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Monday, 13 May 2013

Welsh Highland Heritage Railway

In a nutshell

Gauge:         1' 11½"

Length:       ½ mile

Opened:     WHR - 1863 - extended 1923 - closed 1937 - re-opened in phases from 1997 to 2011
                    WHHR - 1980

Location:


View Narrow Gauge Railways in a larger map  

Email. info@whr.co.uk 

 

Date of visit: 6 May 2013

 

Key Facts

  • The original Welsh Highland Railway opened in 1923 following a unification of three pre-existing railways - The North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway (NWNGR), The Croesor Tramway, The Portmadoc, Beddgelert, & South Snowdon Railway (PBSSR)
  • The North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway (NWNGR) was opened in 1881 and ran from its station beside the LNWR mainline at Dinas (Just south of Caernarfon) to Rhyd Ddu on the lower slopes of Snowdon. It also had a branch to the Bryngwyn the slate quarries on Moel Tryfan.
  • The horse-drawn Croesor Tramway was built in 1864 to transport slate from the Croesor Valley to Portmadoc. 
  • The Portmadoc, Beddgelert, & South Snowdon Railway (PBSSR) was formed by Act of Parliament in 1901 with the intention of linking the Croesor Tramway with the NWNGR. Work commenced in 1906 and by 1908 it had completed the tunnels and trackbed through the Aberglaslyn Pass and built the bridge over the road to the South of Beddgelert and abutments for another two bridges before running out of money. The bridge and abutments are still visible when approaching Beddgelert from the Aberglaslyn Pass. The line was to be electric powered with hydro-electric power from the power station which is still in existence at Nant Gwynant.
  • The WHR changed the route to the South of Beddgelert to ease the gradient from 1:27 to 1:40.
  • The WHR was never financially successful and went into receivership in 1927. It was then leased to the Ffestiniog Railway which soldiered on with the railway until 1936, when the WHR was closed, the track lifted and the stock sold off.
  • One of the railway's original locomotives, Russell, is owned by the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway and is currently being rebuilt by Alan Keef Ltd.
  • In the 1980s there was some controversy between the WHHR and the Ffestiniog Railway over the restoration of the WHR - the FR eventually gained approval to reconstruct the railway though the WHHR does have running rights over the railway - albeit with several caveats.
  • In 1961 a group of railway enthusiasts created Welsh Highland Railway Society in 1961 with the aim of preserving and rebuilding the original WHR.
  • The society acquired the site of the original WHR station (Beddgelert Sidings) alongside the Cambrian Coast line from British Railways in the 1970s
  • The railway has accumulated a range of industrial rolling stock and has reconstructed or replicated some of the original WHR and NWNGR stock
  • A trip on the railway takes about an hour and includes a tour of the railway's stock sheds and workshops at Fferm Gelert.
  • There is a very well stocked railway bookshop with a range narrow gauge model railway equipment and souvenirs at the station in Porthmadog. There is also a café which serves snacks and light meals.

Route


View Welsh Highland Heritage Railway in a larger map

 

My Impressions

I have visited the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway on several occasions previously; it has one of my favourite railway bookshops; but until this visit I had not properly documented my visits.

This particular trip coincided with the Ffestiniog Railway's 150th anniversary celebrations and so I decided to take some time out on this long weekend to properly document the WHHR.

On my arrival, I bought my ticket, which gives a full day's unlimited travel on the railway, and made my way to the platform where I just caught the departure of a goods train hauled by two of the line's  Simplex Motor Rail locomotives.

The railway was also holding a gala event and had laid on some additional trains for enthusiasts such as myself.

After my obligatory browse around their well stocked bookshop .......

....... I once more headed for the platform where I witnessed the arrival of the line's stalwart 0-4-2T Bagnall steam loco, Gelert, and watched as she ran around her train.

The line possesses six steam locomotives including the original WHR locomotive Russell which is currently undergoing major restoration at Alan Keef Ltd.

I boarded the train and, before we departed, one of the line's former Romanian diesel locomotives (Lyd2) arrived with a train. This massive powerful beast looks more than capable of hauling a loaded train up the 1:40 gradients of the WHR line to Caernarfon (though it is not yet clear when this right will be granted by the FR to the WHHR - apparently, negotiations are ongoing).

We set off up the line and before long reached Fferm Gelert (Gelert's Farm) station where we were invited to detrain to tour the sidings and stock sheds.

 As this was a gala weekend, there was a lot to see. Many of the line's collection of industrial diesel locos were on display and several were quietly chugging on tick-over or trundling up and down the yard taking people on footplate rides.

I must admit to having a fascination for these machines which even up until the 1960s and 70s were often to be found hauling skips of excavated soil on road building projects and busily pottering around factory yards and mine workings. The Simplex rail motor locomotives such as this one first went into production before the First World War and gave sterling service on the supply lines behind the trenches before finding their niche on industrial railways across the world.

For more information about Simplex Motor Rail locomotives see the Moseley Railway Trust website whose collection is housed on the Apedale Valley Light Railway in Stoke on Trent.

On this occasion, the stock shed was hosting a model railway exhibition with exhibits across of range of scales and gauges.


After spending some time studying the models and full size exhibits, I made my way back to the station platform just as the Romanian diesel, Lyd2 was arriving with its train from Porthmadog station.

 I boarded the train and was transported to the line's other terminus beside the restored WHR. Here, Gelert was waiting on the loop with her train, ready for the return to Porthmadog Station

 As we departed, I was able to look back from my seat in the open carriage at the rear of the train towards the station to see Lyd2 running round her train for the return journey.

On arrival at the line's main terminus ....

..... which for some time in the WHR's history was principal terminus in Porthmadog when the Cambrian Railway refused to give permission for the WHR trains to cross their tracks to make their way across town to the Harbour Station, the terminus for the Ffestioniog Railway. Fortunately, that is no longer the case and WHR trains now regularly cross the mainline. I watched again as Gelert ran round her train before enjoying a rather tasty lamb pasty in the railway's café.

At this time of year, the Cambrian Coast Railway was not running its steam-hauled tourist trains but on a previous occasion in 2010, I was fortunate to be at the WHHR station when a Black 5 class locomotive steamed past. My apologies about the quality of the photo - particularly the white post in the middle of it. See video below.

Video