Abergwili Junction and Bronwydd Arms Engine Shed
The opening of the Abergwili Junction Extension on 1stJuly 2017 was a seminal moment in the history of the Gwili Railway. The project had been the culmination of 17 year’s hard work but amid the sense of achievement there were essentially two thoughts, namely how can we capitalise on the goodwill and momentum; and what’s next?
Whenever an extension is completed there is always a period of consolidation, as resources (financial and labour) are often diverted towards the extension which can in “normal times” be utilised elsewhere. With the expansion from a two mile to four mile line the transition would require improvements in other areas if the railway was to continue the “upward trend”.
High on the list for the railway was some much-needed covered accommodation for locomotives and rolling stock. In particular despite a good record of operating steam traction for over 30 years, a lack of covered accommodation was seriously hampering work on further restoration. The last full restoration of one of the home fleet (0-6-0ST “Haulwen”) was completed by a contractor in 2007. The last “full” restoration of a locomotive on site was even further back than that; “Welsh Guardsman” in 1993.
Various schemes for a proper engine shed had been proposed for many years, although the priority was to pay for overhauls themselves as opposed to investing in the facilities required. Nevertheless the success of the fundraising for the extension allowed for a small surplus in the budget which could be used as a springboard for further projects. Again after the success of the extension in terms of grants, and after making a case for the shed, Carmarthen County Council kindly offered some financial support as part of their Targeted Finance Fund. With some further match funding we were able to award a contract for the construction of one-road shed being 75ft by 25ft, with room for 2 0-6-0ST’s or equivalent.
Various arguments were put forward as to the location of the shed; operationally our Bronwydd Arms station was now in the middle of the line, and there was more land available at Abergwili Junction. The deciding factor was that we enjoyed “permitted development” rights for planning within the large and established footprint of Bronwydd Arms station, and equally any locomotive shed at Abergwili would be adjacent to Glangwili hospital. Therefore the shed was erected at Bronwydd Arms.
Although the grant was awarded in 2016, it took until Easter 2017 for the shed to be erected. Again on a smaller line, available staff time was taken up on operations or keeping the existing locomotive fleet in operation. When the contractor was available, the staff were not, and vice versa. There is a delicate balance between operations (which bring in the funds) and development (which install essential improvements and keep stakeholders engaged).
Once the shed was erected it was onto stage 2 next, the installation of a locomotive pit. We already had a serviceable pit but a second one inside the shed was much desired for the “restoration” type work, whereas the present pit was used for “oiling up” the operational engine. Quotations were again sought from local builders, and the most suitable one chosen. Again the demands of operations and the builder’s workload precluded an immediate start and it was not until January 2019 that the hole was dug. The project progressed through the spring and completion of the pit itself was achieved in August (again much on/off time dependent on the availability of the contractor and our staff.
The next stage was to connect up the existing locomotive siding to the shed and get under cover. For the 40 feet or so over the pit, we utilised flat bottom rail as this was easier to attach to the pit, with a resin and clip method. Ironically our running line still uses bullhead rail at present. The first locomotive in the shed was the chassis of 0-6-0ST “Moorbarrow” undergoing contract overhaul.
The difference in obtaining undercover access was immediate but the final stage of the shed project (for now) was the laying of the concrete floor. This was finally achieved in January of this year with a 7:00am start to pour the concrete, and at the end of a very mucky but satisfying day one complete engine shed was laid before us.
The total cost of the shed, including the building, pit and floor was achieved in money terms for £40,000 although the real cost when taking into account staff and volunteer time is higher. The shed took just over 3 years from erection of the first pillar to laying of the final concrete. Again for a smaller line a “do it in stages” approach is necessary, and it does require some faith and focus to meet the end goal.
Thankfully as is frequently the case, one opportunity leads to others. We launched the TVR 28 project in October, and the ability to work on the locomotive under cover is a key factor in the restoration. Equally we have a contract restoration for 0-6-0ST “Moorbarrow to complete by the spring and following that we have our own “Haulwen” dismantled and ready to be overhauled. Both Moorbarrow and Haulwen are in good condition mechanically so a quick turnaround is hoped for in each case. There is no doubt that the shed has increased interest in volunteering on the locos. Teams from across the three departments that were previously fragmented have now come together now have a focal point for their efforts.
Our next efforts are focused on the carriage shed at Abergwili Juntion. This is planned to be a two-road, 240ft long shed for which planning permission has been obtained. The shed will house the railway’s MK1 fleet in addition to some of the 4 wheeled carriages at the railway, including GWR 216 of 1888 and Taff Vale Railway 220 of 1891.
Covered accommodation would improve the prospects of regular service for these two centenarians with both carriages having received much attention in the last 5 years without becoming operational.
A small grant with match fudding has been obtained to commence the groundworks with the provision of a large area of land at the same height as the present station at Abergwili; these works will commence imminently with a cost of 25k.
The layout at the south end of the station will be remodelled, in the meantime fundraising continues for the shed structure. We have a kind offer of “pound for pound” donations for the shed itself, therefore we would need to raise another 50k at least to make the shed a reality.
Donations would be most welcome and can be made via the railway at Bronwydd Arms Station.
Quotation from GRPS Chairman John Gurmin:
“We are pleased to have provided funding for the new MPD facility. Recently funding was made available for the floor concreting and now the Committee are working on funding for the installation of lighting and power. All this has been made possible due to the hard work of our volunteers behind the scenes running the 300 club and selling raffle tickets.”
Quotation from Marketing Manager and Photographer – Scott Artus
Engine shed project picture gallery.After a very wet and windy day the Volunteers and Staff members have successfully completed the concrete laying in the MPD engine shed at Bronwydd. Once set the shed will be in full use once again for engine maintenance and restoration projects. The Board would like to thank all involved for their fantastic efforts today.This was a Gwili Railway, GRPS and Volunteer cross platform teamwork project.