A small piece of Wales made a big impression in the Far East on Saturday 8th December, when the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway signed a ‘Sister Railway’ co-operation agreement with the Taiwan Sugar Corporation (TSC).
The signing ceremony was held in the city of Chiayi as part of the launch of TSC’s annual Sugar Festival, which for 2018 is taking a theme of ‘Taiwan and British Railway Culture Exchange.’
Star of the Festival is the mid-Wales heritage railway’s 0-4-0T tank engine ‘Dougal’. The Andrew Barclay locomotive, built in 1946 for a gasworks in Glasgow and resident on the Welsh line since 1967, was specially shipped to Taiwan for the event by TSC.
First connections between the W&LLR and TSC were made in 2004 when the Welsh line purchased a 1979-built Diema diesel locomotive from the corporation. Then after the W&LLR signed a sister railway agreement in 2017 with the Alishan Forest Railway, another major line in Taiwan, TSC suggested similar co-operation.
TSC once owned more than 40 sugar mills around Taiwan, but as sugar production has declined the corporation has diversified into other areas, and now operates five short heritage railways at former mills that it owns.
Under the agreement the W&LLR is making its knowledge and experience gained in more than 50 years of tourist railway operation available to TSC, while the return benefits include technical assistance, particularly in the maintenance of the W&LLR’s Diema, and cross-level tourist promotion – the UK and Wales are now becoming increasingly attractive destinations for travellers from the Far East.
TSC suggested the visit of Dougal to the sugar festival, and this proved a very popular move – this year’s first festival weekend attracted large crowds of visitors. The presence of Dougal and the signing ceremony, between W&LLR company secretary Michael Reilly and TSC chairman Charles Huang, was covered extensively in the Taiwan media, including several reports on national TV news.
“The level of interest in our little locomotive and our railway that we saw in Taiwan was quite incredible,” said W&LLR markeitng and publicity director Andrew Charman. He and Michael Reilly attended the festival as the guests of TSC, Andrew also making a presentation on the W&LLR to an international railway forum held the day before the signing ceremony.
“The railway’s profile has certainly been raised in this increasingly important market, as has that of Wales as a nation and a tourist destination for Far-East travellers,” Andrew added. “We have already had meaningful discussions with TSC as to how both parties can see further significant benefits from our co-operation.”
W&LLR chairman Steve Clews was disappointed to be unable to attend the ceremony due to a prior commitment, but he recorded a video message of welcome that was played at the event. “We are very pleased to be entering into this relationship with our friends from TSC and we look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relaitonship,” Steve said.
Dougal is expected to remain in Taiwan for at least six months. Further events involving the locomotive to benefit both TSC and the W&LLR are currently under discussion.
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