Klausrl’s Weblog

The World according to Richard Klaus..Trains, Planes, Cars, Wales,Scotland.

Narrow Gauge Railways in Wales

Wales could have the highest concentration of little railways in the world.

The crown jewel of Welsh Railways must be the Ffestiniog running from Porthmadog, Wales up to Blaenau Ffestiniog. Link to them at http://www.festrail.co.uk

The Ffestinog was built to haul slate from the mines around Blaenau Ffestiniog, to Porthmadog, and later to the transfer yard at Minniford. Opened in 1836 as a gravity operation, the entire line was on a steady down grade to Boston Lodge about 1 mile south of Porthmadog. On special days, the gravity trains are still run, a train of slate cars pulled up the line, then let run back toward Boston Lodge, just gravity, and a crew of brakemen enjoying the ride. Draft horses supplied the up hill power until 1863 when the first steam engines were brought on board. Although much changed some of the original Locomotives are still in service. Prince continues in daily use after nearly 150 years.

The Ffestiniog worked quite well for decades, but fell on hard times, with the introduction of heavy trucks, and new roofing products, that reduced the demand for slate. In August 1946 what was thought to be the last train ran on the Ffestiniog ran from Blaenau to Porthmadog.

That probably would have been the end, but an error in the original charter for the railway, had no provision for scrapping. While not in use, it was not permitted to tear up the railway.

Eight years later, after several tries, a group of rail fans, began the project of reopening the line, and on July 23 1955 a small World War 1 surplus gas powered locomotive, “Mary Ann” pulled a short train the mile from Porthmadog to Boston Lodge.

It took until 1982 to complete the line back to Blaenau. The largest problem being a reservoir that covered part of the line. This was overcome by adding a loop at Ddualt where the line curves back over itself ,and climbs to a higher track bed clear of the water.

At Porthmadog there’s a well equipped station. Great resturant and pub, Spooners Cafe & Bar. Take the time to tip a pint with a princess. Princess one of the first engines on the Ffestiniog back in the 1860s has retired, and sits in the bar. Not every day you can have a beer with a Locomotive to lean on.

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Princess in Spooners Bar

The Ffestiniog is working toward completing the Welsh Highland from Caernarfon south through Snowdon National Park, to join the Ffestiniog at Porthmadog. This will probably be completed in the fall of 2008, and will open to passenger traffic for the 2009 season. The golden spike will complete a nearly 40 mile ribbon of two foot gauge steel, taking passengers through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

The Welsh Highland is quite a return from the dead story, in that it did not dodge the scrappers torch. With the exception of a few feet here and there, the entire railway was lifted, for the scrap value of the rails. That the new Welsh Highland is nearly complete says much about the people that stuck with the idea of bringing it back. Much has been written about the confict surrounding this project. Lets just say that the partners in the project were not always on the same page. Last time I was in Wales all the parties seemed to have found a balance, and have assumed positions in the operation well suited to their interests.

The Welsh Highland Caernarfon currently runs on the completed sections of the build from Caernarfon, near the Castle to Rhdy Ddu, deep in the Snowdon National Park. They operate what may be the most powerful 2 foot gauge steam locomotives now in use. Only the Welsh Highland Porthmadog’s Polish diesels may be more powerful ,at 400 plus horsepower, one can’t help but think that the big diesels will be called on for rescue missions from time to time. Beyer-Garretts built in the late 50s for South African freight service, these locomotives are big, powerful and look oversized when standing next to most Welsh locomotives.

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Garrett at Caernarfon
At this point the big Welsh Highland Garretts will not see use past Porthmadog on the combined railway. They are simply to big for the tunnels, and other trackside construction, east of Boston Lodge.

Locomotive “Prince” at Tan-y-Bwlch stationporthmadog-07-144-small-web-view.jpg

Prince and Earl of Menioneth

at Tan-y-Bwlch station.

The Ffestinog can be reached by regular train sevice at Blaenau Ffestiniog, from the Conwy Valley Line. This is curently run by Arriva Trains. You would catch the Conwy, at Llandudno Junction, near Conwy on the north coast. The Conwy Valley is a worthwhile trip on its own. Take the time for a stop over at Betws-y-Coed. Across the footbridge in the station there’s a miniature railway for the kids, and for those of you that are model train nuts, like me, there’s a great trains hobby shop.

Find out more about the Conwy line at , http://www.conwyvalleyrailway.co.uk/

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Conwy Valley railcar at Betws-y-Coed

Just across town from the Ffestinog is the Welsh Highland, Porthmadog. This group was the first to start the idea of restoring the Welsh Highland, and while no longer the lead dog, will play an important part in the new railway. This is a better site for those with children. The soon to be complete 40 mile trip will prove too much for most youngsters. At the Welsh Highland,Porthmadog , the flavor is very family, and the museum is just right. The crew here is a little more easy going, and seems to have more time to chat.
The Welsh Highland Porthmadog also has a nice sandwich shop, and book store that is not to be missed.

The Welsh Highland Porthmadog web site is, www.whr.co.uk/s/index.en.php

Ruston Loco

Ruston loco at Welsh Highland, Porthmadog

Call ahead and for a small fee, adults can arrange a Cab ride in one of the Locomotives. Great chance to check one item off that things I always wanted to do list.

About an hours drive south of the Ffestiniog you will find the town of Tywyn and the Tal-y-Llyn Railway.

This little railway, built in the 1860s, struggled for many years, finally under the ownership of Sir Hayden Jones. The quarry that was the railways largest customer was closed, and Sir Hayden ran the railway at a loss untill his death in 1950. That looked like the end of the Tal-y-Llyn, but a group from the area, led by Tom Rolt , worked out an agreement to operate the railway, and three years later received the railway from Sir Hayden’s widow. They did pay 1350 pounds sterling for the railway, which was about the scrap value.

Having dodged that bullet, the Tal-y-Llyn has gone on to become a first class operation. Great ride behind coal fired locos. The coal fire does have a special charm to it.

Be sure to try the Tea Room at Abergynolwyn . Yes you probably can’t pronounce it, but just think “end of the line”. There they move the locomotive to the down end of the train ( great photo opp ) and take a break before heading back toTywyn.

The museum at Wharf Station is small but packed with history. Well lighted for photos, something notably lacking in many museums. Lots of very small locomotives, and for the kids, well, maybe big people too, there’s a room of Reverend Awdrys work. Known best for Thomas The Tank Engine, Rev. Awdry worked with the Tal-y-Llyn for years.

Tal-y-Llyns wonderful web site is at. http://www.talyllyn.co.uk./

Wharf Station

Loco “Tom Rolt, at Wharf Station
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Tom Rolt at Abergynolwyn.

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November 25, 2007 - Posted by | trains, Wales | , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] Weblog – Narrow Gauge Railways in Wales (basic […]

    Pingback by A twisty tale « Behind The Water Tower | June 1, 2008 | Reply


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