This week was another sad week for the Ffestiniog when we lost our original General Manager, Allan Garraway.
Allan led the railway during the rebuilding and it is due to him that we have what we have today. His stewardship during the austerity years ensured the railway did not fail and his understanding of running a railway ensured the railway concentrated on the must haves and ignored the nice to haves. The fact the railway can now talk about having nice to haves is due to Allan setting the foundation for stability that we enjoy today and it is notable how hard following GMs have found it to continue that stable foundation he started.
Some people get hot under the collar about his scrapping of Moel Tryfan but given it was scrap one locomotive or scrap an entire railway, I think he made the right call – especially as rebuilding a locomotive is comparatively a piece of cake.
Some others get hot under the collar about his attitude towards some would be volunteers. Some people wrote some nasty things about Allan on internet fora within 24 hours of him leaving us but I’d say Allan could spot an idiot a mile off – fortunately. He always said that he wanted enthusiastic railwaymen not railway enthusiasts. I totally agree with this. Railway enthusiasts have their place and are great for the preservation movement, but when you are running a railway on a shoe string, you want professionals who know how to get the best out of an asset and can see the big picture without being distracted by the romance.
He knew that for the railway to survive it had to get revenue and that meant getting as many people on a particular train as possible while expending as little as possible. He gathered around him like minded individuals who could make that happen.
Allan found the Ffestiniog when he first volunteered on the Talyllyn and he was one of the ones who realised the Ffestiniog was the railway to save.
He gave up his career on the railways for a career on THE Railway managing the railway until the line was completed to Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Despite being rather hard done by the railway when he left he didn’t hold animosity towards those who genuinely worked for the betterment of the railway. I was fortunate enough to get to know him as part of a group of Ffestiniog railwaymen who started visiting him on an annual basis some 10 years’ ago to operate his model railway.
We’d get the sleeper to Scotland on a Friday night, operate his railway on Saturday and then complete the day with a black tie dinner on the Saturday night.
Allan was genuinely interested in us and what we did and despite some attempts by some of our group, he’d never say a bad word about anyone on the railway.
He understood railways from an operator’s point of view and this was apparent in his model railway which was not about scenery but was about operating. Running O gauge trains with scratch built NER traction and rolling stock (the locos used gun sight motors which were cheap post WW2) was great fun and my highlight was being in charge of a 35 lever frame ‘box fully mechanically interlocked which Allan had built. As operators we had to bell trains from ‘box to ‘box and the trains had to run with the correct head code.
Allan had even gone to the length of cutting a notch in one of the roof beams so that the driver of a down train would be able to see the advance starter leaving the terminus station….
So raise a glass and make your toast. We have lost a gentleman and a true railwayman who’s standard we can only aspire to. Allan, I hope you’re having fun driving Linda round your model railway in the sky.