An appeal has been launched to raise £500,000 to secure the future of the World’s first preserved railway.

That railway is, of course, the Talyllyn Railway in Tywyn, and I was delighted to be invited to the Gwynedd town on Friday, 22 March, for the launch of Talyllyn Railway’s fundraising appeal, and to find out first-hand what the appeal is all about.

The 75 Appeal was officially launched that day and I can see why the railway needs the help of the public to achieve their aims. The appeal needs to raise £500,000 over five years (£100,000 a year) to support the railway’s major redevelopment project.

Next year marks the 75th anniversary of the Talyllyn becoming the World’s First Preserved Railway and staff and volunteers there say that it has become clear that they will need to replace some of their facilities soon because, they say, they have “become time-expired”. But the appeal also hopes to provide improved accommodation and attractions for passengers and the railway’s many volunteers to ensure the railway thrives for the next 75 years.

To help build the railway a steam locomotive, No.1 Talyllyn was ordered from the Cumbrian firm of Fletcher Jennings & Co
To help build the railway a steam locomotive, No.1 Talyllyn was ordered from the Cumbrian firm of Fletcher Jennings & Co (Talyllyn)

In a bid to further explain their aims and ambitions, the railway has launched The 75 Appeal with the tag line “Preserving our Past, Building Our Future”.

At the launch of the appeal I saw detailed plans for the redevelopment of the railway, the initial development phase of which is being funded by a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The redevelopment aims to provide:

• New engineering facilities at Tywyn Pendre.

• New carriage storage and dedicated maintenance facilities.

• A paint shop that can be used year round.

• The refurbishment of the historic locomotive shed and workshop.

• Visitor access to the original workshop area.

• Additional and accessible Volunteer Accommodation.

• An accessible and more visible entrance to Wharf station building.

• Enlarged shop, cafe and meeting room facilities.

• Additional attractions helping visitors understand our history and heritage.

• A community engagement programme to increase the number and range of visitors.

This is an ambitious multi-phase programme to be achieved over a multi-year time period, and to help fund this the railway is planning to submit applications for substantial grants from the National Lottery as well as other bodies, trusts, etc.

The railway’s status as part of a World Heritage Site and also the award of development funding from the National Lottery gives they great confidence that this is achievable but they need to partly match this from their own resources.

The Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society was formed in1950 to save one of the first passenger carrying narrow gauge railways in the world.

Fast forward to now and, 75 years later, the railway is a major tourist attraction carrying around 50,000 passengers and bringing an estimated £4M into the local economy each year.

It also still retains much of its character and heritage – as I was able to see for myself - including regularly operating all of its Victorian locomotives and passenger stock.

Three years ago the railway received even more notariety when it became the southern hub of The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales UNESCO World Heritage Site, and as the 75th anniversary of the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society approaches, thoughts have naturally turned to how best to carry the railway into the future and the ‘Preserving our Past, Building Our Future’ project has been born.

Cutting the ribbon for the first volunteer train on 14 May, 1951. Photo: Talyllyn Collection
Cutting the ribbon for the first volunteer train on 14 May, 1951. Photo: Talyllyn Collection (Talyllyn Collection)

It will be supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, to deliver a major redevelopment of facilities at Tywyn Pendre and Wharf stations. These developments are central to the railway workers’ desires to educate visitors about the railway’s heritage and the story of slate.

“Other intentions include the need to update some of their current facilities that are becoming inadequate or life expired, to increase the availability of suitable accommodation in the area for our regular volunteers and with regards to our intentions of developing new engineering facilities, reflecting on our intentions to train the next generation of engineers in heritage skills,” a railway spokesperson said.

“The current proposals include a new engineering facility on the site of the life expired north carriage shed, a new carriage shed on a new site, a new carriage maintenance facilities and paint shop, and additional volunteer accommodation including an accessible suite, remodelling the Wharf Station building to provide a more accessible entrance, an enlarged café and shop and a new year-round, all-weather heritage facility to tell the Talyllyn story.”

The estimated costs of these proposals is around £4 Million. Initial funding has already been secured from the National Lottery Heritage Fund towards the development of a full application for a grant from them of over £1M.

All money raised through The 75 Appeal will go towards the railway’s major redevelopment project.

As well as updating and replacing out-of-date facilities the railway will embark on a community engagement programme to build links with the local community. Every year there will be a focus on a particular aspect of the redevelopment for fundraising.

Initially this will be for the conversion of ‘Trefri’, a recently acquired property next door to Wharf Station, as volunteer accommodation and at Pendre, the main working yards of the railway, the provision of more carriage storage space, but in later years the focus will shift.

It is anticipated the whole development project will take around five years in total to complete.

As well as myself, a whole host of people were invited to witness The 75 Appeal Launch Day.

There were local politicians, grant awarding bodies, business people and members of the local community, as well as staff and volunteers from the railway who come from all over the country.

We were treated to some beautiful singing from school children from Ysgol Penybryn before receiving an introduction to the railway and a talk about the redevelopment plans and the appeal. Then we were able to experience the railway in all its glory when we were allowed to embark the train to take a trip up the line.

