Welsh Highland Light Railway

History

 

The Welsh Highland Railway was formed in 1922 from the merger of two companies - the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways (NWNGR) and the Portmadoc, Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway (PBSSR) (successor to the Portmadoc, Croesor and Beddgelert Tram Railway).

 

The Croesor tramway had run from Portmadoc since 1863 up into the CroesorValley and the slate quarries in this area. This was a horse worked line laid to a nominal 2 foot gauge.

 

The NWNGR had originally built a 1 ft 11½ in (597 mm) gauge line from a junction with the standard gauge London and North Western Railway line at Dinas to Bryngwyn with a branch from Tryfan Junction via Waunfawr to Llyn Cwellyn (Snowdon Ranger). The line was opened in 1877 and was extended to South Snowdon (Rhyd Ddu) in 1881, a total of 9 miles. This closed to passengers in 1916, but goods traffic continued up to its absorption by the WHR in 1922.

 

In 1902, the newly-formed PBSSR took over the failed Portmadoc, Croesor and Beddgelert Tram Railway with the aim of extending it to South Snowdon slate quarry in the Nant Gwynant Pass. Work was abandoned by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, although the tunnels through the Aberglaslyn Pass were mostly complete. By 1921, the NWNGR, the PBSSR, the Snowdon Mountain Railway and the Festiniog Railway were in common ownership and controlled by the owners of the Aluminium Corporation and the North Wales Power and Traction Company with headquarters at Dolgarrog.

 

In 1922 the order was made to create the Welsh Highland Railway (WHR), mainly funded by loans from the Ministry of Transport and Carnarvonshire County Council in the hope that it would help regenerate the area's economy and keep struggling quarries open. McAlpine & Sons were contracted to refurbish the existing lines and complete the link between Rhyd Ddu and Croesor Junction, thus creating a railway that ran from Dinas to join the Festiniog Railway at Porthmadog and which was opened in 1923.

 

As the modern WHR includes an extension north to Caernarfon, it is worth mentioning that the section of line between Dinas and Caernarfon was constructed as standard gauge in the 1860s by the Caernarvonshire Railway (later the LNWR) on parts of the Nantlle tramway (a 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge horse drawn tramway, that survived, albeit truncated at Talysarn until the 1960s).

 

The WHR venture was not a success and the hoped-for revenue from quarry traffic never materialised. When these hopes were dashed, the railway turned to another market; tourism. The owners tried to attract visitors by opening the first narrow gauge buffet car and by painting their carriages bright colours, including yellow and blue. However, these ideas did not work because the early tourist industry did not provide sufficient visitors to make the railway pay, especially during the Depression. The last passenger train ran on 5 September 1936 and the Welsh Highland Railway was formally closed on 1 June 1937. The majority of the track was removed for scrap during the Second World War.

 

Various legal manoeuvres followed this, including a serious application to turn the route into a long-distance footpath. Although these plans were ultimately unfruitful, they ensured that the trackbed was kept mainly intact, rather than sold off bit by bit, which would have made restoration much more difficult and potentially expensive. However, some parts such as the sites of Rhyd Ddu and Dinas stations were sold off.

Original Locomotives

 

Two locomotives were inherited from the predecessor companies: Moel Tryfan and Russell. When these proved insufficient, Baldwin 590 was acquired by H.F. Stephens and several Festiniog Railway locomotives saw regular use on the Welsh Highland Railway throughout its entire pre-closure existence from 1923 to 1937. 590 was planned to be part of a larger fleet to replace Moel Tryfan and Russell but it gained so little popularity that Stephens never bought another. By 1936 Moel Tryfan was out of use at Boston Lodge. When Russell and 590 were withdrawn the following year, they were placed in Dinas shed, but when the Second World War broke out, the Ministry of War came to see about appropriating them for the war effort. After some examination of the engines and questionning of those who had worked them, Russell (regarded as a good engine) was removed for further use, and 590 (seen as an unreliable, rough rider with difficult controls and inadequate adhesion) was broken up at Dinas. Despite the unpopularity of 590, the WHR (Porthmadoc) is currently refurbishing a similar Baldwin to act as a replica.

 

During the ownership of the WHR by the FR, Moel Tryfan and Russell were cut down to allow them to traverse the FR to Blaenau Ffestiniog. Moel Tryfan proved suitable, but Russell, even in cut down form, was not low or narrow enough to fit the Ffestiniog's the loading gauge. It has now been restored to its original form. Notably, 590 retained its original form until its demise.

