Find out what’s been happening on the Talyllyn Railway during lockdown, as we prepare to re-open on 1 August.

While the railway was sleeping

The sudden COVID19 Coronavirus lockdown at the end of March, just before we were due to restart running trains, came as a bit of a shock to us all. Since then, we’ve kept the locos in hibernation, the carriages safely locked up and the railway premises closed. Most of the staff were furloughed with Stuart Williams (General Manager) and Chris Smith (Engineering Manager) kept on to keep things ticking over. You can see what they got up to on our fabulous ‘Weekly Walkabouts’ on our YouTube channel.

Mid Wales was blessed with the most amazing warm, sunny weather for weeks. The daffodils flowered and faded. The bluebells took over the line in peace and quiet. The lambs in the lineside fields grew bigger with no engine whistles to send them bounding away from the growing hedgerows. The Rhydyronen donkeys cropped the lineside grass and made it into the national news. Nature began re-claiming the line – starting to look like it did in the 1950s when we took over. The Fathew Valley was eerily silent without engine whistles echoing off the hillsides.

 

A railway cutting starting to look overgrown.
Cynfal Bridge looking towards Rhydyronen in April 2020. Photo Karen Willans.

 

Things didn’t stop completely though. Our online shop has remained open and had a lot of custom. Our fabulous volunteers running the Virtual Visit Appeal have raised over £105,000 through donations, on-line auctions and even a #TitfieldTweetalong hosted by TV presenter Tim Dunn – an incredible amount for which we thank people from the bottom of our hearts.

Work on our historic Corris coach has progressed, as our friends at Stanegate continue the re-build work. Head to the Corris Coach Rebuilding Appeal Facebook page for the latest updates and photos.

Other staff and volunteers have been working hard on creating safe, socially distant  operating practices for when we re-open. Council and other committees have embraced modern technology with regular on-line meetings. On social media, volunteers from far and wide have stayed connected by sharing Talyllyn memories, photos and banter. Our Young Members Group has held regular Zoom quizzes and catch-ups. The Talyllyn Family may have been apart but we’ve certainly stayed together.

Restarting outdoor work

The time came for us to begin to re-awaken a couple of weeks ago. Outdoor staff were allowed limited work strimming the line and track maintenance. Lockdown rules started being relaxed, allowing limited outside lineside volunteering.

First three photos: Outdoor staff back at work for track maintenance. Photos by Chris Palmer.

Second row: Cynfal after the weed-killing train (photo Karen Willans) and volunteers strimming (photos Allan Black).

Small gangs of local volunteers have been out strimming, clearing lineside growth and sprucing up the stations. The line has been inspected. Engineering staff have been allowed back in to prepare our locos and carriages and check signalling and points.

Waking sleeping locos

In early July, a steam engine emerged out of Pendre Shed for the first time in months, crewed by local father and son team David and Tom. Fittingly, it was No 2 Dolgoch, the first steam engine to work in preservation. No 2 has been out on test runs and it’s unbelievably wonderful to hear her whistles resounding round Tywyn once more. No 4 Edward Thomas and No 7 Tom Rolt have also been lit up for testing the air pumps and have been seen up the line.

Photos of locos being lit up and tested by Tom Curtis.

Next steps

Tourism is now opening up again following Welsh Government lockdown easing. There are of course restrictions still in place to keep us all safe including which accommodation can be opened and how attractions can operate safely.

We’re aiming to run trains for the public from Saturday 1 August. Before then, we are running ‘shakedown’ trains to make sure we can operate them safely for volunteers and passengers and with appropriate social distancing measures and deep cleaning procedures in place.

Wharf Café has re-opened with outside seating from Monday 13 July so we have hot food, plenty of lovely cake and drinks available. The shop is also open ‘in person’ again. It’s not the season we imagined, but slowly and surely we are re-awakening.

We look forward to seeing everyone soon. Please read our Re-opening FAQs on timetables and buying tickets online before you decide to travel – we’ll have limited seating and we don’t want to disappoint anyone.

If you are travelling to Wales, please check out the Visit Wales website for the latest advice for visitors.

A massive, heartfelt thank you to everyone for your support over the last few months. You all have Hearts of Gold.

 

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