Q1 2011 ÂŁ3.50
In the top left hand corner of Wales...
Welsh Highland steams into Porthmadog
Wednesday April 20th, 1836, to be precise. Four years after its enabling Act of Parliament, the Ffestiniog Railway opened for business. It wasn’t a flash opening ceremony—the company had very little cash left after forging the route through the mountains from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog—but it was a significant date for North Wales in general and Porthmadog in particular. Now, 175 years later, the Ffestiniog marks another milestone in its illustrious history—the reopening of the Welsh Highland Railway. And it’s not merely
a reopening. The new Welsh Highland is three miles longer than its predecessor, completing the link to Caernarfon that the original company desperately wanted but never achieved. Not only that, the new railway is built to a standard that the 1923 company could only dream of, with the world’s most powerful narrow gauge steam locomotives hauling some of the most comfortable passenger carriages on any heritage railway. It’s taken 15 years and £28 million to get to where we are today, but the railway isn’t finished.
It was 175 years ago today...
There are still stations to complete, new carriages This souvenir magazine aims to give you a brief and locomotives to build and the small matter of 80 glimpse of what a spectacular achievement the new miles of fences to maintain. Welsh Highland is, together with some of the people who worked behind the scenes to make it For the Welsh Highland takes the Ffestiniog possible. Railway into new territory. Operating 40 miles of railway through the most spectacular and We hope you will keep this magazine as a reminder challenging scenery in the UK takes a lot of work. of the day the Welsh Highland Railway rose from The Welsh Highland, at 25 miles, is the UK’s the ashes and finally achieved the dream of those longest heritage railway in its own right. Together 19th Century pioneers who strove to build a rail with the Ffestiniog, the World’s oldest independent link across Wales and linking the Menai Strait with railway, it’s in a league of its own. Cardigan Bay. We hope you will enjoy your journey.
Road to Nowhere
It wasn’t the best of beginnings. When the Welsh Highland opened in 1923, it didn’t actually reach the quayside at Caernarfon, the obvious outlet for slates from the quarries the railway was built to serve. Instead, the line ended three miles short at Dinas Junction, where both goods and passengers were obliged to change onto the standard gauge line running between Bangor and Afon Wen. And a shortage of locomotives capable of running reliable services that could keep to time meant that all-too-frequently, connections were missed and passengers found themselves stranded or forced to finish their journeys by road at the company’s expense. For a railway already deep in debt, unnecessary expenditure such as this could be ill-afforded. Few locals used the railway as, unlike the rival bus
service, it failed to serve the very place most of them wanted to go—Caernarfon. Even with additional locomotives and carriages borrowed from the Ffestiniog—which later took over day to day running—the lengthy journey time in carriages adequate enough for short journeys on the FR, but completely unsuitable for use on a railway of twice the length, was hardly an attractive proposition for passengers. Eventually the inevitable happened and the railway closed in 1936, with most of the track lifted for scrap during the second world war. It appeared that the Welsh Highland story was over, but appearances can often be deceptive… Main picture: The FR’s Palmerston seen at Dinas Junction in 1923 with a train about to depart for Beddgelert.
Dawn is a Feeling
Tracklaying on Phase 4—the final section of the Welsh Highland between Rhyd Ddu and Porthmadog—started in early 2006. The two main track gangs—the North Wales Black Hand Gang and the Rest of the World Gang—worked on alternate weekends relaying half the entire railway with over 12 miles of track, a task which was completed in less than three years.
In this picture we see the scene in early February 2008, looking towards Porthmadog from the bridge over the Afon Dylif. Steel sleepers have been laid out roughly in position prior to the rails being dragged into position. Notice the wooden sleepers in the foreground. These are used in sensitive locations in the National Park and as a transition onto the larger bridges such as Bryn y Felin, Afon Nanmor and Pont Croesor.
In one extended working week, the gangs completed a mile of track. Had this rate been maintained, Phase 4 would have been Also note the early morning frost—a welcome completed in three months! change to the rain, snow and blizzards frequently experienced during construction.
The Final Cut Tracklaying is not for the faint hearted. With each 18 metre rail weighing over half a ton, the work provides plenty of healthy exercise in the fresh air.
Here, one of the track gangs cuts a rail to length using a petrol-powered rail saw. The bridge in the background is that over the Afon Nanmor, a tributary of the Glaslyn, looking south towards the site of Croesor Junction, where the tramway which served the quarries of the Croesor valley joined the original Welsh Highland.
This tramwayâ€”which predated the original Welsh Highland -survived the closure of the WHR and still saw an occasion Ffestiniog engine collecting slate wagons until 1946 when the FR itself closed.
