Rebirth Of The Corris Railway
The Railway Magazine|August 2017

In the latest instalment of our periodic Lazarus Lines features Cliff Thomas describes the resurrection the Corris Railway, previously owned by the GWR and Nationalised in 1948.

Cliff Thomas
 THREE Welsh narrow gauge lines(all different gauges) passed through Great Western Railway ownership to become part of British Railways in 1948.

The Vale of Rheidol Railway never closed and was privatised in 1989, while the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway closed in 1956 (already being a freight-only line) and reopened as a preservation project in 1963.

Both have subsequently flourished.

The oldest of the trio, the Corris Railway, lost its passenger services in 1930 but continued to carry slate until closure of its main line (the Aberllefenni to Ratgoed branch remaining used until 1952) on August 20, 1948. Dismantling did not mean forgotten and from small acorns a revival project emerged to prepare the ground for expansion.

Horses to steam

The Corris, Machynlleth & River Dovey Tramroad opened in 1859. Horse-worked, the tramway carried slate from quarries around Corris Uchaf and Aberllefenni to quays at Derwenlas and Morben on the Afon Dyfi (River Dovey) for loading onto ships. The 1863 arrival of the standard gauge at Machynlleth spelt the end for water transport, the tramway west of Machynlleth being abandoned and the narrow gauge line becoming simply the Corris Railway.

Following the line’s acquisition by Imperial Tramways Ltd in 1878, iron rails were replaced with steel and three steam locomotives ordered together with 10 four-wheel passenger carriages

The latter did not mark the start of passenger carrying, rather it regularised a situation which had unofficially existed since the 1860s – passenger traffic had already grown to 22,000 a year with people riding in adapted wagons! Ironically, formalising things led to objections from a quarry owner, fearing his slate trains would be affected, a dispute not resolved until 1883, by which time some of the sharper curves had been realigned and passenger services officially approved.

The railway peaked in the 1890s recording annual totals of 80,000 passengers and 18,000 tonnes of slate. Decline set in as slate production reduced and passenger numbers fell during the First World War. Recovery in the 1920s proved only temporary and in 1930 the line was sold to the Great Western Railway.

With road competition affecting passenger traffic the Corris was already using vehicles supplied by its parent company to run bus services – controlling these services may well have inspired GWR’s acquisition of the railway, with passenger trains soon ending and the railway only kept running to serve Aberllefenni Quarry. This continued until closure, just months after the line was nationalised.

Gone but not forgotten

Perhaps if the Corris had hung on another three years it could have become the world’s first preserved railway. Instead, the neighbouring Talyllyn Railway (also 2ft 3in gauge) took that honour, being operated by a preservation society from 1951. Fortuitously, something of the Corris could find new life helping contribute to the success of the Talyllyn venture in the form of the ex-Corris locomotives Hughes 0-4-2ST No. 3 and Kerr, Stuart 0-4-2ST No. 4, which were bought for Talyllyn use, later followed by other Corris rolling stock.

Arguably, preservation of the Talyllyn Railway contributed to revival of the Corris. During the early-1960s, several Talyllyn volunteers started visiting the Corris on their way home after a weekend at Tywyn and The Corris Society was formed with the idea of starting a museum.

Around the same time different people in the West Midlands formed The Corris Railway Preservation Society. Having similar ideas, the two groups merged to form The Corris Railway Society.

Initial thoughts were to secure the station building at Machynlleth, but with this not proving possible attention shifted to the village of Corris. The 1878-built station structure at Corris was very unusual for a narrow gauge railway in having an overall roof above the main line (Corris being a through station between Aberllefenni and Maespoeth Junction), with the building incorporating a carriage shed. The roof section had been removed in 1949 with the remaining, increasingly derelict, elements of the structure cleared in 1968.

Early society efforts focused on historical research and developing a museum, the first stage opening in 1970 in the old horse stables extant opposite the Corris station site. The following year a few hundred yards of track was laid just to the south of the station site, albeit a demonstration of intent rather than a running line.

Trains return to Corris

In 1981 the society gained possession of the loco shed and yard, previously used by the Forestry Commission, at Maespoeth Junction, about three-quarters of a mile from Corris, where a well-equipped locomotive shed and workshop has progressively been developed.

Reopening the railway would inevitably have to be achieved in stages, the obvious first step being Corris to Maespoeth Junction. Planning permission to lay track over this section was secured in 1974.

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