by Cliff Thomas

Revival of Chirk Welsh narrow gauge line underway

Published: 4th February 2015

Trackbed deal brings reality to returning trains on the Glyn Valley Tramway

The Glyn Valley Tramway Trust (GVTT) is on the verge of completing a deal which will secure 300 metres of trackbed once used by the Glyn Valley Tramway (GVT). The section, known as ‘Chirk Straight’, is between Hand Lane Bridge (the road bridge over the national network line at Chirk station) and Ty Ririd cutting.

Under the agreement landowners, The Caravan Club of Great Britain, will give the trust a 60-year lease (on a peppercorn basis) covering both the section of trackbed and ‘Tunnel Field’, which adjoins the trackbed at Chirk. This will enable the Glyn Valley Tramway Trust to create access to its planned locomotive shed adjacent to Hand Lane Bridge on the Chirk Straight side.

On completing the documentation, which is anticipated imminently, felling of trees which have grown along ‘Chirk Straight’ will commence. A new 'woodland screen' to replace the felled trees will be planted further back, clear of the trackbed. To facilitate this Coed Cymru (the Welsh Woodland Trust) has supplied GVTT with around 450 mixed hardwood saplings. A working party has already commenced planting these.

Initial vegetation and tree clearance was undertaken about a year ago in the cutting adjacent to the garden of the house named Ty Ririd. A winter effort to clear growth from last summer is about to progress. Although clearance work has created a line of sight between Ty Ridid cutting and Chirk Straight, thousands of tons of earth dumped near the cutting end of the straight during the construction of Chirk Industrial Estate needs to be bulldozed to restore the original trackbed line.

New station at Chirk will link with national network

Glyn Valley Tramway Trust secured planning permission in February 2012 to rebuild a mile-long section of the old GVT from Chirk station to Pontfaen, west of Ty Ririd cutting. With agreement reached for the first section of trackbed the pace towards reviving a section of the long-lost line should now accelerate markedly.

The focus during 2015 will be on clearing the trackbed preparatory to track laying while also raising the public profile of the revival project. The trust plans to restore the original GVT platform at Chirk, which was located immediately behind the main line platform, and construct a station for the narrow gauge line largely on the location of the original. Exploratory digs have already established evidence of the remaining elements of the original platform at Chirk.

Unfinished narrow gauge revival business

The GVT had a special charm and character which has provided it with an enduring appeal to enthusiasts, with its locomotives and stock widely modelled on small-scale and garden railways. Two of the original four-wheel coaches survived into preservation and can be seen (and ridden in) at the Talyllyn Railway.

While somewhat different from the other classic narrow gauge lines of North and Mid-Wales, revival of at least a section of the route represents unfinished business in railway preservation. The Talyllyn and Vale of Rheidol railways never closed and are in safe preservation hands today while the Ffestiniog, Welshpool & Llanfair (other then the Welshpool town section) and Welsh Highland railways have been restored and are flourishing.

Trains are running again on a part of the old Corris Railway trackbed (complete with a replica of an original Corris locomotive and another under construction) and a small section of the Penrhyn Railway has also been resurrected at Felin Fawr.

The Snowdon Mountain Railway and Fairbourne Railway, historic in their own rights albeit in different categories, are very much in business and 2ft gauge trains run over part of the Dinorwic Quarry-related 4ft gauge Padarn Railway route at Llanberis. In the foreseeable future trains will also return to the Glyn Valley!

A tramway – but not really a tram

The GVT’s origins date from the 1873 opening of a horse-worked tramway. Conversion to steam operation in 1888 was accompanied by altering the route from Pontfaen. Instead of crossing the river a new alignment enabled the line to reach the GWR station at Chirk – it is essentially this ‘new’ route which is covered by GVTT’s planning permission. The historic realignment also placed the GVT main line wholly within Wales – just, the border with England is defined by the River Ceiriog as it flows down the valley!

While the line retained Tramway in its title, indeed the majority of its route between Pontfaen and Glyn Ceiriog ran alongside the road and its 1885 enabling Act required typical street tramway features to be incorporated in the locomotives, it was not a tramway in the urban sense. Its original locomotives, 0-4-2Ts built by Beyer Peacock, had a substantial casing and skirts covering the motion due to the roadside route, but at heart were basically conventional locomotives rather than true trams.

By the time an ex-WW1 Baldwin 4-6-0T (suitably regauged to the GVT’s unusual 2ft 4.5in gauge) arrived in 1921 any tramway-style requirements were clearly ‘forgotten’ and the locomotive ran in its original form without any apparent intervention from the Board of Trade! GVT passenger trains ceased in 1932 with the line being finally closed in 1935.

Glyn Valley Tramway Trust has decided its revival project will employ 2ft 6in gauge rather than the original 2ft 4.5in, the small difference opening up the use of comparatively easily available 2ft 6in gauge (as employed by Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway and, most importantly, ex-MoD light rail systems) equipment.

Further expansion?

The focus for GVTT is to revive the route between Chirk and Pontfaen for which it has planning permission to get a mile-long section of GVT up and running. Extending further is not currently on the active agenda, although it may be possible to extend to Castle Mill near the site of the Crogan Battlefield. Further progress may be possible, but perhaps for a future generation to undertake!

A different organisation, The New Glyn Valley Tramway & Industrial Heritage Trust (formerly the Glyn Valley Tramway Group) is developing separate GVT-related plans at the Glyn Ceiriog end of the old line. These principally focus on the old loco shed, held on a lengthy 25 year lease secured from Wrexham CBC in 2010, which is to become a Glyn Valley Tramway & Industrial Heritage Interpretation Centre.

Technically, the first steam revival on the GVT trackbed since closure occurred on September 17 2011 when privately owned 2010-built 0-4-0VBT Iorwerth steamed over 50yds of temporary 2ft gauge track (employing original GVT rails lifted in the 1930s and acquired from the Talyllyn Railway!) at the shed. This track was lifted following the weekend, the intention being to lay a 2ft 4.5in gauge track layout at the shed.

The organisation also has possession of the one-time GVT coal wharf at Glyn Ceiriog, where Iorwerth has also steamed on a length of track, and has restored the GVT waiting room part-way along the GVT route at Pontfadog.

The two organisations, which have common roots but been in a degree of dispute for some years, are participating in mediation talks under the auspices of the Heritage Railway Association.

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