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Ffestiniog Railway

Ffestiniog Railway
Rheilffordd Ffestiniog
Two trains passing at Tan-y-Bwlch, c. 1900
Locale Wales
Terminus Porthmadog
Commercial operations
Name Festiniog Railway Company
Built by Festiniog Railway Company
Original gauge 1 ft 11 12 in (597 mm)
Preserved operations
Operated by Festiniog Railway Company
Stations 10
Length 13.5 miles (21.7 km)
Preserved gauge 1 ft 11 12 in (597 mm)
Commercial history
Opened 1836
Closed 1 August 1946
Preservation history
1954 Restoration started at Boston Lodge works 20 September 1954.
1955 Reopened to Boston Lodge 23 July 1955.
1956 Reopened to Minffordd.
1957 Reopened to Penrhyn.
1958 Reopened to Tan-y-Bwlch.
1965 Start of the Deviation construction work.
1968 Reopened to Dduallt.
1974 Restoration of Rhiw Goch passing loop.
1977 Reopened to Llyn Ystradau.
1978 Reopened to Tanygrisiau.
1982 Reopened to Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Ffestiniog Railway
Bala and Festiniog Railway
to Bala Junction
13m 50ch Blaenau Ffestiniog
Conwy Valley Line
to Llandudno Junction
12m 10ch Tanygrisiau
Cwmorthin Waterfall
Llyn Ystradau
(1977 season only)
Original line flooded by
Tanygrisiau Reservoir
Moelwyn Tunnels
9m 44ch Dduallt
9m 07ch Campbell's Platform
7m 35ch Tan-y-Bwlch
6m 19ch Plas Halt
4m 16ch Rhiw Goch passing loop
level crossing
3m 08ch Penrhyn
2m 05ch Minffordd
Cambrian Line
← to Pwllheli • to Dovey Junction
Minffordd Depot
Former exchange
1m 05ch Boston Lodge Halt
Boston Lodge Works
The Cob
(Traeth Mawr Embankment)
0m 00ch
Porthmadog Harbour
(WHR | FR)
Porthmadog cross town link
Welsh Highland Railway
to Caernarfon

The Ffestiniog Railway (Welsh: Rheilffordd Ffestiniog) is a 1 ft 11 12 in (597 mm) narrow gauge heritage railway, located in Gwynedd, Wales. It is a major tourist attraction located mainly within the Snowdonia National Park.

The railway is roughly 13 12 miles (21.7 km) long and runs from the harbour at Porthmadog to the slate mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, travelling through forested and mountainous scenery. The line is single track throughout with four intermediate passing places. The first mile of the line out of Porthmadog runs atop an embankment locally called the Cob, which is the dyke of the Traeth Mawr "polder". The 1 ft 11 12 in (597 mm) narrow gauge track is shared with the company's other line, the restored Welsh Highland Railway of 2011 (originally 1922), allowing trains to interwork.


  • History 1
    • Horse and gravity operation 1.1
      • Police force 1.1.1
    • Steam and gravity operation 1.2
    • Decline of slate and development of tourism 1.3
    • Restoration 1.4
    • The Llyn Ystradau Deviation 1.5
    • Project Blaenau 1.6
    • Welsh Highland Railway 1.7
    • Rails 1.8
  • Tourism and heritage 2
  • Rolling stock 3
  • Stations and halts 4
    • The Cob 4.1
  • Quarries served by the railway 5
  • Train operation since 1955 6
    • Infrastructure 6.1
    • Train control and regulation 6.2
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Bibliography 9
  • External links 10


The railway company is properly known as the "Festiniog Railway Company" as this otherwise obsolete spelling (with F rather than Ff) is in the official title of the company in the Act (2 William IV cap. 48) that created the railway. It is the oldest surviving railway company in the world (although not the oldest working railway - a record which goes to the Middleton Railway, in West Yorkshire), having been founded by the Act of Parliament on 23 May 1832 with capital mostly raised in Dublin by Henry Archer, the company's first secretary and managing director. Most British railways were amalgamated into four large groups in 1921 and then into British Railways in 1948 but the Festiniog Railway Company, like most narrow-gauge railways, remained independent. In 1921, this was due to political influence, whereas in 1947 it was left out of British Railways because it was closed for traffic, despite vigorous local lobbying for it to be included.

Various important developments in the Railway's early history were celebrated by the firing of rock cannon at various points along the line. Cannon were fired, for instance, to mark the laying of the first stone at Creuau in 1833,[1] the railway's opening in 1836,[2] and the opening of the Moelwyn Tunnel in 1842.[3] The passing of a later Act for the railway also saw cannon celebrations, but on this occasion a fitter at Boston Lodge, who was assisting with firing, lost the fingers of one hand in an accident.[4]

Horse and gravity operation

The line was constructed between 1833 and 1836 to transport slate from the quarries around the inland town of Blaenau Ffestiniog to the coastal town of Porthmadog where it was loaded onto ships. The railway was graded so that loaded wagons could be run by gravity downhill all the way from Blaenau Ffestiniog to the port. The empty wagons were hauled back up by horses, which travelled down in special 'dandy' wagons. To achieve this continuous grade (about 1 in 80 for much of the way), the line followed natural contours and employed cuttings and embankments built of stone and slate blocks without mortar. Prior to the completion in 1842 of a long tunnel through a spur in the Moelwyn Mountain, the slate trains were worked over the top via inclines (designed by Robert Stephenson), the site of which can still be seen but there are few visible remnants.

