Published: 8th March 2015
Llangollen Railway trains first ran into the new station at Corwen on October 22 last year, initial operations being commenced just weeks after the line was inspected and cleared for use by the public.
The very first steam-hauled passenger trains to run to Corwen since BR suspended services in December 1964 (prior to closing the line the following month) were plainly significant – but the decades-long effort by the heritage line to fulfil its promise of returning the railway to Corwen was deserving of a major official celebration. That day arrived on St. David’s Day, March 1.
As VIPs and guests gathered at Llangollen preparatory to boarding the five-coach special headed by 2-8-0 No. 3802, tailed by Large Prairie No. 5199, timed to depart for Corwen at 13.30 the weather was dire.
Rain lashed the riverside station at Llangollen while hail swept the fields on the outskirts of Corwen. The gods clearly recognised the Llangollen Railway’s achievement deserved better for its celebrations – as the train rolled into Dwyrain Corwen East station at 14.08 the precipitation had gone and it was (almost) sunny!
The 170 some VIPs and guests who had arrived on the train plus a large crowd on the town side of the station fence applauded as Llangollen Railway vice-presidents Bill Shakespeare MBE and Gordon Heddon (both past chairmen of the railway and men who have battled for decades to bring about this day) accompanied by current Llangollen Railway Trust chairman, Peter Lund, unveiled the bi-lingual Corwen station name board.
At track level, a ‘golden fish plate’ to secure the last panel of track at the station was symbolically fastened, then No. 3802 edged forward to nose through the celebratory opening day banner. At the last moment the trackside workers released the strings so the banner fell to one side – rather than tear it, the railway intends to keep it for future marketing use, perhaps to serve once again when a new permanent Corwen station is opened.
The ceremonials continued, a ribbon at the gate to the station being cut by Peter Lund to declare the station open, followed by delivery of a speech by Bill Shakespeare MBE and unveiling of a commemorative plaque in front of the station building.
Every attendee was handed a complimentary St. David’s Day miniature daffodil by members of the Corwen Community while The Llangollen Silver Band and the Glyndŵr Male Voice Choir provided music and song in the sanctity of a nearby marquee.
While many guests took the opportunity of visiting the new Railway Exhibition being created within Capel Goch in Corwen’s London Road before returning to Llangollen, others braved the mud to view the trackbed beyond the current buffer stop.
The platform at Dwyrain Corwen East means the railway has delivered on its commitment to return to Corwen, but due to cash constraints it is really a temporary solution. Built from scaffolding, the structure is amazing, but realistically only intended to last around two years. Moreover, the station has just a single road with no run-round or shunt-release siding.
Special trains, such as the celebratory special, can run top-and-tail. Otherwise, aside from DMU operations, steam requires that service trains be hauled into Dwyrain Corwen East station, then propelled back to Carrog utilising a ‘motorman’ system. At Carrog, steam locomotives can then run round to continue conventionally to Llangollen.
While Corwen East represents fulfilment of Phase One of the Corwen project, Phase Two is an extension of a few hundred yards to the limit of the LR’s Transport & Works Order at Green Lane, Corwen. The ambition is to build a proper terminus, Corwen Central, a little to the north of where the old Denbigh, Ruthin & Corwen Railway made a junction with the Ruabon – Barmouth route. Current thinking envisages an island platform and run-round loop, a signalbox and a subway access from the platform to the town’s main car park, providing a link almost directly to Corwen’s town centre.
Achieving this involves providing an alternative access to Corwen Sewerage Works for Welsh Water (the present access crosses a dip in the trackbed carved through the embankment) and preparation of compensatory flood plain by clearing part of the old Ruthin spur embankment.
All that prevents this happening is money. The view is that the project could be delivered for less than £1million - modest compared with such work undertaken on main line railway construction sites, but representing a challenge for a heritage railway which will clearly need financial assistance in the form of grant aid and donations.
Bringing this to fruition will take further effort and no small sum of money – figures in excess of £500,000 but probably less than £1million are being spoken of. Meanwhile, materials are starting to be gathered at the site and support garnered.
Rail.co.uk has learned that a report commissioned by Denbighshire County Council has been produced by Arwel Jones Associates and been delivered to the railway. As yet we understand it has not been considered by the LR board, but we have reason to believe its findings confirm the need for the Phase 2 development. More detail covering the formalised plans for Corwen Central and fund raising are expected to be announced shortly.
Llangollen Railway Trust Chairman, Peter Lund. “I am delighted that Corwen station has been officially opened. However we must now press on to complete the permanent station.”
Llangollen Railway Vice President, Bill Shakespeare, MBE. “As a founder member of the Llangollen Railway, I was delighted to be asked to officially open the station at Dwyrain Corwen East. It is the culmination of 40 years of volunteer effort.”
Llangollen Railway General Manager, Kevin Gooding: “After this official opening occasion a full season of trains will operate to Corwen.”
Susan Ellen Jones, MP for Clwyd South. “This is a very special occasion that marks the excellent and tireless work of the volunteers and staff of Llangollen Railway Trust. I am delighted to have been present today. The railway extension is great news for Corwen and a wonderful way of showing our uniquely beautiful area to more people.”
During a childhood holiday visit to Corwen a little girl declared, “one day I want to be station master here.” That ambition came to be fulfilled, the station master’s hat on March 1 was proudly worn by Ann-Marie Northall who hails from the Wirrall, who had achieved what she said she wanted to do as a child – accepting that Dwyrain Corwen East station did not then exist, but represents as nearly as is possible the same thing – the station which serves Corwen!