Gauge: 3ft 6in (1.06m)
Built on a collective basis by the owners of the quarries in the Nantlle valley, the Nantlle Railway was completed between 1828 and 1830. It connected the quarries with the port of Caernarfon and was the first public railway in North Wales.
Just over 9 miles long it had a gauge of 3ft 6in and was horse drawn. The unusual gauge may have been chosen by George and Robert Stephenson who were the contractors. The tramroad served most of the quarries on the north side of the Nantlle valley by short branches or inclines. The final terminus at Pen-yr-Orsedd was reached in 1860. Rails were originally fish-bellied and of wrought iron, made to Birkenshaw’s 1829 patent. Eventually however they sagged and had to be replaced with flat-bottomed rail.
The Nantlle Railway operated as a “rail turnpike”, users providing their own wagons and paying a toll, initially 6d per ton/mile. Even on top of haulage costs this was still less than half the cost of carting by road to Caernarfon. Passengers were carried between 1856 and 1865.
Parts of the railway were converted to standard gauge for steam locomotives in 1870 and 1882, but the section between Nantlle Station and Pen-yr-Orsedd Quarry remained at 3ft 6in and horse drawn until it closed in 1963. Eventually the railway had become owned by the LMS and consequently, in due course, it was a unique part of British Railways.