Narrow Gauge Pleasure

The Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway

A peaceful scene as a train
approaches Sylfean halt

The Railway Today

The visitor will not be surprised to learn that the Railway joins the towns of Llanfair Caereinion and Welshpool, a distance of some eight miles. The railway is built to the somewhat unusual gauge of 2'6". Originally the railway ran right into the heart of Welshpool along the streets but in later years the restored railway had to give up this rather impractical arrangement and the current Welshpool terminus is at Raven Square on the western outskirts of the town.

The railway runs through attractive green countryside and on the approach to Llanfair shares the picturesque valley with the river Banwy, crossing it once at Banwy Bridge. The railway's surroundings may lack the large scale splendour of Snowdonia or the Lake district but this smaller green landscape, set amidst hills which rise to 1020 feet, has scenic delights of its own for the passenger to discover.

The visitor might expect the headquarters to be at the larger town of Welshpool but the railway is actually based at Llanfair Caereinion where there is a comprehensively equipped station with a sizable shop, cafe and picnic area. The station at Welshpool is smaller and quieter but lies alongside a pleasant park and is only a short walk from the facilities in the town. The timetable dictates that passengers wishing to make a return journey over the line whilst taking a reasonable time should start their journey at Llanfair Caereinion.

A quiet moment at
Llanfair Caereinion
A little tender loving care
for the railways prized assets

Although the railway drops from Llanfair Caereinion to Welshpool the gradient is not continuous and the railway includes several steep sections and many changes of gradient. At Golfa bank, just outside Welshpool, the train climbs for a mile at 1 in 29 making this one of the steepest and longest climbs on a steam worked railway in the UK. Although the train starts to descend here the work is not over as the line resumes the climb to another high point at Coppice Lane Crossing.

The railway has no fewer than five intermediate halts passing through Heniarth, Cyfronydd, Castle Caereinion, Sylfaen and Golfa before arriving at Welshpool. With one exception these are small wayside halts but Castle Caereinion is a larger station with a picnic area boasting views of the surrounding hills. A few hundred yards walk from the station is the picturesque village from which the station takes it's name.

The railway's original passenger stock was scrapped during the long period of goods only operation so the preservation society have acquired an interesting mixture of coaches including five historic coaches from the Austrian Tyrol which feature the open balconies characteristic of the area.

History and Origins

Construction on this freight and passenger railway started in 1901 with the intention of serving the farms in the region as well as linking the somehat remote town of Llanfair Caereinion with Welshpool and the national transport network. The railway was opened in 1903 and, although privately owned, was operated by Cambrian Railways until it fell into the hands of the Great Western Railway at the Grouping of 1923.

The line was always difficult to run profitably and, although it provided a valuable public service, passenger carrying ceased in 1931. The line struggled on as a goods only railway for a surprisingly long time, passing into nationalisation as part of British Railways in 1948. Unfortunately like so many other nationalised minor railways the line was destined to be closed and the last train ran on 2nd November 1956.

Had the railway closed a few years earlier it would probably have been gone forever but as it happened the closure came just in time to catch a new and different wave of interest in minor railways. The rising tide of the preservation movement was started by Tom Rolt and his friends on the Tallylyn Railway only forty miles or so from Llanfair in 1950. The success of the Talyllyn must have encouraged the group of enthusiasts who set out to save the Welshpool and Llanfair railway just a few years later.

After a long drawn out period of uncertainty the newly formed 'Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway Preservation Company Limited' were able to lease most of the railway. Excluded from the agreement was the section which ran through Welshpool's streets which included the railways headquarters and operating centre. Thus deprived of the railway's heart the company were forced to move the operating headquarters to Llanfair, an arrangement which persists to this day. The railway was reopened in stages with the section to Castle Caereinion opening very quickly in 1963. The last section from Sylfaen to Welshpool with its challenging Golfa bank had to wait for a complete new terminus to be built at Ravens Square and so was not opened to passenger traffic until 18 July 1981.

Comments on this Railway

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Gerard   20 Jul 2013
I recall reading a news report (about 2010?) that a survey by Welshpool Town Council, asking residents what they wanted to see happen in Welshpool, found that reinstatement of the railway through the town was mentioned by more people than any other topic. I gather this came as a surprise to the council, because it hadn't been mentioned in the questions. Perhaps someone else can confirm or clarify this?
John Varley   21 Mar 2013
I also remember seeing a similar comment; I think it was on BBC Wales; well over a year ago. Then when I tried to find it again, I couldn't! I know that we in GB worship the car, but anything is surmountable. Who would have imagined a few years ago, that trains wolud be crossing Britainnia Bridge in Portmadoc. In Switzerland, trains run on streets in many towns John (Leeds)
   12 Jan 2013
A full reintallation of the railway might prove difficult with modern day traffic; but relaying the track through the town, to run a steam or diesel tram service from the Main Line Station to Raven Square would I think prove popular with tourists and a great attraction.
John   10 Feb 2012
Has there been recent talk of reinstating the section through Welshpool? Maybe not on the original formation, but at least as a possible way to relieve the town from cars

None that has reached my ears anyway. There is also no mention of on the Railway's web site and I know there would be formidable obstacles. Maybe someone close to the Railway can confirm the situation.
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