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Talyllyn Railway

Coordinates: 52°35′01″N 4°05′20″W / 52.5836472°N 4.088783°W / 52.5836472; -4.088783
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Talyllyn Railway
Rheilffordd Talyllyn
Locomotive No. 4 Edward Thomas stands at Tywyn Wharf station
Locomotive No. 4 Edward Thomas stands at Tywyn Wharf station
Locomotive No. 4 Edward Thomas stands at Tywyn Wharf station – April 2005
TerminusTywyn Wharf
Coordinates52°35′01″N 4°05′20″W / 52.5836472°N 4.088783°W / 52.5836472; -4.088783
Commercial operations
NameTalyllyn Railway
Original gauge27
Preserved operations
Operated byTalyllyn Railway Company, supported by Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society
Stations7 and 5 halts
Length7.25 miles (11.67 km)
Preserved gauge27
Commercial history
1911Sold to Henry Haydn Jones
1946Quarry closed
Preservation history
1951Taken over by the Preservation Society
1976Opening of extension to Nant Gwernol
2001Railway celebrates 50 years of preservation
2005New station building and museum opened at Tywyn -->

The Talyllyn Railway (Welsh: Rheilffordd Talyllyn) is a narrow-gauge preserved railway in Wales. It runs for 7.25 miles (11.67 km)[1] from Tywyn[a] on the Mid-Wales coast to Nant Gwernol near the village of Abergynolwyn. The line was opened in 1866 to carry slate from the quarries at Bryn Eglwys to Tywyn. It was the first narrow gauge railway in Britain authorised by Act of Parliament to carry passengers using steam haulage.[2][3] Despite severe under-investment,[4] the line remained open, and in 1951 it became the first railway in the world to be preserved as a heritage railway by volunteers.[5][6]

Since preservation, the railway has operated as a tourist attraction. It has increased the amount of rolling stock it has. It has done this by buying and building new locomotives and carriages. In 1976, an extension was opened along the former mineral line from Abergynolwyn to the new station at Nant Gwernol. In 2001, the preservation society celebrated its 50th anniversary. In 2005 a major rebuilding and extension of Tywyn Wharf station took place. This included a much-expanded facility for the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum.

The fictional Skarloey Railway was based on the Talyllyn Railway. This fictional railway formed part of the Railway Series of children's books by The Rev. W. Awdry. The preservation of the line inspired the Ealing Comedy film The Titfield Thunderbolt.

Name and gauge[change | change source]

The origin of the railway's name is uncertain. It could refer to the parish of Talyllyn, which contains its eastern terminus.[7] Or it could come from Tal-y-llyn.[b] Tal-y-llyn is a large glacial ribbon lake at the foot of Cadair Idris 3 miles (4.8 km) further east.[8] The 2-foot-3-inch (686 mm) gauge of the track is unusual. It was shared by only three other public railways in the United Kingdom: the nearby Corris Railway (which predated the Talyllyn), and the subsequent Plynlimon and Hafan Tramway and Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway.

History[change | change source]

Origins and construction: up to 1866[change | change source]

Slate quarrying began in the hills above Tywyn in the 1830s. Although many small quarries and test levels were established, only one major quarry was developed in the region. It was at Bryn Eglwys, 7 miles (11 km) north east of the town. Underground working began in the early 1840s.[9] By 1847 the quarry was being worked by local landowner John Pughe. The finished slates were sent by packhorse to the wharf at Pennal. They were then transferred to boats for a river trip to Aberdyfi (also known as Aberdovey). Finally they were loaded into seagoing vessels. This was a complex and expensive transportation arrangement which limited the quarry's output.[10] In 1861 the outbreak of the American Civil War cut off supplies of cotton to the mills of the north west of England. As a result a number of prosperous mill owners looked for new business opportunities to diversify their interests. One such owner was William McConnel of Lancashire. In 1859 he purchased a house near Dolgellau, north of Tywyn. In January 1864, McConnel formed the Aberdovey Slate Company. The company leased the land including Bryn Eglwys from the landowner, Lewis Morris of Machynlleth.[11]

