A narrow-gauge locomotive normally resident at the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway is to visit the Far East as part of a new co-operation agreement between the mid-Wales line and the Taiwan Sugar Corporation (Taisugar).
Andrew Barclay 0-4-0T ‘Dougal’, built in 1946 to work at a gasworks in Glasgow, and acquired in 1969 by the W&LLR’s then general manager, will be spending around six months in Taiwan, during which it will be a star guest at a major festival in December.
The initiative is the result of a twinning arrangement that has been agreed between the W&LLR and Taisugar. Similar to an agreement signed in 2017 between the Welsh line and the Alishan Railway, another major line in Taiwan, the twinning promotes long-term mutual co-operation and exchange between the two railways.
The Taiwan Sugar Corporation once owned more than 40 mills around the country, but as sugar production has declined it has diversified into other areas, and Taisugar now operates five short heritage railways at former mills that it owns.
Part of the agreement will see the W&LLR providing the benefits of experience gained in more than 50 years of tourist railway operation to Taisugar, while the return benefits will include technical assistance, particularly in the maintenance of 1979-built Diema diesel loco no 17, which the Welsh line purchased from Taisugar in 2004. Cross-level tourist promotion will also be undertaken at a time when the UK and Wales are becoming increasingly attractive desitnations for travellers from the Far East.
The W&LLR board has also agreed to Taisugar’s request to send Dougal to Taiwan on a six-month loan, in order for the loco to appear at the annual Sugar Festival in December – the major celebration of the sugar industry’s year. The theme of this year’s Festival is to be ‘Taiwan and British Railway Culture Exchange.’
While basically in working order, Dougal has not run on the W&LLR since 2013, when significant and expensive boiler work was deemed necessary. As the loco’s small size prevents it being used for passenger traffic, it has remained out of use since with the line’s limited resources necessarily focused on the front-line fleet.
A member of the W&LLR’s engineering team will travel to Taiwan to oversee the locomotive’s unloading and a technical inspection by Taisugar. The sugar company has indicated that depending on the results of this inspection an offer may be made to carry out work on Dougal to bring it up to operating condition. No work will commence until the W&LLR has been fully consulted and agreed to what extent, if any, restoration should be undertaken.
All costs of Dougal’s visit to Taiwan are being fully met by Taisugar, and there will be no call upon the resources of the W&LLR at a time when the railway is fully committed to both current maintenance and future development of the line.
W&LLR chairman Steve Clews has welcomed the agreement with Taisugar, and the bold move to send Dougal to Taiwan. “We are already seeing benefits from our twinning agreement with the Alishan line and we would expect similar benefits to both sides from an agreement with Taisugar, particularly in the areas of promoting tourism,” Steve said.
“As Dougal is currently unable to work on our railway, the visit to Taiwan will enable the loco to make a major contribution to both cementing our growing relations with Taiwan and in promoting the W&LLR to the increasingly important Far East tourism market.”
Dougal will depart for Taiwan later this month. More updates will follow as the visit progresses.
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