2021 AGM – General Manager’s Report

Despite the effects and uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the railway has made considerable progress over the last 12 months.

We were grateful for the financial support given to us by the Welsh Government over the last winter, which allowed us to keep all the permanent staff fully employed through the winter, and to the volunteers who came to help in between the various lockdown periods.

We managed to complete the winter track programme, including the track relay (another 422 replaced), improvement to the Bala end points at Llangower, tree cutting near Bungalow Bridge, replacing timbers on nearly all our level crossings, spot re-sleepering between Pentrepiod and Flag, as well as a myriad small jobs. The new tampers came into their own, not only in getting the track relay up to line speed, but also at various other locations where the ride is now much improved.

In the workshops, coach no8, the metal guard’s van, was stripped and rebuilt, with improvements to the guard’s compartment and disabled bay and doors on both sides. Holy War’s boiler has been repaired at the Severn Valley Railway’s workshops and returned, where it will be reunited with the frames that have been fully overhauled. Work on Holy War awaits the completion of Coach 4. This is a completely new body built on the frames of the original No4, the framework for which is now complete and awaiting painting. The wood panelling is in stock, cut to size and painted, as are the seats and windows. Rapid progress is now expected on this carriage. Coach No.2, the wooden semi-open with guard’s compartment has received two brand new bogies built in-house, and wheelsets are in stock for four more bogies. Alice has been stripped down, and work started on overhauling her chassis, with a new boiler awaiting fitting when this is done. Progress on the Penrhyn saloon carriage has re-started.

Meanwhile, the workshop has received a new roof and side panels, eliminating the leaks and improving the insulation. A covered area has been provided over the picnic tables at Llanuwchllyn, a new waiting shelter and welcome signage installed at Bala, and improvements made to the new signal box at Llangower, including a new roof. The old waiting room (now office) at Llanuwchllyn has had the slate roof relaid, and the canopy, café and other parts of Llanuwchllyn station building have been repainted. Much progress has been made behind the scenes on Llanuwchllyn signal box, with the new steps being installed this week, and preparations and materials are in hand for repairs to the wooden framework and windows, just waiting for the closed season to happen.

The 2021 operating season suffered a delayed opening, missing out on the first three months, including Easter, due to covid restrictions. We opened on the 1st May, with a slow start but watched as traffic built up during the month. Since then we have broken records every month. Passenger numbers were up 17% in June, 26.5% in July and a phenomenal 32% in August on the best equivalent months we’ve ever had before. The shop and café are now recording income in excess of what was being achieved pre-covid.

Volunteer support throughout the season has been exceptional, with most operating turns covered by volunteers and the staff having to do very few, which means they can concentrate on other essential tasks and improvements. This even applies to drivers and guards where previously we have struggled. This is thanks to an increase in volunteers with new blood supplementing the older hands. Our volunteer base is now over 140 strong.

This year we have managed to run some very exciting events, including the Society and Trust led Bala Re-Railed which was an unqualified success, and the recent August Steam Gala with visiting engine ‘Margaret’ from the Vale of Rheidol Railway.

On the Trust front, the planning application for the Bala extension has now been lodged with the Snowdonia National Park, and we are hoping to hear the result by the end of the year. A huge amount of work has got us this far. Earlier in the year Natural Resources Wales received planning permission for their flood defence works, which incorporates the civil engineering aspects for nearly a third of the length of the extension. The first sod for our extension will be cut when they make a start on their project, expected to be early next year. There are exciting times ahead!

We feel that your railway is currently in a very good position. Thanks to the busy season, our finances are robust enough to see us through the winter and into next year. We are making good progress with the upkeep and improvements to the existing railway, and plans for the extension are moving steadily forwards.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Society and its members for their continued support during the last year which has been invaluable in getting us through the pandemic, and especially the help with extra-curricular activities like Bala Re-Railed, improvements at Llangower and the signal box at Llanuwchllyn.

David Jones

General Manager

September 2021