Up to six trains daily were operated in each direction and a printed timetable was published on 16 September 1856 by Charles Easton Spooner who, following his father, served as Manager and Clerk for 30 years. It shows departures from the Quarry Terminus (later referred to as Dinas, sometimes as Rhiwbryfdir or Rhiw) at 7:30, 9:28, 11:16, 1:14, 3:12 and 5:10. Trains waited ten minutes at the intermediate stations called Tunnel Halt, Hafod y Llyn and Rhiw Goch. The fastest journey time from Quarry Terminus to Boston Lodge was 1 hour 32 minutes, including three stops. From Boston Lodge, the slate wagons were hauled to and from Porthmadog harbour by horses. Up trains took nearly six hours from Boston Lodge to the Quarry Terminus and each train ran in up to four sections, each hauled by a horse and comprising eight empty slate wagons plus a horse dandy. This timetable gave a maximum annual capacity of 70,000 tons of dressed slate.[5] Two brakesmen travelled on each down train, controlling the speed by the application of brakes as needed. At passing loops, trains passed on the right and this continues to be a feature of Ffestiniog Railway operation.

There is evidence for tourist passengers being carried as early as 1850[6] without the blessing of the Board of Trade, but these journeys would also observe the timetable.

Hafod y Llyn was replaced by Tan y Bwlch around 1872. Dinas (Rhiw) Station and much of that branch is now all but buried under slate waste; the rest of the Dinas branch line was removed about 1954-55. Occasional confusion arises because places named Hafod y Llyn Isaf and Dinas also exist on the Welsh Highland Railway, albeit 10 miles or more to the northwest of those on the FR.

Police force

The railway employed just one police officer. Board of Trade returns for 1884 show a police inspector was based at the company's head office. In more recent times the British Transport Police made friendly overtures and were politely informed that the FR had powers to swear its own constables. [7]

Steam and gravity operation

George England locomotive "The Princess" with passenger train at Porthmadog harbour station circa 1870.
Double Fairlie locomotive James Spooner.
Little Giant locomotive engine, Ffestiniog railway circa 1875

During the late 1850s it became clear that the line was reaching its operational capacity, while the output of the Blaenau Ffestiniog slate quarries continued to rise. In 1860, the board of the company began to investigate the possibility of introducing steam locomotives to increase the carrying capacity of the railway. Although narrow gauge steam locomotives had been tried before this, very few had been built to so narrow a gauge. In 1862 the company advertised for manufacturers to tender to build the line's first locomotives. In February 1863, the bid of

  • The Ffestiniog Railway's website
  • The Ffestiniog Railway Society
  • Interactive Route Map on
  • Ffestiniog Railway Timetables
  • The Festiniog Railway Heritage Group
  • The Festiniog Railway Heritage Group's Wiki

