Welsh Highland Railway

Welsh Highland Railway

Heritage Railway
name = Welsh Highland Railway
(Rheilffordd Eryri /
Rheilffordd Ucheldir Cymru)

caption = Locomotive No. 138 "Millennium/Mileniwm" and train, leaving Caernarfon station
locale = Wales
terminus = Caernarfon and Porthmadog
linename = Welsh Highland Railway Company
builtby = North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways (NWNGR) , Welsh Highland Railway
originalgauge = RailGauge|1ft11.5in
preservedgauge = RailGauge|1ft11.5in WHR(C)
RailGauge|600mm WHR(P)
era =
owned =
operator = Festiniog Railway Company and Welsh Highland Railway Limited
stations = 7 (northern end), and 3 (southern end)
length = 13 miles and 1 mile
originalopen = 1922
closed = 1937
stageyears = 1961
stage = Welsh Highland Railway Society formed
years = 1964
events = WHR Society reformed as Welsh Highland Light Railway (1964) Limited
years1 = 1980
events1 = WHR (Porthmadog) opened for passenger service
years2 = 1987
events2 = Original locomotive Russell restored
years3 = 1990
events3 = Ffestiniog railway became involved
years4 = 1997
events4 = WHR (Caernarfon) opened from Caernarfon to Dinas
years5 = 1998
events5 = Transport and Works order obtained for full restoration from Dinas to Porthmadog
years6 = 2000
events6 = Reopened - Dinas to Waunfawr
years7 = 2003
events7 = Reopened - Waunfawr to Rhyd Ddu
years8 = 2005
events8 = WHR (Porthmadog) celebrates 25 years of passenger train service
years9 = 2007
events9 = WHR (Porthmadog) extended to Traeth Mawr

The Welsh Highland Railway (WHR) is a narrow gauge railway in Wales, which originally ran from Dinas near Caernarfon to PorthmadogCite book | author=Boyd, James I.C.| title=Narrow Gauge Railways in South Caernarvonshire | date=1972/1988| publisher=Oakwood Press | location=Lingfield, Surrey| isbn=0-8536-1365-6| pages=283] , with a branch line to Bryngwyn and the slate quarries at Moel Tryfan. The main line is in the process of restoration as a heritage railway. As of 2008 two sections of the line are open, a 13 mile section Caernarfon to Rhyd Ddu which is operated by the Festiniog Railway Companyscref|a and a 1 mile section at Porthmadog which is operated by Welsh Highland Railway Limited. The full line from Caernarfon to Porthmadog, originally planned to open at Easter 2009, is now due to open in stages, at Easter 2009, from Rhyd Ddu to Beddgelert, with the complete run opening in Mid May 2009.

The line opened to passengers in 1923 but was never a commercial success and went into receivership in 1927cite web
url = http://www2.whr.co.uk/s/history/history2
title = Welsh Highland Railway History: The Welsh Highland Railway
author=Alun Turner
publisher=Welsh Highland Railway Ltd
] . The service however continued, operated by the Festiniog Railway Company under a newly-signed 42-year lease, but only survived until 1937. Thus the WHR managed only fourteen years of operation, and the longest narrow gauge railway in Wales closed. The track was lifted during scrap collections in World War II.

The restored line is known as both "Rheilffordd Ucheldir Cymru" and "Rheilffordd Eryri" in Welsh. "Rheilffordd Ucheldir Cymru" - "Welsh Highland Railway" - has been used since 1980 by the Company operating the Porthmadog end of the line. "Rheilffordd Eryri" - literally "Snowdonia Railway" - is a brand name used by the Caernarfon end. The original Welsh Highland never had an official Welsh translation of its name, despite running through the heartland of the Welsh language. Locals tended to refer to it by informal names such as "Y Lein Bach" or "Lein Bach Beddgelert" (the little Beddgelert railway).


The Welsh Highland Railway was formed in 1922 from the merger of two companies - the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways (NWNGR) and the Portmadoc, Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway (PBSSR) (successor to the Portmadoc, Croesor and Beddgelert Tram Railway).

Forerunners: 1863 - 1922

The Croesor tramway had run from Portmadoc since 1863 up into the Croesor Valley and the slate quarries in this area. This was a horse worked line laid to a nominal 2 foot gauge.

