Welsh Railways

Ffestiniog Railway

app. 21.3 kms., Gauge 60 cms.

The railway links Porthmadog to the local beauty spot of Blaenau Ffestiniog. Built in 1836 to transport slate from Blaenau using gravity downwards / horses uphill, it became a pioneer in narrow-gauge steam traction from 1863. Finally becoming disused in 1946, ownership was transferred to a preservation society and operations began again on a short stretch in 1955 but were only completed along the entire line in 1982, delayed by the need to build a new line, near Blaenau, to replace the original line which was flooded by a reservoir connected to the Ffestiniog pumped-storage power station.

When the railway opened in 1836, it was linking two places that, up until ten years before, had not actually existed. A cob (embankment) had been built across the mouth of the Afon Glaslyn, in order to reclaim land in the estuary. This appears to have had the unexpected effect of gouging a deep channel suitable use as a port - the new port of Porthmadog. When the quarry owners started thinking in terms of a railway to transport their slate to the sea, then Porthmadog fitted the bill perfectly, served by a railway running over the Cob.

It is interesting that prior to the rise of Portmadog, Tremadog was the important settlement in the area, and there are traces of an old canal there, built by William Madocks, who was also responsible for the construction of the Cob.

Although you often see Madock's name mentioned in connection with the Railway, any involvement on his part was only in the early stages, and he had died by the time it got going.

The early railway followed the traditional pattern of early 'mountain' tramways, i.e. the trucks went downhill purely under gravity (with maybe a brakeman) and went back uphill behind a horse.

It was engineered by James Spooner, whose son Charles Spooner took over in 1856. One of Charles's first tasks was to introduce steam locomotives, which were then very rare on narrow-gauge tracks.

The Ffestiniog solved the problem in their own way by introducing articulated locomotives, which are very much a feature of the railway today. But it appears that once the Ffestiniog had shown that it could be done, other railways followed suit - the Ffestiniog steam locomotives are commonly held to have directly inspired narrow-gauge railways throughout a large part of the world. Certainly there were new railways coming into being during the 1860s in Britain, a situation which maybe could be claimed to have been inspired by the Ffestiniog. However, in the process, these new railways tended to avoid the sharp curves etc. of the Ffestiniog, in order to be able to construct unarticulated steam locomotives - some of these locomotives being of an impressive size.

Soon a passenger service came into being, which proved important as slate traffic declined. This was not only because of declining fortunes in the slate industry, but also because the Ffestiniog now had competition from standard-gauge lines in Blaenau Ffestiniog.

All services were stopped in 1939, at the outbreak of war.

The preservation society came into being in 1954, the railway being opened throughout in 1982. A major obstacle had been the flooding of upper stretches of the line by a reservoir, necessitating the construction of a deviation route.

Tan-y-Bwlch station is the crossover point

Tan-y-Bwlch station, in Porthmadog direction
Tan-y-Bwlch station in Blaenau direction.