Bala Lake is located in Snowdonia National Park which in turn can be found in north Wales. Bala Lake, Llyn Tegid, is 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometres) long and 0.4 of a mile (0.6 kilometre) across lying roughly north/south surrounded by low sheep filled hills. The River Dee connects at both ends of the lake. Accommodation is available in the town of Bala which lies at the northern tip of the lake. Bala Lake Railway's main station, actually there is only one station building, is located just past the southern tip of the lake and is named Llanuwchllyn. Don't ask me to pronounce it! From there the line follows the eastern shoreline north to a terminus named Pen Y Bont. Start to finish this 1 foot 11 1/2 inch (597 mm) narrow gauge railway is just 4.5 miles (7.2 kilometres) in length.
A Brief History
The current Bala Lake Railway is built on a section of the former standard-gauge Great Western Railway (GWR) Ruabon to Barmouth Junction route. At the core of that route is the railway between Bala and Dolgellau, which was built by the Bala & Dolgelley Railway Company (B&DR) (the English spelling for Dolgellau), which opened in August 1868.
The line joined the Corwen & Bala Railway at Bala Junction and the Cambrian Railways at Dolgellau. The B&DR was absorbed by the GWR in 1877. In 1896 the GWR enlarged Llanuwchllyn station, with an extended building and a new signal box. A long passing loop and second platform were also added.
Passenger services through Bala ceased on Monday 18 Jan 1965 and the line from Llangollen to Barmouth was closed. Although originally earmarked for dieselization by British Railways in the early 1960s, the Ruabon to Bala to Barmouth line was eventually included in the infamous Beeching Report of 1963. From that time, the line was gradually run down, with the long distance holiday trains and through freight traffic being diverted to the Cambrian main line through Welshpool and other facilities rationalised. Goods traffic finally ceased running 1 Jan 1968, when the Pontcysyllte branch was closed. However, through rail services had effectively ceased December 1964 when the last Mail Train from Chester used the line.
Enter the Bala Lake Railway. The rebirth of the line as a 1 foot 11 1/2 inch narrow gauge railway came when a local engineer, George Barnes and Tom Jones CBE, saw the potential of the lakeside section for both local and tourist traffic. The new company, Rheilffordd Llyn Tegid Ltd. (Bala Lake Railway Ltd.) became the first company to be registered in the Welsh language with operations beginning in 1972.
George and Tom with help from local ex-British Railways staff started to rebuild the line as 1 foot 11 1/2 inch gauge. The aim was to make use of the mass of equipment that had become available from numerous slate quarries in North Wales that had abandoned steam and railway operations in favour of machines and road transport. The first train consisted of two specially made-in-Wrexham open carriages and a small industrial diesel. From these humble beginnings the line and rolling stock collection grew to what exists today - Rheilffordd Llyn Tegid.
Sold to Julian Birley 2010.
Bought from Alan Cliff 1989.
Rebuilt at Llanuwchllyn 2007.
All of the 5 steam locomotives currently at Llanuwchllyn were built by the Hunslet Engine Company of Leeds, England. Each Hunslet is a coal-fired 0-4-0ST (Saddle Tank) built for the extensive 2 foot narrow gauge systems operated by the Dinorwic and Penrhyn Slate Quarries in North Wales. Winifred is unique in that it was purchased by an American and stored away unseen and unused in a United States museum for 50 years until purchased by Julian Birley and repatriated here in 2012. A complete history for each Hunslet is available on the Bala Lake Railway web site.
Bala Lake Railway has a 5 year plan to regenerate the site, expand its range of exhibits, and transform the visitor experience. The plans are certainly impressive. A new engine shed and visitor centre has been designed and work is ongoing to secure funding. Rebuilding of the carriage shed is contemplated plus the construction of an extension into the town of Bala itself.
Llanuwchllyn to Pen Y Bont takes 25 minutes while the round trip is 1 hour with a 35 minute layover at Llanuwchllyn. All trains finish their day's work at Llanuwchllyn. It is therefore not possible to make a return trip with the last departure from Pen Y Bont. There is a cafe and free parking available at Llanuwchllyn. There is only roadside parking and a shelter at Pen Y Bont.