The NWNGR had originally built a RailGauge|1ft11.5in gauge line from a junction with the standard gauge London and North Western Railway line at Dinas to Bryngwyn with a branch from Tryfan Junction via Waunfawr to Llyn Cwellyn (Snowdon Ranger). The line was opened in 1877 and was extended to South Snowdon (Rhyd Ddu) in 1881, a total of 9 miles. This closed to passengers in 1916, but goods traffic continued up to its absorption by the WHR in 1922.

In 1902, the newly-formed PBSSR took over the failed Portmadoc, Croesor and Beddgelert Tram Railway with the aim of extending it to South Snowdon slate quarry in the Nant Gwynant Pass. Work was abandoned by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, although the tunnels through the Aberglaslyn Pass were mostly complete. By 1921, the NWNGR, the PBSSR, the Snowdon Mountain Railway and the Ffestiniog Railway were in common ownership and controlled by the owners of the Aluminium Corporation and the North Wales Power and Traction Company with headquarters at Dolgarrog.

Formation and Construction: 1922 - 1923

In 1922 the order was made to create the Welsh Highland Railway (WHR), mainly funded by loans from the Ministry of Transport and Carnarvonshire County Council in the hope that it would help regenerate the area's economy and keep struggling quarries open. McAlpine & Sons were contracted to refurbish the existing lines and complete the link between Rhyd Ddu and Croesor Junction, thus creating a railway that ran from Dinas to join the Ffestiniog Railway at Porthmadog and which was opened in 1923.

Decline: 1923 - 1937

The WHR venture was not a success and the hoped-for revenue from quarry traffic never materialised. When these hopes were dashed, the railway turned to another market; tourism. The owners tried to attract visitors by opening the first narrow gauge buffet car and by painting their carriages bright colours, including yellow and blue. However, these ideas did not work because the early tourist industry did not provide sufficient visitors to make the railway pay, especially during the Depression. Competition from buses which ran a faster and more regular service from Caernarfon and Beddgelert also played a part. [Cite book | author=Klapper, Charles Frederick | authorlink= | coauthors= | title=Golden age of buses | date=1978 | publisher=Routledge & Kegan Paul1984 [printing] | location=London | isbn=0-7102-0232-6 | pages=231] The last passenger train ran on 5 September 1936 and the Welsh Highland Railway was formally closed on 1 June 1937. The majority of the track was removed for scrap during the Second World War.

Various legal manoeuvres followed this, including a serious application to turn the route into a long-distance footpath. Although these plans were ultimately unfruitful, they ensured that the trackbed was kept mainly intact, rather than sold off bit by bit, which would have made restoration much more difficult and potentially expensive. However, some parts such as the sites of Rhyd Ddu and Dinas stations were sold off.


In 1961 a small group of railway enthusiasts, who had been inspired by the successful preservation of the Talyllyn Railway, formed the Welsh Highland Railway Society to preserve and restore the line. Construction of the line started in the 1970s following the acquisition of the old slate exchange sidings from British Railwayscite web
url = http://www2.whr.co.uk/en/heritage/brief
title = Welsh Highland Railway History: In brief
publisher=Welsh Highland Railway Ltd
] . Tourist passenger services started in 1980 and the first restoration of "Russell" was complete in 1987, with a second, and more complete restoration to 1906 condition, is scheduled to be completed in 2009.

Rolling Stock

Original locomotives

Two locomotives were inherited from the predecessor companies: "Moel Tryfan" and "Russell". When these proved insufficient, Baldwin "590" was acquired by H.F. Stephens and several Ffestiniog Railway locomotives saw regular use on the Welsh Highland Railway throughout its entire pre-closure existence from 1923 to 1937. "590" was planned to be part of a larger fleet to replace "Moel Tryfan" and "Russell" but it gained so little popularity that Stephens never bought another. By 1936 "Moel Tryfan" was out of use at Boston Lodge. When "Russell" and "590" were withdrawn the following year, they were placed in Dinas shed, but when the Second World War broke out, the Ministry of War came to see about appropriating them for the war effort. After some examination of the engines and questionning of those who had worked them, "Russell" (regarded as a good engine) was removed for further use, and "590" (seen as an unreliable, rough rider with difficult controls and inadequate adhesion) was broken up at Dinas. Despite the unpopularity of "590", the WHR (Porthmadoc) is currently refurbishing a similar Baldwin to act as a replica.

