Tag Archives: Festiniog Railway

Steam Railways in Preservation in the 1990s – December 1993 Including Littleton Colliery

Steam Railways in Preservation In the 1990s

Including Littleton Colliery

December 1993

Bahamas shedWork begins on the removal of the shuttering at the ‘Bahamas’ Locomotive Society’s new purpose built workshops at Ingrow on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway. Revealed underneath them is the inspection pit which has taken the summer and autumn to complete. The ex-LMS Jubilee 4-6-0 was recently passed for 75mph running (when track and timing permits, of course) in a complicated procedure which included having the loco’s speedometer re-calibrated at Crewe Heritage Centre, its resting place between North Wales Coast excursion duties at the weekend. She returned to Keighley on Monday but will be out again on the main line, Rail Tours organiser Tom Cozens reminds enthusiasts, double-heading with Black Five ‘George Stephenson’ over the Settle & Carlisle Railway on December 18 1993 and January 1 1994. (Photo: John Fairclough

Littleton Colliery

Whiston & Wimblebury in the yard - Melville Holley

Whiston & Wimblebury in the yard – Melville Holley

The staging of the most ambitious photographers’ charter steam train event ever – over the three day period November 12-14 1993 – became even more poignant in the light of subsequent events.
Within 48 hours of the event, British Coal announced that Littleton Colliery in Staffordshire firstly under review, was to close following losses of £2.9 m since April.
And that effectively means that the sight of working steam within a working colliery environment is unlikely to be repeated.
Over 140 of the country’s leading railway photographers were invited to the three-day event, organised by Railway Magazine Assistant Editor Chris Milner and photographer Robin Stewart-Smith, together with Steve Turner and other members of the nearby Foxfield Railway. Following the success of a similar one-day event at Littleton last year, it was proposed that the event be repeated but this time using two locomotives over the full length of the pit system.
Motive power came from Foxfield, appropriately in the shape of two ex-NCB 1950s-built Hunslet 0-6-0STs, ‘Whiston’ (ex-Bold Colliery) and ‘Wimblebury’ (ex-Cannock Wood Colliery). Foxfield also brought along their recently-acquired ex-LMS brake van, appropriately out-shopped in NCB blue and yellow livery.

Wimblebury and the Foxfield Railway's brake van beside Littleton's loading bunker - Robin Stewart-Smith
Wimblebury and the Foxfield Railway’s brake van beside Littleton’s loading bunker – Robin Stewart-Smith

Llangollen Railway

Chemicals giant ICI have swapped Llangollen Railway more than three-quarters of a mile of 95lb bull-head line worth at least £25,000… for hundreds of seats for disabled and under-privileged children on their renowned ‘Santa’ services along the Dee Valley!
Imperial Chemical Industries say the site of redundant sidings is now wanted for further development at their sprawling Castner Kellner Works on the mouth of the Mersey estuary at Runcorn – and when the giant firm named their price, the North Wales line were more than delighted to oblige.
This special deal was arranged by ICI chief and Llangollen member Mr. John Rutter, who was anxious to ensure that the metals weren’t simply cut up for scrap.

Swanage Railway

Swanage Autumn Gala 1993Thousands of excited children and their parents from throughout Dorset and Hampshire are expected to deluge the volunteer-run Swanage Railway every weekend this December and the annual fund-raising ‘Santa Special’ steam trains on the relaid Purbeck Line.
And rail passengers can beat the traffic this year because volunteers are laying on a special vintage bus service from Weymouth and Christchurch – and many points in between – to the Swanage Railway. A rare 1961 double-decker Bristol Lodekka bus. ‘Nelly’ will be transporting passengers from Weymouth, Dorchester, Wareham, Poole, Bournemouth and Christchurch.

Bristol_Lodekka_F56G_-_1961_-_reg_109_DRMA preserved Bristol Lodekka FS6G/ECW at the Fleetwood Tram Sunday 2006. It was previous operated by Cumberland Motor Services, whose successor is Stagecoach North West. Bristol Lodekka F56G – 1961 – reg 109 DRMCC BY 2.0view termsTerry Wha from Bolton, UK
License details  This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

BRM WilmcoteDetroitGCR

Some Early Lines – The Festiniog Railway (Rheilffordd Ffestiniog)

The Festiniog Railway (Rheilffordd Ffestiniog)

 Busy Saturday at Tan y Bwlch

© Copyright Derek Benett and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The Ffestiniog Railway is a narrow gauge heritage railway, located in Gwynedd, Wales. It is a major tourist attraction located mainly within the Snowdonia national Park.

