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.
Llanfair Line wins grant to improve wheelchair access
25th May 2016
The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway has been awarded a Government grant of £42,500 to improve access to trains for wheelchair-bound visitors to the line.
The grant, announced by Minister for Rail Claire Perry MP on 25th May, is being 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, that plans a combination of carriage modifications and platform lifts to allow visitors in wheelchairs to board and alight from most service trains in comfort and safety, is one of 17 winners announced by the Government.
Access for wheelchair users has always been a challenge for heritage railway operators, the passenger carriages on such lines having been 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 line has adapted some carriages to take portable ramps but these have proved less than satisfactory for both passengers and staff.
Under the Disability First project portable platform lifts will be purchased for both Welshpool and Llanfair stations, replacing the ramps and allowing effective access for manual wheelchairs to most of the line’s carriages. In addition, two carriages in regular service are to be modified to enable them to accommodate the larger motorized wheelchairs and scooters that have become more common in recent times.
Announcing the award, Rail Minister Claire Perry said: “We want to show the best of British to our visitors and Heritage and Community Railways are part of that package. I am delighted that the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway’s Disability First project is one of 17 national winners across Britain. I look forward to seeing the scheme develop, providing another great reason to visit Mid-Wales.”
Commenting on the award, the W&LLR’s Appeals Director Iain McLean said that everyone on the line is delighted that the DfT and RSSB are supporting the efforts to improve access for those with mobility challenges. “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.
Once the new equipment is in place and the carriage modifications complete, the railway plans a communications campaign informing wheelchair users about the improved facilities and encouraging them to enjoy the 16-mile return journey through lovely Mid-Wales countryside. 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 also available.
Railway announces major developments at Llanfair
23rd May 2016
Plans by the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway to significantly improve its facilities have been boosted by an agreement to purchase industrial units adjoining Llanfair Caereinion station.
At the preservation company’s Annual General Meeting on 21st May, the trustees announced that on the previous day contracts had been exchanged for the site owned by Colinette Yarns. This consists of five industrial units, located next to the railway’s Keyse Cottage volunteer block and running alongside its existing running shed, plus a small car park.
On this site it is intended to construct a new and larger mechanical engineering workshop, which will incorporate the railway’s carriage and wagon shop. It will release space at the Tanllan sidings facility to provide extra carriage accommodation, and crucially release the space at Llanfair currently occupied by the workshop on which to build a new visitor centre.
The Colinette purchase is the most significant progress so far of the W&LLR’s Major Developments Programme, which was launched at the 2015 AGM and has as its goal to improve the railway’s operations, enhance volunteer enjoyment and improve the visitor experience. This project has already produced recommendations for both termini, the intermediate stations and the lineside.
Central to the recommendations was the need for expanded visitor facilities at Llanfair Caereinion station, including more hospitality space, a museum, and a site entrance closer to the car park, whilst retaining the existing heritage buildings in their current and original locations. To provide these expanded facilities would require relocating or redeveloping the present workshop, which no longer meets the railway’s needs.
Renewal of the Llanfair workshop was first considered in 2006, and some funding was allocated. “Trustees now consider that this renewal has become the priority project in order to provide the space to unlock the major development proposals at Llanfair,” said W&LLR chairman Steve Clews.
In November 2015 the railway learned that the Colinette site might be placed on the market. “Our feasibility group working on possible sites for a combined workshop, woodwork shop and paint shop added the Colinette site to the options and it was judged the best solution – providing the space needed, located at the station site and allowing an increase in storage space at Tanllan carriage sheds,” Steve added.
In early 2016 the Colinette site was put up for sale and the W&LLR trustees entered negotiations for purchase. These negotiations resulted in Friday’s exchange of contracts.
A project team will now be set up to produce a detailed design for the site and construction is scheduled to start late in 2016.
Some capital for this first phase of the Major Developments Programme has already been provided thanks to generous donations and legacies. The W&LLR will shortly be launching a major appeal aiming to complete the funding, and details of this appeal will be released in the coming weeks.
Austrian buyer for Resita locomotive
Agreement has been reached for the sale of the W&LLR’s Resita 0-8-0T locomotive No. 764.425 to Handel mit Eisenbahnmaterial Georg Hocevar, based in Graz, Austria.
The locomotive, built in 1957, was purchased from Romania and arrived on the W&LLR in 2007. However it suffered a number of reliability issues on the challenging Welsh line and was withdrawn from service in 2013 following a major motion failure.