Walls and Bridges Rebuilding a railway is no small task. Not only did the entire Welsh Highland cost over ÂŁ28 million to bring back to life, the statistics behind where some of that money was spent make for some interesting reading: 15 road bridges 15 river bridges 13 stations 127 level crossings 300 culverts and drains 52,933 sleepers 4,411 rails 8,822 fishplates 70,578 nuts and bolts 80,000 rail clips 60,000 tons of ballast 500 active volunteers 70,000 man hours
This bridge plate just outside Caernarfon indicates an overbridge, 1.71 kilometres from the zero point at Caernarfon. WHR chainage measurements start at 20 to avoid confusion with distances on the Ffestiniog Railway and also to allow scope for any future extension northwards to Bangor.
Ace of Spades
Drains. Not the first thing people tend to think of when they look at a railway. But they play a vital role in keeping that expensive permanent way in good condition. The original North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway— the forerunner of the Welsh Highland—was built as cheaply as possible, meaning that drains were given scant attention and in some cases ignored altogether. When it came to rebuilding the railway, a top priority was to install proper drainage to protect the ballast and track from the extremes of the Welsh weather. And once installed, those drains, ditches and culverts need to be maintained and kept clear—yet another opportunity for our team of seemingly indefatigable volunteers to get cold and dirty, or hot and sweaty… Here we see the Rest of the World Gang working at the site of Hafod y Llyn in 2008.
Fifteen years and ÂŁ500,000 in the making, replica Lynton & Barnstaple loco Lyd is, like its illustrious precursors, Yeo, Taw, Exe, and Lew, named after a Devon river with three characters. The design is based on Lew, built in 1925, but makes extensive use of new techniques, materials and design concepts to produce a considerablymore powerful loco than the originals. As a result, Lyd is conservatively rated to haul five
carriages on the Welsh Highland and ten on the less-steep Ffestiniog Railway. Outshopped from Boston Lodge in August 2010 and currently running in black works livery, Lyd is due to be repainted in authentic Southern Railway green during 2011. The loco has already visited to its spiritual home in Devon, hauling special trains on the restored section of the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway.
Back in Black
Familiar to Millions
The Jewel in the Crown? No less an authority than the National Trust seems to think so. In a poll of over a million members, the Aberglaslyn Pass was voted the UKâ€™s most beautiful spot. The line runs along and above the eastern bank of the Afon Glaslyn; the railway may appear to climb away from the river but in fact the river drops away from the railway, which is itself on a falling grade heading south, as the gorge narrows towards its southern end at Pont Aberglaslyn. Before this point the railway turns away eastwards through the longest of its four tunnels (T4 in construction terminology), after two very short tunnels in the Pass (T2 and T3). During the years of closure, the trackbed, including the three tunnels, became an unofficial footpath. One of the many mitigation measures undertaken during reconstruction was the construction of a new footpath between the railway and the river. With the opening of a new halt at Nantmor village, walkers can now travel by train along the pass and return on foot alongside the crystal clear waters of the Glaslyn.
One of the unique features of the Welsh Highland is the tramway section carrying the railway through the streets of Porthmadog. The Cross Town Link extends from another remarkable piece of engineering—the UK’s only crossing of a main line and a narrow gauge railway at Cae Pawb—to Harbour Station. Using special tramway rail, the Welsh Highland runs along the main road across Britannia Bridge to reach its junction with the Ffestiniog Railway, as did the FR track leading to the slate wharves back in the 19th century. Here, another fine example of 19th century engineering, the Ffestiniog’s Double Fairlie Merddin Emrys, built in the company’s own workshops in 1879, assisted by Single Fairlie Taliesin, built in the same workshops in 1999, crosses Britannia Bridge with a test train.
Into the Valley
Almost two decades ago, a group of enthusiasts produced a poster inviting people to â€˜make their dreams come trueâ€™. In it, a bright red Garratt was seen steaming stylishly out of one of the tunnels in the Aberglaslyn Pass, showing what a rebuilt Welsh Highland Railway could look like. Today, thanks to their imagination, ingenuity and sheer hard work, the dream has indeed come true and a bright red Garratt steaming stylishly through the Aberglaslyn Pass is fast becoming a familiar sight. It all goes to show that, sometimes, it pays to dream...
Under the Bridge
Down on the Traethâ€”the wide flatlands recovered from the sea by the building of the Cob embankment by William Maddocks 200 years ago -livestock often took refuge on the old trackbed in times of flood after the original railway closed.
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ening of the railway, an s obviously required. The ed by Welsh Highland engineers was the building of nnelsâ€™ over the railway fuge for cattle and sheep in
the event of the Glaslyn bursting its banks. Steel tubes were assembled on the trackbed, covered with earth and faced with stone. Today, after just a few short years, the two bridges have already blended into the landscape.
