The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway plans to begin running public steam-hauled services again from Saturday, August 1, with extensive precautions to ensure a safe, affordable and enjoyable experience in the fresh air of rural Mid Wales.
Since lockdown restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic were eased, staff at the popular Mid Wales tourist attraction, almost all volunteers, have been working hard to enable the line to reopen.
Essential maintenance has been needed to the railway after several months of disuse, while a host of coronavirus protective measures have been set up. From July 18, test trains have been running to check that all the correct procedures are in place and these trains will continue right up to the first weekend of reopening.
Initially the railway will operate daily services over half its route, from Llanfair Caereinion to Castle Caereinion. “Because social distancing measures will greatly reduce the capacity of each train, we are running more trains over a shorter distance initially to ensure we can offer rides to as many visitors as possible,” said railway spokesman Andrew Charman.
“We are determined to return to running services over the full line as soon as we can. In the meantime, the Llanfair-Castle section has lovely views along the Banwy River and a steady climb through fields and woodlands which visitors can enjoy from the large windows in our carriages and on the open-air balconies.”
The initial timetable will consist of four trains per day at 10.30am, 12.10pm, 1.50pm and 3.30pm. Intending travellers must pre-book tickets through the railway’s website at www.wllr.org.uk . Train capacity will be severely limited and tightly controlled to maintain social distancing and pre-booking online will be the only way to guarantee being able to travel.
A one-way system will be in operation at Llanfair station and all services will be return trips – passengers will not be able to board or alight at Castle Caereinion. On return to Llanfair, the railway’s shop will be open and hot and cold takeaway refreshments available to enjoy.
All visitors and staff attending the railway will be required to wear face coverings, as on mainline railways, and trains will be cleaned between trips. A host of further cleaning measures have been carried out and there will be hand sanitisers widely available.
“We are obviously very keen to start operating again as soon as possible but our priority at all times is the safety of our visitors and our staff, volunteer and paid,” Andrew added. “We are taking every possible measure to ensure this safety.”
All involved with the line are grateful for the huge support shown by enthusiasts around the UK and beyond, and particularly the local community, during the four months of enforced closure.
“The Covid-19 pandemic and the loss of revenue that has resulted from it has proved very challenging,” said Andrew. “But in that time we have been most grateful for the donations to our fundraising appeal and the grant aid afforded to us, but equally for the many positive comments, phone messages and emails, telling us how much our trains are missed and hoping we would be opening again soon.
“Now we look forward to our steam trains again being a familiar sight in the Banwy Valley.”