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Great little train goes green as Talyllyn harnesses the power of the sun

David Jones, left, of Hafod Renewables, and Talyllyn Railway General Manager Stuart Williams with historic locomotive Dolgoch ready to pull away from Tywyn Wharf.

One of the Great Little Trains of Wales has gone green after harnessing the power of the sun to help run the historic 154-year-old railway.

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The historic engines of the Talyllyn Railway, founded in 1951 and the oldest heritage railway in the world, still puff their way from Tywyn to Abergynolwyn and back on a diet of Welsh steam coal but solar power now helps out with the railway’s hefty electricity bills.

That’s thanks to a £15,000 array of 40 solar panels Denbigh-based Hafod Renewables have installed on the roof of Wharf Station and which generates 12,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, enough for three family homes.

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The building also houses the Narrow-Gauge Railway Museum including the study of Thomas the Tank Engine author the Rev W Awdry, a regular volunteer with the Talyllyn Railway.

The £15,000 solar array on the roof of the Talyllyn Railway station at Tywyn Wharf.

Stuart Williams, General Manager of the railway, the longest in continuous operation, said: “Just because we are a heritage railway doesn’t mean everything has to be heritage and the solar system has been a great investment.

“While everyone will associate us with coal we do use a lot of electricity here and this will offset some of our carbon and as well as being good for the environment it’s also good for our budget.

“In future anything we build will have solar panels on it and as we’re hoping to build a new workshop that could be quite soon.

“We’ve been very pleased with Hafod Renewables, we like to use local suppliers and they’re from North Wales and have done a great job for us.

“They installed the system in only two days and it was running and now I can keep tabs on it from my mobile phone.”

Hafod Renewables Managing Director David Jones is an electrician and a graduate in renewable energy who set up the business with his father, Richard, in 2010 and he has been treated to a ride on the footplate of Dolgoch, the second oldest of the railway’s engines which has been in service since 1866.

He said: “I’ve got twin boys who are coming up to four years old and they’re mad on Thomas the Tank Engine so I’ll have to bring them here.

“It does make a lot of sense for a business like this with a large roof area because they are heavy users of electricity with lighting and heating and running a café and this will save them money.

“They’ll get on-site savings of £1800 a year and a feed-in tariff of £780 a year and that means this system will pay for itself in less than six years while saving eight tons of carbon dioxide a year, equivalent to planting 24 trees.

“You’ll hardly notice the panels but they’ll be up there doing their job for 25 years or more with minimal maintenance.”

That will make the Talyllyn Railway the ‘greenest’ in Wales as it continues to steam up and down its two and a half hour journey to Nant Gwernol and the old Bryneglwys Quarry and back to Tywyn Wharf where the slate would be loaded onto the mainline trains to Aberdovey harbour for shipment.

Hafod Renewables, recently crowned Wales’s Renewable Heating Installer of the Year for the second successive year, has seen a boom in solar installations as customers hurried to beat the March 31 deadline for the solar feed-in tariff but David expects solar to continue to be popular.

He said: “It still makes a lot of sense because solar power has a better, cheaper long-term future than fossil fuel or even nuclear generated power.

“It is so much more efficient than it used to be and it does make sense for organisations like the Talyllyn Railway which has buildings with plenty of roof space in the same way it works for farms and factories.”

Hafod Renewables now employs nine staff and with a turnover of over £1.5 million has become a key player in the region in the installation of solar and non-solar systems such as air and ground-source heating and biomass.