-year restoration of Franco-Belge 0-8-0T ‘Sir Drefaldwyn’ is nearing completion and it is hoped that this locomotive will return to service in 2018.
Iain McLean, Vice-Chairman and Appeals Director of the W&LLR, described the awarding of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant towards the project as terrific news. “It means that we can showcase our African Train in places that are crucial to the British history of slavery and liberation – it is fitting that our locomotive will stop in Hull, the city of William Wilberforce and the abolition of the slave trade,” he said.
Chairman of the Sierra Leone museum’s Friends Group, Helen Ashby, was also delighted by the grant. “The Sierra Leone NRM and its Friends are very excited at being able to showcase SLR No. 85 as a representative of Sierra Leone at relevant venues throughout the UK,” she said.
More details of No. 85’s Grand Tour will be published as they become available.
Local resident? Ride the Llanfair Line for 14 Shillings!
22nd March 2017
Leading Mid-Wales tourist attraction the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway is looking forward to opening what will be a milestone season on Saturday 1st April, with the first special event of the year aimed especially at local people.
Over the opening weekend, anyone showing that they live in an SY21 postcode will be able to take a return trip on the line for just 70p, or 14 shillings in old money. Why 14 shillings? That is what today’s usual return fare of £13.50 would have been equivalent to in 1963, the year that the Llanfair Line reopened as a heritage railway.
The 2017 season will be the 54th in which the railway has been operated almost entirely by volunteers, overtaking the 53 years – 1903 to 1956 – that it was run commercially by the line’s three previous owners the Cambrian Railway, Great Western Railway and British Railways.
A number of celebrations are planned throughout the 2017 season, but staff and volunteers on the line feel that this first event should recognise the role the community played in building and operating the railway in its first half century.
In addition to the usual services on the printed timetable, two extra trains will run on each day of the weekend from Llanfair Caereinion to Castle Caereinion only, recreating the section operated between reopening in 1963 and the return to Welshpool finally achieved in 1981. These will leave Llanfair Caereinion at 10.25am and 1.20pm each day, pausing 10-15 minutes at Castle Caereinion while the engine runs around before returning to Llanfair – the round trip will be about one hour and five minutes.
“Today the Llanfair line is known the world over but it also remains a very important part of the local community,” said W&LLR general manager Charles Spencer. We consider it very important that we celebrate that relationship first in this milestone year.”
The opening of the new season follows much maintenance work carried out by staff and volunteers over the winter. Jobs achieved this year have included the complete renewal of the level crossing at Dolarddyn Road, while early travellers will notice much better views as they steam up the Golfa Bank from Welshpool, thanks to the clearance efforts of the W&LLR’s determined hedgebashers group.
Full information on the railway, including online ticket booking, can be found on the www.wllr.org.uk website or by calling 01938 810441. SY21 residents taking advantage of the opening weekend special offer will need to buy their tickets on the day at the booking office.
Narrow Gauge Llanfair line obtains standard gauge wagon
16th December 2016
The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway is now the proud owner of a former Great Western Railway standard gauge five-plank open wagon. The National Railway Museum has made this vehicle available as part of a rolling stock collections review.
The W&LLR intends to put the wagon on display at Welshpool Raven Square station to demonstrate the transhipment of goods that took place between the railway and the main line in pre-preservation days.
Standard gauge wagons were once common beside (although not on) the W&LLR – at the interchange with the main line at Welshpool Station, the light railway had exchange sidings over which goods were transhipped between the two railways. The former cattle docks still exist complete with a short section of mixed-gauge track, and Welshpool Town Council is planning to restore this area as a historical exhibit.
The original major reason for constructing the Welshpool & Llanfair line in 1902-03 was to connect the agricultural area surrounding Llanfair Caereinion with the important market town of Welshpool, carrying coal and other supplies up the valley and returning with livestock, timber and other agricultural products for Welshpool and other points on the main-line railway.
In a conversation with the National Railway Museum, W&LLR General Manager Charles Spencer mentioned his interest in recreating the transhipment scene at the railway’s current Welshpool terminus of Raven Square as part of the Llanfair Line’s mandate to educate the public about the railway’s history.
