Gauge: 2ft 6in (760mm)
The Welshpool and Llanfair Railway was intended to link the somewhat remote town of Llanfair Caereinion with Welshpool and the national transport network, and to serve the rural community.
The mainline Oswestry & Newtown Railway reached Welshpool in Montgomeryshire in 1861, sparking an urge to open up the surrounding countryside with branch lines. Thirty-five years of abortive schemes followed. In 1896 the Light Railways Act was passed in order to assist remote agricultural areas with grants to make lines possible. In 1899 an Order for the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway was secured. A condition of the Order was that an established railway company should operate the line. Consequently an agreement was made with the Cambrian Railways Company.
Construction to the unusual gauge of 2ft 6in started in 1901 and the railway opened in 1903. Originally the railway ran along the streets through the heart of Welshpool on the route from the main station to Raven Square where the line gained its own formation. The railway includes several steep sections and many changes of gradient. At Golfa bank, just outside Welshpool, the line climbs for a mile at 1 in 29, one of the steepest and longest climbs on a steam worked railway in the UK.
In its early years the railway was fairly well used by passengers and freight included coal, timber, stone and livestock, as well as general goods. The line was always difficult to run profitably and, taking advantage of the re-organisation required for the 1923 Grouping, the independent owners of the line sold out to the Great Western Railway. The GWR introduced a rival bus service in 1925 and the passenger service suffered accordingly. It ceased in 1931.
The line struggled on as a goods only railway passing into nationalisation as part of British Railways in 1948. Unfortunately like so many other nationalised minor railways the line was destined to be closed and the last train ran on 2nd November 1956.
Had the railway closed a few years earlier it would probably have gone forever, but the closure came just in time to catch the rising tide of the preservation movement started on the Tallylyn Railway in 1950. The success of the Talyllyn encouraged the group of enthusiasts who set out to save the Welshpool and Llanfair Railway just a few years later. After a long period of uncertainty the ‘Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway Preservation Company Limited’ was able to lease most of the railway. Excluded from the agreement was the section which ran through Welshpool’s streets including the railway’s headquarters. The new Company was forced to move its operation to Llanfair. The railway was reopened in stages with the first section, to Castle Caereinion, opening in 1963. The last section from Sylfaen to Welshpool, with the challenging Golfa bank, had to wait for a new terminus to be built and so was not opened to traffic until July 1981.
The railway’s original passenger stock had been scrapped so the preservation society were forced to acquire from elsewhere. Included in the stock are five historic coaches from the Austrian Tyrol.
1 The Earl Beyer, Peacock & Co. No. 3496 of 1903; 0-6-0 tank. GWR 822
2 Countess Beyer, Peacock & Co. No. 3497 of 1903. 0-6-0 tank. GWR 823