200 Years Old
When William Maddocks completed the Cob in 1811, the town which today bears his name didn’t exist. The waters of the Glaslyn, pent up behind his mile-long embankment, surged out to sea when the sluice gates were opened at low tide, scouring a perfect deep water harbour around which the town of Porthmadog was built. The arrival of the Ffestiniog Railway in 1836 provided the ideal cargo for the new port and shipyards sprang up building sailing ships to carry Blaenau Ffestiniog slates around the world. Ships arriving empty dumped their ballast outside the harbour, forming an artificial island known as Cei Ballast, which comprises rocks and other materials from across Europe.
The railway provides the best vantage point for what is often described as one of the best views in the world—the panorama of Snowdonia reflected in the tranquil waters of the Glaslyn. Before the Cob was completed, the estuary was tidal as far inland as the bridge over the end of the Aberglaslyn Pass at Nantmor. Today, sheep and cattle graze green pastures which once lay beneath the waters of Cardigan Bay. 2011 marks the 200th anniversary of Maddocks’ achievement, a date to be marked by special events throughout the year. Taliesin is pictured on the Cob with a train heading for the Welsh Highland Railway.
Most people imagine that narrow gauge railways are run using small locomotives weighing just a few tons. And for most narrow gauge railways, this is indeed the case. Even the Ffestiniog’s famous Double Fairlies weigh in at less than 25 tons. But the Welsh Highland is a bit different. Some of the steepest gradients to be found on any UK railway, coupled with tight bends, make it almost certainly Britain’s toughest railway. In the early stages of planning the reconstruction of the WHR, it soon became clear that this
extraordinary railway called for some extraordinary motive power. Step forward the 62 ton NG/G16 Beyer Garratt—more powerful than many standard gauge steam locos and capable of speeds of up to 50 miles an hour, although limited to 25 on the Welsh Highland. Each of the three NG/G16s currently in use has been extensively rebuilt at the Ffestiniog’s Boston Lodge Works, resulting in what are effectively brand new engines, rebuilt at a cost of around half a million pounds each.
They are capable of hauling 12 carriages on the Welsh Highland and would be able to haul 25 on the Ffestiniog were they small enough to squeeze themselves under the bridges. Pictured above are number 138, resplendent in Crimson Lake and 87 in Midnight Blue, running round at Pont Croesor on the occasion of 138’s return to service in 2010. In the background is the distinctive peak of the ‘Welsh Matterhorn’, Cnicht. This year, number 143, the third NG/G16 will return to service following a major overhaul.
In late 2011 or early 2012, a fourth NG/G16, number 109, will enter service. It is owned by pop mogul Pete Waterman and is being rebuilt at his LNWR loco works in Crewe for use on the WHR. As befits Pete’s love of the London & North Western, 109 will appear in lined black livery. The NG/G16s are the world’s most powerful two foot gauge locomotives and, as such, pose a real challenge for crews, not least because each trip ‘up the hill’ means the fireman having to shovel a ton and a half of coal into the firebox.
Just six years after the introduction of steam locomotives, traffic had grown to the point where doubling the track to increase capacity appeared to be the only answer. But Robert Fairlie, who had by now taken over George Englandâ€™s South London factory which had supplied the original six locos, came up with a solution so radical that it still forms the basis of
modern diesel and electric locomotive design around the world today. Fairlieâ€™s idea was to equip the engine with a single large boiler with two fireboxes and powered bogies which could swivel to allow a much larger loco to deliver more power and to negotiate much tighter curves than would otherwise be possible, while keeping axle loadings to a minimum.
His first prototype, Little Wonder, was trialled on the FR in 1869 and proved to be a revelation. A second Double Fairlie, James Spooner, arrived in 1872 and in 1879, the FRâ€™s first double engine built in the railwayâ€™s own workshops, Merddin Emrys, appeared and is still in regular use today. Since then, the works has built three more Double Fairlies, Livingston Thompson, now in the National
Railway Museum in York, Earl of Merioneth and David Lloyd George. In 1999, the works completed a replica of the Single Fairlie Taliesin. The double engines form the principal motive power on the Ffestiniog, being able to haul 12 carriage trains with ease. Merddin Emrys is pictured at Porthmadog Harbour Station with a train for Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Magical Mystery Tour
We know quite a bit about climate change in the top left hand corner of Wales, not least because the climate changes roughly every five minutes. The microclimates spread across Snowdonia often mean that you can stand in one place and see rain, sunshine, clouds and blue skies simply by turning your head. Travelling a couple of miles often results in completely different weather conditions. Here at Rhyd Ddu we see an exampleâ€”in the background, the foothills of Snowdon are shrouded in cloud. The train on the right of the picture, headed for Caernarfon, is in shadow, while Lyd is bathed in sunlight as it departs for Beddgelert on the next stage of its meteorological magical mystery tour.