A transfer of ownership of former Great Western Railway wagon No. W108246, built in 1925, was arranged and the W&LLR organised transport from Shildon to Welshpool, where the wagon is to be placed on a standard gauge track panel next to a siding outside the shed in which narrow gauge heritage goods wagons are displayed.
“We are delighted to be taking responsibility for this heritage vehicle and to have the opportunity of demonstrating how the narrow-gauge railway served the rural community with a connection to the big railway”, said Charles Spencer. “Having the wagon helps us fulfil our mandate as an educational charity to preserve and display our part of Britain’s’ railway heritage.”
“The National Railway Museum is very pleased to be working with the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway and to have found such a suitable home for this wagon on a railway which was once operated by the GWR”, said Anthony Coulls, Senior Curator at the Museum. “The W&LLR has an outstanding record for preserving and displaying heritage goods wagons, something which is paramount to the museum, allowing the public to appreciate and understand fully. The W&LLR runs transhipment demonstrations which the museum knew would interest railway enthusiasts and helped us to make the decision to entrust the wagon to them.”
The W&LLR regularly runs Vintage Weekends featuring mixed trains, including the railway’s three handsome replica Pickering carriages and heritage wagons hauled by one of the original Beyer-Peacock tank engines built for the opening of the line in 1903. Vintage steam and petrol road and farm vehicles are often on display and on the move at the Llanfair end of the line, and trans-shipment activities with the new wagon will add to the shunting and other demonstrations featured on these weekends.
The W&LLR’s Raven Square station is located one mile up the line from the original Welshpool yard, which was reached by a section of line that ran through the town. Today’s passengers board the narrow gauge train at Raven Square for the eight-mile journey to the farming town of Llanfair Caereinion, where the railway tea room, shop and workshops are located. Trains run at weekends from Easter to October and during the week from May to September.
Santa to spend extra day on the Llanfair Line
9th November 2016
Just as weather forecasters predict the first significant snow of the winter, Welshpool & Llanfair Railway staff and volunteers are preparing to welcome an annual visitor who is well used to the cold climate.
It may be his busiest time of the year but Santa never misses his visits to the Llanfair line, so much so that this year he will be spending an extra day with us, taking the train to give children a fun pre-Christmas treat.
The highly popular Santa Specials are being held over the weekends of 10th-11th and 17th-18th December, plus this year for the first time on Monday 19th December. Children travel on the special trains to meet Santa and his helpers, who join the train en-route and then stroll the warm steam-heated carriages distributing presents to each child.
The trip is just as much fun for accompanying grown-ups. The glorious scenery through which the train runs looks distinctly different to the summer months, no matter what the weather.
All trains run from Llanfair Caereinion, the journey taking around 45 minutes, and on their return to Llanfair adults will be offered a complimentary glass of warming mulled wine and every child a fruit drink, with a complimentary mince pie too.
The tearoom will be open for hot drinks and light refreshments and the railway shop open for snapping up last-minute Christmas presents.
This year the trains leave Llanfair station each day at 10.45am, 12noon, 1.15pm and 2.30pm, while on Sunday 18th only there will be an extra train, departing at 3.45pm.
Advance booking is strongly advised to both save money and guarantee a seat – bookings are already coming in fast. Advance tickets cost just £10.00 each (babies under 12 months old travel free). Tickets bought on the day cost £12.00 per person travelling. Further information can be found on our Santa Specials page or by phoning 01938 810441.
Diesels take over Llanfair Line
19th September 2016
One notable element will be missing at the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway this coming Saturday – visitors won’t hear the whistle of a steam locomotive!
For just one day on 24th September the railway’s steam fleet is taking a rest, as the W&LLR stages its first-ever diesel day. All passenger train services will be hauled by one of the line’s heritage diesel fleet, led by the 1949-built ‘Chattenden’ which before coming to the Llanfair line in 1968 worked for the Royal Navy on a railway in Kent.