 

Welsh Highland Railway Time Line by Peter Johnson

1825

20 May

Nantlle Railway Act of Parliament, authorised tramway from Nantlle valley to Caernarfon built 3ft 6in gauge, horse worked

1828

10 July

Opened for goods

1856

11 August

Opened for passengers

1863-4

 

Croesor Tramway (4½ miles) built from Croesor quarries to terminus by BritanniaBridge, Portmadoc; horse tramway

1865

5 July

Croesor & Portmadoc Railway Act of Parliament incorporated Croesor Tramway and authorised extension to Portmadoc harbour

1867

25 July

Nantlle Railway vested in Carnarvonshire Railway

1867

2 September

Carnarvon – Pen y Groes section converted to standard gauge

1872

6 August

North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways Act of Parliament, authorised Moel Tryfan Undertaking (Dinas – Bryngwyn and Rhyd Ddu) and General Undertaking (Portmadoc – Betws y Coed); latter not built, abandoned 1876

1877

21 May

Dinas – Quellyn (temporary station, 6½ miles), Tryfan Junction – Bryngwyn (2½ miles) opened

1878

December

James Cholmondley Russell appointed receiver

1878

1 June

Services extended to Snowdon Ranger (7½ miles)

1881

14 May

Services extended to Rhyd Ddu (9½ miles)

1893

 

Rhyd Ddu renamed Snowdon, attracting tourists who had previous gone to Llanberis

1897

 

Snowdon Mountain Railway opened and the tourists returned to Llanberis; 1893-96 were the NWNGR’s best years for passengers

1900

3 November

NWNGR (Beddgelert Light Railway Extension) Order made

1901

17 August

Portmadoc, Beddgelert & South Snowdon Railway Act of Parliament, authorised 2ft gauge electric railway from Borth y Gest to Nant Gwynant to serve South Snowdon slate quarry and hydro-electric power station also authorised, incorporated Croesor & Portmadoc Railway

1904

15 August

PBSSR Act of Parliament, agreements with NWNGR and extensions, electricity generated powers divested to North Wales Power Company

1905

6 June

NWNGR Light Railway Order, power to be worked as a light railway and by electricity

1905-6

 

PBSSR construction started in the AberglaslynPass and around Beddgelert and abandoned, incomplete, but Nant Gwynant hydro-electric power station completed; still generating.

1906

13 February

PBSSR orders 2-6-2T locomotive for use by NWNGR; delivered in June, the locomotive was named Russell

1906

24 October

PBSSR (Beddgelert Light Railway Extension) Order

1908

8 July

PBSSR (Light Railway Extension at Carnarvon) Order

1908

27 July

PBSSR (Light Railway) Order, electrification, extension to Betws y Coed

1914

27 November

Local authorities make light railway order application for powers to take over PBSSR and NWNGR and complete the railway between Portmadoc and Carnarvon; application put into limbo by the war

1915-18

 

NWNGR to Rhyd Ddu became moribund, Bryngwyn branch operated as required

1920

 

LRO application reactivated with the intention of obtaining government grants to fund it

1922

30 March

Welsh Highland Light Railway Order made, including powers for extending the line from Dinas to Carnarvon

1922

30 April

Contract awarded to the McAlpine construction family, to refurbish the NWNGR, to make the Croesor Tramway suitable for locomotives and to complete the railway between Croesor Junction and Rhyd Ddu. £75,000 capital was loaned by the Ministry of Transport (half) and the local authorities

1922

22 July

NWNGR section re-opened

1923

7 February

WHR (Amendment) Order made to cover diversions in Beddgelert forest, where the original gradients had been designed for electric traction, at Bryn y Felin, to avoid building an embankment across a meadow, and at Nantmor, to eliminate a level crossing with a bridge

1923

1 June

WHR opened from Portmadoc to Dinas. The first train from Portmadoc was hauled by the FR’s 0-4-0STT Princess; the first train from Dinas was hauled by the FR’s 0-4-0STT Prince.