External links

  • Ove Arup & Partners; Report on a Rock Fall at Penlan, Ffestiniog Railway, 1979
  • E. Beazley; Madocks and the Wonder of Wales, 1967
  • R. F. Bleasdale; Spooner Album, 1887, also repub. with commentary by A. Gray, 2003
  • D. Blenkinsop; Linda & Blanche 1993
  • J. I. C. Boyd; Narrow Gauge Rails to Portmadoc, 1949
  • J. I. C. Boyd; On the Welsh Narrow Gauge, no date (1970s)
  • J. Buck; Discovering Narrow Gauge Railways, 1972
  • D. J. Charlton; FR Spotter's Guide; 2001
  • C. F. Cliffe; Book of North Wales, 1850
  • W. J. K. Davies; Narrow Gauge Railways, 1962
  • R. Edwards & P. Moss (eds); Festiniog Railway Historic Drawings, 1997
  • R. F. Fairlie; Battle of the Gauges renewed, 1872
  • R. F. Fairlie; Locomotive Engines, what they are and what they should be, 1881, reprint 1969
  • Festiniog Railway Co.; Share prospectus, Traveller's Guides, Stock Books, Guide Books (about 40 in all), 1957–2005
  • Festiniog Railway Society; Newsletters 1954-7;
  • Festiniog Railway Society; FR Magazine, quarterly since 1958 - Ffestiniog since 1994
  • A. Gray; The Spooner Album, 2003. See also Bleasdale.
  • N. F. Gurley; Narrow Gauge Steam out of Portmadoc, 1980
  • L. Heath-Humphrys; letter to Railway Gazette, 27 July 1951
  • G. T. Heavyside; Narrow Gauge into the 80s, 1980
  • B. Hollingsworth; Ffestiniog Adventure, 1981
  • F. H. Howson; Narrow Gauge Railways of Britain, 1948
  • P. N. Jarvis; Adeiladu Muriau Cerrig Sych - dry stone walling on the Ffestiniog Railway, 1993, revised edn 1995
  • P. Johnson; Ffestiniog Railway - a View from the Past, 1997
  • P. Johnson; An Illustrated History of the Festiniog Railway 1832-1954, 2007
  • P. Johnson; Immortal Rails; the Story of the Closure and Revival of the Ffestiniog Railway 1939-1983 Vol.I 2004, 2004, ISBN 1-900622-08-4 £35; Vol.II 2005 ISBN 1-900622-09-2 £35. Rail Romances, Chester.
  • P. Johnson; Portrait of the Ffestiniog, 1992
  • P. Johnson; Welsh Narrow gauge; a view from the past, 1992
  • P. Johnson; Welsh Narrow Gauge in colour, 1992
  • P. Johnson & C.M. Whitehouse; Ffestiniog mewn lliw, 1995
  • J. R. Jones & A.Pritchard; Great Little Steam Railways of Wales, 1991
  • F. Jux; British Narrow gauge Steam, 1960
  • R. W. Kidner; Narrow Gauge Railways of Wales, 1947
  • M. Kington; Steaming through Britain, 1990
  • C. E. Lee; Narrow Gauge Railways in North Wales, 1945
  • M. J. T. Lewis; How Ffestiniog got its Railway, 1965, revised edn 1968
  • J. G. V. Mitchell & A.G.W. Garraway; Festiniog in the Fifties, 1997
  • J. G. V. Mitchell & A.G.W. Garraway; Festiniog in the Sixties, 1997
  • J. G. V. Mitchell & A.G.W. Garraway; Return to Blaenau 1970-82, 2001
  • J. C. V. Mitchell, Smith, Seymour, Gray; Branch lines around Porthmadog, 2 vols, 1993
  • F. H. Pole (ed); Welsh Mountain Railways, 1924, reprint 1985
  • J. D. C. A. Prideaux; Welsh Narrow Gauge Railway, 1976
  • Quine, Dan (2013). The George England locomotives of the Ffestiniog Railway. London: Flexiscale. 
  • P. J. G. Ransom; Narrow Gauge Steam, 1996
  • P. J. G. Ransom; Locomotion, 2001
  • A. Roberts; Gossiping Guide to North Wales, 1879 (the 5/- version is much superior to the 6d edition)
  • L. J. Roberts; Festiniog & Welsh Highland Holiday book, 1923
  • H. R. Schwabe; Mit Volldampf nach Ffestiniog, 1978
  • C. E. Spooner; Narrow Gauge Railways, 1871, revised edn 1879
  • H. Stretton; Past & Present Companion; Ffestiniog Railway, 1998
  • M. J. Stretton; Festiniog Railway in Camera, 1971-1971, revised edn 1999
  • 'Taliesin' (C. R. Weaver et al.); Festiniog Railway locomotives, 1988
  • J. Timpson; Little Trains of Britain, 1992
  • E. Vignes; Étude technique sur le chemin de fer Festiniog, 1878, English translation by Don Boreham 1986
  • F. T. Wayne; "When Accounts become misleading Nonsense", Accountancy, November 1961
  • P. B. Whitehouse; Festiniog Railway Revival, 1963
  • P. B. Whitehouse; Welsh Narrow Gauge Album, 1969
  • P. B. Whitehouse & P.C. Allen; Round the World on Narrow Gauge, 1966
  • P. B. Whitehouse & P.C. Allen; Narrow Gauge the World over, 1976
  • C. Winchester & C.J. Allen,(eds.); Railway Wonders of the World, Vol 2, pp. 1224–28. c. 1938.
  • J. Winton; Little Wonder, 1975, revised edn 1986


  1. ^ Carnarvon Herald, 2 March 1833
  2. ^ Carnarvon Herald, 23 April 1836
  3. ^ Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald, 4 June 1842
  4. ^ North Wales Chronicle, 17 July 1869
  5. ^ Festiniog Railway Gravity Trains ed. Peter Johnson (Festiniog Railway Heritage Group, 1986) ISBN 0-949022-00-4 page 4
  6. ^ Cliffe's Book of North Wales, 1850
  7. ^ "Festiniog Railway Police". British Transport Police. Archived from the original on 29 September 2006. Retrieved 27 July 2009. 
  8. ^ a b Quine, Dan (2013). The George England locomotives of the Ffestiniog Railway. London: Flexiscale. 
  9. ^ The Festiniog Railway, James I. C. Boyd, 1959, Volume II (page 372)
  10. ^ The Festiniog Railway, 1836-1966: 130 years in pictures. The Festiniog Railway Company. 1966. 
  11. ^ a b c d UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2015), "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)" MeasuringWorth.
  12. ^ a b c d Johnson, Peter (25 March 2012). "Alan Pegler obituary". The Guardian. 
  13. ^ a b "Obituary - Alan Pegler".  
  14. ^ a b "Obituary - Alan Pegler" (PDF).  
  15. ^ Festiniog Railway Magazine (FR Society), No 86, Page 32.
  16. ^ Festiniog Railway Magazine (FR Society), No 85, Page 22.
  17. ^ le Vay, Benedict (2008). Britain from the Rails: A Window Gazer's Guide. Bradt Travel Guides. p. 15. 
  18. ^ "The Festiniog Railway.".  
  19. ^ Festiniog Railway Magazine (FR Society), No.90, Page 2
  20. ^ Festiniog Railway Magazine (FR Society), No.90, Page 6
  21. ^ Festiniog Railway Magazine (FR Society), No.58, Page 18
  22. ^ Festiniog Railway Magazine (FR Society), No.87, Page 13
  23. ^ Festiniog Railway Magazine (FR Society), No.119, Page 13
  24. ^ "". Retrieved 2013-04-17. 
  25. ^ Ffestiniog Railway Company - Offer for Subscription(Prospectus) Ocean Asset Management Ltd, 1987, Page 24
  26. ^ Festiniog Railway Magazine (FR Society), No.125, Page 191
  27. ^ Ffestiniog Railway Magazine (FR Society), No.148, Page 135
  28. ^ Ffestiniog Railway Magazine (FR Society), No.163, Page 285
  29. ^ Yarborough, Bruce. "The Great Little Trains of Wales website". Great Little Trains of Wales. Retrieved 6 April 2008. 
  30. ^ "[ARCHIVED CONTENT] Welsh Assembly Government | Assembly abolishes toll on Porthmadog Cob". Retrieved 2013-04-17. 


