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.
Two visiting locomotives!
13th July 2017
The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway is preparing to welcome not one, but two visiting locomotives later this summer.
Bagnall 0-6-2T steam locomotive ‘Superb’, normally resident on the Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway in Kent, and diesel-hydraulic 0-6-0 ‘Badger’, owned by the Statfold Barn Railway in Staffordshire, will both be spending time on the popular mid Wales line.
Superb, built in 1940 under works no 2624 for the Bowaters Paper Mills at Sittingbourne, will be a star attraction at the W&LLR’s annual Steam Gala on 1st-3rd September. The loco will be working passenger trains alongside demonstration workings while at some point during the weekend is bound to be posed with W&LLR resident, Kerr Stuart 0-6-2T ‘Joan’ of 1927. The Bagnall design to which Superb was built was evolved directly from the Kerr Stuart class of which Joan is a member.
There will also be the opportunity for Superb to be reunited with Bowaters stablemate ‘Monarch’, which is a resident of the W&LLR’s Welshpool display shed. The line also owns bogie freight wagons originally obtained from the Bowaters line.
Other attractions at the Gala are set to include a train to view fireworks on Saturday, an intensive service including mixed and freight trains, a model railway show at the line’s Welshpool Raven Square station, displays and traders at both ends of the line and vintage vehicles at Llanfair station.
During the weekend Llanfair Line members will also be welcoming back former Sierra Leone Railway Hunslet 2-6-2T steam locomotive No. 85, which has been on a Grand Tour of heritage sites in the UK after six years on display at the Locomotion museum in Shildon, County Durham.
The Gala weekend coincides with the separate entry Llanfair Garden Railway Show, held up the hill at Llanfair High School with a free bus shuttle connecting the two events. This event features large scale models, the majority powered by live steam.
Badger, built by Hudswell Clarke in 1971 to work at the Shotton Steelworks on Deeside, will be the first visiting locomotive to attend the Llanfair Line’s annual Diesel Day on 23rd September. Diesel Day was introduced successfully in 2016 and sees the railway’s steam locomotives given the day off, all services hauled by heritage internal combustion locomotives and including extra freight workings.
Badger was one of a trio of locomotives at Shotton that were rescued for preservation by Statfold Barn. With its long bonnet and compact cab the loco will certainly provide a different look on the Llanfair Line.
W&LLR chairman Steve Clews, who has co-ordinated the two visitors, is looking forward to seeing them working on the mid Wales line. “I was delighted to be approached by the Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway about having one of their engines visit us, and by the positive response to my enquiry about a visitor from Statfold Barn – these are great examples of the spirit of partnership among heritage railways," Steve said.
SKLR spokesman Paul Best is equally delighted that Superb is going on a “well-deserved working holiday” to Wales; “I'm really looking forward to seeing her reunited with Monarch and also to compare her to Joan,” he said.
“We hope the visit will highlight our narrow gauge heritage railway in the forgotten part of Kent – we hope to turn Superb round during her visit so when she returns to Kemsley Down her chimney points towards Sittingbourne, the same as the other steam locos in our fleet,” Paul added.
Final plans for both the W&LLR Gala and Diesel Day are still being completed and further details will appear on this website.
Blists Hill stop for Llanfair Line’s African Train Tour
29th June 2017
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 Light Railway (W&LLR) in 1975, will now be a feature exhibit in the summer-long festival of ‘Fire, Furnace and Steam’ at Blists Hill Victorian Town, one of the ten Ironbridge Gorge Museums in Shropshire. The loco will be on display at Blists Hill Victorian Town until Friday 25th August.
The locomotive, which last ran on the mid-Wales heritage railway in 2010, has spent six years on display at the Locomotion Museum in Shildon, an outpost of the National Railway Museum. Since leaving there in April, it has visited the Armley Industrial Museum in Leeds, the city where it was built, then Hull, the 2017 City of Culture, the Museum of Water and Steam at Kew, and the 50th Anniversary Weekend of Tyseley Locomotive Works in Birmingham.
At Blists Hill Victorian Town, the locomotive has been placed beside the London and North Western Railway goods shed, where visitors will see it as soon as they enter the Town. Displays created by the Friends of the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum (FoSLNRM) accompany No. 85, telling the stories of slavery and freedom, colony and independence, and the special story of the Sierra Leone Railway.
The grand tour of UK heritage sites, funded by a £22,800 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, celebrates the many links between the UK and Sierra Leone. The Tour has been organised by the W&LLR in partnership with the FoSLNRM and is helping to promote the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum and 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.
Steam will be featured throughout the summer at Blists Hill Victorian Town, from the Steampunk Festival on July 1st and 2nd through to the ‘Blists Hill in Steam’ event on the weekend of 19th-20th August. Throughout the summer visitors will be able to see many of the Blists Hill engines in steam, with different engines running on different days. While No. 85 is of mid-20th-century construction, its technology is thoroughly Victorian.