1927

4 March

Stephens appointed receiver (He had the same responsibility for the WHR that he had for the FR)

1934

1 July

The FR takes a lease on the WHR after the local authorities had threatened to close it. Passenger services operated for tourists on a seasonal basis

1937

14 May

FR suspended all traffic from 1 June

1941

13 March

Track and other assets requisitioned for the war effort

1941

7 October

Winding-up summons issued

1944

11 May

Liquidator appointed

1961

 

Welsh Highland Railway Society formed

1964

30 January

Welsh Highland Light Railway (1964) Ltd registered to acquire and restore the WHR, opened negotiations with the liquidator and agreed £750 price for assets

1964

6 July

Liquidator died, assets transferred to the official receiver

1964

7 December

Former Carnarvonshire Railway closed, trackbed subsequently converted to be a cycle track

1974

 

Site of standard gauge Beddgelert siding, formerly interchange with Croesor Tramway and WHR, acquired as base for reconstruction

1980

2 May

Beddgelert Siding Light Railway Order made

1980

2 August

First trains operated on Beddgelert siding

1989

December

FR discovered to have made secret bid for WHR trackbed and offered to transfer it to Gwynedd County Council in exchange for an undertaking that it would not be used for railway purposes

1990

May

FR undertakes to restore WHR in its entirety, including the link to the FR at Porthmadog and the extension to Caernarfon from Dinas

1991

November/

December

Gwynedd County Council applies for court order to purchase trackbed for £1. FR counterclaims to have transfers of WHR shares and debentures validated, prevent sale to the county council and to obtain approval to purchase the assests. Judge stays the council application to give the FR, or anyone else, chance to acquire assets by means of a Light Railway Transfer Order.

1993

November/

December

Public inquiry into competing transfer order applications made by FR and Gwynedd County Council (Includes applications for LRO for Caernarfon-Dinas section.) Recommendation in favour of county council/Welsh Highland Light Railway (1964) Company proposal overturned by minister in favour of FR.

1995

4 March

Welsh Highland Railway (Transfer) Order made, enabling the FR to make an agreement with the official receiver to acquire the WHR assets

1997

8 October

Caernarfon Railway Light Railway Order made, the last LRO made in England and Wales

1997

15 January

Construction started at Dinas

1997

13 October

Dinas-Caernarfon services commenced (3 miles)

1997/8

December/

January

Public inquiry into Transport & Works Order application. Recommendation in favour of refusal overturned by minister in favour of FR.

1999

30 June

WHR assets transferred to the FR for £1

1999

30 June

WHR Transport & Work Order made

1999

17 August

Liquidation complete

2000

7 August

Dinas-Waunfawr services commenced (7 miles)

2003

30 July

Visit by HRH Prince Charles, Waunfawr – Rhyd Ddu

2003

18 August

Waunfawr-Rhyd Ddu services commenced (12 miles)

2004

8 September

Welsh Assembly Government announces £5 million contribution to £10.75 million project to complete WHR. Appeal launched in Steam Railway - £1.8 million raised by 2008.

2005

September

Track materials delivered from Poland and India

2005

5 December

Track laying commenced at Rhyd Ddu

2006

11 March

The first of three steel truss bridges installed at Bryn y Felin

2006

29 October

Nantmor road bridge installed

2006

1 November

Network Rail flat crossing installed in Porthmadog

2007

23 March

WHLR opened Traeth Mawr extension (600m)

2007

24 March

Sponsors’ train to Cwm Cloch, near Beddgelert (16 miles)

2007

23 April

Hunslet 0-4-0ST Velinheli first steam locomotive to reach Beddgelert since 1937

2007

21 September

Beyer, Peacock 0-4-4-0T K1 first Garratt to steam to Beddgelert

2007

3 October

FR Trustees’ train to AberglaslynPass (18 miles)

2008

2 January

Deck of Pont Croesor installed

2008

31 March

First tram rails laid in Porthmadog

2008

5 April

Sponsors’ train to Hafod y Llyn (19 miles)

2008

1 October

FR Trustees train to Pont Croesor (21 miles)

2009

28 February

Track laying completed and WHR connected to FR – ‘golden bolt’ ceremony in Porthmadog

2009

12 March

First Porthmadog-Dinas empty-stock working, using the Britannia bridge, Snowdon Street and Network Rail crossings for the first time

2009

23 March

NGG16 Garratt No 87, the first WHR steam locomotive to be transferred from the FR to the WHR by rail

2009

7 April

Official opening to Beddgelert

2009

16 May

Sponsors’ trains to Network Rail crossing

2009

21 May

Official opening to Hafod y Llyn

2010

27 April

Visit by HM the Queen, Caernarfon – Dinas

2010

26 May

Official opening to Pont Croesor

2010

30 October

Sponsors’ trains, first Caernarfon-Porthmadog-Caernarfon workings

2011

8 January

First trains to Hafod y Llyn from Porthmadog

2011

19 February

First Caernarfon – Porthmadog (and vv) public trains

2011

20 April

Completion of Rhyd Ddu – Porthmadog section commemorated