Gauge: 1ft 11½in (600mm)
The Welsh Highland Railway opened from Dinas, three miles south of Caernarfon, where there was a junction with the LMS, to Porthmadog, where it linked up with the Festiniog Railway, in June 1923. Thereby a scheme first mooted in the 1870s was essentially brought to fruition. Engineers to the new line were Sir Douglas Fox & Partners and the contractors Sir Robert McAlpine. Not long after the line’s opening Col Stephens was appointed engineer and manager to both the WHR and the FR.
The WHR incorporated two older narrow gauge railways: part of the Croesor Tramway opened in 1864 using horse haulage to bring slate from the Croesor valley to Porthmadog harbour, and the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway from Dinas Junction to Rhyd Ddu/South Snowdon, some three and a half miles north of Beddgelert. Until the opening of the Snowdon Mountain Railway in 1896 the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway provided the best means of accessing Snowdon’s summit.
From Tryfan Junction, two miles south of Dinas, a branch line went to Bryngwyn for the purpose of tapping the traffic provided by slate quarried on Moel Tryfan. Authorised by Act of Parliament in 1872 this system was fully operational by 1881 albeit in receivership from 1878.
In 1901 the Portmadoc Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway was formed to complete the link between the NWNGR and the Festiniog using an electric railway. It ordered a new steam locomotive “Russell” for the NWNGR and a lot of construction was carried out, including cutting the Aberglaslyn Tunnels, before work was abandoned in 1908. The only part of the scheme that was completed was the hydro-electric power station at Cwm Dyli, which still feeds power into the National Grid.
Passenger traffic on the Bryngwyn Branch ceased in 1913 and on the main line in 1916. During WWI there was substantial traffic in pit props from Rhyd Ddu and iron ore from Betws Garmon.
But for the war the WHR may have been earlier on the scene. In the event it arrived too late; the slate industry was in terminal decline and the motor coach was becoming a strong competitor for tourist traffic. On top of this the carriages were old and uncomfortable, the season of most trains too short and the journey taking too long. Invariably one had to change at Beddgelert – and wait for the connection – if travelling the full length of the line.
In 1934 the Festiniog Railway leased the WHR in an attempt to save it. Locomotives and carriages were painted in ‘attractive’ colours but all to no avail. The last passengers were carried in September 1936 and freight traffic ceased the following year.
Between 1941 – 42 the track was lifted to aid the war effort. Fortunately all was not lost for “Russell” and three of the original carriages are still with us, albeit substantially rebuilt.
In 1961 the original Welsh Highland Society sowed the seed for re-opening, a task completed by the FR in 2010/2011.
11 Moel Tryfan Vulcan Foundry of 1877; 0-6-4 tank. Ex NWNGR. Scrapped 1954
12 Russell Hunslet Engine Co. No. 901 of 1906; 2-6-2 tank. Ex NWNGR.
Sold to Hook Norton Ironstone and now at Porthmadog Welsh Highland Railway.
590 Baldwin Locomotive Works No. 45172 of 1917; 4-6-0 tank. Scrapped 1940s
Stock incorporated with Festiniog Railway in 1936