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Ffestiniog and
Welsh Highland 2009

 Up to top   Introduction

Well, they've done it, almost... Welsh Highland Railway track has been laid connecting Caernarfon to Porthmadog. However, trains on the Welsh Highland operate only between Caernarfon and Hafod y Llyn, just south of the Aberglaslyn Pass. The reason? Apparently there's a dispute over the re-construction expense of the Britainia Bridge in Porthmadog. The tramway tracks crossing the bridge from the Ffestiniog Railway's Harbour Station are complete and functional but past that ballast is required on the section next to the Llyn Bach pathway. The latest information on the Welsh Highland web site indicates the section between Hafod y Llyn and Porthmadog won't open for operation until 2011. The map below shows the trackage arrangement within Porthmadog. Click on any map for a larger view:

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 Up to top   Ffestiniog Railway

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The Ffestiniog narrow gauge railway (1 foot - 11 1/2 inches) was constructed to transport wagons of slate downhill by gravity from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog for trans-shipment to sailing vessels for world-wide delivery. The empty slate wagons return journey uphill was provided originally by horses hauling them back to Blaenau Ffestiniog, the site of several slate mines.

In 1863 steam locomotives commenced hauling trains with the arrival of two of four George England & Co. engines named "Princess" and "Mountaineer". Engines "Prince" and "Palmerston" arrived the following year. Primitive open carriages offering cheap transportation to the quarrymen were used. Later on, additional locomotives from the England Company arrived on the Ffestiniog in the form of Little Giant and Welsh Pony.

As the years passed traffic on the line increased until the capacity of the line approached its limit. The solution to this problem was the introduction of more powerful steam locomotives capable of negotiating the Ffestiniog's tight curves. Robert Fairlie, with his patented 0-4-0 + 0-4-0, "push me - pull you" looking articulated design provided the answer. The first engine, known as
Little Wonder, more than doubled the haulage capacity on the line. The Fairlies incorporation is but one of many things making the Ffestiniog Railway unique. As the years progressed the Ffestiniog improved on Fairlie's design building several more at its own Boston Lodge workshops across the estuary from Porthmadog.
If we do the math, then steam locomotives have operated on the Ffestiniog for 146 years, with the exception of the 1946 closure lasting until 1956, when steam service by Fairlie "Livingston Thompson" returned.
Slate was no longer the company's main source of revenue. Passenger fares on this intrepid line now contributed to company coffers. Support in the form of cash, and a labour of love by the Ffestiniog Railway Society, keeps the line alive. The railway would not be where it is today without the work carried out by volunteers. The number of riders continues to increase over the years providing much needed revenue for operations and even expand the line. Yes, expand, and that is what leads us to the story of the Welsh Highland Railway.

 Up to top   Welsh Highland Railway

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The roots of the WHR can be traced back to a horse drawn railway of 1828 evolving into a group of narrow gauge railways known as the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways (NWNGR). The NWNGR was conceived by Charles E. Spooner the secretary and engineer of the Ffestiniog until 1887. In 1877 he completed a line between Caernarfon and 5 miles from Dinas. By 1881 tracks had reached Rhyd Ddu with the intent of serving slate quarries but passengers were encouraged to ride and view the scenery.

By 1901 a railway named Porthmadog, Beddgelert & South Snowdon Railway (PBSSR) was formed to continue construction southwards towards Porthmadog but failed to complete the work. In 1906 construction did take place between Rhyd Ddu and Beddgelert and a start was made through the Aberglaslyn Pass. The PBSSR ordered the steam locomotive Russell from the Hunslet company which is now the only surviving WHR locomotive. The Aberglaslyn Pass tunnels were completed just as money ran out so they were abandoned. It wasn't until 1923 that another company named the Aluminium Corporation acquired control of the PBSSR and the NWNGR creating the Welsh Highland Railway and continued the line south into Porthmadog.
The WHR's first year was a good traffic year but then business began to fall off. With the slate industry in decline, trucks, busses, and vehicles coming into use, the WHR was forced into receivership by 1927. Somehow there was enough revenue to barely keep it going until 1937, then came closure. Equipment was requisitioned for the Second World War, Aberglaslyn Pass tracks came up in 1941 and the rest was mostly gone by 1948. The route between Caernarfon and Dinas was taken over by a standard gauge line, the London & North Western Railway, which was subsequently closed by British Rail in 1964.
In 1961 railway enthusiasts formed the Welsh Highland Light Railway (1964) Company Limited and laid track on an old standard gauge railbed between Porthmadog and Pen y Mount commencing public service in 1980. With the Ffestiniog Railway's completion of their deviation to Blaenau Ffestiniog in 1982 it started to eye the old WHR route. By 1989 it had made a secret bid to the receiver of the WHR to acquire the route. They wished to construct south once again from Caernarfon to Porthmadog connecting with their line terminating at Harbour Station thereby creating 40 miles of 1 foot - 11 1/2 inch narrow gauge. In 1993 legal fighting broke out in their attempt to gain control of the route. This resulted in three public inquiries and a High Court hearing. Finally a decision was made stating the reconstruction of the WHR was in the public interest followed by approval for construction.
Hunslet built 2-6-2T named Russell.

Volunteers started work and by late 1997 service between Caernarfon and Dinas was in operation with five new carriages, Pullman car Bodysgallen, and two semi-open carriages. To pull the trains two NGG16 2-6-2 + 2-6-2
Beyer Garratts, numbers 138 and 143, plus a Funkey diesel named "Castell Caernarfon" were acquired from South Africa. A third NGG16, number 140, was donated to the WHR in 1997 and two NG15 2-8-0s were also obtained from South Africa.
Volunteer labour next completed the tracks to Waunfawr and service commenced in August 2000. Rhyd Ddu was reached on 18 Aug 2003.
Meanwhile, back in Porthmadog, the Welsh Highland Light Railway (1964) Company Limited re-named Welsh Highland Railway Ltd., came to an agreement with the Ffestiniog to build north to Pont Croesor and operate their trains on that section until required by the Ffestiniog. They built only as far as Traeth Mawr loop, about halfway to Pont Croesor, and were operating on this portion by 2008.

By 2004 the Ffestiniog had funding in place to continue construction south from Rhyd Ddu, through Beddgelert, Aberglaslyn Pass, and into Porthmadog crossing the Britainia Bridge on a tramway. Work started during the summer of 2005 on this final section with the Last Spike, er... Golden Bolts, being installed at the Ffestiniog's Harbour Station in Porthmadog on 28 Feb 2009.
Beyer Garratt built 2-6-2 + 2-6-2 NGG16 number 143.

Currently (October 2009), Welsh Highland Railway tracks connect Caernarfon and Porthmadog but trains operate only between Caernarfon and Hafod y Llyn. There is a dispute over funding of the reconstruction work on the Britainia Bridge in Porthmadog. The Ffestiniog claims it is owed £250,000 by the North Wales Trunk Road Agency. It says the money is for work done on behalf of the Agency to the Britainia Bridge. This money is required to complete signalling on Porthmadog's CTL (Cross Town Link). With this dispute still in progress the Ffestiniog estimates the final section will not be operational until sometime in 2011.

 Up to top   News Stories

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 Up to top   Associated Web Sites

Ffestiniog Railway
Ffestiniog Railway Society
Ffestiniog Volunteer
Ffestiniog Railway Heritage Group
Merddin Emrys
Welsh Highland Railway
Great Little Trains of Wales
Ricket Rescue Web
Steam Sounds
The Conwy Valley Line
Conwy Valley Railway
Arriva Trains Wales
Welsh Slate Industry
National Slate Museum

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