See also

The Control Office is also responsible for the Train Operation on the Welsh Highland Railway and it also regulates trains from the Welsh Highland Railway Limited, including the interface with the Network Rail ERTMS signaller (in Shrewsbury) to clear the WHR route where it crosses the main Cambrian Coast (standard gauge) line at grade between Minffordd and Porthmadog. This is possibly the only narrow gauge/standard gauge level crossing in the UK, and an interface between 19th century signalling and 21st century signalling systems.

The Control Office regulates train running, giving permission for trains to enter the single line sections, recording train movements on the Train Graph, ensuring trains are formed of an appropriate number of carriages (depending on the expected train loadings), acting as the single point of contact in the rare event of a failure occurring with rolling stock, and making station announcements at Porthmadog

The signalling and ETS equipment is primarily designed for train crew operation. To obtain permission to withdraw a train staff to enter a single line section, Control has to be contacted.

The Short Section train staffs are brought into service by opening Rhiw Goch Signalbox, hence trapping the Minffordd to Tanybwlch Long Section Miniature train staff in the lever frame, when the signal box is opened and manned by a signalman.

  • Minffordd to Rhiw Goch - Short Section
  • Rhiw Goch to Tanybwlch - Short Section

Large train staffs are provided for:-

  • Porthmadog to Minffordd (Intermediate Instrument at Boston Lodge)
  • Minffordd to Tanybwlch - Long Section (Intermediate Instrument at Rhiw Goch)
  • Tanybwlch to Tanygrisiau (Intermediate Instrument at Dduallt)
  • Tanygrisiau to Blaenau Ffestiniog (Intermediate Instrument at Glan-y-Pwll)

Miniature train staffs are provided for:-

The Ffestiniog Railway operates on the Electric Token System (ETS) using a mixture of miniature and large train staffs, under the overall control of the Duty Controller based at Porthmadog.

A Ffestiniog Railway train leaves Porthmadog and heads towards Blaenau Ffestiniog along the Cob

Train control and regulation

Elsewhere, Tanygrisiau had been provided with a run-round loop whilst it had been the terminus between June 1978 and May 1982. This loop was removed when the line was re-opened to Blaenau Ffestiniog. In the mid-1990s, a project was launched to install a fully signalled passing loop. This proceeded as a volunteer project, including the building of a signal box. However, prior to commissioning, the project was abandoned in 2001. The trackwork (apart for the siding off the Up Loop) remained in situ. In June 2002, the loop was once again used to run trains around as part of the 2002 Gala to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the restoration of services to Blaenau Ffestiniog. The intended platform starter signals (posts, brackets and arms) have been recovered and some are now in use on the Isle of Man Railway, whilst others are destined for the resignalling of Harbour Station. In 2004, with new disc starter signals and spring-loaded points installed, Tanygrisiau became a passing loop for the first time.

In the late 1990s, Rhiw Goch was recommissioned as a passing loop. From the 2005 season, the box has been regularly manned during the summer to provide additional operational flexibility. In 2006, an appeal was launched, through the FR Society, for funds to replace the life-expired signal box with a building of more traditional appearance. Fundraising went well and work was completed during the closed season of 2006/7.

Automatic signalling was installed at Tan-y-Bwlch in 1986. By the 1988 season, in part due to the challenges in maintenance of the top end points at Dduallt and the planned automation of Minffordd, the loops at Dduallt and Rhiw Goch had been taken out of service for crossing trains. At the end of May 1988, Dduallt ceased to be a token station and Dduallt loop was taken out of service altogether and became a siding. Rhiw Goch ceased to be used except on odd occasions and was taken out of use as a means to cross passenger trains in 1989. The short section token instruments and the signal heads were removed, although the loop could still be used as a refuge for Engineers' trains. Minffordd and Tan-y-Bwlch therefore became the usual passing loops, both automated.