The railway understands that the locomotive is to be restored to working order. The sale also includes the chassis of sister locomotive No. 764.423, which the W&LLR also currently owns, and both locomotives are expected to leave the line before the end of June.
Fish, chips and tea on the Llanfair train
10th May 2016
Visitors to the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway will have the opportunity to take a different trip along the Banwy Valley in coming weeks, with food and drink on offer during the journey.
On the evening of Saturday 28th May the railway is running its first Fish & Chips train. 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 spring-like evening. Weather permitting, the return train will pause at the intermediate station of Castle Caereinion for participants to stretch their legs.
Large and small meals, together with vegetarian options, will be available to travellers and advance booking for the train is essential – bookings close on Thursday 26th May.
Then on Saturday 11th June and Sunday 24th July Welsh Tea trains will be a new addition to the timetable. Departing Llanfair Caereinion at around 1.50pm, passengers will travel in one direction in one of the line’s balcony-ended carriages built originally for the Zillertalbahn Railway in Austria, donated to the W&LLR in 1968 and for these trains specially fitted out as a buffet car. On offer will be tea, and a selection of locally-sourced Welsh tea-time treats including Caerphilly scones, bara brith and Welsh cakes.
For the journey in the other direction participants will join a select few who have enjoyed the sumptuous white leather armchairs of former Sierra Leone Government Railway carriage no 1207. This British-built vehicle was repatriated from the west African nation by the W&LLR in 1975 and fully restored to its original condition in 2009. In keeping with the first-class environment, a steward will be on hand to offer cooling drinks as might have been served to combat the African heat in the carriage’s former days. SLR 1207 has seen limited use since its restoration, with fewer than 100 people having travelled in it so far.
As with the Fish & Chip train, advance booking for the Welsh Tea specials will be necessary and space is very limited – full details and booking forms for both trains can be found on the events page of this website.
Railway prepares for a season of mixed trains
3rd May 2016
Visitors to the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway on 22nd-23rd April were given the rare opportunity to watch a mixed passenger and freight train in action – the reason being that in 2016 such trains are set to become rather more familiar on the mid Wales line.
The popular Vintage Trains, which operate this season over five weekends, will be mixed workings, combining one of the railway’s original Beyer Peacock 0-6-0T locomotives with three superbly recreated Pickering bogie carriages - and for the first time in a while also including heritage freight stock. Mixed workings will also form essential elements of the new Country Railway Weekend event on 25th-26th June, and the annual Steam Gala on 2nd-4th September.
As well as requiring shunting of the stock at each end of the journey to ensure the vacuum-brake fitted passenger vehicles are rostered next to the locomotive, mixed trains on the W&LLR require extra focus due to the line’s steep gradients. In particular trains travelling to Welshpool have to stop at Sylfaen summit, around two miles from their destination, to have their brakes pinned down before descending the challenging Golfa Bank, where the ruling gradient is 1 in 29.
Therefore the railway staged two days of ‘training trains’, both to reassess those Guards who have worked with mixed trains before, and to train members of the Operating Department in the particular skills of operating such trains.
“The two days were very successful, and we are now ready to run our mixed workings,” said W&LLR general manager Charles Spencer. “Travellers on them will enjoy a rather different journey to our normal trains, while the shunting movements required at Welshpool and Llanfair should provide plenty of photographic opportunities for enthusiasts. And of course we’re recreating part of the railway’s history, as old photographs can attest.”
The W&LLR Vintage Trains run on 14th-15th May, 4th-5th June, 16th-17th and 30th-31st July, and 13th-14th August. Each day’s timetable will feature two return Vintage Trains, enabling travellers beginning their journey from Welshpool to travel both ways on the special workings. Full details and timings can be found on the timetable page of this website.
Railway’s behind-the-scenes day hopes to attract new volunteers
27th April 2016
Ever wondered what it takes to operate a heritage steam railway? Perhaps you have considered getting involved yourself but are not sure whether it is for you? Then the Volunteers Day at the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway could well be for you.
Scheduled for Saturday 14th May and aimed at all those that live within an hour’s drive of the railway, the Volunteers Day will provide a unique insight into this leading Mid-Wales tourist attraction and a chance to meet the friendly team that run it.