The line’s works locomotives will also be making an appearance during the day, among them another military veteran, an MOD railcar called ‘The Wasp’. Low-down diesel, ‘Ferret’ will be hauling a freight train of former military stock, and the tiny but swift Wickham Trolley, powered by a motor cycle engine, will be moving around Llanfair yard.
Adding to the internal combustion theme, several vintage diesel lorries will be present including a 1960 Bedford.
“While obviously our steam locomotives are the major attraction for most visitors to the railway, there are a growing number of enthusiasts who have a passion for diesel locos, so this day is specially for them,” said W&LLR general manager, Charles Spencer.
“Steam enthusiasts should not worry, however,” Charles continued. “The steam fleet will only be having one day off and will be back hauling trains on Sunday.”
October 2016 Photo Charters
12th September 2016
The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway is looking forward to welcoming back the popular photographic charters organised by David Williams. On the 17th and 18th October we are planning the popular combination of No.822 'The Earl' along with the period goods train. On 19th October we shall be using No.823 'Countess' and the GWR mixed train. Further details and contact details for bookings can be found here.
Great Little Trains of Wales quick to rise to the Department for Transport Challenge
3rd August 2016
GREAT LITTLE TRAINS OF WALES PRESS RELEASE
Thanks to a competition sponsored by the Department for Transport, travellers to Wales have a new free guide to tell them how to visit the "Great Little Trains of Wales" and many other Welsh attractions by public transport. Taking the big trains to meet the little trains is the theme of a new 100 page guidebook launched at London King’s Cross station on 2nd August. It is published by the little railways, working together with Arriva Trains Wales, and includes ideas for intriguing places to stay and eat, walks, heritage sites and the magnificent scenery of Wales.
"Big Train meets Little Train" is inspired by the Bradshaw’s Guides of years gone by, and suggests a range of trips into and around Wales, encouraging the novice public transport user or overseas tourist to get out and about by rail. There is a feature on each of the eleven little trains, plus two of Wales’ beautiful community lines, run by Arriva Trains Wales. In addition, there are some real travellers’ tales to whet your appetite, including BBC ‘Antiques Roadshow’ expert, Paul Atterbury. There are suggestions on places to eat, journeys to make and places to stay as well as some local tips to get the most from your visit to this proud little country.
Rail Minister Paul Maynard said: "I am delighted that The Great Little Trains of Wales is one of 17 national winners across Britain in our Heritage and Community Railways competition. This new guide for visitors and tourists is a great way of showing the best that Britain has to offer. I look forward to seeing the scheme thrive and be of real benefit to tourists visiting Wales."
In May 2016, a £67,000 UK Government funding boost was awarded to the Great Little Train of Wales (GLTW) from the Department for Transport (DfT) to work together with Arriva Trains Wales to attract tourists from London to Wales. GLTW, which represents eleven railways across Wales, put together an entry for the DfT Heritage and Community Rail Tourism Innovation Competition and secured the grant to implement the plan.
And GLTW have not let the grass grow under their wheels – the pilot edition of their guide and website is being launched at King’s Cross station from 1200 on Tuesday 2nd August. Traveller and Storyteller, Gavin Young, will be telling stories found during his family’s visit to Mid Wales. The exhibition will remain in place until 7th August for people to collect their guide.
Newly appointed Chair of North Wales Tourism, Clare Britton, comments: "We are very pleased indeed to be working closely with GLTW and Arriva Trains Wales to promote this excellent venture. It is great to see all the railways working together and we are impressed to see the guide out this summer so the tourism business in Wales can benefit this year. We, at North Wales Tourism, firmly believe that joint working and bringing related products together to make planning easier for visitors is the way forward for a stronger tourism offer in Wales."
Copies of the printed guide are available on request from gltw [at] ffwhr.com
Fish & chips back by popular demand
25th July 2016
The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway will run a second Fish & Chip Special train on Saturday 27th August, following the success of the initial sold-out event in May.
Travellers on the inaugural Fish & Chips train run on 28th May described it as "most enjoyable" and a "good value evening."