As the line was extended, passing loops were brought into operation at Minffordd, Penrhyn and Tan-y-Bwlch. Due to the restrictions to the length of trains that could be passed at Penrhyn, Rhiw Goch was opened on 14 May 1975. Penrhyn loop remained in service for several more years before it was closed. By the end of the 1970s, the passing loops were at Minffordd, Rhiw Goch, Tan-y-Bwlch and Dduallt, and an intensive service was run in the peak summer seasons (although there were empty "slots" in the timetable which could be used by works trains). From the early 1980s, the peak summer timetable had three train sets in operation, generally passing at Rhiw Goch and Dduallt.


Train operation since 1955

The Ffestiniog Railway was built primarily to connect the slate quarries in the mountains around what is now Blaenau Ffestiniog with the harbour at Porthmadog. In all at least 23 quarries were directly or indirectly connected to the railway, often by inclines. They sent their finished products over the railway in slate waggons to be transferred onto ships or, later, onto the standard gauge railway at Minfordd.

Quarries served by the railway

Between Porthmadog Harbour station and Boston Lodge, the railway runs on the Cob, the dyke of the Traeth Mawr "polder". The Cob was built between 1807 and 1811 by William Madocks and, in addition to its land reclamation function in conjunction with sluice gates at the Britannia bridge, it serves also as a roadway (which, since 1836, has been at a lower level on the landward side) and as a bridge across the Afon Glaslyn. Tolls were charged with a tollgate at Boston Lodge until 2003, when the rights were purchased by the National Assembly for Wales.[30] The higher, original, section of the Cob carries, in addition to the railway, a public footpath throughout virtually its entire length. There is no fencing between the footpath and the railway.

The Cob

At Porthmadog, the original line came via the streets and across the Britannia bridge from the 1836 terminus at the northernmost end of the Welsh Slate Company’s Wharf where the FR officially started. This was the second datum point for all pre-1954 mileage calculations. (the first being in Blaenau Ffestiniog). The line over the bridge also connected with the Gorseddau and Croesor Tramways and was later used by Welsh Highland Railway passenger trains from 1923 to 1936. The line over the bridge was last used in 1958 and then dismantled. It was reopened as part of the WHR in 2011.

Stations and halts

Linda one of the Ffestiniog Railway's steam locomotives

Rolling stock

Today the railway is promoted as one of The Great Little Trains of Wales, a joint marketing scheme launched in 1970 that encompasses ten narrow gauge railways in the country, mostly found in north and mid Wales.[29]

Major grants received subsequently have been: In 1989 a grant of £430,000 (£955,435 in 2016),[11] mainly from The EEC (National Programme of Community Interest for the promoting of tourism in Dyfed, Gwynedd and Powys);[26] in 1995 a grant of £500,000 (£858,434 in 2016),[11] to promote work in Blaenau Ffestiniog[27] and in 1998 a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £375,000 (£589,326 in 2016),[11] for the construction of workshops to facilitate the restoration of historic vehicles.[28]

Recognition of the railway’s importance to tourism and heritage has been increasingly marked by financial assistance given to the company towards capital expenditure. Prior to September 1987, the FR had received £1,273,127 in gifts and grants. Of this: £450,476 was Gifts from the FR Society and FR Trust and other supporters; £379,335 from Wales Tourist Board; £134,320 from EEC Grants and £308,996 from other public sources.[25]

  • 1964 Wales Tourist Board certificate for conspicuous service to Welsh tourism.[20]
  • 1972 Wales Tourist Board lists the FR as fifth most popular tourist site in Wales, after Caernarfon Castle, the Swallow Falls, the National Museum of Wales at Cardiff and Conwy Castle.[21]
  • 1979 The FR was one of only six sites in Wales to receive the British Tourist Authority’s Golden Jubilee Award.[22]
  • 1987 The FR was the outright winner of the Independent Railway of the Year award.[23]
  • 2004 The "Talking Train" (an internal audio guide) was awarded the Heritage Railway Association 'interpretation' Award.[24]

Since restoration commenced in 1954, tourism has been the only significant source of income. The role of the Ffestiniog Railway in the promotion and fulfilment of tourism and in preserving railway heritage has been recognised many times, and notable mentions have included:

One of the earliest references to tourism is in the LNWR Tourist Guide for 1876, which waxed lyrical about the Ffestiniog Railway, which it illustrated with a drawing of a lady in Welsh national dress (then still in regular local use) travelling on an FR up train (since many empty slate wagons – with two standing brakesmen – were attached at the rear) with the caption "On the Ffestiniog Railway". The guide uses the "double F" spelling throughout.[19] It was, however, in the inter-war years from 1919 to 1939 that tourism, though always valued, came to acquire a major importance.

Tourism and heritage

  • 16 lb/yd Original rails for Horse drawn operation
  • 30 lb/yd Rails for early steam locomotive operation found to be too light.
  • 48.66 lb/yd Rails for later steam operation

Rails increased in weight and strength as traffic changed.[18]


The completed Welsh Highland Railway or Rheilffordd Eryri (its Welsh name) comprises parts of the former London and North Western Railway (1867), North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways (1877–81), Portmadoc, Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway and Welsh Highland (1922-3) Railway. The FR also links with the WHR (Porthmadog) at Pen-y-Mount Station, north of Porthmadog.

