Corridor of opportunity

FOR those of us who remember the earlier days of standard gauge preservation, WR 4-6-0 No. 7029 Clun Castle stood out like a beacon of hope in a steamless world. Those open days at what was BR’s Tyseley depot had a carnival atmosphere of their own, and Clun was so often the star of the show.

Its relaunch on October 28 was also a tribute to the legendary Pat Whitehouse, one of the founding fathers of our movement, without whom we would probably not have anything like the sector we have today.

Pat was among the Talyllyn saviours who kick-started volunteer-led operational railway preservation in 1951 and later became a key figure in the nascent Dart Valley Railway, not to mention being the man behind the BBC’s Railway Roundabout series which inspired a generation of trainspotters, some of whom went on to become preservationists and revivalists.

Pat’s legacy of course includes Tyseley Locomotive Works, which has taken over the mantle from Swindon of all things GWR running on the main line today.

So much of those pioneering days is still with us today. We are still very much developing the heritage railway sector, adding more gems to the magnificence that has already been achieved.

I look forward to the triumphant re-entry of steam to Broadway next spring, the completion of the Great Central Railway’s bridge over the Midland Main Line at Loughborough and its new national-standard museum at Leicester North, fabled projects now well within our sights.

The Severn Valley Railway’s £2.5 million share issue to upgrade its Bridgnorth terminus inspired sufficient people to subscribe and hit the target within hours of its deadline, and years of hard slog saw the Gwili Railway finally open its extension to Abergwili so it can tap into a major tourist route.

Attention is now turning to the lost GWR route between Ruabon and Barmouth, which Beeching recommended for closure in favour of keeping the Cambrian Coast route from Shrewsbury via Welshpool.

The two heritage railways on its trackbed in the corridor of the River Dee are now adding themselves to the list of lines that go somewhere to somewhere, offering so much more than a steam ride for its own sake in the middle of nowhere. And both of them richly deserve your support at this stage.

The Bala Lake Railway is now just 80 yards short of the land it needs to complete its extension on ‘virgin’ land into Bala town centre, and give passing tourists a big reason to stop off there and spend their money in local establishments.

The scheme will benefit everyone – not least of all the railway, whose current out-of-the-way Bala terminus is by comparison ‘finicky’ to find and misses out on much potential custom.

Then there is the Llangollen Railway’s big push into Corwen Central, which is making rapid strides each month. It will not only be railway passengers who will benefit, being able to alight and visit the town centre’s shops and pubs, but coach companies who will see the line as a way of getting their customers into Llangollen.

Indeed, coach tour operators will have a big part to play at both of these lines, being able to offer their passengers rides on two heritage railways which pass through some of the most beautiful scenery Britain has to offer, simply by turning off the main road into a car park.

Complete these extensions, and a myriad of opportunities will arise at Corwen and Bala, again highlighting to local councils everywhere the multiple benefits to their economies that heritage railways can guarantee.

Both lines, however, need further public support, in terms of donations or share purchases, and this is the time and place to jump aboard. The spirit of Pat Whitehouse and his colleagues, like the magnificent machine he saved half a century ago, lives on.

Robin Jones, Editor

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