The world’s first preserved railway in Mid Wales was delighted to welcome back visitors as its café opened for the first time since the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in March.
Talyllyn Railway’s general manager Stuart Williams said visitors were able to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and a snack or meal in a picnic train that doesn’t move off the platform.
He arranged for three open carriages to be brought to the Wharf Station in Tywyn where visitors can sit and enjoy their refreshments. The station also has an outdoor seating area under a platform canopy.
“We’ve had a good first day, taking more than £200, which is good considering the rainy weather,” said Mr Williams. “We seem to be one of the few places open in the area where visitors can get a cuppa or a meal.
“We are restarting train services from August 1 and went live with the news and bookings on Friday morning. We have been overwhelmed by the interest, with more than 200 people booking on in the first 48 hours.”
For the first week from August 1, the railway will be running one return train from Wharf Station to Nant Gwernol. From August 8 to the end of the month, there will be four return trains, but passengers will be limited to an average of 50 per train. Tickets must be pre-booked.
“Bearing in mind that we normally carry around 700 passengers a day at this time of the year, the capacity will be severely restricted, but it’s something we must do to keep passengers, staff and volunteers safe,” added Mr Williams.
“It will be a slightly different passenger experience, but at least our trains will be running again.”
When a train returns to Wharf Station, staff and volunteers will have 90 minutes to deep clean the carriages before they are used later in the day. There will also be screens between compartments, a fogging machine for the carriages and a team of volunteers providing hygiene services.
Mr Williams praised the railway’s volunteers who have been getting the railway ready to return to operations. He and engineering manager Chris Smith have been welcoming up to 11,500 virtual visitors to a social media live stream every Wednesday at 10.30am when they do a 10-minute walk around and talk about the railway.
Local MP Liz Saville-Roberts has agreed to flag away the first train to reopen the railway on August 1. The pandemic has meant that the seven-mile railway, based on the coast at Tywyn, has been unable to run trains since March 20.
An appeal – www.justgiving.com/campaign/talyllyn-appeal2020 – launched to help the line through the pandemic has raised £107,500 to date, which far exceeds the original £75,000 target.
The railway is in its 155th year of operation and approaching the 70th anniversary of the formation of Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society in October. It provided the inspiration for the creation of ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ by author Rev W. V. Awdry, who was an early volunteer on the railway.
Talyllyn Railway is a member of MWT Cymru, an independent organisation that represents more than 600 tourism and hospitality businesses across Powys, Ceredigion and Meirionnydd.