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Talyllyn Railway celebrates successful World Heritage Site bid

Talyllyn Railway’s general manager Stuart Williams (right) with the crew, ‘quarrymen’ and celebratory train at Tywyn Wharf Station. (Photo: Barbara Fuller)

Talyllyn  Railway ran a special slate train on Wednesday afternoon to celebrate the announcement of the Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The railway is named as part of the new World Heritage Site because it was the first Welsh narrow gauge slate railway to be designed for steam haulage from the outset and the world’s first preserved railway.

Taking up the story of the special train, general manager Stuart Williams said: “When the agenda of the UNESCO meeting was published, it was realised that the announcement of success, or otherwise, of the Northwest Wales Slate Landscape bid would be made round midday on July 28.

“It was therefore suggested that we ought to celebrate any potential success by running a special train which included some of our original and replica slate wagons and also our original brake van, hauled by one of our original locomotives No.2 ‘Dolgoch’.

“The arrangements were made in secret in case it was thought we had any inside knowledge but, like everyone else, we had to wait for the announcement on the day.

“The tension in the office increased during the morning, particularly when the live stream of the meeting went down, but fortunately it was back up in time for the announcement.

“Then we could give the go ahead for the train and get out the bunting and balloons to celebrate. This has been a long road and we would like to pay tribute to the team at Gwynedd Council for all their hard work during the long bid process.”

UNESCO World Heritage Site status recognises the role of the Welsh slate industry in not only producing slate that has “roofed the world”, but also in developing innovative technologies, including narrow gauge railways, that have spread across the globe.

It also recognises the role of the slate industry in preserving Welsh culture and language. The Ffestiniog Railway was also one of the key elements of the successful bid.

Ian Drummond, Talyllyn Railway’s Heritage Working Group chair, said: “This inscription is the end of a long road for everyone involved in the bid process. We are already seeing benefits, not only on the railway but also in the local communities, as projects have been undertaken to emphasise, interpret and, in some cases, restore the heritage of the slate industry and its contribution to the history of the area.

“We are delighted to have played a role in the process so far, and the railway will now be one of the main ‘hubs’ of the Heritage Site, giving people the opportunity to understand more of the heritage and culture of this wonderful area.”

Anthony Coulls, senior curator of the Railway Museum in York and long-serving Talyllyn Railway volunteer, added: “The recognition of Talyllyn Railway’s role, both as a pioneer narrow gauge slate railway and as the world’s first preserved railway, is richly deserved.

“The railway now takes its place alongside the Darjeeling Railway in India and the Semmering Railway in Austria as railways recognised as having World Heritage Status, something that will also apply to the Ffestiniog Railway. This is therefore a day to be celebrated by all in the international Heritage Railway movement.”

The celebratory slate train ran from Tywyn Wharf Station to Brynglas and back, carrying a special headboard which had been produced for the occasion. Locomotive No.2 was driven by James Foster with Anthony Coulls as fireman and Ian Drummond as guard.