Britainâ€™s toughest railway. The 25 miles of the Welsh Highland provides the ultimate challenge for loco crews as the route climbs from sea level at each end up to 650 feet near the foot of Snowdon. And the toughest part is the six miles of one in forty gradient between Bryn y Felin and Rhyd Ddu.
Not only is this the longest continuous gradient of this severity in the UK, it also includes two double reverse curves through the Beddgelert Forest. To illustrate what this gradient means in real terms, Beddgelert station platform is a staggering six metres higher at one end than the other...
The wrong kind of snow? While the severe weather at the end of 2010 brought much of Britain to a standstill, Ffestiniog Railway services continued almost as normal. Only a handful of early morning trains were cancelled as staff took works trains out into the mountains to clear snow from the tracks and
remove iciclesâ€”some over ten feet longâ€”from bridges and tunnels, allowing the remaining trains to run through a winter wonderland as scheduled. Here Double Fairlie Earl of Merioneth rounds the curve at Pen Cob heading for Tan y Bwlch on a Santa Special in mid December.
In 1863, the Ffestiniog Railway became the first narrow gauge line in the world to run steam locomotives. Such luminaries as George Stephenson and Isambard Kingdom Brunel expressed doubts that it could actually be done. But George Englandâ€™s workshop in South London proved them wrong when the first two locos, Princess and Mountaineer, arrived at Porthmadog, having travelled from the station at Caernarfon by horse and cart through the mountains.
Remarkably, four of the original six England engines are still in existence today. Here Palmerston and Prince, the two oldest steam locomotives in the world still in regular operation on their original railway, head a train over Penrhyn Crossing en route for Blaenau Ffestiniog. Sister locomotive Princess has pride of place in Spoonerâ€™s Bar at Harbour Station and the youngest of the four, Welsh Pony, is awaiting restoration by engineers at Boston Lodge Works.
Blinded by the Light Things to do before you die. High up many railway enthusiasts’ lists is a ride on the Ffestiniog’s legendary gravity slate trains. When the line was built in the 1830s, it was on a continuous gradient from the quarries at Blaenau Ffestiniog to the harbour at Porthmadog. Loaded wagons ran downill with brakesmen riding on top of the slates to keep the train under control. Once unloaded, the empty wagons were hauled back to Blaenau by horses and it was the excessive time this took that led to the introduction of steam locomotives. Today, demonstration gravity trains are still run on special occasions, but regrettably, you can’t buy a ticket for this unique experience as guests ride by invitation only.
Here a gravity train emerges into the daylight at the south end of Garnedd Tunnel.
Past, present and future
Boston Lodge Works is the oldest working railway workshop in the world and the only one that can claim to have manufactured steam locomotives in three different centuries, starting in 1879 with Double Fairlie Merddin Emrysâ€” still in regular use today.
The carriage shop also manufactured almost all the carriages for the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways and also for other heritage lines.
The works also undertakes servicing, maintenance and ground-up rebuilds, Since then, the skilled including three massive NG/G16 Garratts used by engineers have built four more Fairlies and in 2010, the Welsh Highlandâ€”each rolled out Lyd, a replica of of which costs almost half the iconic Manning Wardle a million pounds to return locomotives that once to as-new condition. Here fireman Emily Fry worked the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway in works on Blanche, built in North Devon. Leeds by Hunslet in 1893.
April 27th 2010 was a special day for the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland as Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh rode in Pullman observation car 2100, built by craftsmen at Boston Lodge Works in 2009 at a cost of almost £200,000. At Dinas, the Queen graciously named the coach Glaslyn after one of the major rivers on the route of the Welsh Highland.
The carriage also visited London’s Olympia in 2010, where it formed the centrepiece of the Welsh exhibit at a major tourism trade show. Today, for a small supplement, passengers can experience the style and luxury of a bygone age while enjoying the spectacular scenery of Snowdonia through the carriage’s specially constructed curved glass observation windows.
Helter Skelter Often described as the worldâ€™s best roller coaster ride, the Ffestiniog still runs recreations of the gravity slate trains for which the line was built in the 19th Century.
Published April 2011 by Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway, Harbour Station, Porthmadog, Gwynedd LL49 9NF Design & Edit: Andrew Thomas Pictures: Roger Dimmick, Chris Parry, Andrew Thomas www.festrail.co.uk