Gauge: 2ft 3in (685mm)
The Corris, Machynlleth & River Dovey Tramroad opened on 1st April 1859, as a 2ft 3in gauge gravity and horse-worked tramway, promoted by local quarry owners. Its purpose was to carry slates from the quarries around Aberllefenni and Corris Uchaf down the valley of the Afon Dulas to Machynlleth and thence to quays on the Afon Dyfi at Derwenlas and Morben. In 1863 the main line Newtown & Machynlleth Railway reached Machynlleth, and an exchange yard was built to allow transhipment of slate from the tramway. The line west of Machynlleth fell out of use soon afterwards, and an Act of Parliament authorised the use of steam locomotives and a change of name to the Corris Railway. However, the railway continued to utilise horsepower for another fifteen years.
The tramway developed a semi-official passenger service in the early 1870s, and was acquired in 1878 by Imperial Tramways, who were promoting street tramways in cities around the British Isles. It seems that they thought the Corris could be profitably developed into a public carrier, and they took delivery of three 0-4-0 saddle tank locomotives, ten four-wheeled passenger carriages, and a brake van from the Hughes Locomotive & Tramway Engine Works, while replacing the original cast iron rails with heavier steel ones. Objections from the quarry owners led to passenger services being suspended, and it was not until a further Act of Parliament had been passed in 1883 that they were able to recommence.
Steam-hauled passenger services commenced from Corris to Machynlleth on 4th July 1883. After more track upgrading, services were extended to Aberllefenni on 25th August 1887, making a total journey of 6.5 miles. The four-wheel carriages rode poorly and by 1888 the manager, Joseph Dix, had designed an elegant centre-entrance bogie carriage. This proved successful, and in each of the next five years the railway mounted a pair of four-wheel carriage bodies on a new bogie chassis until ten four-wheelers had become five bogie carriages. Two more carriages of a similar design were purchased in 1898, and these have both survived – one has been rebuilt and is running on the Talyllyn Railway, the other is displayed in the Corris Railway Museum.
Having briefly run horse-hauled road buses following the suspension of the railway’s passenger service, the railway developed its own connecting services in subsequent years. One that was of particular interest to tourists was a horse bus from Corris to Abergynolwyn, passing the Lake of Talyllyn en route. This made it possible to undertake the popular “Grand Tour”, utilising the Corris Railway from Machynlleth, the bus link, and the Talyllyn Railway to Tywyn, with the main line Cambrian Railways providing the final link between Tywyn and Machynlleth. The success of this tour led to suggestions of building a rail link between the two narrow gauge lines, which would have been particularly attractive, but would have required some very expensive engineering, including a long tunnel above Corris Uchaf. The final version of this idea, suggested by the Corris manager John O’Sullivan, would have used the parent company’s knowledge of electric tramways to build an electrically-powered line between the two railheads, similar in concept to the Manx Electric line; however, Imperial’s directors, by now based in Bristol, were not interested in pursuing his proposals.
In 1930 the Great Western Railway acquired the Corris, and after running buses in direct opposition to the railway for a few months, they withdrew the railway’s passenger services at the end of the year. The railway thus reverted to solely goods traffic, with a single train daily until October 1943, when it became thrice-weekly. Due to erosion of the railway embankment by the Afon Dyfi, services were suspended, and the last train ran on 20th August 1948. The railway was dismantled soon afterwards.
Fortunately for all concerned, the two surviving locomotives remained in store at Machynlleth, and in 1951 they made the short journey around the coast to begin a new life on the Talyllyn Railway, where they made a significant contribution to the early efforts of the preservationists, and continue in service to this day.
The Narrow Gauge Railway Museum collection includes a number of Corris items, including the restored Mail Waggon, which used to undertake gravity runs down the Corris with the mail bags being thrown on board at the intermediate stations as the waggon passed.
Since the mid-1960s the Corris Railway Society has collected other artefacts from the railway and quarries, and since 1970 these have been displayed in the Corris Railway Museum. The Society has also commenced rebuilding a section of the railway south from Corris, and passenger services from Corris to the engine shed at Maespoeth recommenced in 2002. Work is underway on constructing the next section of line south of Maespoeth, and details of progress can be found on the Society’s website at www.corris.co.uk.
1 Hughes Bros. Falcon Works No. 324 of 1878; 0-4-0 saddle tank. Rebuilt as 0-4-2 Scrapped 1930.
2 Hughes Bros. Falcon Works No. 322 of 1878; 0-4-0 saddle tank. Rebuilt as 0-4-2. Scrapped 1930.
3 Hughes Bros. Falcon Works No. 323 of 1878; 0-4-0 saddle tank. Rebuilt as 0-4-2. Survives as Talyllyn Railway No.3 “Sir Haydn”
4 Kerr, Stuart & Co. No. 4047 of 1921; 0-4-2 saddle tank. Survives as Talyllyn Railway No.4 “Edward Thomas”