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Supporters donate £30,000 to Mid Wales railway

Stuart Williams

Supporters of the world’s first first preserved railway in Mid Wales have contributed more than £30,000 in three weeks to an appeal for funds.

The Covid19 pandemic has meant that Talyllyn Railway at Tywyn in Mid Wales is unable to run trains until further notice. The narrow gauge railway, which closed on March 20, has already missed the traditionally busy Easter period, and is set to miss the first Bank Holiday weekend in May at a minimum.

A £75,000 appeal has been launched to cover fixed costs of £25,000 a month for three months. The early response from generous supporters has been uplifting and online donations are welcomed at www.justgiving.com/campaign/talyllyn-appeal2020.

All but a skeleton staff has been furloughed under the Government’s scheme to support retained employees through the crisis

“As a railway, we prepare during the winter in readiness for the new running season and especially look forward to the Easter break to welcome hundreds of visitors and see our coffers replenished,” explained general manager Stuart Williams.

“Our fixed costs continue, and we need £25,000 a month just to stand still, but our income has dried up. If we miss running until June, the revenue loss, based on last year, will be £250,000, which will impact the railway greatly.

“To help the world’s first preserved railway through this challenging time we are asking for any support people can offer – think of it as a ‘Virtual Visit’. We are in our 155th year of operation and approach our 70th anniversary of the formation of the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society in October.

“With everyone’s help we look forward to celebrating many other birthdays in the future. Our supporters are helping to rescue the railway that started the heritage movement back in 1950.”

The crisis has challenged Mr Williams to improvise with fundraising ideas, including asking supporters to tune in to the classic Ealing Comedy ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’ on BBC2 last week. The film is based on the early days of Talyllyn Railway after the writer visited in 1951.

To coincide with the comedy, the railway hosted its own social media ‘Watch Party’ and asked viewers to donate £10. The ‘Tenner for Titfield’ idea raised £790 and reached 14,500 people across social media.

“The railway only makes money for five months of the year and we have the potential to lose three of those months,” added Mr Williams, who is applying for support from the Government’s Economic Resilience Fund.

“We are very lucky in having a supporter base that we can call on. We welcome around 5,500 visitors to a live stream every Wednesday morning at 10.30am when engineering manager Chris Smith and I have a walk around the railway and talk for 10 minutes. We are encouraging people to make a virtual visit to the railway.

“It’s a very challenging time but you have to dust yourself down and do something different. The railway has been well run, which will see us through this crisis, but it knocks back all the plans we had in place.

“My immediate aim is to get through this crisis and be able to keep all our staff. We are considering extending our running season until Christmas and perhaps even to the first half term of 2021 because I think there will be pent up demand from people wanting to get out.”