Narrow Gauge Pleasure

The Talyllyn Railway

The Railway Today

The Wharf Station

The 2'3" gauge Talyllyn Railway has its headquarters at the lower terminus of Wharf Station in Tywyn (or Towyn) on the West coast of North Wales, not to be confused with the other Towyn on the north coast.

Wharf station is named for the high level siding which (in the railways slate carrying days) was situated adjacent to the Cambrian railways siding and served for the transhipment of slate. From Wharf station the line climbs gently to Tywyn Pendre where the railway workshops and first intermediate halt are located, on through the woods past Rhydyronen halt and so to Brynglas.

Oddly the steepest part of the railway is behind the train now and yet it is from here on that the train comes out onto the open valley side and the passenger begins to get a feeling of the scale of the scenery in which the tiny train is almost lost.

Edward Thomas
at Brynglas crossing

The railway continues on past Dolgoch falls by crossing a substantial three span brick viaduct (the only major structure on the line) to Dolgoch station. The keen, and even the casual, walker can readily reach a footpath from which the falls can be viewed by alighting here. The little halt is hidden well away from the road, on the valley side, amongst the Rhododendron bushes.

The largest station on the line is Abergynolwyn, for most of the railway's life the upper terminus of the railway as far as passengers were concerned. Abergynolwyn station is equipped with a cafe and the longest narrow gauge railway platform in Britain, long enough to hold two trains end to end. This arrangement is enforced by the width of the ledge on which the station is built.

The line now continues to Nant Gwernol (once this section was fit only for the slate trains) where the small platform is sited on a narrow ledge high above the Nant Gwernol Ravine. This is where the little wagons, laden with slate from Bryn Eglwys, were lowered down the Alltwyllt incline to join the railway proper. The winding house of this incline still stands above Nant Gwernol and the rails still plunge pointlessly into the ravine. At Nant Gwernol the engine, the climbing done, runs around the engine for the leisurely run back down hill to Tywyn.

History and Origins

In 1847 A Slate Quarry was opened at Bryn Eglwys in the Hills above Aberdovey. The Quarry yielded good quality slate which was carried by packhorse to Aberdovey for transport to its final destination by sea. It does not take much imagination to realise that a more economic means of transporting the slate out of the mountains was badly needed. In 1864 work begun on construction of a steam hauled narrow gauge railway. The slate wagons had to be lowered down a series of rope worked inclines to Nant Gwernol where the railway proper began. The route follows the upper part of the valley of the Dysynni and then crosses a low ridge into the Fathew valley which it follows to Tywyn. Here the railway met the Cambrian Railway and the slates were transhipped at the Wharf Station. Using steam haulage was a brave venture as it was only a few years since the horse drawn Ffestiniog had taken delivery of the very first narrow gauge locomotive amidst great scepticism and the Talyllyn was the first narrow gauge railway in the world to be designed from the start for steam.

Although originally intended as a freight only line by the end of 1866 the railway had been inspected by the board of trade and accepted as suitable for the carriage of passengers. The clearances (because structures were designed for the freight only role) were so tight that the doors and windows on one side of the carriages had to be permanently barred for safety reasons, a situation which still holds today. The passenger service only extended from Tywyn Pendre to Abergynolwyn leaving a short stretch at each end as a mineral line only.

By 1911 the Railway and Quarry had become unprofitable and were closed, only to be leased by Sir Haydn Jones who kept them open, subsidising them out of his own pocket, to keep the local population in employment. It is hardly surprising that very little money was spent on maintenance and Edward Thomas, manager of the railway for many years, struggled to run a regular passenger service.

When Sir Haydn died in 1950 the line would undoubtedly have been closed except for the efforts of a group of enthusiasts lead by the engineer turned author Tom Rolt. They successfully negotiated with Sir Haydn's executors to run the railway for a trial period of three years and formed both a limited company to hold the railway company shares and a preservation society. Although not the first enthusiast run railway and not the first rolling stock to be preserved the Talyllyn was the first railway in the world to be preserved in-situ by volunteers. These people who set out to save one railway started the preservation movement as we know it today and, indirectly, brought so much pleasure to so many.

The society gradually restored the decrepit rolling stock, locos and track whilst contriving to keep a service going and thus some money coming in. Two Locomotives were acquired from the closed Corris Railway fortuitously already numbered 3 and 4 (locos 1 and 2 being the only ones ever to run on the Talyllyn before preservation) they proved to be unusable until the track was relayed. No 2, Dolgoch, had apparently hammered away at the permanent way over many years until she was the only loco that could use the track!

Tom Rolt has just arrived
at Nant Gwernol

In 1970 the preservation society began work on improving the mineral extension from Abergynolwyn to Nant Gwernol and after six years work the passenger trains ran the length of the line from Wharf station to Nant Gwernol for the first time since the railway opened 110 years before.

One last word on the Talyllyn, the preservation society have, rightly, honoured those who kept the railway going through the difficult years. Locomotives named Edward Thomas, Sir Haydn and Tom Rolt now run alongside Talyllyn and Dolgoch who have now been in service for over 130 years.

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