During the ownership of the WHR by the FR, "Moel Tryfan" and "Russell" were cut down to allow them to traverse the FR to Blaenau Ffestiniog. "Moel Tryfan" proved suitable, but "Russell", even in cut down form, was not low or narrow enough to fit the Ffestiniog's the loading gauge. It has now been restored to its original form. Notably, "590" retained its original form until its demise.

Current rolling stock - WHR (Porthmadog)

Current rolling stock - WHR (Caernarfon)


The railway is single track with passing loops, so special measures have to be taken to prevent collisions. There are passing loops at Stnlnk|Waunfawr, Stnlnk|Dinas and Stnlnk|Beddgelert which allow up to four trains to operate on the railway at once. The completed line will operate by tokens and be controlled from Porthmadog Harbour station.

Control and signalling

The railway is split into a series of sections, entry to which is controlled by electric tokens, which authorise the driver to enter a single line section.citeweb|url=http://www.railwaypeople.com/rail-news-articles/engineering-the-welsh-highland-railway-re-build-1595.html|title=Engineering the Welsh Highland Railway re-build|publisher=RailwayPeople.com|date=2008-08-15|accessdate=2008-09-27] Having obtained sufficient equipment to operate phases I, II, and III of the rebuild, the Irish railway company Iarnród Éireann sold redundant equipment of the same type to fulfil requirements of phase IV, and to have some spare. [citeweb|url=http://www.ffestiniograilway.co.uk/news.asp?dismode=article&artid=244|title=FR Company Information Release, 30.08.08|publisher=FR|date=2008-08-30|accessdate=2008-08-30] There is no in-cab radio system, and current regulations forbid use of such whilst in motion. As a backup system only, the guard carries a company mobile telephone for use in an emergency. This is not a primary system as cellular coverage is intermittent over the length of the line. HMRI insist on landlines as the main form of safety critical communication. On-board Operating staff normally carry their own mobiles for additional backup.

There are two exceptions to this token mode of operation, at the Porthmadog end of the line:

Cambrian crossing

The crossing of the Network Rail owned Cambrian coast line is undertaken by a flat crossing. Constructed of a continuous cast lump of manganese metal, the standard gauge section of 113lb rail is continuous with notches cut out for narrow gauge passage. The WHR section is cast in 80lb rail as opposed to the WHR standard 60lb flat rail, which connects the crossing to the WHR narrow gauge lines either side.

The crossing is at the western end of the Network Rail Harlech to Porthmadog signalling section, which is controlled from Machynlleth Control Centre. The crossing is located between two road level crossings, which have been resignalled to control Cambrian line train access to the crossing.

Under agreement with Network Rail, the WHR are required to staff its crossing and all trains must stop. The procedure south of Pen-y-Mount is as follows (the procedure is reversed for north bound trains):

*A token is obtained for southbound trains at Pen-y-Mount station, which controls the line to Cambrian crossing
*All trains must stop at Cambrian crossing, at signals which are then protected by catch points north and south of the Cambrian Railway junction
*The driver hands over the token, and requests the manned crossing controller to contact Network Rail for clearance
*Contact is made by the crossing controller with the signaller at Machynlleth by pressing a plunger
*If the line is clear, the signals at the road crossings are set to danger, and clearance is given to allow the WHR train to proceed
*Once the train is clear, the manned crossing controller contacts Network Rail at Machynlleth to advise the section is clear
*Track circuit sequences on the Cambrian line will give clearance to both road and rail crossings once a WHR train is passed

Additionally, a set of hand operated gates are in place on either side on the Network Rail line. These continue the boundary fencing aside all NR track. The northern gate was installed January 2008

