Heavy Freight on the Talyllyn :
By Russell Gant – Member No. 468
In mid July this year as part of a “Have-a-go-Gala”, I had the opportunity to do a bit of driving on the preservation pioneering Talyllyn Railway, in Wales. I promised the editor that I would write an article for Road and Rail, so here it is.
Anyone that knows me will be aware that I am more at home driving the Willow Wood Railway’s 7¼” gauge ‘Tattoo’ (which is a Maxitrak Pearl) or our recently restored Hercules. The rather tenuous link to Maxitrak in this article is that the locomotive I was due to drive on the Talyllyn Railway was their ex-Corris Railway locomotive ‘Edward Thomas’. Unfortunately, (or not as was the case) No. 4 was still undergoing a major boiler repair in July and was consequently unavailable, so was unsure which loco I would be in charge of.
Upon arriving at Pendre yard, I was delighted to find out I would be driving the 1864 built ‘Talyllyn’ herself. I have a great affection for this little railway (and particularly this engine) as it is the first railway I can remember seeing a picture of as a very young boy. My father had a hard-back copy of an AA roadmap, which contained a large section (with pictures) of places to see in the UK. In the Wales section was a lovely picture of ‘Talyllyn’ running over Dolgoch viaduct, in the beautiful dappled shade of a summer’s evening. Perfection! So, as you can imagine, driving this loco was to be something of a dream come true.
I signed in at Pendre and then travelled down to Wharf, the Western terminus of the line, on a service train where ‘Talyllyn’ and her motley collection of wagons, bogie-bolster and guard’s van were standing in the siding. Once we had oiled round and taken on coal and water, Driver John Burton and Fireman Tony Bennett, pointed out the various controls and detailed the timing of our two return trips to Brynglas. Then after the ‘right away’ from Guard Nigel Adams (and once I had remembered to take off the steam brake as well as the screw brake) it was off up the valley.
The ride was extremely lumpy, but the loco was a joy to drive. Despite the title ‘Heavy Freight’, the load was actually quite light for the powerful little loco. After slowing for the Pendre road crossing, we started our ascent of the 1 in 60 Hendy Bank and the sound of the exhaust and the sight of the white smoke against the cloudless sky (yes I did say a cloudless sky – in Wales) was really wonderful.
We coasted down to Rhydyronen (not Welsh for Rhododendron, but meaning Ashford – well its obvious is it?) and I brought the train to a gentle stop in the small platform for a few photos. We then continued on our journey up the valley until we had to slow for a temporary speed restriction over newly ballasted trackwork and then again for a couple of stray sheep. We followed the sheep for some way as it appeared to be mesmerised by the rails. It eventually shifted after much whistling and we continued to Brynglas loop.
The Fireman uncoupled the loco and I ran us forward to the limit of shunt and then set back past the wagons on the run-round road. Coming back onto a train is much more difficult with 16 feet of loco in front of you and when you cannot see the buffers of either your engine or the train that you are attempting to couple to. It is much easier on Pearl, but I managed eventually and without throwing the guard out of the van!
The return journey required more ability with the brake than the regulator since it is downhill nearly all the way. Again, we met our sheep and chased them again for a bit. The fireman commented that they were considerably thinner than those in the adjacent field, but that this was because the railway was running four trains on the day of my visit and the same sheep had probably been chased up and down the valley at least 10 times that day! Very lean lamb from Wales - and now you know why!
Coasting back down the valley, on the footplate of a world famous, ancient steam, locomotive, with Wales’ second highest mountain behind you and the setting sun reflecting on the sea in front of you, is possibly one of the best ways to spend a summer Saturday and I would recommend it to anyone.
If you haven’t visited the Talyllyn Railway you really should. It is one of the friendliest railways I have ever travelled on and the volunteers manage to preserve it as an ancient narrow gauge railway rather than a commercial tourist attraction.