cammemb

 

 

Totem

at Oswestry and Llynclys

Heritage Infrastructure

It is fortunate that despite the fact that nearly 38 years have elapsed since the last British Rail passenger trains ran to Oswestry, a surprising amount of Oswestry’s rich railway heritage survives today.

Firstly, the track and track bed is intact from Gobowen to Blodwell. Secondly, such treasures as the main Station buildings at Oswestry and Gobowen still survive. Also still in existence are the Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon works at Oswestry, together with the pedestrian footbridge to it. All these structures are ‘Listed’

During the 1950’s and early 1960’s British Railways operated the line very much as had the GWR. Brunswick Green locomotives and “Chocolate and Cream” station name boards could be seen.

Cambrian Railways Society

Looking towards Pant from Llynclys South - July 2004

Following withdrawal of all passenger services in 1966, one train a day continued to run through Oswestry to and from Blodwel Quarry, but the infrastructure at Oswestry declined, with various elements being demolished or sold off.

In an attempt to protect what was left of the Cambrian system around Oswestry the Cambrian Railways Society was established in 1972 by a group of local people including former railwaymen and enthusiasts. A lease was secured on part of Oswestry Goods yard, including the substantial goods shed, and Oswestry South Signalbox. A museum was set up there and a number of industrial steam and diesel locomotives were acquired, together with a variety of coaches and wagons and numerous other artefacts.

In 1987 an agreement was reached with British Rail to use the sidings south of the yard, down to Middleton Road, and powers were obtained under the Oswestry Light Railway Order 1995 to operate passenger trains on these sidings, a total distance of about 300 meters. The Society have also purchased the freehold of Weston Wharf goods yard and shed, with the help of HLF funding, to establish a second base for their activities. 

Quarry trains ceased running in 1988 and the remaining single line between Gobowen and Blodwel was left in a “mothballed” condition. For a period the Society obtained permission to run its own “works trains” on parts of the line, but attempts to acquire the line or run trains on it regularly were frustrated.

Llynclys Station

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Cambrian Railways Trust

As a result of these problems, the Cambrian Railways Trust was formed in 1998 “To secure the restoration of the Cambrian Railways in order to preserve the unique railway heritage of Oswestry and to provide a visitor attraction of national significance”. The Trust brought together Society representatives, local authority councillors and officers, and professionals and businessmen with relevant expertise to tackle the fundamental issues of acquiring the railway between Gobowen and Blodwel - such as building up a business plan, obtaining the necessary planning consents and operating powers, and assembling the finance to make it happen. The practical aspects of rebuilding the railway and operating the trains were to be left in the hands of the Society. 

The Trust then obtained funding in 1997 from a variety of sources to commission a Feasibility Study, by 1999 a Costing Study had been produced, a draft Transport & Works Act Order had been prepared by a Parliamentary Solicitor, and agreement in principle was reached with Railtrack to purchase the railway from Gobowen to Blodwel.

In 2001 Planning Permissions were obtained for reinstating the railway between Llynclys Junction and Llynclys South and for constructing a deviation line at Gobowen along with the Business Plan to go along with the whole project.

Meanwhile Railtrack was superceded by Network Rail along, with changes in organisation and personnel, and the new infrastructure owners unilaterally withdrew from negotiations with the Trust, stating that they would only deal with local authorities, and also denying the Trust and Society access even for inspection purposes. This situation was not helped by the tensions and misunderstandings which had sadly built up between the Trust and Society, to the extent that the Society membership voted to terminate all links with the Trust.

The Trusts DMU and class 08 Diesel Shunter

At this point the Trust became aware of the opportunity to apply for substantial European grant aid through Oswestry Borough Council’s tourism initiative, together with the opportunity to acquire the trackbed of the former Cambrian Railways mainline between Llynclys and Pant which had been dismantled and sold in a number of parcels to private owners. To bring together these opportunities, the Trustees made the difficult decision to change from being a small group of people indulging mostly in meetings and paperwork, to a body with a much larger membership, physical assets, and major practical tasks to tackle, all independently from the Society.

Accordingly the properties, materials and rolling stock were acquired, planning consents obtained, and during 2003 and 2004 the Trust built a new railway from scratch on the 1200 meters of trackbed from Llynclys South to Pen-y-Garreg Lane, Pant. The grant funding was matched by very large amounts of volunteer labour, benefits in kind, and private donations. This resulted in the first passengers being carried in July 2005, using class 101 diesel multiple units dating from the 1960’s.

Further funding was granted from DEFRA and other sources to assist with improvement of the site at Llynclys South including the building of a replica, period station, and with the restoration of rolling stock.

The Trust has built up the operation as a visitor attraction, hired steam locos, run very successful Santa and other special events, and provided footplate experience courses to many happy would-be engine drivers. But the ability to develop further has been constrained by the limited funding from operational income and private donations, and it has become increasingly apparent that this small-scale stand-alone operation will not be viable in the long term.

Llynclys South Station building

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In the meantime, the Society continued to run its museum in Oswestry, restore rolling stock there and at Weston Wharf, and established a third base on part of the Nantmawr branch at Llandu Junction.

After lying derelict for some years, Oswestry Station was purchased by Oswestry Borough Council in 2005. The building was renovated, converted to serve as a restaurant and visitor centre on the ground floor with offices on the first floor, and leased to the Oswestry Station Building Trust, a charity set up for the purpose. Although set up as a free-standing venture, it was always recognised that it would not fulfill its potential until the railway was reinstated to bring in visitors in larger numbers.

Meanwhile work was continuing to bring the larger vision towards reality. In 2005 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded the Trust a Project Planning Grant (again with match funding from other sources), enabling consultants to produce detailed studies as a first stage in applying for larger Heritage Grants to reinstate the railway between Gobowen and Llynclys and Blodwel. These documents (the Access Plan, the Audience Development Plan, the Ecological Management Plan and the Conservation Management Plan) have provided, and continue to provide, an extremely useful basis for taking the project forwards.

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Cambrian Heritage Railways

Oswestry Station following restoration.

Various attempts were made to bring the Trust and Society back together, and the inevitable logic of doing this gradually overcame the mistrust which had built up. In January 2009 the two bodies signed a formal agreement to co-operate, after which momentum built rapidly and in November 2009 they both held Extraordinary General Meetings which voted to effectively merge as “Cambrian Heritage Railways Ltd.” Much administrative effort was needed to bring this merger into effect, but it is now bearing fruit in terms of more effective working and a renewed sense of purpose.