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Mid Wales heritage railway building up steam to reopen for the summer

Stuart Williams

The world’s first preserved railway in Mid Wales is building up steam to reopen this summer, subject to Welsh Government guidelines.

Talyllyn Railway’s general manager Stuart Williams is hoping to be able to run the first train by the end of July or early August, but instead of carrying up to 700 passengers during the day, social distance restrictions might limit the number to 100.

The pandemic has meant that the seven-mile railway, based on the coast at Tywyn, has been unable to run trains since March 20.

The railway’s shop reopened this week, which has given staff the chance to run through social distancing and hygiene procedures. The café also hopes to be able to serve drinks and food in an outdoor catering area from July 13, subject to Welsh Government guidance.

Mr Williams is keeping his fingers crossed that the Welsh Government will follow the UK Government’s lead in reducing social distancing from two to one metre by the end of July, which would allow more flexibility in terms of the number of passengers trains can carry.

“We class ourselves as an outdoor attraction, so we believe that we should be able to reopen towards the end of July,” he said. “We are looking to cover a lot of the main summer period by asking customers to pre-book the limited number of places on our trains.

“There are so many things to think about to progress in a positive way towards being able to press the button to reopen when it’s safe to do so.

“We hope to run our first public trains soon, but before that we need to run shakedown trains to check the necessary processes and safety measures are in place after the lockdown.

“We would normally be taking up to 600 passengers daily on our trains during the summer, but the social distancing restrictions will mean we can carry just a fraction of that number.

“We are all looking forward to reopening for the sheer enjoyment of seeing trains going up and down the valley again. It’s a model of calmness when you come to Talyllyn Railway.”

An appeal – www.justgiving.com/campaign/talyllyn-appeal2020 –  launched to help the line through the pandemic has raised £102,000 to date, which far exceeds the original £75,000 target.

“The response has been overwhelming and I would like to say a huge thank you to everybody who has donated,” added Mr Williams. “The money raised by the appeal allows the railway to be cost neutral for the whole summer, which is great.”

He and engineering manager Chris Smith also welcome up to 11,500 virtual visitors to a social media live stream every Wednesday at 10.30am when they do a 10-minute walk around and talk about the railway.

The railway is also welcoming local volunteers from a five-mile radius to carry out of range of work including vegetation management. Six new volunteers have been recruited in a team of 30 that is helping the railway during lockdown.

“There have been a lot of positives for the railway during the lockdown,” added Mr Williams. “It shows that there is a lot of passion for our little railway.”

All but a skeleton staff has been furloughed under the Government’s scheme to support retained employees through the crisis and Mr Williams is hoping to retain as many as possible following the pandemic.

The railway is in its 155th year of operation and approaching the 70th anniversary of the formation of Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society in October.  It provided the inspiration for the creation of ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ by author the Rev W. V. Awdry, who was an early volunteer on the railway.

Talyllyn Railway is a member of MWT Cymru, an independent organisation that represents more than 600 tourism and hospitality businesses across Powys, Ceredigion and Meirionnydd.