Well, they've done it... Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway track now connects Caernarfon to Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog. The tramway track crossing the Britannia Bridge in Porthmadog from the Ffestiniog Railway's Harbour Station, and the final link between the two railways, is now complete and functional. From Caernarfon through Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog the two railways are 38 and a half miles in total length. In 2014 major track improvements opened at Porthmadog Station enabling cross-platform interchange between the two railways.
The Ffestiniog narrow gauge railway (1 foot - 11 1/2 inches) was constructed to transport wagons of slate downhill by gravity from the slate mines at Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog where it will be stacked on the jetty before being loaded onto sailing ships for world-wide delivery. The empty slate wagons return journey uphill was originally provided by horses hauling them back to Blaenau Ffestiniog.
In 1863 steam locomotives commenced hauling trains with the arrival of two of four George England & Company 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 184 years, with the exception of the 1946 closure lasting until 1956, when steam service by Fairlie Livingston Thompson returned.
Slate is no longer the company's main source of revenue. Passenger fares on this intrepid line now contribute 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 has even provided for expansion of the Ffestiniog which is the now also the story of the Welsh Highland Railway.
With the completion of the Welsh Highland route from Porthmadog to Caernarfon a major renovation of the trackage at Porthmadog Station became a focus of the Ffestiniog. This entailed the widening of the Cob near Porthmadog station which commenced in 2012. The first phase of the plan involved delivery of some 25,000 tonnes of rock from nearby Minffordd Quarry. This enabled the western 260 metres of the 200-year-old Cob embankment to be widened for a new platform and to completely rework the station layout. Over the last weekend of January 2013 the North Wales Black Hand Gang continued work started by the ROW Gang installing new turnouts and rail on the Cob in connection with the Porthmadog Harbour Station redevelopment. Ballast was dropped, rail levelled and packed for both the Welsh Highland and Ffestiniog Platforms. By March of 2014 the renovations to the station, tracks, and signalling was compete so it's was time to take a break and relax.
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 from Caernarfon to within 5 miles of 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 the 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 in existence. The Aberglaslyn Pass tunnels were completed just as money ran out and 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 on the Crosstown Link travelling over the Britannia Bridge.
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 1964 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 to thereby create 38 1/2 miles of 1 foot - 11 1/2 inch narrow gauge trackage. In 1993 legal fighting broke out in Ffestiniog's 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 by the Ffestiniog was in the public interest followed by approval for construction.
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 Britannia Bridge to reach Harbour Station with the Cross Town Link. Work started during the summer of 2005 and soon a switch which would connect the Welsh Highland Railway to the Ffestiniog was laid next to Spooners restaurant at Harbour Station. The Gold Spike, er... Golden Bolts in this case, were installed at Harbour Station in Porthmadog on 28 Feb 2009. Shortly after locomotive K1 was photographed as one of many engines which would cross Britannia Bridge on the tramway.
George England Engines
Princess - original name The Princess.
Prince - original name The Prince.
Mountaineer (1) - dismantled 1879.
Welsh Pony - under restoration.
Little Giant - dismantled 1929.
Little Wonder - dismantled 1882.
James Spooner (1) - dismantled 1929.
James Spooner (2) - construction to be completed by 2020.
David Lloyd George
Livingston Thompson - named Taliesin (2) 1932-1961, Earl Of Merioneth (1) 1961-1971, now Livingston Thompson at National Railway Museum.
Earl of Merioneth (2) - replica built 1979.
Taliesin (1) - built 1876 dismantled 1924.
Taliesin (3) - replica built 1999.
Other Boston Lodge Engines
Lyd - Lynton & Barnstaple replica built 2010.
Topsy - first live steam model built at Boston Lodge.
Steam locomotives acquired from elsewhere
Moel Tryfan - scrapped.
Volunteer - ex-The Peckett sold.
Linda - ex-Penrhyn Quarry.
Blanche - ex-Penrhyn Quarry.
Mountaineer (2) - WW I Alco.
Britomart - quarry Hunslet private syndicate owned.
K1 - the first Beyer-Garratt.
Lilla - ex-Cilgwyn Quarry, Penrhyn Quarry, Bernard Latham.
Monarch - ex-Bowaters sold.
Leary - vertical boiler built/owned by FR volunteers.
