Posts Tagged ‘Welsh Highland Railway’

The Great Little Trains of Wales…

Saturday, 12 December 2009

A thumbnail of the home page of The Great Little Trains of Wales website. ©Bruce Yarborough

(Click on the thumbnail to go to the TGLTW website.)

Regular readers of BTWT may be wondering what new calamity prompted yesterday’s sad soliloquy and whether today’s post was really intended for Tunnel Vision. Rest assured, no new narrow gauge railway has collapsed overnight and there are no new plans, apart from those that we have already written about, to muck around with Wolsztyn. Instead of a single calamity, a series of unfortunate events culminated in a conference about how Polish regions could gain competitive advantage. The conference organisers not only invited me to speak, but actually paid me to do so, so you may be wondering why this attack of depression. Read on gentle reader, read on.

It seems that the secret ingredient that this province is focussing on is tourism, and I was asked to speak about railway tourism. Professor after professor got up and spoke about really important matters such as the proper definition of tourism and what the word product really meant. During the morning panel discussion a distinguished professor got up to ask why the Poles were using words derived from English like: mapowanie (mapping), walidowanie (validation) and klaster (cluster). After spending 5 minutes outlining the reason for his question, he spent another 5 minutes hypothesizing on the answers that he expected the panel members would give, and then 5 more minutes commenting on the hypothetical answers that he never received. Learned professors like him regularly act as paid advisers on EU projects.

By the time the second session started we were already running late. The chairman not only had to claw back some of the lost time, but also to make room for a member of the Polish Senate who just wanted to add his threeha’pence worth to the proceedings. I was booked to speak for 20 minutes and 15 minutes through my presentation, just as I reached the climax on how the Great Little Trains of Wales had created their own klaster in 1970, the chairman started making frantic signs for me to wind up.

The whole junket was paid for from EU funds and I am sure left most of the participants even more puzzled than they were before they came. And if you would like a little more information about The Great Little Trains of Wales then click on the thumbnail above or on the links below.

Dr Colin Parsons – Great Little Trains of Wales

Talyllyn Railway

Llanberis Lake Railway

Festiniog and Welsh Highland Railways

Welsh Highland Heritage Railway (Portmadoc)

Welshpool & Llanfair Railway

Vale of Rheidol Railway

Brecon Mountain Railway

Bala Lake Railway

Snowdon Mountain Railway

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:

Vivarais rolling stock to be sold!

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Mallet 403 runs round at Lamastre. Photo Ian Britton,

(click for photo in original context and more Vivarais pictures)

Further to our reports on the Vivarais closure, this short note was posted on the Welsh Highland Railway discussion group (WARNING registration required.) by John Dobson, the Editor of the Ffestiniog Railway Magazine. It is re-published here in its entirety.

The following message, written on 30 June, has been received from Fabien Mottet, a fireman on the Vivarais. The future looks very bleak, although the SGVA (see below) is trying to mount a rescue operation.

>I just read the editorial of FR magazine.

I have very bad news. The line will close, locomotives and wagons will be sold, firemen
(like me) are all fired… No reopening in 2010, as written.…

Please, HELP US! Rapidly…!

You can write to:

Hotel du Département
Quartier de Chaumette – BP 737

Or if you want give money for the CFV through the SGVA Association please contact:

51. La Vieille route

John L Dobson
FR Magazine

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!


Another Colonel Stephens Railway secure!

Friday, 23 May 2008

Shepherdswell as opened, today’s track layout (click pic) is virtually identical, though laid with heavier section bullhead rail than the original flat bottomed rail employed by Col. Stephens.

The Col. Stephens railways, such as: the East Kent, Kent and East Sussex, Rother Valley, Festiniog and Welsh Highland, Snailbeach, Rye and Camber, and Ashover (click for complete list) had a Emett-like charm all of their own. Most have succumbed to ‘progress’ although – the Kent and East Sussex and Festiniog were taken over by preservationists, the Welsh Highland is being completely rebuilt from scratch, the Rother Valley is acquiring land and laying track, the Snailbeach revival was until recently making cautious progress and the East Kent survives in part as a diesel-operated heritage railway.

Until its closure in the mid-1980s, the East Kent Railway linked Tilmanstone colliery to the main line at Shepherdswell. A preservation scheme was initiated by the former East Kent Railway Society and in 1993 the Society obtained a Light Railway Order. This authorised the British Railways Board to lease or sell the railway to the Society and to transfer to the Society its statutory powers to maintain and operate the railway. However, following the privatisation of British Railways the Society were told that BRB (Residuary) Limited, successors to the British Railways Board, would not be prepared to sell the freehold to an unincorporated body. The East Kent Railway Trust (EKRT) was set up as the successor to the Society, but then needed to apply for an Order under the Transport and Works Act 1992 to authorise the transfer of the railway to EKRT as such an eventuality was not provided for in the 1993 Light Railway Order.

In spite of a number of objections received from local residents, on 10 October 2007 the Secretary of State announced her decision to grant the order. An important consideration was the submission in favour of the order submitted by David Morgan, Chairman of the Heritage Railway Association.

On the 23 April the EKRT was able to announce the purchase of the freehold of its two-mile trackbed from Shepherdswell to Wigmore Lane as well a 16-acre woodland and meadow plot at Shepherdswell, the site of the line’s original locomotive and carriage workshops. The railway wants to rebuild the workshops on the site while preserving the woodland, which is designated as being of nature conservation interest. The £42,000 needed to buy the land at Shepherdwell was raised within an 8 week deadline.