The remains of Bryn Eglwys quarry in 2008

McConnel set about improving Bryn Eglwys to increase its output. In 1865 his company earmarked money for the construction of a narrow gauge railway connecting the quarry with the port of Aberdyfi. The standard gauge Aberystwyth and Welsh Coast Railway was expanding rapidly from its base at Machynlleth however. In 1863 this railway had reached Tywyn, so McConnel decided to build his line from the quarry to Tywyn. This was the nearest point where slate could be transferred to the standard gauge railway. This was despite the line's initial isolation from the rest of the system because of difficulties in bridging the estuary of the Afon Dyfi to the south.[12] An Act of Parliament (28 and 29 Vict, cap cccxv) allowing the company to operate passenger trains as a public railway was given Royal Assent on 5 July 186.,[13][14] The company appointed James Swinton Spooner as engineer for the construction. He laid out plans for a relatively straight line climbing steadily from Tywyn to the quarry and work quickly got underway. By September 1866 construction had advanced to the point where the Board of Trade inspector Captain Henry Tyler could make an initial inspection and report.[15]

Tyler's report led to an unusual alteration. It was discovered that the loading gauge of the line was too small. The internal width of the overbridges was only 9 ft 1 in (277 cm), but the railway's passenger carriages were 5 ft 3.5 in (161.3 cm) wide. This left less than 2 ft (61 cm) clearance on either side, which was less than the minimum required clearance of 2 ft 6 in (76 cm). To alleviate this problem, McConnel proposed that the doors on one side of each carriage be permanently barred and the track slewed off-centre beneath the bridges. This would allow adequate clearance at least on the side with doors and mean that passengers could get out of the carriages if the train stopped underneath a bridge. Tyler agreed to this arrangement, and to this day all carriages on the Talyllyn have doors on one side only, an unusual feature for a public railway. This feature is however shared with the neighbouring Corris Railway, though for different reasons.[16] Tyler also required that improvements be made to the railway's first two steam locomotives, as locomotive No. 1 suffered from excessive "vertical motion" and No. 2 was said to suffer from "horizontal oscillation". No. 1 was returned to its manufacturer where a set of trailing wheels was added to reduce the rear overhang. The springs on No. 2 were adjusted and the crank pins shortened to reduce its oscillation.[17]

Success after McConnel: 1886-1880s[change | change source]

Talyllyn posed on Dolgoch Viaduct around 1867

The railway opened with two locomotives, one was a carriage and the other carried goods. They were ran under a "one engine in steam" rule to make sure they did not crash into each other.[18] At the beginning, locomotives were kept in a shed made of wood at Ty Dwr at the Abergynolwyn station. This was when the main engineering department of the Tayllyn was being built at Pendre.[19] The engineering department opened up on February 17 1867.[17]

When Talyllyn opened there were two train stations it visited, one at Pendre and the other at Abergynolwyn. In 1867, the station at Rhydyronen opened. In 1873, Brynglas and Dolgoch stations opened. Eventually, a line that ran from the Abergynolwyn station to the actual village of Abergynolwyn was opened. People could take an incline down a hill from the station to the town. From there, people could take a one of the many trams that ran through the village. Supplies like coal, building materials, and other things were sent down the incline from the train station to the village.[18]

The railway used steam locomotives when it opened. The two original locomotives were made by Fletcher, Jennings & Co. of Whitehaven in Cumbria.[20] Both of them are still used today but many of the parts inside and outside have been replaced. Talyllyn has a rare gauge. This is thought to match the gauge at Corris Railway.[21] The locomotives at Talyllyn might be the oldest of their kind for making sure they fit that type of gauge. The locomotives, Talyllyn and Dolgoch used to carry slate from the quarry at Tywyn. It also carried other things. Trains that carried people, called passenger trains, traveled between Abergynolwyn, Dolgoch and Pendre. Men who worked on the quarries also traveled on trains, despite those trains not being able to be used by the public. Those trains traveled from Abergynolwyn to Alltwyllt and into Nant Gwernol.[18]

The line was very successful when it opened. As of 1880, 300 people worked in the local slate industry. Over 8,000 long tons (8,100 t) of slate was sent by train each year.[9] Over 11,500 people first road the trains in 1867. By 1877, over 23,000 people were using the train.[22]

Less money is made: 1880s-1910[change | change source]

Talyllyn at the foot of the Alltwyllt incline. This is where Nant Gwernol station is today. The photograph was taken in 1890.

