Normally, in late July and early August I usually do two weeks driving on the Festiniog Railway as my second or third stint of the year. This year has been a bit different with: –
- The Covid19 Pandemonium
- My own health resulting in the removal of my gall bladder.
The first of them meant there have been no trains and the second meant I couldn’t have driven them had they run. I was going to say Plan B, but its more like Plan X, Y or Z has finally seen trains run and me drive a few.
The railway started to run trains in late July with a very different service to what has gone before. Priority has been safety and social distancing for both the people working the trains and for the travelling public.
At the railways works the site has been split to keep the works staff and the train crews separated as much as possible with two entrances, two messes and washing facilities and no works access for visits. Social distancing even works in the sheds with the engines. This year has seen shorter trains and the little engines coming to the fore.
The Double Fairlies have been put away and the service has been operated by Linda, Blanche, Prince and Welsh Pony with Palmerston just returning to traffic as I write this after an overhaul. Each day three are used with one spare and they rotate so that there is a different spare each day and they are all kept warm. The three for the service sit by the doors on 5,6 & 7 roads with the spare one loco in on 7. The three go out at hourly intervals and sometime during the day the spare is moved from the back of 7 to either 5 or 6 ready for the next day.
The trains in use are all compartment stock for separation and trains are only running to Tan-y-Bwlch. They depart from the open end of the platform at Porthmadog, so they don’t create public congestion under the canopy. Passengers when they book are allocated a compartment which is then theirs for the full journey. Trains run non-stop to TyB where there is an hours break for the passengers before they return to Porthmadog.
It all runs a bit slower than usual, but timings are still important. Firstly, as a driver, you mustn’t arrive at TyB early so you don’t unload your passengers before the down train has its loaded up.
On arrival the up train goes right up to the water tower so its in the right place to fill up and the rear is beyond the crossing to the car park. Once you’ve taken water and the passengers are off the train is moved to the other platform via the top end placing the train down towards the footbridge below the car park crossing. The loco then returns to the up line to run round but has to wait for the departed down train to get to either Rhiw Goch or Minffordd for the token to be available.
Having run round you are ready to load up which you have to do before the next up arrives which explains whilst the up mustn’t arrive early.
We even managed a social bubble with our loco as for the four days the roster was Blanche, me driving and Claire firing all made easier as Claire and I were sharing accommodation.
How did I get on? Well, four days was enough although I was getting back into it. There were some issues caused by my reconfigured innards but manageable so I will be back to do a bit more soon.
On our first day we got caught by the paparazzi. The pictures in the article were all taken by Chris Parry and are used with his permission and my thanks. We also got caught by the Moving Pictures Video team so you can follow a trip with us to Tan-y-Bwlch in the second half of that video.
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