Narrow Gauge Pleasure

The Fairbourne Railway

The Railway Today

Two trains pass in the loop
The Fairbourne Railway's Sherpa
Yeo, a replica of the Lynton
and Barnstaple Railway
Loco (now sadly long gone)
Photos by Simon Pugh

The Fairbourne Railway is a 2 1/2 mile line laid to a gauge of 12 1/4". The railway and ferry together still provide a link between the village of Fairbourne and the town of Barmouth which is a short ferry ride across the Mawddach estuary from Barmouth Ferry station. Most of those who use it now do so as much for the pleasure of the leisurely rail journey and short ferry ride as the fact that using it cuts off a 13 mile journey round the estuary by road.

The railway offers a frequent service in the high season and the Fairbourne terminus also houses a museum, with free admission, and a tea room.

History and Origins

The Fairbourne Railway can trace its origins back to 1895 when Arthur McDougall (better known for his flour) financed construction of a horse drawn tramway to transport materials for the construction of Fairbourne Village.

In 1914 Narrow Gauge Railways Limited had unused 15" gauge track, locomotives and rolling stock which had served in exhibitions and amusement parks before the war, which sadly put a stop to this activity. The company was seeking somewhere to utilise this equipment, for profit, but also with the intention of providing a public service. So it was that Narrow Gauge Railways Limited took over the tramway in 1916 and turned it into a 15" gauge steam hauled railway.

In 1924 Narrow Gauge Railways Limited got into financial difficulties and the Railway ended up in the hands of the Fairbourne Estate and Development company.

Sadly during the second world war the Fairbourne Railway (like the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch) was heavily damaged by practice landings and other military activity. Fortunately following the war the track was gradually relayed and services resumed bit by bit. The post war period was a time when Holiday activity in Britain was at a peak so that the Railway enjoyed a period of prosperity.

Having changed hands once again in 1985 the Railway was re-gauged to 12 1/4" in which form it continues to bring pleasure to many visitors during every holiday season.

Comments on this Railway

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Colin Jepson   23 Jun 2013
John Ellerton is in fact British and, although had lived and worked overseas, he has a local connection as his mother was originally from the Barmouth area. Some rather creative press releases in the 1990's led to the impression that he was a pop star. My understanding of his original choice of 12.25" gauge is that it was the narrowest that you get two passengers sitting side by side. Narrow gauge outline also meant you could have a larger scale locomotive on a small track. If constructing a new railway there would be a saving on the cost of materials. I'm a volunteer driver on the Fairbourne Railway (and was employed there 1986-1990 & 1993-2009). My understanding is that the financial situation has improved recently by reducing costs, much greater reliance on volunteers, contributions from the Fairbourne Railway Preservation Society and some very generous anonymous benefactors.
Rob   03 Nov 2011
Regarding the regauging of the railway. By 1986 the original 15" gauge railway and its equipement was worn out.
An american pop producer named John Ellerton had built a 12 1/4 gauge line in France but had suffered a number of issues that led to the closure and removal of this railway. He looked for a site in the UK and eventually decided that by buying the Fairbourne (which was up for sale and at great risk of closure) he could totally rebuild the Fairbourne Railway with his equipement - effectively he bought a ready made trackbed etc for his equipement. Much of the Fairbourne equipement was sold off (much does survive at other sites) and the railway was re-equiped with the equipment removed from France to the narrower gauge. Although this totally altered the Fairbourne Railway it did thankfully enable its survival in the new form. After some years Ellerton sold the Fairbourne to the more recent owners, one of who has recently died and this has resulted in the current serious financial problems that might well lead to the closing of the railway. The Fairbourne Railway began a new era of its history in 1986 and under the ownership of the more recent partners and the strong and excellent day to day management of Mr Chris Price has achieved much in difficult circumstances - I would appeal to ALL true steam and particularly narrow gauge enthusiasts to support the efforts that are currently underway to save the railway following the loss of its major benefactor. See the Fairbourne Railway website for more details.
Rob Forster, Weymouth, Dorset
(former volunteer on the Fairbourne)

Thanks for that fascinating insight Rob.
bill davies   13 Oct 2011
Just why did the line be re-gauged to the unusual 12 1/4"?

My understanding is that it was mainly about the cost of track, equipment and maintenance. It would be really good to hear from someone more closely associated with the railway though. - Nick
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