The Welsh Highland Railway (Caernarfon)
The Railway Today
|One of the Garrets at Caernarfon Station|
|Comfortable passenger accommodation on the WHR|
This ambitious 2' gauge railway is the longest narrow gauge railway in the
country and at the time of writing the restoration project is almost complete.
Curiously the terminus in Caernarfon, which is in
sight of the famous castle, is several miles from any part of the orginal Welsh Highland
Railway! But from this superb location, in one of the tourist capitals of Wales the railway
begins its journey.
Four miles from Caernarfon the trains arrive at the smart little station of
Dinas, which was the terminus in the first few years of restoration. Following further hard work services
now continue past through Waunfawr station, also the terminus for a time, and now continues through some
of the greatest scenery in Britain on it's way to Porthmadog, the sea and the Ffestiniog Railway.
The tracklaying is now complete including some interesting tramway style sections through Porthmadog
town and the last section into Portmadog whould be opened in Late 2009 this will not only enable a journey
of 25 miles in length but will also connect with the Ffestiniog railway at Harbour Station opening up the
possibility of changing there and enjoying a forty mile one way journey by narrow gauge steam train.
A section of particular note is The Aberglasyn pass south of Bedgellert. The railway drops down a series of steep
horseshoe curves at Bedgellert to the head of the pass where it runs alongside the river in the bottom of the majestic
valley. As the route continues through the valley the river cuts downward leaving the railway perched on a ledge high
above the river until the railway dissappears into a substantial tunnel. Whether visited on foot or by train this
location boasts some of the very best scenery in Britain; the village of Bedgellert is also well worth a visit.
The Aberglaslyn Pass is without doubt the jewel in the crown of this railway, indeed many would say it is the jewel
in the crown of Wales.
|The railway passes picturesque lake XXXX
||Crossing the river Glaslyn at the head of the Pass
|View from the train passing through the Pass
||Now high above the river and about to enter the tunnel
Not content with working on the longest narrow gauge project in Britain the WHR has by
far the most powerful 2' gauge locomotives ever operated in Britain. The Garratt is a type of
articulated loco which has three separate frames; a power unit at each end with running
gear and powered wheels, similar to a conventional locomotive, while the central unit with
boiler and cab has no wheels but is carried on the two power units. The design allows
the carriage of huge amounts of fuel and water and a much larger boiler
than could otherwise be mounted within the loading gauge, the resulting locomotive can be
very large and powerful whilst still able to negotiate tight curves and fit a limited loading gauge.
The Welsh Highland Railway appear determined to make the exotic Garratts a symbol of the Route
just as the Double Fairlie is synonymous with the Festiniog line, although in the case of the
Garratts there is no historical reason for this!
The Garratts on the WHR were built in Britain for service overseas and include the very
first Garratt (K1) built by Beyer Peacock in 1909 for service in Tasmania where it served
for twenty years. Although K1 is of such historical significance three other Garratts built
by Beyer Peacock for service in South Africa in 1958 will see more service than K1. Not all
the trains are hauled by the Garratts as the railway also has a number of conventional steam
and diesel locomotives.
|By narrow gauge standards the Locos and the trains
are big. But they are still dwarved by the Welsh Landscape.
History and Origins
The Welsh Highland Railway (Light Railway) Company was formed in 1922. The WHR
took over the existing North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways and the Portmadoc,
Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway Company who, between them, ran railways
over much of the line which was to become the Welsh Highland Railway and had
powers to construct the remainder.
|A train enters the tunnel in the
aberglaslyn pass circa 1925
Finance was raised from a mixture of local council and Government sources to
the tune of just short of £70,000 and work commenced in March 1922. The company
had to undertake major refurbishment and upgrade work on the existing railways
as well as construction of 8.25 miles of new track. Once finished the line was
22 miles long running from Dinas to Portmadoc and continuing through the town
itself with a section of line laid down the high street to reach the harbour
and connect to the Ffestiniog Railway's Harbour Station.
In its early years the only locomotive in good condition was a very over worked
Russell and locomotives were borrowed from the Ffestiniog when needed. In 1923
Colonel Stephens (a larger than life character involved in Light Railways all
over Britain) became locomotive superintendent and purchased Baldwin No. 590 an
American built ex war department locomotive, providing some welcome relief for
The railway never attracted the level of traffic which would have made it
profitable and In 1927 was taken into receivership. The line struggled on under
the receiver but underwent steady decline until, on 1st July 1934, the railway
passed into the control of the Ffestiniog for a nominal sum in the hope of
keeping it open.
For a time the railway had a brief resurgence as the Ffestiniog management
invested in improvements, sadly these were inadequate or cosmetic and the
Railway closed completely in 1937.
Comments on this Railway
Add your comment on this railway.
A.Lapworth 05 May 2013
I visited the railway in 2011 and it is undoubtedly the most outstanding narrow gauge railway in Britain. The Beyer-Garratts are very charismatic and are fascinating to watch in operation. When the scenery is added its unbeatable! I travelled by train and finally bus to Caernarfon and took the train all the way to Porthmadog where I stayed a few days, using the railway for transport. Walks included taking the morning bus to Pen-y-pas (the easiest way to ascend Snowdon) and then carrying on over and down to Rhyd Ddu or Snowdon Ranger stations to take the train back. I also took the train to Rhyd Ddu and walked back over the Snowdon south ridge and down the Nant Gwynant valley to Beddgelert and caught the train back. On my return I took the Ffestiniog to Blaenau and then British Rail from there back home. A memorable holiday and I hope to repeat the visit in future.
Dave 28 Sep 2012
We had a fantastic day on the Welsh Highland Railway, a day trip from Beddgelert, where we were camping, into Caernarfon. Best day out of our holiday. Highly recommended.
John 27 Aug 2012
Together with the Ffestiniog Railway it represents the pinnacle of modern narrow gauge in the UK.
David Taylor 02 Feb 2012
A wonderful achievement to restore such a scenic railway.