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Long-serving John recognised for services to railway preservation

John Bate (left) receives the award from Chris Milner, editor of Railway Magazine, in front of locomotive No.2 Dolgoch at Tywyn Pendre. (Photo: Barbara Fuller)

A Tywyn man described as probably the world’s longest serving heritage railway volunteer has been presented with the Railway Magazine Annual Award for Services to Railway Preservation.

John Bate, Talyllyn Railway’s former chief engineer, was honoured at the recent Heritage Railway Association awards ceremony.

He volunteered during the railway’s first running season when it was saved from closure by Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society in 1951, becoming the world’s first preserved railway.

Giving up some of his summer holiday to help with tracklaying started an involvement with the line which has continued ever since.

John moved to Tywyn to become the railway’s chief engineer in 1963, remaining in post until his retirement in 1994, but he has continued to offer his expertise and experience as a volunteer, making him probably the world’s longest serving heritage railway volunteer.

Among John’s achievements was the repair and reinstatement of the line following a major landslip in 1955 which threatened the line’s future. He was also heavily involved in the extension of the railway’s passenger services on the former mineral line between Abergynolwyn and Nant Gwernol.

As well as overseeing major overhauls of the railway’s locomotives, he also designed a new locomotive for No.7 ‘Tom Rolt’, which entered service in 1991. In addition, other heritage railways have sought his advice over the years, including one in Australia.

Even today, as he approaches his 10th decade, John’s knowledge and precise memory of many details amazes many.

Sadly, John was unable to attend the awards ceremony in Birmingham, but instead Railway Magazine’s editor, Chris Milner, travelled to Tywyn to make the presentation.

At the Birmingham awards dinner, where the railway was also nominated as Best Visitor Attraction, a strong contingent of Talyllyn staff and volunteers, including past and present members of the engineering department, witnessed a special visual montage of John’s contribution.

Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society chairman, Ian Drummond, said: “John is probably one of the unsung heroes of the heritage railway movement. His knowledge and expertise have been invaluable to the railway through the years.

“His ability to keep the railway running on very limited financial resources during the early years has enabled it to become world renowned. Many have learnt from John and his enthusiasm has encouraged numerous volunteers to pursue engineering careers.

“This award is richly deserved for all he has contributed to the railway and the heritage railway sector as a whole and we have been very fortunate to have had his services.”