At the end of its stay at Blists Hill Victorian Town, No. 85 will travel to the Shrewsbury Steam Rally on 27th-28th August before a triumphant return to the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway a week later as part of the line’s annual Steam Gala on 1st-3rd September.
Canada comes to Llanfair Line on Saturday
26th June 2017
Not many heritage railways in the UK celebrate Canada Day, but then not many have a Canadian-born General Manager! After a successful debut in 2016, the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway will again be marking the day on Saturday July 1st, which this year is a special celebration of the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation.
Stations along the mid-Wales 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 W&LLR General Manager Charles Spencer. “So I thought it would be fun to see where they were!” Charles’ family will be on hand to help visitors find locations on the map.
There will be quizzes on the subject of Canada for adults and children travelling on the train, with Canadian prizes, including special Canada 150 souvenirs, to be won (while supplies last). Also available is a handsome folder about Canadian railways from Via Rail, Canada’s national passenger railway, for those who might be tempted by the nearly 3,000 mile trip between Toronto and Vancouver. A spotting guide will challenge children to find the Canadiana located at each station, while there will also be a display of Canadian stamps at Welshpool Raven Square station.
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.
The Llanfair Line’s efforts have also been recognized, the railway proud to be named by the Canadian Automobile Association as one of the top ten places outside Canada to celebrate Canada Day!
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 8th July and will run right through to September, with extra trains and freight movements featuring at the next Vintage Weekend, on 15th-16th July. The Tearoom at Llanfair Caereinion is open every day for light lunches and refreshments.
Fathers' Day - Dads can ride Llanfair line for a child fare
7th June 2017
The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway is joining in the celebrations for Fathers’ Day on Sunday 18th June by offering dads the chance to ride the line at child rate.
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 £13.50.
The offer applies to multiple generations – grandfather, father and child riding together will need only three £4.50 tickets. And if there is a great-grandfather in the party, he travels for free! He really deserves it.
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 and projects in our woodworking shop. Unfortunately we can’t take children into the sheds, but perhaps mum could help out here?
The 18th 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 on this website (select 18th June on the timetable page and follow the instructions), where the child’s ticket is only £4.00. Dads should just book themselves a child’s ticket along with the tickets for the children.
Big Train Little Train Launches New Website
14th April 2017
In 2016, the Great Little Trains of Wales secured a £67,000 grant from the UK Government Department for Transport’s Heritage and Community Rail Tourism Innovation Competition. The initiative is to encourage visitors to explore Wales by public transport, enjoying the efficiency of main lines but also enjoying the unique experience of Welsh steam trains.
The grant enabled the group to publish a guidebook called “Big Train meets Little Train”, of which nearly 10,000 copies have already been distributed, and to develop a “Service with spirit” training programme for their staff and volunteers. The new website is the next step to promote the project.
Why a new website?
The Great Little Trains of Wales group has its own website on which you can find a lot of information about each of the 12 railways involved (http://www.greatlittletrainsofwales.co.uk/). However, we were keen to have a dedicated website for the Big Train Little Train project promoting the guidebook itself but also taking the project to another level. The new website was built by Owen Fletcher, a freelance Designer.
What will it add to the project?
First, every train page will not only provide information about the railway itself but will also promote the area. The visitors will find other interesting places to visit, nice places to eat or stay and will learn more about local legends, itineraries for walkers and hidden gems.
Then, there will be a “plan your trip” feature on the website menu, which will give the visitors all the information and tips they need to plan their travel easily. Need to use a journey planner? Any question about accessibility or fares? Looking for a discount card? Every useful answer will be on this page.
Finally, a later update of the website will include a feature where visitors will be able to share their own experience on the railways by clicking “travellers’ tales”, writing their story and adding their photos. In the meantime, they can enjoy the four tales, already present on the website, from writers who contributed to the first edition of the guide. This feature is a friendly way to promote the Welsh railways and the area but also a great opportunity to improve our understanding of the visitors’ point of view as their experience is at the centre of our concerns.
Charles Spencer, Chairman of Great Little Trains of Wales, said:
“We are thrilled to launch this exciting new website. We hope it will inspire more visitors to take to the tracks as they explore the railways
and other attractions of Wales”
Notes to Editors:
Established in 1970 as the Narrow Gauge Railways of Wales Joint Marketing Panel, the GLTW represents 12 of the narrow gauge heritage railways across Wales. Between them, these railways have hundreds of years of history and carry approximately 700,000 visitors a year, making a major contribution to the Welsh economy.
Each railway is an individual attraction, each with its own unique history and heritage. The railways include the oldest independent railway company in the world, the world’s first preserved railway, Britain’s only rack and pinion railway and the last steam railway to be run by British Rail.
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.