Starting in the 1880s, the "Grand Tour" was popular with people visiting the area, called tourists. People could take the Talyllyn and Corris trains and go through Tal-y-llyn Lake and Cadair Idris. Then, when they returned, they could use Cambrian Railways trains.[23] The need for slate slowed down for the last twenty years of the 1880s. Many quarries fired people or closed.[9] Even the quarries that dug up more slate due to other quarries closing often closed eventually. This made the need for the trains less, and made the railroad companies make less money.

Haydn Jones : 1911-1950[change | change source]

Eventually, the biggest quarry in the area, Bryn Eglwys closed. Most of the people who had jobs in Abergynolwyn worked at that quarry. Many people were hurt by the closure. A man who lived in Abergynolwyn, named Henry Haydn Jones bought Bryn Eglwys. He also became a MP for the Liberal representing Merioneth. The quarry, which had closed, reopened in January 1911.[24] Haydn Jones had no money to put into the quarry. But, when workers started mining in the quarry they pulled slate from the "Broad Vein" section. That section had slate that was very hard. It was not popular and most people did not want to buy it. They stopped getting slate from the Broad Vein and started getting slate from the "Narrow Vein," which had slate that was softer and that people wanted to buy. It was very expensive to build a new mind in the Narrow Vein. So, to save money, Haydn Jones made very small entrances into the mine, which were considered unsafe by many people.[24] The sales of slate rose during World War I because people started building new buildings after they were destroyed in the war.[9]

After the war ended, and after 1920, people started traveling more to see the sights of Britain. The number of people who wrote on the Talyllyn rose and places that once stored slate were used to seat people, instead.[25] Tourists could even rent slate wagons, which were used to transport slate only, as a fun thing to experience. A Gravity railway was used to move people on the wagons. People were no longer able to ride in the wagons as of the 1930s.[26] Tourists brought more money into the area and helped the railway survive, but, Haydn Jones never made money.

The rental contract on Bryn Eglwys ended in 1942. But, Haydn Jones could renew it each year. People were still visiting the area as tourists. In October 1942, two return trains ran on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The trip was 45 minutes long one way. They did not let people ride the trains on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. In 1946, the was a collapse in Bryn Eglwys. The quarry was called unsafe and people could not use it. It was closed. Haydn Jones kept running the railway and said he would do so until he died. In 1947, most of the railroads in Britain were bought by the government. Talyllyn remained owned by Haydn Jones.[27] Between 1947 and 1949, people could ride the train two days a week. Haydn Jones died on July 2 1950. The railway kept running until October 6.[28]

Preservation[change | change source]

Saving the railway: 1951-1960[change | change source]

Locomotive No. 2 Dolgoch at Abergynolwyn in 1951, early in the preservation era

In 1949, Tom Rolt, who was a writer, visited the railway. David Curwen, who was a locomotive engineer, visited with him.[29] In the summer of 1950, Rolt wrote a letter to the Birmingham Post. He told them that it was important to rescue Talyllyn. Many people had interest in this. On October 11 1950, a meeting was held about it in Birmingham at the Imperial Hotel. About 70 people attended. Rolt told them that he thought they should make a committee, or a team, to look into buying the railway. The committee met again on October 23. They met with the people who ran Haydn Jones' finances after he had died.[30]

It was very hard due to the law to make the committee the owners of the railway. Both the committee and Haydn Jones' people thought it was a good idea to have Jones' stop being the owner. They decided to make a new company, called Talyllyn Holdings, the owner. The company was a mix of people from the committee and from Jones' group. The company started running the railway on February 8 1951. They changed the name of the company to a non-profit called the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society. The Society started to advertise that they wanted to save the railway and asked for people to donate money. They also wanted to find people to volunteer to help run the railway. By May, almost 650 people had donated and became members of the Society.[31] The railway re-opened on Whit Monday, on May 14 1951.[32] Trains ran between Wharf and Rhydyronen. Starting on June 4, trains ran daily until the summer.[33] David Curwen was the Chief Mechanical Engineer.[32]

