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The Talyllyn Railway and Museum, Tywyn , Mid Wales


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The Talyllyn Railway is a narrow gauge railway in Meirionnydd, Mid Wales that was originally built to carry slate from the hills above Abergynolwyn to the wharves at Tywyn. It was made famous as Skarloey’s railway by Rev Awdry in his Thomas the Tank engine books. The railway still preserves the feel of the 1950s and is a lovely ride up the Afon Fathew valley.

The railway was opened in 1866 and has an illustrious history. It was the first narrow gauge railway in Britain to carry passengers using steam locomotives. The line never closed and is the oldest narrow gauge railway still running in Britain, as well as the first of the narrow gauge railways to be preserved by volunteers. It still has its two original locos (Talyllyn and Dolgoch) as well as many of the original carriages.

These two locos have been joined by Edward Thomas and Sir Hadyn from the nearby closed Corris Railway. Douglas later joined them and was followed by Tom Rolt, built in the Talyllyn workshops.

Locos and coaches are in immaculate condition and provide a lovely leisurely trip up the valley to the terminus at Nant Gwernol. On the way back there is a 30 minute refreshment stop at Abergynolwyn, before continuing to the terminus at Nant Gwernol which has no road access. There is no sense of hurry. This is a railway to sit back and enjoy the scenery as you pass the small isolated farms scattered up the valley.


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A Brief History

Slate was needed to roof the houses of the rapidly expanding cities of industrial Britain and the best roofing slate was found in North Wales. Originally slate was carried by pack horse or on sleds. At their peak the quarries at Bryn Eglwys employed over 300 men and so much slate was produced a new method of transport was needed. The nearby Ffestiniog Railway was already using steam engines to carry slate and the Talyllyn soon followed. The line opened in 1866 and was soon running regular slate and passenger trains. Small halts served the isolated farms along the valley.

At the beginning of the C20th, the enterprise was not making money and the Bryn Eglwys quarries, Abergynolwyn Estate and village and the Talyllyn Railway were put up for sale. It was bought by the local MP, Sir Henry Hadyn Jones, who was concerned about the distress and problems caused if the quarry closed. Although demand for slate fell with the introduction of roofing tiles between the wars, the quarries struggled on until 1946 when a main rock fall led to their closure. The railway continued to run although on a very reduced service on 2 or 3 days a week, assuming there was a loco able to pull the train. The precarious condition of the railway meant, unlike the Vale of Rheidol Railway, it was not included in the 1947 Transport Act that nationalised Britain’s railways.

When Sir Hadyn died in 1950, a group of enthusiasts lead by the railway author, Tom Rolt, and Edward Thomas, who had worked for the company for 53 years, met with Sir Hadyn’s widow. The Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society was formed to take over the railway. They set forward a plan to run the railway using volunteer labour as well as funding from membership fees and gifts. Tom Rolt was appointed General Manager. It was the first time anything like this had been tried and was the start of the narrow gauge railway preservation movement

The Society ran their first train in 1951 to Rhydyronen, as the track beyond was in too poor condition. Trains were run using Dolgoch, with help from two new locos from the Corris railway, renamed Sir Hadyn and Edward Thomas.

In 1953, the Territorial Army helped restore the track above Rhydyronen and another loco named Douglas arrived along with more coaches. In 1957, the BBC did a live broadcast from the railway and passenger numbers doubled. It was very much on the tourist map and passenger facilities were improved at Twywn and Abergynolwyn.

The original line ended at Abergynolwyn and there were two cable worked inclines to the quarries above Nant Gwernol. Landowners were traced and land bought to extend the line as a light railway to a new terminus at Nant Gwernol, which opened in 1976. A new loco, Tom Rolt, was built in the Society’s workshop at Pendre.


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The Route

Most Passengers begin their journey at Tywyn Wharf Station, which is close to the main line station served by Arriva Trains.

This was originally built as a slate transhipment point rather than a passenger station, and still has an extensive range of sidings. The original passenger station was a bit further down the line at Pendre.

When passenger services started from Tywyn Wharf Station at the beginning of the C20th, it was known as King’s Station and the King’s Cafe on the station still continues this name (and has very good cakes). It is an attractive brick building which has been extended to include a very good museum.

Leaving Tywyn Wharf Station, the line goes through a cutting and past a signal box to the workshops at Pendre. Locos not being used, may be seen here.

The line continues through the outskirts of Twywn with small industrial units and the fire station, before reaching the broad coastal plain. Beyond are the gentle grass covered slopes of the hills. This is very fertile farmland with bright green improved pastures with sleek looking cows and sheep.


