Talyllyn Railway building up steam to reopen for the summer
The world’s first preserved railway is building up steam to reopen this summer, subject to Welsh Government guidelines.
The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that Talyllyn Railway at Tywyn, Mid Wales, has been unable to run trains since March 20.
General manager Stuart Williams is hoping to be able to run the first train by the end of July or early August, but instead of carrying up to 600 passengers a day, social distance restrictions might limit the number to 100.
The railway’s shop reopened last week, which has given staff the chance to run through social distancing and hygiene procedures. The railway's café is also hoped to be able to serve drinks and food in an outdoor catering area from July 13, subject to Welsh Government guidance.
Mr Williams hopes that the Welsh Government will follow the UK Government’s lead in reducing social distancing from two metres to one metre by the end of July, which would allow more flexibility in terms of the number of passengers trains can carry.
“We class ourselves as an outdoor attraction, so we believe that we should be able to reopen towards the end of July,” he said. “We are looking to cover a lot of the main summer period by asking customers to pre-book the limited number of places on our trains.
“There are so many things to think about to progress in a positive way towards being able to press the button to reopen when it’s safe to do so.
“We hope to run our first public trains soon, but before that we need to check the necessary processes and safety measures are in place after the lockdown.
“We would normally be taking up to 600 passengers daily on our trains during the summer, but the social distancing restrictions will mean we can carry just a fraction of that number.
“We are all looking forward to reopening for the sheer enjoyment of seeing trains going up and down the valley again. It’s a model of calmness when you come to Talyllyn Railway.”
An appeal launched to help the heritage line through the pandemic has raised £102,000 to date, which far exceeds the original £75,000 target.
“The response has been overwhelming and I would like to say a huge thank you to everybody who has donated,” added Mr Williams. “The money raised by the appeal allows the railway to be cost neutral for the whole summer, which is great.”
He and engineering manager Chris Smith also welcome up to 11,500 virtual visitors to a social media live stream every Wednesday at 10.30am when they do a 10-minute walk around and talk about the railway.
The railway is also welcoming local volunteers from a five-mile radius to carry out a range of work including vegetation management. Six new volunteers have been recruited in a team of 30 that is helping the railway during lockdown.
“There have been a lot of positives for the railway during the lockdown,” said Mr Williams. “It shows that there is a lot of passion for our little railway.”
All but a skeleton staff has been furloughed under the Government’s scheme to support retained employees through the crisis and Mr Williams is hoping to retain as many as possible following the pandemic.
The railway is in its 155th year of operation. It provided the inspiration for the creation of Thomas the Tank Engine by author the Rev W. V. Awdry, who was an early volunteer on the railway.