The Vale of Rheidol Railway and the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways are pleased to announce a collaboration to run 1864-built steam locomotive ‘Palmerston’ at the Vale of Rheidol Railway later this year.

Both railways are working together to bring compelling new reasons to visit Wales in 2024, and are celebrating with this rather special locomotive hire agreement.

The Vale of Rheidol Railway are currently in the final stages of opening a brand new museum at their Aberystwyth station, which will open to the public from March 23rd 2024 onwards. At the same time, the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways will be launching their ‘behind the scenes’ tour at the line’s Boston Lodge Works later in the year.

Both railways have worked hard to create a new visitor experience, which means that passengers will have the opportunity to see first-hand a wide collection of narrow gauge locomotives up close, and to learn more about them. Locomotives which are normally hidden away from public view will become accessible.

Both railways are keen to collaborate together, as fellow members of the ‘Great Little Trains of Wales’ consortium. To celebrate and cement this relationship, the Vale of Rheidol Railway have agreed to display and then overhaul the Ffestiniog Railway’s 1864-built “Palmerston”.

The locomotive will arrive in Ceredigion in late February, and will spend the first half of the 2024 season on static display in the Vale of Rheidol Railway’s new Museum, Display & Events building at Aberystwyth station. The locomotive will then enter the VoR workshops in July, for work to return it to traffic. ‘Palmerston’ will then feature (in steam) as the star guest at the line’s ‘Rheidol Steam Festival’ event from 24th-26th August, where it will be hauling trains to Devil’s Bridge.

‘Palmerston’ was built in 1864, and is the oldest surviving engine to have worked on the Vale of Rheidol Railway.

Llŷr ap Iolo, Managing Director of the Vale of Rheidol Railway, said:

“We are very grateful to Paul Lewin and the team at the Ff&WHR to agreeing to the loan of ‘Palmerston’ for the 2024 season. We are excited to have it running on the Vale of Rheidol Railway at our event in August: it has been ten years since it’s last visit to Aberystwyth, so it will be great to have it here again for all to experience once more”.

‘Palmerston’ is one of the original locomotives built for the Ffestiniog Railway, where it worked from the 1860s to the 1930s. During this time, it was hired to the Vale of Rheidol Railway to help with additional traffic generated by the opening of a large Territorial Army camp at Lovesgrove in 1912 and 1913. The loco also helped with moving timber traffic in the Rheidol valley, supporting the war effort of the time.

Paul Lewin, General Manager of the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways, said:

“The Ff&WHR are striving to bring our railway alive for our visitors in a new way. We have invested heavily in interpretation and conservation of the historic loco works at Boston Lodge: rather than simply catching a fleeting glimpse of our locos and workshops, we will invite our visitors right in to the heart of the place. Similarly, the Rheidol team are making their impressive collection openly available for the first time. This is all great news for visitors, and it makes so much sense for us to work together. For those looking to make the most of precious leisure time, a visit to Wales has never looked more appealing. As we prepare to celebrate our platinum jubilee, we can only begin to imagine how pleased our founders would be to see us working together, striving to continue to be the best place to see narrow gauge steam”.

Visitors to the Vale of Rheidol Railway will be able to see ‘Palmerston’ on public display in the restored 1938 engine shed at Aberystwyth station. This building has recently been transformed into a museum, display and events space as part of a larger project called “Wales to the World”, which is developing the terminus at Park Avenue into a Great Western-style station suitable for the modern tourist. The building will also contain locomotives from the Vale of Rheidol Railway’s collection, as well as engines from elsewhere.

In July 2024, ‘Palmerston’ will then move into the Vale of Rheidol Railway’s workshops at Aberystwyth: this will allow work to be undertaken to return the locomotive to steam.

‘Palmerston’ will then play a starring role in a three day ‘Rheidol Steam Festival’ event at the railway over the August bank holiday, alongside the home fleet of locomotives. The weekend will include an intensive timetable of trains, with plenty to see and do across all three days of the event.

Event organizer Phil Budd said:

“It will be an exciting weekend to be in the Rheidol valley, with plenty to enjoy: it will be great to see ‘Palmerston’ in steam, hauling trains alongside our resident locomotives. With the long Summer evenings and fantastic Aberystwyth sunsets, it will be a brilliant time to visit Ceredigion”.

‘Palmerston’ will then return to Porthmadog in late September, in time to play a starring role in the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway’s annual ‘Bygones Weekend’. This annual event celebrates the rich heritage of the Ffestiniog Railway, with historically accurate train formations and costumed characters.

Both railways are pleased to be able to work so closely together on this project, which is very much in the ethos of the ‘Great Little Trains of Wales’ partnership. The arrangement brings strength and unity to both railways, as well as a shared common goal.

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