Archive for the ‘Welsh Highland Railway’ Category

Three cheers for Prince Charles!

Sunday, 7 June 2009


HRH, The Prince of Wales, Zac Goldsmith and others at the launch of the Revolve Eco Rally at Hampton Court in June 2007.

(From a photo by RevOlvin, click to see original and details of licensing.)

Three cheers for the way The Prince of Wales responded to the D-Day crisis, and with scant regard for protocol, obtained an invitation from President Sarkozy to honour the British soldiers who gave their lives on the Normandy beaches. We have no private source of information whether the absence of an invitation to the Queen was the result of President Sarkozy’s determination to keep the commemoration an American-French affair or whether the cause was Gordon Brown’s wish not to be up-staged. In the event, Prince Charles’s performance was regal and dignified, in stark contrast to the political posturing going on elsewhere.

Prince Charles suffers from a hostile press which mocks his beliefs and regularly ignores the valuable work that he carries out through his charities such as The Prince’s Trust and PRIME. While some of this may mirror the drop in the Prince’s popularity following his disastrous marriage to Diana Spencer, and the manner of the Princess’s death, in fact the hostile press articles started well before his marriage got into difficulties. It difficult to escape the conclusion that the Prince’s espousal of causes such as organic farming, holistic medicine and traditional architecture has upset major vested interests who have manipulated the media in an attempt to clip the Prince’s wings and limit his influence.


TRH The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, with A1 Trust chairman, Mark Allat, looking on, name brand new Peppercorn A1 class pacific, Tornado, 19 February 2009.
Photo A1 Trust

For lovers of Britain’s railway and industrial heritage, the Prince plays a vital role as a national figurehead. He fills the space vacated by the death of stalwarts such as Sir John Betjeman and Fred Dibnah. These days, there’s scarcely an important heritage railway event which the Prince does not personally support, whether it is the reopening of the Severn Valley Railway after major flood damage, or the naming of the A1 Trust’s Peppercorn pacific Tornado. The Prince helps to provide public recognition of the amazing achievements of British railway enthusiasts. This recognition helps them with their negotiations with all the official bodies who have to be brought on side before a railway project can be nursed to its ultimate success.

We have it on very good authority that when Howard Jones was collecting his MBE, the Prince congratulated Howard on all the good work he was doing to preserve the Polish narrow gauge railways. Howard was understandably somewhat miffed because his amazing achievement was in persuading PKP to leave at Wolsztyn as the last steam shed in the world servicing standard gauge locos rostered for regular mainline passenger traffic. Perhaps, the Prince – a keen supporter of the Welsh narrow gauge – had in mind the extent to which Howard’s Wolsztyn Experience helps to cast an international spotlight on Poland’s minor railways as well?

In Poland the future of the country’s railway heritage hangs on a thin thread – the victim of a shock transition from communism to Latin-American style capitalism, Poland’s burgeoning bureaucracy, the lack of official recognition and absence of public support. Perhaps it may be unrealistic to hope that on his next visit to Poland the Prince might find time to visit Wolsztyn and travel on the footplate (or even drive!) one of the Ol49s on the Wolsztyn – Poznan turn and maybe even drop in to see the Smigiel Railway next door. Wishful thinking or not, in a country which lacks a powerful national advocate for its railway and industrial heritage, such recognition would give the Polish railway preservation movement the shot in the arm it desperately needs.



Welsh Highland…

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

history is made!


NGG Garratt no 87 on the WHR’s flat crossing across the former Cambrian Railway – the first steam train to pass this way for over 70 years. Frame from You Tube video by Festshopman.

(Click on picture to view video in a new window.)

A sudden rush of comments late last night alerted us to the fact that more history was being made on the Welsh Highland Railway – the first steam train ran through Porthmadog for over 70 years. (A diesel hauled train which ran about a week earlier, was the very first.) Last June, we published an article recognizing the remarkable achievement of the Festiniog Railway Company in managing the rebirth of the Welsh Highland Railway. We also contrasted the support given to the Welsh Highland project by public bodies over the last decade with indifference and hostility faced by those who battled for the future of the Polish narrow gauge.

In the same article, we referred to our Chief Mechanical Engineer’s concerns on how well the ex SAR locos with their long wheelbases would cope with the small radius Britannia Bridge curve laid in tram rail that was part of the WHR’s ‘Cross Town Link’ linking the WHR and FR in Porthmadog.

