The general manager of Talyllyn Railway has praised the “significant contribution” made to the world’s first preserved railway by women who have been volunteering for a combined total of 1,300 years.
Stuart Williams revealed that the railway has around 100 female volunteers. “I think we set the benchmark for having such a diverse volunteer base and we are much better for having the female touch,” he said.
“Heritage Railways can be male dominated but we seem to have bucked that trend. Passengers love seeing women especially on the footplate which happens very regularly on the Talyllyn.
“We could run the whole railway with female volunteers quite easily and I don’t think there are many railways that can say that.”
His comments come after Talyllyn Railway recently run a special train to celebrate the contribution made by its women volunteers since 1951, which amounts to a combined total of 1,300 years.
The ‘Talyllyn Women’ train was boarded by 80 women and some of their partners for a celebration with cakes at Abergynolwyn. The driver and fireman were Rachel Palfreyman and Christine Homer respectively - the first all-female locomotive crew on Talyllyn Railway in 1995 - and the guard was Louisa Warren, who started volunteering in 1975.
Women have played an active role since Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society began the railway preservation movement in 1951.
During the early days, Sonia, wife of founder Tom Rolt, helped run the Wharf office and Barbara, wife of locomotive engineer David Curwen, worked as a guard.
Women have since supported the railway in a variety of way. Nowadays, it’s not unusual to see trains crewed by women and they also work as controllers, blockmen and station assistants.
It’s also likely that parts of the engine and carriages on the train have been maintained and painted by women who volunteer in most of the other non-operational areas of the railway as well.
The celebration train was sparked by a conversation between Barbara Fuller and Sarah Thomas, who both have 50 years of volunteering to their names. They discovered that women volunteers have worked on the railway for a combined total of 1,300 years.
All the women who boarded the celebration train received a specially designed ‘Talyllyn Women’ enamel badge and Mayor of Tywyn, Councillor Eileen Jones presented some volunteers with long service awards.
Photos credit: Phil Tugwell.
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