28th April - Celebrating Sierra Leone Independence.
But why - what's the connection between a Mid-Wales narrow gauge railway and a West African country?
- Sierra Leone gained independence on 27th April 1961, with Sir Milton Margai as Prime Minister, after more than 100 years of British rule.
- In order 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 to ensure that the country could continue to operate its railway effectively. These became known as the 'Independence Coaches'.
- A decision to close the railway in Sierra Leone was taken in 1968 as a result of advice from the World Bank and the railway was gradually phased out, with the final passenger train operating on 17th November 1974.
- In 1975 the WLLR was seeking to increase its passenger fleet and a visit was made to Freetown to investigate the equipment that was being disposed following the closure of the railway. A substantial amount of equipment was purchased form the scrap dealer, including rail, signalling equipment, SLR Hunslet locomotive No 85 and four Independence Coaches.
- Until 2004 it was thought that these were the only Independence Coaches to survive. However, during a tour of military duty in Sierra Leone in 2004, following the end of the ten-year civil war, Colonel Steve Davies rediscovered a collection of 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 collection were two more Independence Coaches, which are now on display at the National Railway Museum in Freetown.
- One of the WLLR coaches was subsequently sold to the South Tynedale Railway and another was dismantled for spare parts.
- Two Independence carriages are still in use on the WLLR, having been fully refurbished.
- The two Independence coaches in Freetown are unrestored and require significant work to bring them back to their former glory.
- On Saturday 28th April 2018, the WLLR will celebrate Sierra Leone independence, in partnership with the Friends of Sierra Leone National Railway Museum.
- The 3rd 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, fresh from its national tour in 2017 (supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund), is also on display at Llanfair Caerenion station while it awaits its turn for restoration to service.
- The event will be celebrated with displays and activities sharing the fascinating story of Sierra Leone and how the WLLR came to be part of its history.
Come and ride in a unique railway carriage and learn more about this special connection. Regular fares and discounts apply!