The next few years were marked by protracted legal procedures before the assets of the old company could be transferred and before final consent to rebuild the railway was given. The first section from Caernarfon to Dinas, the Caernarfon Light Railway, was opened and operated by the FR from 11 October 1997. This section was not hampered by these extended legal procedures and was built as a Light Railway Order, as it was not part of the original Welsh Highland Railway route; the site of Dinas station had been sold off and thus was not part of the assets of the old WHR company. Other powers under a Transport & Works Order enabled restoration to Waunfawr in 2000 and to Rhyd Ddu in 2003. Hafod y Llyn was reached in 2009 and Pont Croesor in 2010. By 2010, the tracks of the WHR and Ffestiniog Railway had been reconnected at Harbour Station, linking Caernarfon to Porthmadog and passenger services started in 2011.

TCL were introduced to the FR and decided that the aims and objectives of TCL and the FR were similar thus, since 1988, the FR company has been totally committed to the reopening of the Welsh Highland Railway. All TCL-owned shares/debentures were transferred to the FR on the condition that they would be returned if the railway was not built.

This led a group to form 'Trackbed Consolidation Limited' (TCL) and, after some detective work, TCL managed to trace and purchase shares and debentures in the original WHR company. They felt that an alternative plan was available, one where the original company could be brought out of receivership. It was originally the intent of TCL to provide the track bed to the WHR (1964) Company to rebuild the line, but they refused the offer.

This action may have delayed the start of rebuilding of the Welsh Highland Railway, although the alternative plan was dependent on the continued co-operation of Gwynedd County Council to ensure that the track bed was used solely for railway purposes. This was not guaranteed, as pressure from various groups who objected to the rebuilding of the railway was significant and it was the stated intention of the council to apply for an abandonment order on gaining the track bed. This would have left the track bed open for seizure by adverse possession ('squatters' rights') by farmers, use in other ways such as footpaths, road improvement schemes etc., as the statutory designation of the track bed as a railway would have been discontinued. Over the years, the presence of plans for footpaths and roads had indeed made it difficult for anyone wishing to rebuild the line.

In 1988, the Festiniog Railway Company was involved in a controversial plan to stop the neighbouring Welsh Highland Railway (WHR) being rebuilt, as it was concerned at the effect a nearby heritage railway competitor could have on the FR business. The initial plan would have involved the FR Company buying the original track bed of the WHR from the old company's receiver and giving it to Gwynedd County Council, provided no railway-related developments were allowed on the land. This was greeted with dismay by the WHR (1964) Company, which had been attempting to preserve the line since the 1960s.

Welsh Highland Railway

After fully reopening in 1982 and carrying 200,000 passengers annually, the railway became the second largest Welsh tourist attraction after Caernarfon Castle. Many saw this as the result of Pegler’s drive and ability to inspire others with his unquenchable enthusiasm to fulfil his dream. Pegler, who remained fully involved with the railway until his death in 2012 as President, was appointed OBE in the 2006 New Year Honours in recognition of his contribution.[12][13][14][17]

With the major project of track restoration to Blaenau finally complete, attention could be turned to other matters. More Fairlie locomotives were built or restored and new carriages were built. At Minffordd, a new hostel was built for volunteers who support the permanent staff by working in every department of the railway. Stations were given new buildings, canopies and platforms, often replacing the previous temporary structures and improving the image of the railway for the future.

Civil engineering contractors were employed in conjunction with House of Commons, who unveiled a plaque that records his visit.

One major task near Tanygrisiau was the responsibility of Gwynedd County Council, which had at some time after 1955 taken advantage of the absence of trains to demolish what was probably Britain's lowest road under railway bridge. In early 1980, therefore, they replaced Dolrhedyn bridge and even managed to give it a few inches extra headroom for road vehicles.

The completion of the railway through to Tanygrisiau (height 640 ft) left the FR with just one and a half miles to go to its goal of Blaenau Ffestiniog (height 710 ft) but the complexities of reconstructing that unique but rather derelict urban section of narrow gauge railway took a further four years. As well as 1 12 miles (2.4 km) of new track and its formation, which was the responsibility of the FR permanent way department and its volunteers, much other work needed to be done. Most of the work, like the deviation itself, was undertaken by volunteers who, in many cases, assumed full responsibility for the design as well as the execution of discrete projects, each under a volunteer project leader. There were four decrepit footbridges each needing to be demolished and rebuilt to the new FR loading gauge. The decrepit steel bridge across the Afon Barlwyd required total replacement, with timber (Karri) beams using the original abutments and piers. The new deck is formed of old rails. Walls and fences throughout had to be repaired or replaced. These and the many other varied tasks formed Project Blaenau.

Steam locomotive Taliesin at Porthmadog.
Blaenau Ffestiniog station.

Project Blaenau

The largely volunteer group building the Deviation was officially called the Civil Engineering Group but its members were popularly known (and are still remembered) as the Deviationists who completed an enormous task over 13 years.

The remaining section included some specialised engineering work at its summit (668 ft) where the new line passes over the power station pipelines. This was followed by two public road crossings with automatic signalling, on the FR's only reverse or down gradient, to rejoin the old route in Tanygrisiau station (640 ft), which was reopened on 24 June 1978.

