Charging points for electric vehicles will top a wide range of improvements to be carried out on the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway, thanks to an £89,000 Welsh Government grant.
The funding has been awarded to the railway by the Tourism Amenity Investment Support (TAIS) scheme, part of the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.
The improvements at the popular tourist attraction meet a variety of needs, but a common theme will be better access and attractions for visitors.
At the Llanfair Caereinion terminus, two electric vehicle charging points will be made available for visitors who will be almost exactly halfway between central Shropshire and the Welsh Coast. The installation of these points illustrates the growing use of more environmentally-friendly electric vehicles and the need to provide recharging facilities for them.
The charging points will complement a recently completed environmental programme at the railway, which has included the installation of solar panels, setting up full recycling facilities, the elimination of single-use plastics in the tearoom, LED light conversion and composting.
Also benefiting from TAIS funding will be Cyfronydd Station, just off the A458 road, where the railway will reinstate a siding to allow the stabling of special trains or heritage goods trains and reconstruct a cattle dock that once stood on the site, as a marker of the original function of a rural light railway. A historic grounded brake van from the London & North Western Railway will also be restored as a shelter.
Funding will also improve Sylfaen Halt, one of the most visible intemediate points on the railway, located alongside one of the few laybys along the A458 to the Welsh coast. Already a popular spot for motorists to pause their journey and watch the trains pass, the halt will see the installation of a new track loop allowing trains to pass each other, an improved passenger shelter and information boards.
At its Welshpool terminus, the W&LLR has already commissioned shed extensions that will double the covered space available to protect historic carriages, wagons and other large artefacts.
Funding provided by the grant will make the sheds suitable for public access, provide lighting and security for the exhibits and support interpretative material to explain their role in operating the original railway. It will also enable the sheds to provide undercover facilities to host special events, such as exhibitions.
The Welsh language will be prominent across the improvement programme, with all new signage provided in bilingual form to emphasise the railway’s roots in the community.
“Our mandate as a charity is to preserve and to operate our 116-year-old railway as a demonstration of how it supported the local agricultural community which opened it in 1903,” said W&LLR general manager Charles Spencer.
“The volunteers, who will be working on all these projects and contributing some of their own funds, are very excited about the benefits the TAIS grant will bring, as we welcome more visitors each year.”
Welsh Government Deputy Minister, Lord Elis-Thomas, said:
“This scheme is an excellent way for us to assist the tourism sector to make the improvements to local facilities and amenities. I’ve seen the improvements made in many areas with the help of this funding over the past year.
“Facilities such as footpaths, toilets, signage and car parking are often only noticed when the provision is lacking or not up to scratch, which shows that they are an important part of the experience that people have of Wales.
“This is also an investment by the public sector in amenities for those who live in the area and will benefit locals and visitors alike. These projects also make it easier for local residents and visitors to become more active in Wales’ natural environment.”
The railway operates on more than 150 days of the year, between Easter and the end of October, during the February school half-term holiday and popular ‘Santa Special’ trains in December.
The railway has recently earned much praise for a programme to improve access to its trains for passengers using wheelchairs or having other mobility issues. A £42,500 grant from the UK Government allowed the purchase of wheelchair lifts for the two terminus stations and refurbishment of two bogie carriages, allowing them to take larger modern wheelchairs.