The special working will depart Llanfair Caereinion at 6pm, and on arrival at Raven Square fish & chip suppers from the award-winning Andrews Fish Bar of Welshpool will be served for passengers to enjoy during the return trip on the hopefully summer-like evening. Large and small meals, together with vegetarian options, will be available to travellers and ice cream treats and soft drinks will also be on sale in the station during the halt.
Weather permitting, the return train will pause at the intermediate station of Castle Caereinion for participants to stretch their legs and enjoy the evening view. The train is scheduled to arrive back at Llanfair at 8:20 pm.
Advance booking for the train is essential. Bookings close on 24th August – full details and online bookings can be found on the events page of this website.
The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway was opened in 1903 to connect the agricultural community around Llanfair Caereinion with the market centre of Welshpool. The eight-mile journey over the famous Golfa Bank and along the Banwy River valley takes about 45 minutes each way.
Canada comes to Llanfair Line on Saturday
29th June 2016
The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway will be celebrating Canada Day for the first time on Saturday 2nd July, in honour of its Canadian-born General Manager.
Stations along the line will be bedecked in Canadian flags, photographs and posters, and visitors will be invited to plot their friends and relations on wall maps of Canada. "Everyone I meet seems to know someone who lives in Canada," says General Manager Charles Spencer. "So I thought it would be fun to see where they were!"
There will be quizzes on the subject of Canada for adults and children travelling on the train, with Canadian prizes to be won (while supplies last). And travellers will also be able to hear a talk given in one of the carriages en route by Dr. Reg Davies, answering the question, ‘What does Canada Day have to do with railways?’
Historian (and W&LLR member) Dr. Davies will explain why the construction of a railway was one of the conditions for the birth of the country. Those who survive the talk will be awarded a handsome folder about Canadian railways from Via Rail, Canada’s national passenger railway.
Meanwhile any visitors holding valid Canadian passports will as a special bonus travel free on Saturday. They can present their passport at either booking office for their complimentary return ticket.
Canada Day actually falls on the 1st July, but there are no trains running on Friday so the celebrations are being held on Saturday instead. Trains run on both days of this weekend, and Tuesday through Thursday next week, with return departures from Welshpool at 11.15am and 2.05pm.
The line’s summer daily service then starts on 9th July and will run right through to September, with extra trains and freight movements featuring at the next Vintage Weekend, on 16th-17th July. The Tearoom at Llanfair Caereinion is open every day for light lunches and refreshments.
Visitor returns for Llanfair Line’s big event
16th June 2016
An old friend returned to the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway today, as the line begins to gear up for its annual Steam Gala in September.
‘Chevallier’, an 0-6-2T steam locomotive built by Manning Wardle & Co, Leeds, in 1915, will be the star attraction at the Gala, which this year is a three-day event being held from 2nd-4th September. The locomotive has twice before visited the line to take part in the Gala, in 1991 and 2010.
Chevallier was built originally for a Royal Navy railway in Kent and later moved across to the Bowaters Paper Mill line in Sittingbourne. When that company closed its line in 1969, the locomotive went to work on a new line running through the animal paddocks at Whipsnade Zoo. It was later sold to Bill Parker of the Flour Mill Workshop in the Forest of Dean, and Bill undertook a full overhaul.
Chevallier came to the W&LLR’s 2010 Gala within days of the overhaul being completed, but various running-in issues prevented it showing its full capabilities over the weekend. W&LLR staff anticipate no such issues this time round – the loco has spent the last couple of seasons working very reliably in its old haunt of the Great Whipsnade Railway, while its early arrival in mid-Wales will leave plenty of time for testing over the Llanfair Line’s challenging eight-mile route throughout the summer before Chevalier takes its role in a typically intensive Gala timetable.
“We are delighted to have the loco here and grateful to owner Bill Parker for making the loan possible,” said W&LLR general manager Charles Spencer. “We will not be using Chevallier on any timetabled services before the Gala, but we will be carrying out extensive testing to ensure the loco can prove a worthy special guest at our biggest event of the year.”
Plans are well underway for the Gala, which as in previous years will be held alongside the Garden Railway Show at Llanfair Caereinion High School, with a shuttle bus connecting the two. More details of the Gala attractions will be revealed closer to the event.