In March there were primroses along the banks. Along the way are the tiny halts of Hendy, Fach Goch
and Cynfal, built to serve farms. They are easy to miss as the hedges just get further away.


Rhydyronen is the first station, a large grassy area with lots of daffodils. It has a very rural feel with a small stone station building with ticket office and waiting area. This is a popular holiday area with several caravan parks, including one next to the station. This was a popular stopping off point for Victorian visitors who got off here to walk to Caerffynon Farm where they would drink the waters from a local spring, said to have healing powers.

The line now begins to climb, past Tynllwyn Hen Halt. The coastal plain is left behind and bracken and heather begin to appear on the hillsides.


The railway runs along the north facing side of the valley with isolated farms scattered along the valley floor.

There is a brief stop at the signal box before Brynglas Station to swap tokens.

Beyond is ‘Tadpole Cutting’, which got its name from its tendency to flood after heavy rain. The valley is getting narrower and fences made from upright pieces of slate begin to line the track. The valley bottom is now much wetter in places and pasture is not as good. Mixed deciduous woodland is appearing on the hillsides.


Dolgoch station is reached over the 50’ viaduct over the Afon Dolgoch.



Dolgoch Station was built for the Victorian tourists to visit the waterfalls. These are still as popular as ever. The station with its small stone building, is set among the trees. There is a signed walk to the waterfalls as well as a footpath down to a photo shot of the viaduct.

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Footpaths on either side of the valley lead up to a series of waterfalls.




Trains take on water at Dolgoch, using a modern water tank. The Victorian water tower which features in pictures of Skarloey’s Railway is here. It is only used for the Victorian train service as the fireman gets very wet.




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The Route continued...

Beyond Dolgoch is Quarry Siding Halt with a signal box and another passing loop. There used to be a small quarry here which provided ballast for relaying the line in the 1950s.


The line continues to climb up the valley, along a ledge on the hillside. Hedges are replaced by stone walls. The settlement of Abergynolwyn can be seen in the valley bottom below. This was built to house quarry workers. They travelled up a steep incline from the village to the railway line and quarries. This was the preferred method of travel before a good road was built up the valley.



Abergynolwyn station was originally a wooden shelter and didn’t get a stone station building until 1938. The station was extended when the line was extended to Nant Gwernol and can now hold two trains at the same time. Set among the trees, this must be the coldest spot on the line. The valley is narrow and the wind whistles along the platform. The tea room is a welcome place to Below the station is a children’s play area with wooden locos and shelter.


Beyond Abergynolwyn the railway turns into a narrow steep sided wooded valley to the terminus at Nant Gwertnol. On the left hand side is the remains of the winding drum last used in 1947 which took trucks to and from Abergynolwyn village. There is also a siding with an old slate wagon. Beyond the station is a footpath up the incline used by the slate wagons. Several trails lead from the station which is popular with walkers.

This is a good run through lovely countryside. It is slow and sedate with quite small locos pulling up t six coaches and a guards van. There are information boards at each of the station and walks leaflets available from Tywyn and Abergynolwyn Stations. The walk to Dolgoch Falls is well worth doing.

The cakes in King’s Cafe at Twywn come highly recommended and the museum there is excellent.



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Talyllyn Narrow Gauge Railway Museum - Introduction

The Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society were a far sighted group. As well as preserving the Talyllyn Railway, they were also concerned about the disappearance of other narrow gauge railways around Britain. They suggested a they form a museum to reserve some of the locos, wagons and other artefacts of this rapidly disappearing part of our heritage. Many items were donated and they soon had an excellent collection of locos, wagons signalling equipment, signs and tickets. The information boards look at the historical development of narrow gauge railways from early plateways, their use in industry, especially the Welsh slate quarries, and also in the First World War.

There is also a reconstruction of Rev Awdry’s study. He was an early volunteer on the Talyllyn Railway and it features as Skarloey’s railway in his series of Railway books for children. The engines are based on Talyllyn locos and many of the stories are based on actual events.


Peter Sam’s Giesl injector is on display. For those who don’t know the story, it can be seen here:

In 1958 Edward Thomas was chosen to test a Giesl ejector blastpipe and fishtail chimney designed by the Austrian inventor Dr Giesl-Gieslingen. It was a very distinctive funnel and generated a lot of publicity but had little effect on performance. It was eventually replaced in 1969 and placed in the museum.