We are pleased to be able to report that yesterday the WHR’s Garratt no 87 went round the curve without any difficulty. We are also very grateful to all those from the WHR who sent in their comments to let us know the good news. Since these comments are buried deep down in our archives with the original article, we have also reproduced them in full below.

Meanwhile our CME, grumpy as ever commented, She may have got round the curve, but how happy was she about it, you tell me that? Apparently only after the Garratts have completed a full summer season of running through the curve, and he has a chance to talk to the fitters responsible for maintaining them, will he be completely satisfied!

We can happily report that your fears about NGG16 Garratts having trouble with the sharply curved tram track on the Cross-Town Link were completely unfounded. No. 87 made the first run by steam along the link this morning – without any difficulty, and reportedly even without any flange squeal.

Ben Fisher

WHR Observer

Today NGG 16 No 87 passed the sharp curve without problems. :-)


(The links in the last two comments lead to the video referred to at the start of this article.)

Now that the Welsh Highland Railway is finished, what next? What of the scores of volunteers who rebuilt it? What can they do now? We have a proposition. Come to Poland! There are a couple of hundred miles of narrow gauge track that would benefit from your attention and a score of local authorities that would benefit from hearing about the WHR’s rebirth.

*another ‘Railfan’, not our Dyspozytor!

70 years ago… (part 2)

Sunday, 1 March 2009


Saturday’s Golden Spike Ceremony.
Still from video on You Tube posted by Festshopman

(Click picture to go to Festshopman’s channel on You Tube.)

Further to yesterday’s post about the completion of the 1ft 11½ gauge double ‘ribbon of steel’ from Porthmadog to Caernarfon here is the moment when the golden bolts were attached to the last fishplate.

This is not the first Welsh Highland Railway ‘completion milestone’, nor will it be the last. But for many of us who hoped in the 1960s that maybe a part of the WHR could be restored, the reconnection of the WHR with the Ffestiniog Railway is an achievement that at the time seemed utterly unattainable. In the circumstances I trust BTWT readers will forgive today’s return to the subject of the WHR.

More pictures (including Dinas Station in 1997):

BBC North West Wales

70 years ago… (part 1)

Saturday, 28 February 2009


Welsh Highland Railway (ex South Africa Railway) Beyer Garratt NGG16 No.87 poses with Ffestiniog Railway locomotives at Porthmadog in a dress rehearsal for today’s golden spike ceremony. Picture is a still from a You Tube clip from a DVD available from the WHR.

(Click to see video on You Tube.)

Yesterday, a short panel of track was laid next to the Ffestiniog Railway’s Porthmadog Station completing the £28 million rebuilding of the Welsh Highland Railway. Today’s ‘golden spike’ ceremony will mark the reconnection of the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland railways and the creation of a combined 40 mile (64 km) 1ft 11½ (600 mm) gauge heritage railway running through some of the most stunning scenery in Britain. Our heartiest congratulations to the Festiniog Railway Railway Company, the Welsh Highland Construction Ltd, the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway and all those who kept the dream alive and turned it into reality.

Today’s ceremony commemorates the completion of the UK’s, and arguably Europe’s, most ambitious heritage railway restoration scheme. But few, if any, of those attending today’s event will realise that they are also witnessing the completion of a volunteer-assisted railway restoration scheme that was the first ever such scheme to be proposed anywhere in the world. For it was some 70 years ago that a group of railway enthusiasts first discussed the possibility of forming a railway society and using volunteer labour to reopen and operate a closed railway. And it was the Welsh Highland railway, which had closed in 1937, which was the focus of their attention. With dark clouds looming over Europe nothing came of the idea at the time and most of the Welsh Highland railway track was lifted in aid of the war effort in 1941.

In 1950, at a special meeting in Birmingham regarding the impending closure of the 2ft 3in (686) gauge Talyllyn Railway (TR), Owen Prosser, one of the enthusiasts who attended, recalled the volunteers formed into a railway society formula proposed before WW II for the WHR, and commended it to those seeking ways to keep the TR in in existence.

The TR went on, under the leadership of Tom Rolt, its first general manager, to become the first line to be saved and restored by a railway preservation society. The now proven methodology, was successfully replicated to create hundreds of heritage railways all around the world.

