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Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway raises £95,000 for loco overhaul – in three months

By Lisa O'Brien | Welshpool | Attractions | Published:

The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway has raised £95,000 in just three months to complete the overhaul of its original locomotive The Earl.

Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway

The mandatory overhaul of the locomotive, which was built in 1902, started in June 2019.

With the Mid-Wales line’s own workshops focused on the restoration of locomotive no 699.01 ‘Sir Drefaldwyn’, which has not steamed since the end of the 20th century, a large legacy of unassigned funding allowed the contract for overhauling The Earl to be awarded to the Vale of Rheidol Railway at Aberystwyth.

However the Covid-19 pandemic and resultant closure of the W&LLR over the first four months of the 2020 season put significant pressure on the railway’s finances.

This raised the prospect of having to ask the Vale of Rheidol to suspend the overhaul, which was half complete at the time the pandemic closed the workshops in March.

The Earl left Llanfair Caereinion for Aberystwyth in June 2019. Thanks to the appeal success the loco should return in the spring of next year.

By June the success of the W&LLR’s ‘Tracks to Recovery’ appeal – which in less than three months raised more than £55,000 to help meet the line’s fixed costs during closure – encouraged the line to repurpose the appeal to ‘Keep The Earl on Track’ with a minimum £30,000 target to complete the loco’s rolling chassis.

However in a three-month period, members and supporters of the line have raised the entire £95,000, enabling management to authorise the overhaul to proceed to completion when the Rheidol workshop in Aberystwyth reopens, expected to be in November.

“We are absolutely delighted with the success of the appeal and very grateful to all those who made contributions – having The Earl back in time for the majority of the 2021 season is essential to our plans for 2021, particularly as sister locomotive The Countess reaches its 10-year overhaul point early next year,” said W&LLR spokesman Andrew Charman.

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“Our friends at the Vale of Rheidol completing The Earl will allow our own mechanical engineering department to concentrate on completing the restoration of Sir Drefaldwyn, the work on which has suffered from many delays not least due to Covid-19,” Andrew added.

“With The Earl, Sir Drefaldwyn and our visiting Austrian engine Zillertal on the roster in 2021, we should be able to offer visitors three contrasting but equally interesting types of motive power on their trains.”

It comes as the railway is also recruiting a new general manager after current incumbent Charles Spencer announced his retirement.

Charles Spencer

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Charles will step down on March 31, 2021, after six years in post.

His impending departure has been greeted with sadness by many members and supporters, but W&LLR chairman Steve Clews admitted that the news was not a complete surprise.

“Charles said right from the start that he would be in position for only four to five years dependent upon his personal situation and commitments, so I am actually thinking of this as us having had an extra year,” Steve said.

“Charles has made a huge contribution over the last five years to moving the W&LLR to another level,” he added.

Charles first encountered the W&LLR while on holiday from his native Canada, where he had enjoyed a high-level career in central banking.

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He was encouraged to join the line’s volunteers and after retiring from his career trained and qualified as a locomotive fireman.

When the W&LLR general manager role became vacant Charles applied for and secured the post.

Charles says his decision to step down had been made purely for family reasons and his forthcoming retirement on the Isle of Man, and he had no intention of leaving the W&LLR behind him.

“I still want to come back and shovel coal in steam locomotives on a regular basis,” he said.

“It was a great first five seasons and a pity the sixth was hit by the virus.

“But considering the circumstances we will come to the end of this year in remarkably good financial shape thanks to the support of volunteers, staff, members and donors, and that’s a great position in which to leave the railway.”

The W&LLR trustee board has begun the process to appoint a successor, and Steve Clews emphasised that for now it is business as usual.

He said: “Charles remains in post as general manager and in charge until the completion of a handover to his replacement.

"He retains absolute support from the board, and we look forward to working alongside him until his departure.”

Lisa O'Brien

By Lisa O'Brien
Senior Reporter - @lisaobrien_Star

Senior reporter based at Shropshire Star's head office in Ketley. Covering the Telford area.

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