Approaching the Centre from the nearby town of Machynlleth
you are rewarded by a superb view of the cliff railway blended into its
setting, with its distinctive 'upper station' peering out over the
beautiful wooded valley like the prow of a great ship.
A pioneering project in itself and a unique feature in
Europe the railway is an excellent introduction to the realms of
Instead of a steep climb up to the displays of the Centre
for Alternative Technology, visitors can sit back and take in the
magnificent panoramic view which unfolds as they are lifted to the top
station. You can reach the Centre with a sense of excitement, ready to
experience more examples of sustainable technologies. The experience
begins when you are welcomed at the bottom station. This is an impressive
building in its own right, constructed over a rushing mountain stream.
When a carriage arrives from the upper station, water from the ballast
tanks splashes into an adit below. Any descending passengers disembark and
upwardly mobile passengers file into the carriage. The doors and gate are
secured. There is a pause while the two carriages are weighed - and enough
water is let into the ballast tank of the top carriage to outweigh the
bottom one. The brakes are then released, a bell rings, and the slow,
steady ascent begins.
As the carriage ascends, the majesty of the valley becomes
evident. Trees give way to a broader panorama of the Dulas valley and the
stark, twin peaks of Tarren y Gesail. Passing its descending twin, the
carriage steadily rises until the thick, oak supporting legs of the upper
station herald the end of the journey. Take the time out now to walk to
the balcony of the top station and appreciate the view before beginning
your exploration of the displays. It would be difficult to imagine a more
stimulating way to enter the site - and such a pleasant way of
experiencing sustainable technology in action.
The railway has two carriages linked together with a steel
cable, so that when one goes down the other is pulled up. Each carriage
has a water tank at the front. When people need to go up or down on the
railway a computer controlled system allows water to flow through a pipe
into the tank in the top carriage until it is heavy enough to pull the
other one up. They are then allowed to move. To stop both carriages
accelerating up and down and crashing, they are slowed down by a system
that stores the energy of braking by compressing gas in cylinders. This
energy can then be used to pump some of the water back uphill. In the
winter, when the railway is not running, or when there is plenty of water,
it goes down a pipe and runs another (4 kilowatt) turbine below the car
park, a further 45 metres below.