History was repeated on Talyllyn Railway, the world’s first preserved railway, at Tywyn in Mid Wales earlier this month.
The scenic, heritage railway, which has been running for 155 years, celebrated the 70th anniversary of the formation of Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society (TRPS) without fanfare last month due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
There was also another 70th anniversary on November 9 when the final train prior to the railway being taken over by TRPS was marked with a special journey along the line using the same steam locomotive, Dolgoch.
The 1950 journey was organised for TRPS by John Wilkins, a Birmingham industrialist and one of Fairbourne Railway’s owners, to report on the condition of the line. The line was so poor that the train derailed near Brynglas and soldiers from the nearby Morfa Camp had to be enlisted to get it back to base.
Wilkins reported: “The track is in a very poor condition, sleepers are rotten and about 50% of the rails unusable. Talyllyn is a complete write off and Dolgoch (the steam locomotive) will need inspection before it can again have its boiler insured. This is not in good order, being 81 years old.”
The driver of Dolgoch in 1950 was Dai Jones. It was fitting that his son, David and grandson, Tom, were at the controls of Dolgoch for last week’s trip, which went much more smoothly.
The only passengers this time were Stuart Williams, the railway’s general manager and Chris Smith, engineering manager, who recorded one of their ‘Weekly Walkabout’ videos to mark the occasion. The video can be viewed on YouTube.
“We had planned to make this a very special occasion with a lot more passengers but, due to the various Covid restrictions, it was a very quiet affair,” explained Stuart.
“The train was driven by David Jones, son of Dai who drove the 1950 train, with his son, Tom, as fireman. The Jones family has worked on the railway for five generations.”
In the autumn of 1950, the future of the railway hung in the balance. Sir Henry Haydn Jones bought the railway in 1911 to serve his quarry, which later closed in 1946.
Now in his 80s, Sir Haydn pledged to keep it running during his lifetime but, when he died in July 1950, the railway seemed likely to follow. His widow, Lady Haydn, continued the passenger service until the end of the summer season and the final train, with loco Dolgoch, one carriage and the brake van, ran on October 6.
TRPS was formed on October 11 at a meeting in Birmingham and Lady Haydn handed over the railway in February 1951. The first train of the preservation era ran on May 14, 1951.
The narrow gauge railway opened for goods traffic in 1865 and introduced passenger services soon afterwards. Passengers have been travelling on the seven mile line between the coastal town of Tywyn and Nant Gwernol every year since.
The line is operated primarily by volunteers from all walks of life, with a small paid staff. One of the early volunteers was late author, the Rev W. V. Awdry, who used the railway as inspiration for the creation of his famous character Thomas the Tank Engine.