When the railway re-opened again it needed a lot of work done to it to fix things and update it. They bought two more steam locomotives from Corris Railway in 1951. They were named Sir Haydn and Edward Thomas. In 1951, Sir Haydn became the first new locomotive to travel on Talyllyn Railway in over 80 years. It derailed a lot because the Talyllyn Railway was slightly wider than the Corris Railway. Eventually this was fixed by changing the width of the railway and changing parts of the locomotive wheels.[34] The Edward Thomas needed a lot of service, but it was too expensive to fix. A man who was on the Preservation Society board of directors, John Alcock,[35] had his company, the Hunslet Engine Company fix it for free.[36]

This photograph is of a locomotive that was used by the Guinness Brewery was the first thing donated to the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum


Another locomotive was donated to the Society by an engineering company in Birmingham called Abelsons Limited. The locomotive was named Douglas. It was built for the depot railway and was used by the RAF Calshot until 1945. It started being used by the public in 1954.[37] Through the 1950s volunteers and Society staff members helped fix the railway tracks.[38]

On May 22 1957, the BBC produced a live television program at the railway. Wynford Vaughan Thomas and Huw Weldon road the train from Dolgoch to Abergynolwyn. As a result of the television program, more people used the train. Over 57,000 people road the train that summer. The money that those people paid helped the Society improve the railway.[39] In 1958, the original Talyllyn locomotive was put back in service.[40]

At the Tywyn Wharf train station a museum was opened. It is called the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum. The first object that was displayed at the museum was the Guinness Brewery locomotive. It was donated to the museum in 1952. The museum opened in 1956.[41]

Related pages[change | change source]

Notes[change | change source]

^ a: The spelling of local place names has changed during the history of the railway; for example Tywyn was generally spelled as "Towyn" until 1975.[42] Modern place name spellings are used throughout this article.
^ b: According to the Ordnance Survey, the name of the lake is hyphenated. In the early days of the preservation society, it was decided that the name of the railway would be unhyphenated.[43] This convention has been applied to the railway ever since, and is used throughout this article.

References[change | change source]

  1. Boyd 1965, page 85
  2. Mitchell and Eyres, 2005 page 7
  3. Boyd 1988, page 44
  4. Rolt 1965, page 50
  5. Thomas 2002, page 32
  6. Ransom 1996, page 139
  7. Johnson 1999, page 27
  8. Boyd 1965, page 61–62
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Richards 1999, page 195
  10. Boyd 1965, pages 62–63
  11. Boyd 1988, page 9
  12. Boyd 1965, page 64
  13. Boyd 1988, page 45
  14. Potter, page 11
  15. Boyd 1965, page 65
  16. Boyd 1965, pages 68–69
  17. 17.0 17.1 Boyd 1965, page 70
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Boyd 1965, page 71
  19. Boyd 1988, page 149
  20. Rolt 1965, pages 82–83
  21. Rolt 1998, pages 5–6
  22. Boyd 1965, page 118
  23. Rolt 1998, pages 24–25
  24. 24.0 24.1 Boyd 1965, pages 72–73
  25. Ransom 1996, page 130
  26. Boyd 1965, pages 116–117
  27. Boyd 1965, pages 73–74
  28. Boyd 1965, page 74
  29. Potter, page 59
  30. Rolt 1965, pages 52–53
  31. Rolt 1965, pages 54–55
  32. 32.0 32.1 Potter, page 78
  33. Rolt 1965, page 56
  34. Boyd 1988, page 260
  35. Rolt 1998, picture facing page 109
  36. Johnson 1997, page 57
  37. Boyd 1965, pages 99–100
  38. Goddin 2002, page 46
  39. Rolt 1965, pages 61–62
  40. Mitchell and Eyres, 2005 page 25
  41. Rolt 1965, pages 112–114
  42. Bate 2001, page 186
  43. "No Names, No Hyphens, No Packdrill". Talyllyn News. 2. Talyllyn Railway: 1. November 1953.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)

Other websites[change | change source]