While one of the best-known of Britain’s many heritage railways the Welshpool & Llanfair operates with just four full-time paid staff – virtually all those involved in running the line are volunteers, crewing the trains, maintaining the track, tending the locomotives and rolling stock in the workshops, staffing the shops and tearoom, keeping the vegetation in check, and the 101 other jobs needed to keep trains running through the beautful Banwy Valley.
The Llanfair line relies on a wide variety of volunteers, and is always keen to attract more. These volunteers come from all walks of life, male and female, and are of all ages – there is something for everyone to do, whether you have specific skills or simply mere enthusiasm, and you don’t even have to particularly like trains to find a fulfilling role on the line!
Those who attend the Volunteers Day will be given an in-depth view of all aspects of the line in operation, from seeing inside the locomotive and rolling stock workshops, to learning how the track is maintained, duties at the stations and the responsibilities of signalmen. A trip on the train forms part of the day during which the roles of the loco crew and guard will be explained.
“This day is aimed directly at anyone who has ever wondered whether volunteering might be for them, and you might be surprised at what you can end up doing,” said W&LLR spokesman Andrew Charman.
“While I’ve been the railway’s press officer for many years, I never imagined actually working on the locomotives. But when I moved locally in 2007, I was persuaded to sign up. I’ve been a qualified locomotive fireman for some years now, and greatly enjoy the role – it’s all-involving and a great way to make a whole new group of good friends.”
Anyone that wishes to attend the Volunteer Day or who requires more information should contact the W&LLR’s Volunteer Liaison Officer, Robert Robinson, on 07767 267830 or by email at volunteerliaison [at] wllr.org.uk, to book their place.
Bunnies to kick off busy season for Llanfair line
12th March 2016
Leading Mid-Wales tourist attraction the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway will be opening up for what is set to be its busiest season yet on Saturday 19th March, and welcoming a seasonal visitor just a week later.
The Easter Bunny will be dropping in to the W&LLR’s Llanfair Caereinion headquarters from Good Friday 25th to Easter Monday 28th March, with some special fun for all children travelling on the line’s ‘Easter Eggs-press’ trains.
The Bunny has hidden some of his Easter eggs at various locations along the eight-mile route, and children riding on the trains will be encouraged to spot as many of them as they can. And every child that travels on the line will receive a free chocolate egg.
There will be plenty of opportunity to spot the eggs too, as between Easter Saturday and Easter Monday two trains will be in operation, ensuring everyone visiting will have plenty of opportunity to take a steam-hauled ride along the delightful Banwy Valley.
The line will be running every day through the Easter school holidays to 10th April, with the exception of Monday 21st March, Monday 4th and Friday 8th April. It will then settle down to its traditional early-season weekend service through to mid-May, trains also running on the Mayday bank holiday.
This season will also see more special events than ever before on the line, aimed at both family and enthusiast visitors. Highlights include an evening fish & chips train on 28th May, afternoon tea trains on 11th June and 24th July, and a Country Railway weekend on 25th-26th June. “At the Country Railway Weekend we will be taking visitors back to a time when the line was the prime means of transport in the district, particualrly for farmers, their produce and their livestock,” says W&LLR general manager Charles Spencer.
As ever the opening of the railway for a new season would not have been possible without a great deal of essential winter work carried out by staff and volunteers. The Llanfair Line track gang have braved all kinds of winter weather to relay a stretch of line situated between Cyfronydd station and Dolarddyn Road level crossing, while the volunteer ‘hedgebash’ gang have been busy cutting back encroaching vegetation and opening up new views for passengers, concentrating this winter on the stretch of line leading from Welshpool Raven Square.
Meanwhile in the workshops a host of maintenance duties have been carried on the steam and diesel locomotives and the heritage rolling stock, while restoration is continuing on the Franco-Belge 0-8-0T locomotive ‘Sir Drefaldwyn’, which has not worked on the line since May 2000.
Further information about train times, fares and special events can be found elsewhere on this website.
Smallest steam loco to star with large models
12th February 2016
The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway’s smallest steam locomotive is going on its travels again – Andrew Barclay 0-4-0 tank locomotive ‘Dougal’ is to be a central attraction at the 2016 National Garden Railway Show in Peterborough on Saturday 9th April.
The visit to the event, held at the Peterborough Arena and the largest UK show of its kind, follows a highly successful expedition by Dougal to the Shrewsbury Steam Rally over the August bank holiday weekend in 2015.
