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Talyllyn Railway wins national award for communications during pandemic

The complete original Victorian train hauled by locomotive No.1 ‘Talyllyn’. Photo by David Mitchell.

Talyllyn Railway and the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum at Tywyn were both winners at the Heritage Railway Association’s annual awards, which were held virtually this year.

The world’s first preserved railway, The Talyllyn received the Internal Communications Award for its Talyllyn Control Centre (TCC) public on-line subscription service while the museum won the Heritage Railway Magazine Interpretation Awards.

TCC was commissioned by Talyllyn Railway’s general manager, Stuart Williams, working with a volunteer who runs his own software company, Yingatech.

Introduced in February 2020, TCC was designed to give armchair supporters greater access to the railway during the Covid-19 pandemic, enhancing the existing webcam page which sees more than 500,000 visitors annually. With an annual fee of just £5, there are now 400 active subscribers to the TCC.

Photograph shows a screen shot of the Talyllyn Railway Train Monitoring System.
(Credit: Heritage Rail Association).

The TCC portal runs alongside the railway’s internal operating management system that gives continual live updates to the operating staff, giving subscribers access to those extra webcams that the public don’t see and the ability to view the live position of trains along the railway.

Peter Richards, from Yingatech, said: “Seeing the railway presented with this award, after months of hard work from many people, is incredibly rewarding and I’m very proud of the work that we’ve been able to do together.

“The system has been an aid to keep people connected to the ‘railway with a heart of gold’ during the pandemic and, with more cameras and features in the works, I hope to keep expanding it further for people in the future.”

Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society’s chairman Jonathan Mann added: “The news of the award, just as we are about to resume passenger services after another lockdown, is very exciting.

“The railway is currently celebrating the 70th anniversary of becoming the first preserved railway in the world and it would be easy to imagine that, after so long, we have achieved all we might wish to. However, this award shows that we are still innovating and we are embracing new technology to add to the Talyllyn experience.

“It also provides a valuable aid to the controller, who now has detailed information available as to the progress of the trains up and down the line, a far cry from 70 years ago, when there was not even a telephone available.”

Talyllyn Railway was also runner-up for a new HRA award, Most Innovative Fundraising Idea, which recognised ways in which heritage railways have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Talyllyn was nominated for its Virtual Visit Appeal which was launched at the end of March to encourage supporters to donate what they would have spent travelling to or on the railway.

The appeal was centred around a weekly video communication billed the ‘Weekly Walkabout’. Every Wednesday, an update was aired, with Stuart Williams, engineering manager Chris Smith and commercial manager Lorraine Simkiss giving updates from behind the scenes.

Mr Williams said: “In all, the appeal has raised over £130,000 (plus gift aid) and is still being added to daily. The appeal raised the profile of the railway and ensured that our supporters were able to feel connected even though they couldn’t physically be here.”

The HRA is a trade association representing and promoting the interests of heritage and tourist railways. Its annual awards event is traditionally the highlight of the heritage rail calendar.

The awards recognised a wide range of achievements and distinctions across the heritage railway industry, including individuals, institutions, railways, tramways and cliff railways. Despite the overwhelming impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, several categories saw a record number of submissions and shortlisted entrants.