Narrow gauge railways were cheaper to build than standard gauge and were popular where space was limited. They were extensively used on industrial sites including brickworks, breweries, engineering works, waterworks, gas, coal and steel plants. They were very important during the First World War to move men and supplies. Petrol or paraffin engines were preferred as their exhaust was less visible. Woolwich Arsenal continued to use narrow gauge railways until 1973 and the RAF until the 1980s.

Many narrow gauge systems have now disappeared, having been replaced by all lorries, trucks, conveyor belts and fork lift trucks in the 1950s. The Talyllyn was the first railway to be preserved by a group of volunteers, soon followed by the Ffestiniog Railway. Others followed. The museum is a wonderful memory of the glory days of the narrow gauge railways.



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Talyllyn Narrow Gauge Railway Museum - Rolling Stock

Narrow gauge railways were cheaper to build than standard gauge and were popular where space was limited. They were extensively used on industrial sites including brickworks, breweries, engineering works, waterworks, gas, coal and steel plants. They were very important during the First World War to move men and supplies. Petrol or paraffin engines were preferred as their exhaust was less visible. Woolwich Arsenal continued to use narrow gauge railways until 1973 and the RAF until the 1980s.

The first tramways appeared in the C18th and were worked either with horses or fixed winches using ropes or chains. There are examples of the different track used.


Early wagons were simple flat bed trucks like this used at Bryneglwys Quarry to carry slabs of slate from the quarry face to the splitting floor. This was propelled by hand along the level tramways.


In the Forest of Dean, horses were used to pull five or six more trucks carrying limestone on plateways.



This flat wagon or trolly was used by the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich from 1911 until 1973.


Early wagons were made of wood, like this wagon from the Oakeley Slate Quarries at Blaenau Ffestiniog. It was used to carry coal from Porthmadog Harbour along the Ffestiniog Railway to fire the steam pumps and winding engines.


This steel wagon ran on the horse worked Nantlle Tramway to Caernarfon.


The gauge of narrow gauge railways varied and this lead to problems if wagons had to be transferred between different gauge railways. The gauge of the mighty Dinorwic Quarry railway carrying slate to the sea was 4’. That of the feeder railways bringing slate from the quarries was less than 2’. This problem was solved by host wagons. Up to four slate wagons could be loaded onto flat beds. Quarry men could also travel in these as well as slate. The first and last flatbeds of a train carried a tall ‘sentry box’ break van.



In very mountainous areas, cable worked inclines were built and many can still be seen on the hills around places like Blaenau Ffestiniog. At Criag Ddu quarry, the men would be hauled up the incline in the morning in empty slate wagons. In the evening after the slate wagons ceased to run, they travelled back down the incline by Car Gwyllt (wild car). This was a small seat which was suspended between the middle pair of rails on double track inclines. The cars were then placed in the empty slate wagons ready to be hauled up next morning.



It took eight minutes to cover a journey of 1800 yards with a descent of 1040’, and this included time taken to walk between the three inclines.

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Talyllyn Narrow Gauge Railway Museum - Locos, Signs and Signalling

The Ffestiniog Railway pioneered the use of steam locos in 1863 and other railways were quick to follow. Steam was gradually replaced by diesel in the early 1930s.

The museum has an interesting selection of narrow gauge steam engines, including George Henry, an 1877 vertical boiler steam engine made by de Winton of Caernarfon, which ran on the Penrhyn Quarry Railway.


The diminutive Dot, built in 1887 by the Beyer Garrett Company, spent its working life shunting and moving material on 18” track around their works at Gorton.


The cabless Rough Pup was built by the Hunslet Engine Company in 1891 for the Dinorwic Quarries. It was taken to Llanberis by rail and then dismantled before being hauled up the inclines. It was then reassembled before hauling slate and waste on the levels high above the valley.


Locomotive 13 was built by William Spence and company in Dublin in 1895 and worked in the Guinness Brewery in Dublin.


Locomotive Number 2 is another small cabless loco, built by Kerr, Stuart and company for Dundee gas Works in 1901. It needed to be low to run under the gas retorts.


The star of the loco collection is Jubilee built in 1897 by Manning Wardle and Company in Leeds for Cilgwyn Quarry near Nantlle. When the quarry closed it was sold to the Penrhyn Quarry Company. It was one of the largest locos ever built to work on the narrow gauge quarry lines. This is a very popular exhibit as visitors are allowed onto the footplate.


The museum walls are covered with engine nameplates and railway signs.




There are signal levers, token machines and telephones as well as bells and repeaters.





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