The Spring Bank Holiday, which for most schools in the UK is half-term, marked a welcome return after a year of lockdown, for the Talyllyn Railway’s junior members to their popular ‘Tracksiders’ week.
The usual programme of activities for families to work together on the Talyllyn Railway was put on hold for 2020 due to Covid legislation. In previous years, there have been two week-long programmes in May and October of activities organised for young members, accompanied by at least one adult, usually from their own family. Activities include working on various projects, often alongside the 7½ mile track from Tywyn Wharf to Nant Gwernol. Tasks include weeding and gardening, footpath maintenance, occasional maintenance of the Railway’s remaining sections of historic lineside slate fencing, and always several social activities during the week.
One such work project was the construction of the Playground alongside the station car park at Abergynolwyn several years ago. This requires ongoing maintenance from time to time to ensure its continuing safety. This year a maintenance project was also undertaken on work that needed to be done on the steps and lineside footpath above Abergynolwyn Station at ‘Forestry Crossing.’ A second project in the week was extending and improving the new ‘Discovery Trail’ in the woodland below Abergynolwyn station.
Social activities have included a beach event with swimming, a barbeque, a rounders match and an annual putting competition. Tracksiders is not just an introduction to volunteer activities, but a source of many good friendships which have been made over the years.
Tracksiders grew from a Junior Members newsletter called “Trackside”, originally edited by TR Vice President Christopher Awdry. To encourage recruitment of younger volunteers, the first “Tracksiders” working party was set up in 1997, and until the Covid year of 2020 had met every year since. In total the number of volunteer days given to the railway is now well in excess of 4000.
Tracksiders is run by TRPS Member Ian Evans, assisted by several other TRPS members, and sometimes a number of former Tracksiders who enjoy returning as young adults to encourage and occasionally to lend a hand. One of these young adults is now editor of the Trackside Newsletter.
Tracksiders effectively provides a first introduction to volunteering on the railway and is an important part of the Talyllyn’s commitment to engaging with, and encouraging young members to work towards becoming active volunteers.
Tracksiders are too young to get involved in the running of trains or to go on site to the Pendre workshops due to age restrictions and for health and safety reasons. However, there is an opportunity to go on to join the TRPS pioneer ‘Training and Development’ programme. This is an award-winning two-year programme for 14- and 15-year-olds to prepare them for volunteering at 16. A significant number of regular TR volunteers, now in their twenties, began as Tracksiders. The group now has a distinguished ‘track’ record in that two former Tracksiders are already qualified volunteer loco drivers, several more are guards and firemen and more still are working towards eventual qualification.
Jonathan Mann, our Society Chairman, said:
‘We are extremely proud of our Tracksiders and our 14–15-year-old trainees. The Tracksiders carry out carefully supervised work alongside the Railway with huge enthusiasm, and for many this is the start of many years of volunteering and friendship on the Talyllyn. The work that they do really enhances the Railway, and they also learn useful, practical skills. As they become older, they can join the Training and Development scheme, so that when they are 16 and able to volunteer on the operating side, they have a head start. With such enthusiasm from so many young people, I am confident that the future of the Railway is in safe hands, and I would like to record my thanks to all those who work tirelessly to enable these activities to take place.’
For further information about this press release please e-mail: [email protected] or phone 01654 710472.
For more information on our young volunteers, please visit the Tracksiders webpage.