The railway is roughly 1312 miles (21.7 km) long and runs from the harbour at Porthmadog to the slate mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, travelling through forested and mountainous scenery. The line is single track throughout with four intermediate passing places. The track gauge is 1 ft 11 12 in (597 mm) allowing trains to interwork through to the Welsh Highland Railway (operated by the Ffestiniog). The first mile of the line out of Porthmadog runs atop an embankment locally called “the Cob”, which is the dyke of the Traeth Mawr “polder”.Porthmadog to Ffestiniog RailwayTaken from near the Boston Lodge Depot, and looking over the Cob towards Porthmadog.

© Copyright Eirian Evans and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.


The railway company is properly known as the “Festiniog Railway Company” and this anglicised contemporary spelling is the official title of the company as defined by the Act (2 William IV cap.xlviii) that created the railway. It is the oldest surviving railway company in the world (although not the oldest working – a record which goes to the Middleton Railway), having been founded by the Act of Parliament on 23 May 1832 with capital mostly raised in Dublin by Henry Archer, the company’s first secretary and managing director. Most British railways were amalgamated into four large groups in 1921 and then into British Railways in 1948 but the Festiniog Railway Company, in common with most narrow gauge railways, remained independent. In 1921, this was due to political influence whereas, in 1947, it was left out of British Railways because it was closed for traffic despite vigorous local lobbying for it to be included.

Various important developments in the Railway’s early history were celebrated by the firing of rock cannon at various points along the line. Cannon were fired, for instance, to mark the laying of the first stone at Creuau in 1832 the railway’s opening in 1836, and the opening of the Moelwyn Tunnel in 1842. The passing of a later act for the railway also saw cannon celebrations but, on this occasion, a fitter at Boston Lodge, who was assisting with firing, lost the fingers of one hand in an accident.Boston Lodge Railways Works, Gwynedd – The engineering works for the Ffestiniog Railway locomotives and carriages. “Prince” and “Lilla” are simmering gently.
© Copyright Peter Trimming and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Horse and gravity operation

The line was constructed between 1833 and 1836 to transport slate from the quarries around the inland town of Blaenau Ffestiniog to the coastal town of Porthmadog where it was loaded onto ships. The railway was graded so that loaded wagons could be run by gravity downhill all the way from Blaenau Ffestiniog to the port. The empty wagons were hauled back up by horses, which travelled down in special ‘dandy’  wagons. To achieve this continuous grade (about 1 in 80 for much of the way), the line followed natural contours and employed cuttings and embankments built of stone and slate blocks without mortar. Prior to the completion in 1844 of a long tunnel through a spur in the Moelwyn Mountain, the slate trains were worked over the top via inclines (designed by Robert Stephenson), the site of which can still be seen but there are no visible remnants.

Up to six trains daily were operated in each direction and a printed timetable was published on 16 September 1856 by Charles Easton Spooner who, following his father, served as Manager and Clerk for 30 years. It shows departures from the “Quarry Terminus” (later referred to as Dinas) at 7:30, 9:28, 11:16, 1:14, 3:12 and 5:10. Trains waited ten minutes at the intermediate stations called Tunnel Halt, Hafod y Llyn and “Rhiw Goch. The fastest journey time from Quarry Terminus to Boston Lodge was 1 hour 32 minutes, including three stops. From Boston Lodge, the slate wagons were hauled to and from Porthmadog harbour by horses. Up trains took nearly six hours from Boston Lodge to the Quarry Terminus and each train ran in up to four sections, each hauled by a horse and comprising eight empty slate wagons plus a horse dandy. This timetable gave a maximum annual capacity of 70,000 tons of dressed slate. Two brakesmen travelled on each down train, controlling the speed by the application of brakes as needed. At passing loops, trains passed on the right and this continues to be a feature of Ffestiniog Railway operation.

There is evidence for tourist passengers being carried as early as 1850 without the blessing of the Board of Trade but these journeys would also observe the timetable.

Hafod y Llyn was replaced by Tan y Bwlch around 1872. Dinas Station and much of that branch is now all but buried. It was removed many years ago. Whilst these two place names existed in the past on the FR, they also existed on the Welsh Highland Railway, albeit some 10 miles+ to the northwest of the originals.