K1 - 0-4-0+0-4-0 K Beyer-Peacock built 1909 ex-Tasmanian Government.
87 - 2-6-2+2-6-2 1937 Cockerill built 1937 ex-SAR.
109 - 2-6-2+2-6-2 NGG16 Beyer-Peacock built 1939 ex-SAR.
130 - 2-6-2+2-6-2 NGG16 Beyer-Peacock built 1951 ex-SAR.
138 - 2-6-2+2-6-2 NGG16 Beyer-Peacock built 1958 ex-SAR.
140 - 2-6-2+2-6-2 NGG16 Beyer-Peacock built 1958 ex-SAR.
143 - 2-6-2+2-6-2 NGG16 Beyer-Peacock built 1958 ex-SAR.
9 Apr 1999 - Prescott Backs New Railway in Snowdonia
16 Jul 2000 - Britain's Millennium Collection 2000 Celebrates Future
30 Jul 2003 - Prince Of Wales Steams to Snowdon on Welsh...
18 Aug 2003 - Protest at Mountain Steam Railway
20 Jun 2004 - Train Enthusiasts Mark 40 Years
7 Feb 2005 - Row Erupts at Welsh Highland Railway Over Sex...
1 Nov 2005 - Steam Railways Against Drinks Ban
14 Oct 2008 - On Track to Opening Railway Line
2 Feb 2009 - Unpaid Bill Halts New Rail Link
28 Feb 2009 - The "Golden Bolts" Ceremony
1 Mar 2009 - My Life in Travel - Paul Lewin General Manager...
22 Apr 2009 - Train Spark May Have Caused Fire
2 May 2009 - Black Fives Visit Blaenau Ffestiniog
27 May 2009 - Second Farm Fire Near Rail Tracks
10 Jun 2009 - A Steamy New Window on Wales
20 August 2009 - Narrow Gauge Link Further Delay
14 Jan 2010 - Rail Crossing at Porthmadog is a Danger to Cyclists
21 Jul 2010 - Restoration Aim for Slate Mine Electric Trains
14 Sep 2010 - Ffestiniog Railway's New Steam Engine
19 Oct 2010 - Steam Train and Van in Collision Near Porthmadog
18 Jan 2011 - Work Begins on Ffestiniog Railway Bridge
20 Apr 2011 - Pete Waterman Marks Welsh Highland Railway Completion
8 Jun 2011 - Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway Crossing Warning
26 Nov 2011 - Blaenau Ffestiniog Train Facing Red Tape Woes
11 May 2012 - Hugh Napier Back on Track After 50-Year Restoration
25 Feb 2013 - Princess Returns to Paddington to Celebrate 150th...
28 Aug 2013 - Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway on the Right Track
21 Oct 2013 - Caernarfon to Bangor Rail Link
23 Jan 2014 - No Plans to Extend Link from Caernarfon to Bangor
17 Mar 2014 - Services at Porthmadog Harbour Station to...
4 Jun 2014 - F&WHR Plan Station in Caernarfon
5 Jan 2015 - Ffestiniog Railway Workshops Set for Major Upgrade
17 Jun 2015 - F&WHR Launches New Super Coach
29 Jun 2015 - Welsh Highland Railway to Restore a New Garratt Loco
29 Nov 2015 - Ffestiniog Super Shed at Minffordd
28 Apr 2016 - New Train Worth Half a Million to Make Railway Debut
22 Sep 2016 - Fatter Passengers Force Gwynedd Railway to...
1 Feb 2017 - Little Steam Engine Comes to Kings Cross Station
Ffestiniog Volunteer (Link failed)
The Conwy Valley Line (Link failed)
Conwy Valley Railway (Link failed)
Welsh Slate Industry
National Slate Museum (Link failed)
The story of the closure and revival of the Ffestiniog Railway 1939-1983.Immortal Rails Volume 2Johnson, Peter2005Rail Romances.Paperback224 pages, 8.6 x 10.8 inches, $134.40 (used)
The story of the closure and revival of the Ffestiniog Railway 1939-1983.Only two of the best books on the Ffestiniog Railway above are shown here but a search of Amazon Books found 43 titles about the Ffestiniog and 32 titles on the Welsh Highland Railway.