Returning to our tale of the WHR, after the 1941 track lifting, only the branch leading to the Croesor slate quarries remained, but that, apart from a few hundred yards, was lifted in 1948. One WHR locomotive, Baldwin 4-6-0T, 590 was cut up for scrap, another, Hunslet 2-6-2T, Russell, was put to work mining ironstone in Oxfordshire and a third, Moel Tryfan, remained in bits at the Festiniog Railway Company’ s Boston Lodge works only to be scrapped in 1954 to provide much needed funds to kick start the restoration of the FR. It seemed that the WHR was doomed and destined to be sold off as lots of little parcels of land – a fate that befell another 1ft 11½ railway, the picturesque Lynton and Barnstaple Railway in Devon.

But it was not to be. The line’s particular legal status made it difficult for the line to be legally abandoned, even if the track was no longer present. Apart from some property at a couple of stations which were sold off by the receiver of the bankrupt pre-war company, the railway land remained intact, large sections becoming a unofficial footpath through some of the most attractive scenery in the Snowdonia National Park.

In 1961, the Welsh Highland Railway Society was born and the campaign to rebuild the railway started in earnest. The early preservation history of the WHR is complex and contentious. Suffice it to say that the early WHR restoration pioneers had to deal with road ‘improvements’ which would have obliterated key sections of the line, a proposal to turn the line into a long distance footpath, a proposal to run a 12¼ inch gauge miniature railway over the most scenic section of the line and hostility from local residents and farmers.

Finally, in the early 1990s, when at last the project to restore the WHR looked set to go ahead, the original WHR pioneers were faced with the decision of the then Transport Minister, John MacGregor, that it was not they, but the Festiniog Railway Company. who were to build the new Welsh Highland Railway. Eventually after a period of hostilities the two groups reached agreement. The original WHR group would concentrate on building up a heritage museum and their own short demonstration line at Porthmadog, and enjoy ‘running rights’ over the WHR ‘main line’. The main burden of negotiating for funds, restoring the railway formation and relaying the line would fall on the FR.

The original campaigning group, whose name changed over the years – Welsh Highland Railway Society, Welsh Highland Railway (1964) Ltd, Welsh Highland Railway (Portmadog) – now trades under the name Welsh Highland Heritage Railway, while the FR manages the WHR under the brand The Welsh Highland Railway (Caernarfon). Detailed negotiations regarding WHHR running rights over the WHR are continuing, and we hope that the ‘feel good factor’ from today’s ceremony will spill over and assist both groups to negotiate a detailed operating agreement which will be of benefit to both parties.

BBC News:

Sources – the railways:

Sources – legal and restoration history

WHR route:

With the earthworks still fresh, the course of the rebuilt WHR can easily be traced on Google Maps. Why not start at Dinas Junction (see below) and trace the line of the railway back to Porthmadog?

A good idea of the scale of the work that was involved in restoring the WHR can be obtained by looking at photographs of one particular location through the ages. Here we have arranged links to photographs of –

Dinas Junction Station:

Source websites for the above:


WHR closing the gap

Thursday, 28 August 2008

27 August 2008, sleepers await the delivery of rail
on the Pont Croesor – Traeth Mawr section of the WHR
(the last substantial gap), photo © Alun Evans

(click on photo to go to go to ‘Alun’s Images’ on Fotopic
to see more of Alun’s excellent pictures of the rebuilding
of the WHR in high resolution)

With so much grim news lately, it gives us a great deal of pleasure to report that, as of 27 August 2008, there was only a half kilometre gap between the Welsh Highland Railway track that runs north from Porthmadog and the track that is being relaid southwards from Beddgelert. Tracklaying to fill the gap could be completed this weekend!

Several short sections of track remain to be finished in Porthmadog itself. It is likely that a through route between the Festiniog Railway and the WHR will exist by September. This will be used for works trains and stock transfer. When further improvements in Porthmadog are complete, an official inspection will be held and, after a formal reopening ceremony, passenger services will commence in 2009.

Further information:

A twisty tale

Sunday, 1 June 2008

WHR ex SAR NGG 16 garratt – will it get round the tram track? (source Wikipedia)

Most British railway enthusiasts will know something about the remarkable restoration of the Welsh Highland Railway. After 18 years since the current rebuilding of the line started, completion of track laying on the last missing section of line is only weeks away. Railway magazines have been carrying long articles in anticipation of the WHR’s ‘Golden Spike’ ceremony, which will result in Europe’s longest 1ft 11 5/8in (600 mm) gauge railway. The combined WHR and Ffestiniog Railway will stretch from Caernarfon to Blaenau Ffestiniog, a distance of 40 miles (64 kilometres).