Dougal is a favourite with Llanfair Line members thanks chiefly to its diminutive size compared to the railway’s other locomotives, a legacy of the 1946-built engine’s former life working at the Provan Gasworks, in Glasgow, Scotland.
Paradoxically at the Peterborough event the loco will be surrounded by some of the largest model engines around – the National Garden Railway Show is organised by the Association of 16mm Scale Narrow Gauge Modellers, which has more than 4,500 members worldwide building model railways in the impressive scale of 16mm to the foot, mostly in the garden and the majority running on live steam.
Emerging in the 1970s, ‘16mm’ has grown to become a major modelling scale, and the Peterborough event will feature 17 layouts, help and advice stands, the annual and much-prized Model of the Year competition and more than 90 specialist traders, offering a vast range of steam and battery locomotives, rolling stock, kits and accessories in garden scales.
Among the best-known of these traders is Accucraft UK, and it is thanks to kind sponsorship from the Herefordshire-based manufacturer of model steam locomotives and rolling stock that Dougal can make the trip to Peterborough. Accucraft includes several W&LLR models in its much sought-after range, including Beyer Peacock locomotives ‘The Earl’ and ‘Countess’ and Hunslet 2-6-2T No. 14, the line’s Pickering bogie carriages and most of its freight stock.
Commenting on Dougal’s forthcoming trip east, W&LLR general manager Charles Spencer said that the loco would be working hard for the railway, even if not pulling trains; “Dougal has been out of service for a while as the loco needs some boiler repairs – visits such as this and the trip last August to the Shrewsbury rally helps keep Dougal in the public eye as well as providing vital publicity for the railway”.
“We are particularly pleased to be taking Dougal to Peterborough as the railway has close ties to the 16mm Association – many Association members are also members of the railway, some of them highly active,” Charles added.
Ian Pearse of Accucraft UK said; "We are delighted to once again support the National Garden Railway Show in this way and are very happy to help fund the movement of 'Dougal' from the W&LLR to Peterborough."
Llanfair line announces busy and varied 2016 season
22nd December 2015
Visitors to the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway in 2016 will discover more trains on offer and more special attractions following major changes to the line’s timetable.
The season is set to start earlier than in previous years, on 19th March, one week before the Easter weekend, and the regular timetable will include a new intensive service in August. On these days the first departure from the Welshpool end of the line will be at 9.45am, more than an hour earlier than in previous years, and the service will include heritage diesel trains at either end of the day.
Likely to be a major attraction to photographers are the return of the mixed trains which formed the majority of workings on the line in its early life. Five vintage weekends during the season will feature train sets made up of replicas of the W&LLR’s original Great Western liveried carriages, with goods wagons and brake van attached, and shunting taking place at each end of the line.
The railway’s traditional September Gala weekend is being expanded and in 2016 will take place on Friday to Sunday, 2nd- 4th September. Following the successful visit of Statfold Barn Mallet locomotive ‘Pakis Baru No. 5’ to the 2015 event, arrangements are currently being finalised for another visiting engine, along with further attractions.
The traditional and popular Gala menu of an intensive train service, steam road vehicles, model railways, trade stands, night photography will also feature. As in previous years the Gala will be held over the same weekend as the excellent Garden Railway Show at Llanfair High School.
Further new events in 2016 will include a Country Railway Weekend in June, during which the W&LLR will be demonstrating railway operations as they would have been in the 1920s-30s, and in September an all-diesel day. The line’s heritage diesels will be hauling passenger trains, the industrial diesels and internal combustion plant putting on demonstrations.
Also planned as part of the season are an evening fish and chips train, and an afternoon tea special train, featuring the restored carriages from the Sierra Leone Government Railway.
Popular family activities including the Easter Bunny and Teddy Bear weekends will again be held in 2016, together with further events currently being planned.
The W&LLR has also announced that standard travel fares are to remain unchanged from 2015 rates, though different fares will apply for some of the special events.
“We are planning a range of attractions which we hope will encourage visitors to come to us more than once”, said W&LLR General Manager Charles Spencer. “On a given weekend the goings-on could be completely different from the previous week – or the next one!”
The W&LLR’s 2016 timetable and special events are available on this website, while regular updates will also appear on the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/WelshpoolSteamRailway and the Twitter feed, @LlanfairLine. Further information can also be obtained from 01938 810441.
2016 Driver Experience Dates
19th December 2015
Bookings are now being taken for our Driver Experience courses next season. See our Driver Experience page for more details.