The Talyllyn Railway is a narrow-gauge railway. It opened for goods traffic in 1865 and shortly after for passenger services, which have operated every year since between Tywyn on the west coast of Wales and Nant Gwernol just over seven miles inland.

The logo for the appeal
The logo for the appeal (Talyllyn)

In 1951 operation of the line was taken over by the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society and became the world’s first preserved railway. Operation of the line is primarily by volunteers from all walks of life, with a small paid staff. It is now a major tourist attraction in the mid-Wales area, contributing significantly to the area’s economy.

A video at the launch whet my appetite to find out even more about the railway, and its helpful staff were only to happy to provide me with a potted history of the Talyllyn.

We have to go right back to 1864 to find discover that Manchester cotton mill owners leased the Bryneglwys Slate Quarry.

They expanded the business, developed the village of Abergynolwyn and built a railway to transport the slate to the coast.

To help build the railway a steam locomotive, No.1 “Talyllyn”, was ordered from the Cumbrian firm of Fletcher Jennings & Co.

In 1865 “The Talyllyn Railway Act, 1865” was incorporated in Parliament, making the Talyllyn Railway the first Narrow Gauge Railway in the World to be authorised for passenger traffic from the outset. The line was opened to Slate & Goods Traffic.

In1866 a second steam locomotive was delivered from Fletcher Jennings, No.2 “Dolgoch”.

The railway was passed for Passenger Traffic and services started in December that year.

But in 1879 capital was failing. The quarry and railway were offered at auction, but no buyer was found. Another auction in 1881 bears the same result. William McConnel, one of the original investors, bought the lot for £18,000.

In 1909 The original lease on the land was running out and the quarrymen were told that the quarry would have to close.

There was hope in 1911, local MP Sir Henry Haydn Jones bought the whole business for £5,500 but in 1946, with little investment and cheap quarrying techniques employed, a serious collapse on Boxing Day finally closed the Quarry. However, Sir Haydn vowed to he will keep the railway running for as long as he lives and there was fresh hope. Sadly, just four years later in 1950, Sir Haydn passed away in July of that year.

Upon hearing the news, a band of enthusiasts familiar with the railway called a public meeting in Birmingham and formed The Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society.

No.3 (Talyllyn)

In 1951 the TRPS was gifted the railway and the first volunteer-run passenger train in the World ran to Rhydyronen on 14 May.

Two new locomotives were purchased for £25 each, and these would go on to become known as No.3 “Sir Haydn” and No.4 “Edward Thomas” - both of which were built for the neighbouring Corris Railway in Machynlleth.

Services to Abergynolwyn commenced from 4 June.

In 1952 The Reverend Wilbert Awdry, creator of Thomas the Tank Engine and author of The Railway Series books, started to volunteer at the railway.

Many of his experiences at the railway would go on to inspire multiple books, characters and locations - the first of which, “Four Little Engines”, was published in 1955.

In 1954, No.6 “Douglas” was donated to the society by the Birmingham Engineering firm of Abelson & Co. (Engineers) and entered service.

In 1965 The centenary of the Talyllyn Railway was celebrated.

In 1976 after six years of hard work, the extension to Nant Gwernol was opened.

In 1991 a brand new steam locomotive built at Pendre Works, No.7 “Tom Rolt”, was launched into service.

In 2005 the new station building was opened at Tywyn Wharf, and in 2013 The Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society was presented with The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

In 2021 The Talyllyn Railway, Abergynolwyn Village & Bryneglwys Slate Quarry were inscribed as part of The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In 2022 Ty Dŵr watering point was rebuilt and now, in 2024 we all look to the future of the railway with the launch of its major redevelopment project, “Preserving Our Past, Building Our Future”, and The 75 Appeal.

If you would like to donate to the appeal you can do so instantly online, or join the 75 Club by making regular donations via direct debit, a service the railway say is coming soon.

They will be posting regular updates about the project, designs and progress via the Talyllyn Blog, News and the project’s web page

What was emphasised to guests invited to the launch of the appeal is that, as well as one off donations, the railway needs regular givers to become part of the ’75 Club’ of regular donors. For regulatory reasons membership of The 75 Club is only open to those over the age of 18.

“This will help show to the National Lottery and other funders/sponsors that we have people committed to giving to the project, and we can have confidence in our level of income not just for this year or the next, but through the life of the redevelopment,” a railway spokesperson explained.

“You will be able to join the 75 Club from just £5 per month, by direct debit, for the life of the redevelopment (estimated at five to six years).”

All members will receive the following:

+ An exclusive badge and certificate of membership.

+ Regular updates on the Redevelopment’s progress.

+ Access to exclusive videos about the Redevelopment.

+ Invitations to events where you can ‘Meet the Team’ and ask questions about what’s happening.

“We also hope to be able to offer further opportunities as the redevelopment progresses,” the spokesperson added.

“We apologise that The 75 Club is not yet available – please bear with us as it will be ready soon! If you want to be notified when the sign up page goes live, please register your interest by emailing [email protected].