North of the new tunnel is a long stretch along the west bank of the new reservoir. Full-length passenger trains first ran from Dduallt through the new tunnel to a temporary terminus known as 'Llyn Ystradau (now dismantled) on 25 June 1977. This station was alongside the Tanygrisiau reservoir but passengers could not leave the station other than by train as it was on Central Electricity Generating Board land without public access.

A pull and push service, officially called The Shuttle and powered by diesel locomotive Moel Hebog with carriage 110, was operated from Dduallt to Gelliwiog from 26 May 1975, during two summers, to enable tourists to experience the Deviation route in advance of the opening of the new Moelwyn Tunnel.

The new 310-yard (280 m) long tunnel was constructed between 1975 and 1977 by three Cornish tin mining engineers with a small team of employees. It had to be blasted through a granite spur of the Moelwyn mountain. The tunnel plant included stone crushing and grading plant to produce track ballast and other aggregates from the spoil for use on the railway. Following completion, the new tunnel first had to be lined throughout its length with liquid cement reinforced with steel mesh in a process called 'shotcreting'.

Between 1965 and 1978, the Ffestiniog Railway Deviation, a 2 12 miles (4 km) long diversionary route was constructed between Dduallt and Tanygrisiau in order to avoid the works of Ffestiniog hydro-electric power station and its reservoir (Llyn Ystradau). The Deviation (this is the conventional name for such railway works) was built mostly by volunteers. At the southern end is the spectacular Dduallt spiral formation (unique on a public railway in the United Kingdom). It was constructed with its bridge entirely by volunteers and gains an initial height rise of 35 feet (11 m) in order (after a further mile of new volunteer built railway and a new tunnel) to clear the flooded track bed north of the former Moelwyn tunnel, which is plugged near its normally submerged northern end. Parts of the trackless former route can be clearly seen below the new route between Dduallt and the old tunnel.

Tanygrisiau reservoir seen from the deviation. The original route of the Ffestiniog Railway is beneath the waters in the foreground

The Llyn Ystradau Deviation

The first public passenger train from Porthmadog to Boston Lodge ran on 23 July 1955. Prince returned to service on 3 August 1955 and, following extensive boiler repairs, Taliesin, then the latest of the FR Fairlie articulated engines, returned to service on 4 September 1956. The passenger service was extended to Minffordd on 19 May 1956, to Penrhyn on 5 June 1957 and to Tan-y-Bwlch on 5 April 1958. Increasing traffic was putting severe demands on the track - over 7 miles (11 km) had been reopened in four years. A long period of consolidation, rolling stock restoration and track renewal followed before the extension to Dduallt on 6 April 1968. Extension to Dduallt was celebrated on 28 May 1968 by the re-introduction of the Ffestiniog Railway Letter Service.

On 18 August 1954, prior to commencing the restoration, in an inspection, the first of many, Colonel McMullen of the Ministry of Transport, Railways Inspectorate, accompanied by Pegler, several directors and other supporters, walked the line from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog. The work of restoration began on 20 September 1954 when Morris Jones, the foreman fitter who had last worked for the railway in March 1947, rejoined the staff to complete the rebuilding of the locomotive 'Prince' on which he had been engaged when the works closed. He was joined at Boston Lodge works by two volunteers, Bill Harvey and Allan Garraway.[15] The completion of sixty years service with the FR by Robert Evans (for almost 25 years as Manager) was marked on 6 November 1954 and a special train was run (with difficulty) from Minffordd to Porthmadog to celebrate the occasion and convey Mr Evans, his wife, Alan Pegler (Company Chairman) and guests en route to a clock presentation ceremony.[16] Mr Evans continued in service as Manager until his retirement on 1 June 1955 when Allan Garraway was appointed as Manager.

The restoration of the complete railway was not helped by the decision by the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) in 1954 to build the Ffestiniog Pumped Storage Scheme, including the creation of Tanygrisiau reservoir (Llyn Ystradau), which flooded part of the northern end of the line. The Festiniog Railway Company was able to obtain compensation in 1972, after the second-longest legal battle in British legal history, having taken eighteen years and two months. Two years later, as a result of the case, the British Parliament passed the Land Compensation Act 1973.

From 1949, various groups of rail enthusiasts attempted to revitalise the railway. In 1951, railway enthusiast Alan Pegler was approached by friends to buy and clear the outstanding debt on the derelict Ffestiniog Railway, to enable its purchase. Lent £3,000 by his father, he and the volunteers obtained control of the company on 24 June 1954.[12] Pegler was appointed the new company's first Chairman,[12] with the objective to operate the railway as a tourist attraction and gradually restore the line to working order. Pegler later released complete control of the company without any personal financial gain to Ffestiniog Railway Trust, which still owns and runs the railway today.[12][13][14]


The original Act of Parliament which permitted the building of the line made no specific provision for its closure or abandonment. Although the main line had ceased functioning, the company could not dismantle the railway, so the track and infrastructure were left in place. An amending Act of Parliament could have been sought to repeal the old one, but the Company did not have the money. However, without maintenance, the line soon became overgrown and unusable.

