Visitors travelling on the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway are now enjoying the benefits of a £42,500 project – especially those who suffer from mobility issues.
In May 2016 the mid-Wales heritage line won a £42,500 Government Grant to improve access to its trains for wheelchair-bound visitors. The grant, announced by then Minister for Rail Claire Perry MP, was made as part of the £1 million Heritage and Community Rail Tourism Innovation competition, run by the Challenge Fund of the Department for Transport and the Rail Safety & Standards Board (RSSB).
The Llanfair Line’s ‘Disability First’ project, combining carriage modifications and platform lifts to allow visitors in wheelchairs to board and alight from most service trains in comfort and safety, was one of 17 winners announced by the Government.
Disability First sought to address access issues for wheelchair users, always a challenge for heritage railway operators as the passenger carriages on such lines were built long before society recognized the importance of disabled access. That challenge is increased on narrow gauge railways such as the W&LLR, due to the more restricted dimensions of the carriages and lower platforms.
The first phase of the project saw portable platform lifts purchased for Welshpool and Llanfair stations, allowing much more effective access for motorised wheelchairs to most of the line’s carriages. These lifts came into full use for the 2018 season and have proved highly popular with passengers, both those using wheelchairs and those with limited mobility who find the steps up into the carriages a challenge.
Phase two is focusing on the Llanfair Line’s two most heavily-used bogie carriages, built in the 1950s for the Hungarian State Railways (MAV) and highly popular with travellers due to their large viewing windows. The plans involved modifying the balcony at one end of each vehicle and redesigning the internal layout by fitting tip-up seats to accommodate more of the larger wheelchairs that have become more common in recent times.
In February MAV carriage No. 418 was dispatched to Rampart Engineering at Barrow Hill, Derbyshire, for the modifications to be made, along with a general refurbishment and repaint. Following completion of the work, carefully monitored by W&LLR member Phil Crook, the vehicle was returned to the railway on Monday 21st May and has now returned to service. The lorry that brought MAV 418 home then loaded sister carriage MAV 430 to be taken to Rampart for similar treatment.
W&LLR Appeals Director Iain McLean, who helped secure the grant, said that the financial support by the DfT and RSSB to improve access for those with mobility challenges had been very welcome. “We want to be able to welcome everyone to our railway, to fulfill our mandate to educate the public about the railway and the important role it played in this agricultural community,” Iain added.
The W&LLR now plans a programme to communicate the improved facilities to wheelchair users and disabled access groups and to encourage them to enjoy the 16-mile return journey through lovely Mid-Wales countryside. The MAV carriages are rostered in most but not all trains – intending passengers can check by calling 01938 810441. Visitors are also welcome in the Llanfair Caereinion tearoom and in the fully accessible stations at each end of the line, where disabled parking is available. Any intending visitor with mobility challenges can access the railway’s access statement at www.wllr.org.uk/access-statement or call 01938 810441 to confirm that their wheelchair can be accommodated on the train.
Trains run on the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway at weekends from Easter to October and during the week from May to September. The regular timetable and special events calendar are available at www.wllr.org.uk, which also includes online ticket-booking facilities.
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