Steam and gravity operation

In October 1863, steam locomotives were introduced to allow longer slate trains to be run and this also enabled the official introduction of passenger trains in 1865: the Ffestiniog was the first narrow-gauge railway in Britain to carry passengers. In 1869, the line’s first double Fairlie articulated locomotives was introduced and these double-ended machines have since become one of the most widely recognised features of the railway.Down trains continued to run entirely by gravity but faster up journeys and longer trains increased line capacity. A new timetable dated October 1863 shows six departures daily from each terminus at two hour intervals, starting at 7:00 am and taking 1 hour 50 minutes including stops (totalling 20 minutes) at Tanygrisiau, Hafod-y-Llyn and Penrhyn. Trains passed only at Hafod-y-Llyn (from 1872 Tan-y-Bwlch). When passenger services started, the usual practice was for locomotive-hauled up trains to consist of loaded general goods and mineral wagons, followed by passenger carriages, followed by empty slate wagons with brakesmen. Down trains were run in up to four separate (uncoupled) portions: loaded slate wagons, goods wagons, passenger carriages and, finally, the locomotive running light. This unusual and labour-intensive method of operation was shortlived and eventually the passenger and goods portions were combined into a single train headed by the locomotive.

The loaded slate trains continued to operate by gravity until the end of passenger services in 1939. Slate trains eventually became very long – trains of less than eighty slate wagons carried two brakesmen but over eighty wagons (and this became common) required three brakesmen. About one wagon in every six was equipped with a brake, the others being unbraked. Trains continued to pass at Tan-y-Bwlch and, to a lesser extent, at Minffordd. The Summer timetable for 1900 had nine trains daily in each direction and trains had been accelerated to one hour from Porthmadog to Duffws including stops at Minfford, Penrhyn, Tan-y-Bwlch, Dduallt (request), Tanygrisiau, Blaenau (LNWR) and Blaenau (GWR). Speeds in excess of 40 mph (64 km/h) were then normal.Porthmadog – “Blanche” ready to haul the next train to Blaenau Ffestiniog – Porthmadog expanded rapidly as a slate exporting port. Welsh slate was in high demand as a construction material in the English industrial cities, and was transported to the new port by horse drawn tramways. The Ffestiniog Railway, opened in 1836, was later converted to steam operation, and trains ran straight onto the wharves. By 1873 116,000 tons (117,800 t) of slate were being shipped out of Porthmadog.

© Copyright Ken Bagnall and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The original passenger coaches (some of which still survive) were small four-wheeled vehicles with a very low centre of gravity. In 1872, the FR introduced the first bogie carriages to operate in Britain, Nos 15 and 16, which were also the first iron-framed bogie coaches in the world. The continuous vacuum brake was installed in 1893. The line was fully signalled with electric telegraph and staff and ticket working. Electric Train Staff instruments were introduced in 1912 and they continue in use to the present day.Dduallt Station, Ffestiniog RailwayThe station at Dduallt taken from a Ffestiniog Railway train on the spiral track.

  © Copyright Gordon Cragg and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.


From 1949, various groups of rail enthusiasts attempted to revitalise the railway. Eventually, on 24 June 1954, a group of volunteers funded by Alan Pegler purchased the company to run it as a tourist attraction and gradually restored the line to working order. This was not helped by a decision by the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) in 1954 to build the Ffestiniog Pumped Storage Scheme, including the creation of Tanygrisiau reservoir (Llyn Ystradau), which flooded part of the northern end of the line. The Festiniog Railway Company was able to obtain compensation in 1972, after the second-longest legal battle in British legal history, having taken eighteen years and two months. Two years later, as a result of the case, the British Parliament passed the Land Compensation Act 1973.

On 18 August 1954, prior to commencing the restoration, in an inspection, the first of many, Colonel McMullen of the Ministry of Transport Railway Inspectorate accompanied by Alan Pegler, several directors and other supporters, walked the line from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog. The work of restoration began on 20 September 1954 when Morris Jones, the foreman fitter who had last worked for the railway in March 1947, rejoined the staff to complete the rebuilding of the locomotive ‘Prince’ on which he had been engaged when the works closed. He was joined at Boston Lodge works by two volunteers, Bill Harvey and Allan Garraway.  The completion of sixty years service with the FR by Robert Evans (for almost 25 years as Manager) was marked on 6 November 1954 and a special train was run (with difficulty) from Minffordd to Porthmadog to celebrate the occasion and convey Mr Evans, his wife, Alan Pegler (Company Chairman) and guests en route to a clock presentation ceremony.  Mr Evans continued in service as Manager until his retirement on 1 June 1955 when Allan Garraway was appointed as Manager.

