The Heritage Railway Association is a trade association representing and promoting the interests of heritage and tourist railways.  It’s annual Awards event is traditionally the glitziest gala event of the heritage rail calendar. Across the UK, heritage rail operators of every kind regard the HRA awards as the industry’s most prestigious forms of recognition.

Lockdown restrictions meant the Heritage Railway Association’s annual awards event went on-line for 2021. The show featured two new award categories – Most Innovative Fundraising Idea – reflecting the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its impact on heritage rail, and Diesel Locomotion, acknowledging the importance of diesel power in railway history.

The HRA Awards recognise a wide range of achievements and distinctions across the entire heritage railway industry, and the awards acknowledge individuals and institutions as well as railways, tramways, and cliff railways. Despite the overwhelming impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, several categories saw a record number of submissions and shortlisted entrants.

Internal Communications category

The Talyllyn Railway was nominated in two of the categories and received the award in the Internal Communications category for their Talyllyn Control Centre (TCC) public on-line subscription service.

TCC was commissioned by the Talyllyn Railway General Manager, Stuart Williams, working with a volunteer who runs his own software company “Yingatech.”

Introduced in February 2020 the Talyllyn Control Centre (TCC) was designed to give ‘armchair’ supporters greater access to the railway, enhancing the existing webcam page which sees over 500,000 visitors per annum. With an annual fee of just £5 per annum, there are now 400 active subscribers to the TCC.

The TCC portal runs alongside the Railway’s internal operating management system that gives continual live updates to the operating staff. The TCC system gives subscribers access to those extra webcams that the public do not see, but also gives the ability to view the live position of trains along the railway.

On hearing news of the award, Peter from Yingatech commented:

“Seeing the railway presented with this award, after months of hard work from many people, is incredibly rewarding and I’m very proud of the work that we’ve been able to do together. The system has been an aid to keep people connected to the ‘railway with a heart of gold’ during the pandemic and with more cameras and features in the works, I hope to keep expanding it further for people in the future”

Talyllyn Railway preservation Society Chairman Jonathan Mann also added;

“The news of the Award, just as we are about to resume passenger services after another lockdown, is very exciting. The Railway is currently celebrating the 70th Anniversary of becoming the first preserved railway in the world, and it would be easy to imagine that after so long, we have achieved all we might wish to. However, this award shows that we are still innovating, and we are embracing new technology to add to the Talyllyn experience.  It also provides a valuable aid to the Controller, who now has detailed information available as to the progress of the trains up and down the line, a far cry from seventy years ago, when there was not even a telephone available.”

Most Innovative Fundraising Idea Category:

In recognition of the ways that heritage railways have been forced to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the HRA had introduced a completely new award, for “Most Innovative Fundraising Idea.” The Talyllyn Railway were nominated for their “Virtual Visit” Appeal and were one of four runners up.

The Talyllyn launched it’s ‘Virtual Visit’ appeal at the end of March. The theme encouraged supporters to donate what they would have spent travelling to or on the Railway.

The appeal was centred around a weekly video communication billed the ‘Weekly Walkabout’. Every Wednesday a update was aired, with the Railways general manager, Stuart Williams assisted by engineering manager Chris Smith and commercial manager Lorraine Simkiss, giving updates from behind the scenes.

General Manager Stuart Williams commented: 

“In all, the appeal has raised over £130,000 (plus gift aid) and is still being added to daily. The appeal raised the profile of the Railway and ensured that our supporters were able to feel connected even though they couldn’t physically be here.”

In addition to the two awards in which the Talyllyn Railway was featured, in one as an Award Winner and in another as a runner up, the 2021 HRA awards show also saw coverage of the heritage rail sector’s magazine awards. The Heritage Railway Magazine Interpretation Award went to the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum at Tywyn Wharf on the Talyllyn Railway.

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