On Saturday 2nd September Electrify Pyrotechnics delivered what was a real first. A logistical challenge never faced before. 8 miles of fireworks as a steam train powered through the Welsh valleys, and it was delivered exceptionally smoothly and efficiently.
So how did they do it, what were the challenges and what was the outcome?
What a great weekend – 8 miles of fireworks at the Welshpool & Llanfair light railway in mid-Wales. For those that don’t know it, the WLLR is a narrow gauge steam railway that originally opened in 1903 in order to carry locals and farming produce from the small mid-Wales communities to the market town of Welshpool in order to sell their goods. It was a lifeline for the community however with the advent of the car if eventually closed in 1956, only to be rebuilt and opened again in 1963. So this year was a special anniversary, as it has now been open longer as a volunteer run heritage railway than a commercial line. So what better way than to celebrate with fireworks – at the first and last station and all the stops inbetween…for 8 miles!
It sounds amazing and was remarkable – however, the sheer amount of planning and hardwork it took to pull it off was astonishing….
Something of this nature takes planning, a whole lot of planning. It’s not all about making the displays look beautiful for the audience because safety is a key issue for the audience and the staff. A usual firework display requires an initial site risk assessment to consider amongst other things:
- Access to the site
- Size of firing site
- Location of the audience
- Location of any houses, roads, public rights of way near to the firing site
- Wind direction
- Firework debris fallout zone
- Risk of fire in the vicinity of the fallout zone
- Backup firing site
- Photos for the staff that will set up and fire the display
The list goes on and all aspects of the setup, firing and clear up must be considered as well as a re-assessment once the firing team arrive on site. So imagine doing that for 6 different locations, all previously unknown sites to the company and firing team, sites with public access and moving trains!
Professional firework displays present many dangers to both the audience and the firing team. Electrify considers these when planning their shows, however put firework displays where there are moving trains and that adds a whole new dimension to additional safety elements that had to be considered, trained and reiterated to the firing staff to keep them safe.
As well as the safety aspect there were other things to organise:
- Getting enough firers to travel to mid-Wales to fire all the displays safely
- Keeping the firers fed and watered
- Organising overnight accommodation
- Planning and designing the displays + the pyro-musical light show at the last site
- Getting all the individual display fireworks fused and labelled up for the correct display sites
- Ensuring there’s enough electronic firing equipment for each site
- Ensuring staff know where to go for their display and raising awareness of their individual site, the risk assessment and how to set up
- Ensuring the station displays are fired at the correct time as the train passes
- Getting everyone back from their display safely as the train moves along in time for the large display at the end of the line
- Getting decent photographs and footage of each mini-display
Thought, planning, training, run-throughs and a whole raft of paperwork was pulled together to cover all of these elements.
The key to success for this event was invariably down to 2 things:
The planning was perfect down to the last ‘T’ crossed and the last ‘I’ dotted, and all the documentation was out in good time so the team knew exactly where they were meant to be, what they were doing and the team brief at the meeting point before the set up commenced answered all the outstanding questions people were unsure of. However, it was the great team that delivered this incredibly difficult logistical challenge and ensured it went as smoothly and successfully as it did.
We have to consider that Electrify is made up of a whole selection of individuals who are, whilst professionally trained to an incredibly high standard, part-time firework professionals and have day jobs too. It has to be said that we have an amazing group of firers and the day was delivered due to their commitment to deliver a great show, their passion and of course their hard work. It was great fun and the camaraderie was wonderful as the team worked together to get an incredibly large amount of work done.
We can’t thank the team enough, what they did was outstanding and we couldn’t do it without them. Each one of them, despite their tenure and experience, contributed to the event and what ensued would not have happened without their commitment, attention to detail and perserverence.
The displays & timing
So, what was it that we delivered?
At 19:35 passengers boarded a special ‘firework steam train’ at the Llanfair and headed for Welshpool station where the train would turn around and head back for the 8 Miles of Fireworks run…
20:35 – the train departed from Welshpool station where a huge volley of shells were fired using the CH20 firing system.
20:53 – the train arrived at the first station (Sylfaen) – cakes were fired using the new Firestorm system as the train arrived at the station
21:05 – As the engine pulled into Castle Caereinion station modular units were fired, again using one of our Firestorm systems
21:19 – As the train pulled into the Cyfronydd halt, a single shot chase fired up and down the platform as the passengers watched on – a Cobra firing system was used for this chase
21:30 – the engine pulled into the penultimate station, Heniarth, and as it slows cakes and shells explode, fired again by a Firestorm system
The train then headed off for its’ final destination Llanfair where it arrived at 21:45 to be greeted by an extremely large audience and a huge pyromusical lightshow.
As with all timetables, this was subject to change and in true railway style the train was around 20 minutes late, however that kept the firing team on their toes. Their cue to fire was as the train pulled up however they were able to prepare as they saw their colleagues fire their shows in the distance and the sound of the steam engine and it’s whistle in the dark in the distance!
Despite the late train, the displays ran like clockwork and we were all surprise to see firework chasers who drive their cars to each station ahead of the train to catch each display. We also had staff with cameras who drove to each station and captured images of the fireworks.
The end result
What really made this event was the feedback at the end. As the display finished all the steam engines sounded their horns and whistles over the claps and cheers of the audience, and the site echoed with a nostalgic sound that felt like post war Britain as the troops returned to their families. It was an indescribable feeling and moment. Feedback from the passengers on the train was phenomenal and they said they absolutely loved the variety of fireworks as they differed from station to station. The combination of the emotion of being on a steam train and the excitement of fireworks as they slowed for each station was, as one passenger described it “an amazing emotional experience never to be experienced again, it was truly wonderful”.
The management team from the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway said they were “blown away by the displays and the lightshow pyromusical at the terminus yard by far exceeded all of their expectations.”
The clean up afterwards was long and hard, and made even more challenging because of the moving trains which were being put away. It is when you are tired that you become most vulnerable, however each team member looked out for the others as is always the case with our displays.
The drinks and pizzas back at the campsite were very welcome and making the front page of the Shropshire Star the next day was icing on the cake.
Watch the video from the display here.
It was certainly well worth going that extra 8 miles!