Published: 29th November 2014
There is new hope for the Teifi Valley Railway (TVR). The 2ft gauge line in West Wales has struggled for some years but hit a new low this year when it finished the summer season without a main running line.
After concerns over various issues, including the standard of sections of the track, were raised during a June 10 Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) inspection, trains stopped running. Martin Dearing, a local businessman who had been running the railway and associated site at Henllan under a licence arrangement since May 2013, secured agreement from a majority of TVR company directors to lift the track between Henllan and Pontprenshitw (roughly the line’s halfway point) leaving just the tracks in the yard and a marooned section beyond Pontprenshitw.
Instead of a steam-hauled train service, Mr Dearing controversially introduced a ‘road train’ (a tractor hauling two four-wheel trailers) operation.
While there was no doubting Mr Dearing had invested in improved facilities at Henllan during his tenure, there were concerns over his stated intentions to reinstate the railway this winter to reconnect it with the remaining section from Pontprenshitw to its Llandyfriog Riverside terminus. Moreover, questions were being voiced as to whether the TVR company, as holders of the LRO, were legally permitted to transfer powers to operate the railway to a licensee as had occurred.
October proved to be a pivotal month, culminating in ‘mutual agreement’ that Mr Dearing’s contract with the TVR company be declared null and void and the departure from the scene of figures linked to the TVR’s recent predicament. A new management team was put in place with appointments including Ivor McFadzean (a past TVR manager) and Chris Shanks being appointed as new trustees and Dave James returning to his old post as the railway’s chief engineer (now as a volunteer) and to fill the role of Responsible Officer.
The new beginning was marked by a special November 9 open day when Hunslet 0-4-0ST Alan George was steamed and ran on the remaining track in Henllan yard and the boiler for Kerr Stuart 0-6-2T Sgt Murphy (withdrawn in July 2013) was displayed having returned to Henllan after the TVR society paid for the attention it had received at Bartlett Engineering.
Visitors were also shown the condition of the trackbed and the task of reinstatement which lies ahead. The formation between Henllan and Pontprenshitw (where track was lifted) has suffered significant damage from both the ‘road train’ (which did not prove a popular attraction) and logging machinery used to extract timber during the summer closure of the railway.
The track beyond Pontprenshitw, which had been in reasonable condition and was left in situ, has also been damaged during the summer logging operations which have left bent rails and other issues now requiring attention. The far end of the line to Llandyfriog Riverside, the most recently laid part of the entire railway and in the best condition, fortunately escaped damage and should not require much attention.
“It is like starting a new heritage railway,” Dave James observed. “Things are looking up after two years of battling and any help will be gratefully received.”
Fortunately, offers of assistance are already arriving from other Welsh heritage lines, notably the standard gauge Pontypool & Blaenavon Railway, and grant applications are being made.
There is finance available to bring in a machine to start levelling the formation from Henllan towards Pontprenshitw, but new ballast, rail and sleepers need to be bought.
There is hope that trains could be running from Henllan at least as far as Forest Halt as early as June 2015 and Dave James is aiming to have a mile of track ready for use during summer 2015.
While far from a mainstream narrow gauge railway, the 2ft gauge Mine's Tramway at the Llechwedd slate quarry tourist attraction in Blaenau Ffestiniog offered a fascinating glimpse of industrial operation while serving to provide a ride through old underground slate workings. The early part of 2015 produced a scare when the word got round that it was closing, followed by stories that closure would be temporary due to refurbishment work.
Refurbishment turned out to be the correct story and it has recommenced operating, but in a different form from previously. It no longer runs as an attraction in its own right through the old tunnels. Instead, it now transports visitors to a ‘Bounce Below’ trampoline attraction in an underground slate chamber. A recent report stated over 400 visitors a day travelled to the attraction via the revamped tramway.
The tramway train is worked top-and-tail by two 4wBE (battery-electric) locomotives. The track employed by the previous underground route beyond the new trampoline attraction no longer used is reportedly intact, as is the old surface turning triangle, but the old underground passing loop has been lifted.
In contrast, the 15in gauge railway at Cricket St. Thomas Lakes & Gardens has finally succumbed. Built in the 1980s, the line was extensively refurbished in 2009. Issues arose concerning the track and were dealt with during winter 2012-13 and the line was passed for use during 2013 following inspection despite widespread rumours that it had, or was going to be, closed. The start of this year brought a different story, enquiries bringing the news that the line would not run in 2014 due to 'maintenance issues'.
The 0-6-2DH steam-outline locomotive, originally built by Alan Keef Ltd (which could work the carriages in push-pull mode) which was rebuilt by Hunslet at Statfold Farm and hired to the railway following the 2009 work, returned to Statfold in February 2014 and offered for sale.
Any remaining hopes the line had a future evaporated when in October, the 15in gauge Rhiw Valley Light Railway took delivery of rail, sleepers, spikes, bolts and fishplates lifted from Cricket St. Thomas by RVLR volunteers. The railway may be gone, but at least its track will assist the continuing development of the charming Rhiw Valley line, which is privately owned but holds periodic open days.