The first public passenger train from Porthmadog to Boston Lodge ran on 23 July 1955. Prince returned to service on 3 August 1955 and, following extensive boiler repairs, Taliesin, then the latest of the FR Fairlie articulated engines, returned to service on 4 September 1956. The passenger service was extended to Minfford on 19 May 1956, to Penrhyn on 5 June 1957 and to Tan-y-Bwlch on 5 April 1958. Increasing traffic was putting severe demands on the track – over 7 miles (11 km) had been reopened in four years. A long period of consolidation, rolling stock restoration and track renewal followed before the extension to Dduallt on 6 April 1968. Extension to Dduallt was celebrated on 28 May 1968 by the re-introduction of the Ffestiniog Railway Letter Service.Ffestiniog railway at MinfforddTrains cross on a wet day on the narrow-gauge Ffestiniog Railway. The Cambrian Coast Line also crosses – it runs underneath the tourist line. Caution – the clearances on the Ffestiniog railway are very tight and it is strongly advisable not to lean out of the window

  © Copyright Martin Bodman and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Tourism and heritage

One of the earliest references to tourism is in the LNWR Tourist Guide for 1876, which waxed lyrical about the Ffestiniog Railway, which it illustrated with a drawing of a lady in Welsh national dress (then still in regular local use) travelling on an FR up train (since many empty slate wagons – with two standing brakesmen – were attached at the rear) with the caption “On the Ffestiniog Railway”. The guide uses the “double F” spelling throughout.  It was, however, in the inter-war years from 1919 to 1939 that tourism, though always valued, came to acquire a major importance.

Since restoration commenced in 1954, tourism has been the only significant source of income. The role of the Ffestiniog Railway in the promotion and fulfilment of tourism and in preserving railway heritage has been recognised many times, and notable mentions have included:

  • 1964 Wales Tourist Board certificate for conspicuous service to Welsh tourism
  • 1972 Wales Tourist Board lists the FR as fifth most popular tourist site in Wales, after Caernarfon Castle, the Swallow Falls, the National Museum of Wales at Cardiff and Conwy Castle.
  • 1979 The FR was one of only six sites in Wales to receive the British Tourist Authority’s Golden Jubilee Award.
  •  1987 The FR was the outright winner of the Independent Railway of the Year award
  • 2004 The “Talking Train” (an internal audio guide) was awarded the Heritage Railway Association ‘interpretation’ Award.

Recognition of the railway’s importance to tourism and heritage has been increasingly marked by financial assistance given to the company towards capital expenditure. Prior to September 1987, the FR had received £1,273,127 in gifts and grants. Of this: £450,476 was Gifts from the FR Society and FR Trust and other supporters; £379,335 from Wales Tourist Board; £134,320 from EEC Grants and £308,996 from other public sources.

Major grants received subsequently have been: In 1989 a grant of £430,000 (£797,572 as of 2011) mainly from The EEC (National Programme of Community Interest for the promoting of tourism in Dyfed, Gwynedd and Powys);] in 1995 a grant of £500,000 (£716,550 as of 2011),[9]to promote work in Blaenau Ffestiniog and in 1998 a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £375,000 (£491,885 as of 2011), for the construction of workshops to facilitate the restoration of historic vehicles.

Today the railway is promoted as one of The Great Little Trains of Wales, a joint marketing scheme launched in 1970 that encompasses ten narrow gauge railways in the country, mostly found in north and mid Wales.Ffestiniog Railway Train Passing Campbell’s PlatformCampbell’s platform is an unstaffed halt on the Ffestiniog Railway which serves the nearby Plas y Dduallt Manor House. The station is for the use of residents and visitors staying at Plas y Dduallt only. The platform was built in the 1960’s when Colonel Andrew Campbell of the Black Watch restored the house.

  © Copyright Jonathan Simkins and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Steam Locos of a Leisurely Era – 1869 – Fairlie Engines of the Festiniog Railway

Steam Locos of a Leisurely Era

1869  Fairlie Engines of the Festiniog Railway

Taliesin as running in 1932 HCC

With the rapid growth of traffic, the Festiniog Railway soon found it necessary to provide a more powerful locomotive than the 0-4-0engines mentioned in the previous post to handle the more lengthy trains necessary to avoid doubling the line, a costly alternative.  It was decided therefore to try a design patented by one Robert Fairlie in which the locomotive incorporated two separate boilers with a common central firebox.  The two independent swivelling steam bogies each carry a saddle on which its own boiler rests, steam connections being made by means of flexible pipes.  The driver occupies one side of the central cab, and the fireman the other, on which the firehole is situated.James Spooner – Blaenau Ffestiniog 1879