Porthmadog cross-town link

South of Cambrian crossing, the WHR cross town link will operate on a "one engine in steam" policy. Trains will move direct to Porthmadog Harbour, where passengers will alight. Due to the initial lack of a run round loop at Porthmadog Harbour on the WHR platform, a spare locomotive to pull the stock back north will be held in a spur line at the former Gasworks in central Porthmadog. Once the southbound train is at Porthmadog Harbour, the driver of the spur held locomotive will request clearance into the Porthmadog section. Once clearance is given, the spur locomotive will proceed to Porthmadog Harbour and connect to the train. The locomotive which pulled the train south will now disconnect. Once the now north bound orientated train has transited the Cross town link section north of Cambrian crossing, the driver of the spare locomotive will request entrance to the Cross town link and proceed to the gasworks spur, where it will be held until the next train transits south to Porthmadog Harbour. [citeweb|url=http://whr.bangor.ac.uk/maps/whrcl-ctrl-schematic-v2.pdf|title=Cross-Town Rail Link Schematic|publisher=Welsh Highland Railway|accessdate=2008-09-28]


Historically, the WHR was split into two operational sections:
*Dinas to Beddgelert and Beddgelert to Porthmadog (using present day form)

For the 2009 timetable operation, it is proposed to replicate this mode of operation. Having over come Railway Inspectorate concerns over the gradient at Beddgelert station, two sets of WHR(C) carriages based at Dinas will operate the northern portion from Caernarfon to Beddgelert, while a third set will work the southern section, from Porthmadog to Beddgelert.citeweb|url=http://whr.bangor.ac.uk/phase4/bedd-sta.htm|title=Station Operations - Beddgelert (2): The Station|publisher=Welsh Highland Railway|accessdate=2008-09-28]

Whole of line operations

Although it will be possible to run trains from Stnlnk|Caernarfon through to Stnlnk|Blaenau Ffestiniog, there are initially no plans to do so, on a regular basis. The WHR is built to a larger loading gauge than the Festiniog railway, and therefore through trains would, of necessity be FR stock.



*Dinascite web
url = http://www2.whr.co.uk/s/history/history3
title = Welsh Highland Railway History: The Route Described
author=Alun Turner
publisher=Welsh Highland Railway Ltd
*Tryfan Junction
**Rhostryfancite web
url = http://whr.bangor.ac.uk/bryngwyn.htm
title = The WHR Route: The Bryngwyn Branch
author=Ben Fisher
*Bettws Garmon
*Salem Halt
*Quellyn Lake
*South Snowdon
*Hafod Ruffydd Halt
*Hafod-y-Llyn Halt
*Hafod Garregog Halt
*Croesor Junction
*Ynysfor Halt
*Pont Croesor Halt
*Portmadoc New (1933) station
*Portmadoc New (1923) station
*Porthmadog Harbour

WHR (Porthmadog)

*Traeth Mawr Loop
*Gelert's Farm halt

WHR (Caernarfon)

*Snowdon Ranger
*Rhyd Ddu
*Meillionen [cite web
url = http://whr.bangor.ac.uk/phase4/ruffydd-forest.htm
title = Phase 4: Rhyd Ddu to Porthmadog; Hafod Ruffydd - Beddgelert Forest Campsite
] (under construction)
*Beddgelert (under construction)
*Nantmor (possible station. Originally the local residents rejected a station, however a recent local ballot has supported the provision of a halt.)
*Pont Croesor (under construction)
*Porthmadog Harbour





See also

*Welsh Highland Railway (Porthmadog)
*British narrow gauge railways
*SAR NGG 16 Class

External links

* [http://www.whr.co.uk Welsh Highland Railway (Porthmadog) - official site]
* [http://www.welshhighlandrailway.net/ Welsh Highland Railway (Caernarfon) - official site]
* [http://whr.bangor.ac.uk Welsh Highland Railway (Caernarfon) - official construction site]
* [http://www.isengard.co.uk/ Rebuilding the Welsh Highland Railway - unofficial site - updated almost daily!]
* [http://www.pontcroesor.co.uk The Pont Croesor Extension]
* [http://www.frheritage.org.uk./cgi-bin/wiki.pl?Home_Page Festiniog Railway's Heritage Group Wiki - contains further WHR information]
* [http://www.welshhighlandrailway.net/history1.htm Welsh Highland Railway History]


* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAqUVjrWjJ8 Train going through Cynfal Crossing]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tyLkzmNG6c Part 1] [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9eUv6xT5W8 Part 2] [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeaZoiB9LJ4 Part 3] [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJbiGVjZqOI Part 4] [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcH1aTdrblg Part 5] Opening of Traeth Mawr
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Pk0yqISS5A Pen-y-Mount]

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