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Even now the tracks have been built, Elwyn will continue ultimately
giving up his time for the railway. unfruitful,
“There are 25 miles of maintenance to do, so the work is they probably
never over,” he explains. “I won’t stop now.” ensured that the
Elwyn is one of a long line of enthusiasts who’ve supported the trackbed was kept
railway over the decades, and without their help we would not be mainly intact rather
sitting here today. The fact this line is one of the oldest in the than sold off bit by bit.
country makes the celebrations even more special. Some of the locomotives
The origins of what was to become the Welsh Highland Railway from that era were cut
(WHR) can be traced back to a number of narrow gauge up for scrap, but one
developments: the Nantlle Tramway, the Croesor Tramway, the – Russell (pictured below
Porthmadog, Beddgelert & South Snowdon Railway and, perhaps left) – was saved.
the best known, the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways. It was put to work in Oxfordshire
The Nantlle horse-drawn railway was opened in 1828 to connect and then Dorset before being saved by the
the slate quarries at Nantlle with Caernarfon eight miles away, but Birmingham Locomotive Club for £50 and moved
the route was abandoned more than a century ago. Fragments of to the Talyllyn Railway for display. Since then it has
the old Nantlle Tramway route between Dinas and Caernarfon, been fully restored and will be used as a heritage train
including a bridge and two tunnels, still survive. The Croesor when the line is fully opened.
tramway was built in 1864 also for the purposes of carrying slate, In the 1960s the first determined efforts to revive the line
from the quarries at Croesor to Portmadoc (now Porthmadog). began and in 1961 a group of enthusiasts formed a society that
became the Welsh Highland Light Railway (1964) Co Ltd. After a
Snowdon summit long period of negotiations and hard work, a short length of line
The North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways were conceived and was laid from Porthmadog to Pen-y-Mount and a public service
engineered by Charles E Spooner and initially there was a commenced in 1980.
proposed network of eight lines, serving areas as far spread as The Ffestiniog Railway Company’s ultimate aim was to link
Betws-y-Coed, Pwllheli and Corwen, a total of some 60 miles. Caernarfon with Porthmadog, creating the country’s longest railway
However, only two of these were ever built. The first line was at 40 miles. It took several years of legal arguments, a High Court
completed in 1877 and ran five miles from Dinas (three miles from hearing and three public inquiries before the reconstruction of the
Caernarfon) to Bryngwyn. At the same time, the contractors WHR was granted.
continued on to Rhyd Ddu (the station originally called Snowdon) Work started between Dinas and Caernarfon in 1997 and was
and the full line (officially two lines, linked at Tryfan Junction) opened on 13th October that same year. The section to Waunfawr
opened in 1881, mostly serving slate quarries. took about a year to finish, opening in August 2000, and work
It wasn’t just slate and quarry workmen that the railway carried, started almost immediately on the next section to Rhyd Ddu.
though. It was the closest to the summit of Snowdon, so tourists However, progress was hampered by the national Foot and Mouth
were also encouraged to use the trains to access the paths up disease outbreak.
the mountain.
Sadly, the railway’s popularity did not last. By the mid 1920s the Royal approval
slate industry was declining, tourists were discovering the delights Tracklaying started at Rhyd Ddu in 2003 and HRH Prince Charles
of charabancs (an early motor coach), locals started using motor opened the line on 18th August. In September the following year,
buses and cheap ex-military lorries were coming on to the market the Ffestiniog Railway Company received funding of £5m from the
to transport goods. The railway continued to perform poorly and Welsh Assembly and the EU. This, together with funds from a
the last passenger train ran on 5th September 1936. All traffic on hugely successful public appeal, finally meant that the dream held
the WHR was formally suspended from 1st June 1937. by so many for nearly two centuries would finally come to fruition.
In 1941 much of the railway’s equipment was requisitioned for Today’s journey is a milestone in the railway’s history and as we
the war effort, with one portion of track even used for mobile target alight at Beddgelert, speeches are made by the people who helped
practice! The Croesor section was left in situ in case the quarries rebuild the railway, including Dr John Prideaux, chairman of
reopened after the war, but was finally lifted in 1948. Various legal Ffestiniog Railway Trust and Company, and Lord Dafydd
manoeuvres followed this, including a serious application to turn Elis-Thomas, Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales.
the route into a long-distance footpath. Although these plans were Locals from the village are then invited onto the train to
experience the short journey to Rhyd Ddu and back, officially the
‘first passenger train’. A seat in the observation car is reserved for
guest of honour, 93-year old Beddgelert resident John Pritchard,
who travelled on the old Welsh Highland Railway in his youth. a174
Loco facts
FollowingtheclosureofmanynarrowgaugelinesinSouthAfricaand
theconversionofotherstodiesel,theWHRpurchasedstock,including
locomotives,fromSouthAfricanrailwaycompanies.Eachlocomotiveis
morethan48ftlong,cancarrymorethan1,500gallonsofwaterand
morethanfourtonsofcoalandeachweighs62tons.
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