The original WHR railway was never very successful commercially, the last train ran in 1937 and most of the track was lifted in 1941. The first rebuilt section of the new WHR – from Caernarfon to Dinas – was opened in 1997, 60 years after the line’s closure. The tale of WHR’s rebirth always generates a great deal of interest in enthusiast circles in Poland. There is a huge contrast between the official support and financial assistance received by the WHR during the last 10 years, and the official indifference and lack of financial support received by the ‘preserved’ Polish narrow gauge railways. It is particularly sad that many of Poland’s narrow gauge lines which had survived into the 90s were demolished during the last decade.

The major reconstruction of the WHR is being carried out by the Festiniog Railway Company. (The Ffestiniog Railway itself was rescued by oblivion by the efforts of volunteers and a businessman called Alan Pegler in 1954.) Another group (now known as WHR Ltd), which had been working to reopen the Welsh Highland Railway since 1960, have established a museum and a short demonstration line at Porthmadog. While relations between FRC and WHR Ltd have greatly improved, it was not always so, the FRC being involved in an attempt in the 1980s to turn the WHR trackbed into a long-distance footpath! The plan to the reopen the WHR was the subject of three public enquiries, a court case and an appeal. Matters in dispute included which company – the WHR or the FR – should have the right to reopen the line, and whether the line should be allowed to reopen at all. In two cases the Minister overruled the recommendation of the inspector appointed to oversee the inquiry! Today, after experiencing the popularity of the section of the line already open to the public and seeing all the progress that has been achieve on the ground, it is difficult to understand that officials were prepared to block the opening of the line because sections might have been needed for road improvements.

The revival of the WHR has given the British railway heritage movement several important ‘firsts’. It was the first closed line which was the subject of a proposal that it should be reopened and run by volunteers. (Nothing happened at the time, it was 1941 and the middle of WW II, but the suggestion was remembered when a group of railway enthusiasts met in Birmingham 1950 to discuss the closure of the Talyllyn Railway and formed the first railway preservation society in the world.) It is the first reopening project where a minister has overruled his inspector’s recommendation. John Prescott decided that the environmental advantages of tourists visiting the Snowdownia National Park by WHR train rather than car were greater than any possible negative impact of the railway on the National Park. It was the first heritage railway to have a crossing on the level with a British main line railway and to incorporate a section of running in the middle of a busy main road.

At this point the tactful thing to do would be to pat the FR and WHR on the back and leave them to it, but then the whole point of BTWT is to discuss matters which lesser publications miss out. It is the cross-town section of the new WHR which has raised the curiosity of our own chief mechanical engineer. He points out that the inroad section is sharply curved and is being laid in tram rail. Now the whole point about tram track is that it is great for trams; trams either have two axles or run on short wheelbase bogies. On this basis he postulates that the FR’s two-axled Prince or double Fairlies should take to the tram track like a duck to water, but what about the Welsh Highland Railway’s new engines acquired from South Africa?

The SAR NGG 16 Class Garratts are the largest locomotives ever built for the 2ft gauge. As far as their curve riding ability is concerned they are essentially two 2-6-2 locomotives coupled back to back. The WHR also has two SAR NG 15 Class 2-8-2 locomotives. Now, a two foot gauge engine with a fixed wheelbase of three or even four coupled axles will go round very sharp curves, provided that the gauge is increased by about half an inch. And here we have the basic problem, you cannot gauge widen tram track because the back of the wheel is being held by the reverse flange of the rail! At this point the editor is glaring and pointing out that the above will only make sense to 2 out of the 100 or so readers who enjoy BTWT daily. However, the problem does give rise to the interesting speculation that when the complete WHR opens for passengers in Easter 2009, WHR trains might have to stop at Portmadoc New (the site of the WHR Ltd museum), where short wheelbase FR engines would take over the haulage of the trains and work them through the sharply curved, tram tracked town section to Porthmadog (FR). So with our congratulations for progress achieved to date and best wishes for the future, we will follow the remaining chapters of the WHR story with a great deal of interest!