The FR continued to operate its slate traffic, a workmen's train on weekdays throughout the year and a summer tourist passenger service. Ordinary passenger services ceased on the FR on 15 September 1939, shortly after the outbreak of World War II. The workmen's passenger service ran for the last time on Saturday, 16 September 1939. Slate trains were from then onwards operated three days each week but gravity operation was discontinued. Slate traffic ceased on 1 August 1946, apart from the section from Duffws to the North Western yard through Blaenau Ffestiniog town centre, which was leased on 7 October 1946 to the quarry owners. This provided the railway company, which retained the services of a resident manager at Porthmadog, with a small income throughout the moribund years.

Light railway operation was being introduced on the FR and WHR to cut operating overheads. In 1923, to gain additional expertise in this, Colonel H. F. Stephens was appointed as part-time engineer to both companies. Stephens became Chairman and Managing Director of both companies in 1924. When the WHR was taken into receivership in 1927, Colonel Stephens was appointed as Receiver for the WHR and financial administration of both companies moved to Tonbridge in Kent. The fortunes of the WHR, despite great efforts, failed to improve and it became bankrupt in 1933. To protect their investments, the joint owners of both companies arranged for the WHR to be leased by the FR. However the WHR losses continued with the loss of the Moel Tryfan slate traffic in 1935, and it closed to passengers at the end of the 1936 season and to goods in 1937.

In 1921, the Aluminium Corporation at Dolgarrog in the Conwy Valley bought for £40,000 (£1,580,000 in 2016),[11] a controlling interest in the FR and Henry Jack became Chairman, the FR company's financial administration moving to Dolgarrog. Jack was also chairman of the new Welsh Highland Railway. He was instrumental in getting government backing for its completion on the understanding that the FR and the WHR would be jointly managed from Porthmadog, with maintenance undertaken at Boston Lodge and with other economies of scale. In 1923, the FR line was joined to the WHR line at a station called "Portmadoc New". The Welsh Highland line was almost totally dependent on tourism, but this proved slow to develop for several reasons: two slumps in the early 1920s and early 1930s; the rise of road traffic including charabancs; and the unreliability of the railway with its (even then) ancient carriages and increasingly decrepit locomotives.

By the 1920s, the demand for slate as a roofing material dropped owing to the advent of newer materials and to the loss of the overseas trade during World War I. As a result, the railway suffered a gradual decline in traffic.

The Earl Of Merioneth coming onto the train at Porthmadog

Decline of slate and development of tourism

The original passenger coaches (some of which survive) were small four-wheeled vehicles with a very low centre of gravity, which led to them being nicknamed 'bug boxes'. In 1872, the FR introduced the first bogie carriages to operate in Britain, Nos 15 and 16, which were also the first iron-framed bogie coaches in the world and are still in service.[10] The continuous vacuum brake was installed in 1893. The line was fully signalled with electric telegraph and staff and ticket working. Electric Train Staff instruments were introduced in 1912 and they continue in use to the present day.

The loaded slate trains continued to operate by gravity until the end of passenger services in 1939. Slate trains eventually became very long - trains of less than eighty slate wagons carried two brakesmen but over eighty wagons (and this became common) required three brakesmen. About one wagon in every six was equipped with a brake, the others being unbraked. Trains continued to pass at Tan-y-Bwlch and, to a lesser extent, at Minffordd. The Summer timetable for 1900 had nine trains daily in each direction and trains had been accelerated to one hour from Porthmadog to Duffws including stops at Minffordd, Penrhyn, Tan-y-Bwlch, Dduallt (request), Tanygrisiau, Blaenau (LNWR) and Blaenau (GWR). Speeds in excess of 40 mph (64 km/h) were then normal.[9]

Down trains continued to run entirely by gravity but faster up journeys and longer trains increased line capacity. A new timetable dated October 1863 shows six departures daily from each terminus at two hour intervals, starting at 7:00 am and taking 1 hour 50 minutes including stops (totalling 20 minutes) at Tanygrisiau, Hafod-y-Llyn and Penrhyn. Trains passed only at Hafod-y-Llyn (from 1872 Tan-y-Bwlch). When passenger services started, the usual practice was for locomotive-hauled up trains to consist of loaded general goods and mineral wagons, followed by passenger carriages, followed by empty slate wagons with brakesmen. Down trains were run in up to four separate (uncoupled) portions: loaded slate wagons, goods wagons, passenger carriages and the locomotive running light. This unusual and labour-intensive method of operation was highly dangerous, at least as far as passengers were concerned; consequently, the down passenger and goods portions were combined into a single train headed by the locomotive.

The first of these locomotives, Mountaineer' was delivered to Porthmadog on 18th. July 1863, followed a few days later by The Princess.[8] After a number of trials and some modifications (notably the addtion of domes) to the locomotive, the first official train ran on 23 October 1863. These steam locomotives of the 0-4-0 type allowed much longer slate trains to be run and this also enabled the official introduction of passenger trains in 1865: the Ffestiniog was the first narrow gauge railway in Britain to carry passengers. In 1869, the line's first double Fairlie articulated locomotive was introduced and these double-ended machines have since become one of the most widely recognised features of the railway.


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