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Talyllyn Railway

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December 1957.

Wharf Station, Tywyn, Merioneth, Gwynedd, LL36 9EY.

The Talyllyn Railway is a 2 ft 3 in (686 mm) narrow gauge preserved railway line running for 7.25 miles from Tywyn on the Mid-Wales coast to Nant Gwernol. Despite its name it does not quite reach Talyllyn Lake, a large glacial ribbon lake at the foot of Cadair Idris. [1]

The line was opened in 1866 to serve the Bryn Eglwys slate quarry above the village of Abergynolwyn. It used steam locomotives from the start, unlike its neighbour the horse-drawn Corris Railway. The original two engines were purchased from Fletcher, Jennings and Co of Whitehaven in Cumbria, and both are still in service, 140 years on, but so many of their parts have been replaced down the years that much of their present-day component metal is not original. The Talyllyn's unusual gauge is thought to have been adopted because of the Corris.

1908 The line is 7 miles in length. [2]

The line's two original steam locomotives were among the earliest engines built for such a narrow gauge. No 1 Talyllyn is an 0-4-2ST and No 2. Dolgoch is an 0-4-0WT. The line carried both slate from the quarry to the wharf at Tywyn and passengers. It rarely made money and was kept going by successive quarry owners to serve the transport needs of the isolated Bryn Eglwys quarry.

The line survived almost unchanged through the Victorian era and both World Wars. During this time it retained its original locomotives and carriages, never needing new or replacement stock.

By the end of the 1940s the line had fallen into a parlous state of repair with only one working locomotive, and trains had become rare and unreliable. The line was owned by the local member of Parliament, Sir Henry Haydn Jones, who paid for the railway's losses from his own pocket. When he died in 1950 it seemed certain the line would close.

In the immediate post-war period the line decayed as traffic dwindled and the railway survived only through the benevolence of its owner, Henry Haydn Jones. In 1950 an appeal by Tom Rolt (an enthusiastic passenger on the railway) in a local Birmingham newspaper resulted in a meeting being held at a popular hotel in the city. It was decided that due to the interest expressed at the meeting an attempt to save the railway would be made. The Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society (TRPS) was formed with the intention of acquiring and preserving the railway. Although railway preservation was in its infancy this was not the first scheme to attempt to take over a railway, although it was the first to actually do so. Interest in the Ffestiniog Railway had been growing since 1948.

Through the 1950s the dedicated volunteers and staff members of the TRPS rebuilt the line and rescued it from its state of decay. They purchased the two remaining locomotives from the recently closed Corris Railway, and scoured the country for new carriages. Slowly the line revived. The challenges of the first years of the revival are described in Rolt's book Railway Adventure.

In the preservation era many remarkable achievements have been made. Pendre has been completely redeveloped with two new carriage sheds built in the 1960s and 1970s. The works has been modernised with professional machine tools, adequate power and lighting and proper facilities for staff and volunteers. The railway is a big employer in Tywyn with many traditional skills being kept alive at the works.

Tywyn Wharf has been rebuilt twice with the most recent rebuild comprising of a new building and enclosing the museum properly within the premises for the first time. Expanded shop and catering facilities have also been provided for but the old building containing the booking office and control (operations) office have survived the rebuilding. Abergynolwyn has been rebuilt twice as well in the preservation era. More recently a new cafe extension was added in the 1990s to provide a delightful attraction at the end of the line.

Regarding rolling stock the railway responded to the growing popularity of its service in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s by building new rolling stock and acquiring more steam locomotives. The first 'new' steam locomotives arrived in 1951 from Machynlleth. They had previously been employed on the neighbouring Corris Railway which also used the unusual gauge of 2'3". These locomotives arrived by rail and were unloaded at Tywyn. No.3 became the first new engine to travel on the railway for over 90 years in 1951 but it proved too unreliable due to the poor condition of the track and the thinness of its wheel flanges. No.4 was unserviceable when it arrived but the Chairman of the Hunslet company was a member of the Preservation society and had No.4's boiler, the item most in need of refurbishment completely overhauled free of charge at his works.

The Talyllyn Railway is now a successful and popular tourist attraction. The two original locomotives from the 1860s still run regularly along with the Corris engines and two other steam locomotives (see below). The railway is currently facing the challenge of the modern and competitive tourist market. Despite falling passenger figures in recent years the railway is still a popular attraction in southern Gwynedd.

Since 1984 there has been an annual running event called Race the Train which follows the railway track 7.25 miles from Tywyn to Abergynolwyn and back again. The challenge is for runners to beat the train which takes around 1 hour 45 minutes to complete the 14.5 mile cross country route.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. [1] Wikipedia
  2. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908