The first Fairlie engine had been built in 1852 for the Semmering Incline in Austria, but it was its application to so narrow a gauge as 1’ 11½” coupled with its flexibility on extremely sharp curves which attracted railway engineers, from many parts of the world, who came to see it in action.  As a result the design became widely used abroad, chiefly in Sweden, Russia and South America, particularly Mexico.Merddyn Emrys – Porthmadog Harbour Station – Andrew Stawartz 2007

The first engine, No.7 – Little Wonder, did not last very long, being broken up in 1883.  It was largely experimental, and a certain number of initial faults found in operation were rectified in the subsequent engines, which were eminently successful.  No.7 had been built by George England & Co. in 1869, but No.8 – James Spooner, which came in 1872, was the product of the Avonside Engine Co.  The last two, Nos.10 – Merddyn Emrys and 11 – Livingstone Thompson were constructed in 1879 and 1885 in the Festiniog’s own shops at Boston Lodge, but the boilers were probably supplied by Avonsides.Livingstone Thompson – Porthmadog Harbour Station – 1879  DH Bleasdale

No.8 – James Spooner worked until 1929, when it was thoroughly worn out, but parts of it were cannibalised to repair the remaining two engines.  No.11 had been renamed Taliesin and renumbered 3.  Both this engine and No.10 were still in existence when the line was closed in 1946, and since re-opening in 1955 Taliesin has been repaired and put into service again.  It is hoped to renovate Merddyn Emrys similarly.Little Wonder – Porthmadog Harbour Station –  RH Bleasdale

                                      No.7                       No.8                            Nos.10 & 11

Driving wheels              2’ 4”                       2’ 8”                                      2’ 9¼”

Cylinders (4)                 8¼”x 13”               8½”x 14”                     9”x 14”

Pressure                       160 lb                    140 lb                          160 lb

Tractive Effort               5357 lb                  5410 lb                        6059 lb

Weight                          19 tons 10 cwt      20 tons 1cwt               24 tonsTaliesin as single Fairlie – Guy Chapman 2007

Steam Locos of a More Leisurely Era 1863 – 0-4-0s of the Festiniog Railway

Steam Locos of a More Leisurely Era

1863      0-4-0s of the Festiniog Railway

No.4 – Palmerstone as running in 1926

 The first four of these engines, which were built in 1863-4, came out with side tanks.  They have always run with small 4-wheeled tenders attached, and are therefore in effect both tank and tender engines.  Their numbers and names were: 1 – Princess,  2 – Prince,  3 – Mountaineer,  and 4 – Palmerstone.c1870 Princess at Porthmadog Harbour Station

Nos.5 – Welsh Pony and 6 – Little Giant, which followed in 1867, were somewhat larger and fitted with saddle tanks from the start, and Nos. 1, 2 and 4 later had their tanks altered from the side to the saddle variety.  All of these engines were built by George England & Co., of Hatcham Ironworks, London.  The gauge of the Festiniog Railway is only 1’ 11½”, and this was the first attempt to use steam locomotives on so narrow a track.  Charles Spooner, the line’s General Manager and Engineer, was, however, convinced that such small engines would be a practical proposition, a suggestion which was challenged amongst others by such a notable personality as Robert Stephenson.  Events, however, proved Spooner to have been right, and these remarkable little machines were the forerunners of many thousands of other narrow gauge engines which were to be built later in all parts of the world.Little Giant Duffws Station  c1889-92

No.3 had a very short life as it met with an accident in 1879 and was damaged beyond repair.  No.6 was cut up in 1936, but the other four were still in existence when the line closed in 1946, although in varying states of repair or disrepair.   Upon the line being re-opened in 1955 by the Festiniog Railway Society, No.2 – Prince was the first engine to be restored to work the traffic, and was in 2010 in the Engine House at Highley on the Severn Valley Railway, and will hopefully be restored for the 150th Anniversary in 2013.Prince in the Engine House on the Severn Valley Railway

No. 1 – Princess has been on display in Spooner’s Bar at the Harbour Station.  No.4 – Palmerstone was restored in 1993, converted to coal firing from oil in 2005 and is currently in traffic.  No. 5 – Welsh Pony is currently under consideration for restoration – possibly for the 150th Anniversary in 2013.Welsh Pony Porthmadog Harbour Station

Nos. 1 – 4   Driving wheels – 2’ 0”,  Cylinders – 8¼”x 12”, Pressure – 140 lb,

Weight – 8½ tons

Nos. 5 – 6   Driving wheels – 2’ 2”,  Cylinders – 8½”x 12”,  Pressure – 150 lb,

Weight – 11 tons

Both classes were originally pressured at 200lbPalmerston at Porthmadog Gala 2005