Castell Caernarfon

From Festipedia, hosted by the FR Heritage Group
Castell Caernarfon
Freshly overhauled, November 2022
Home Railway WHR
Original Railway Consolidated Diamond Mines of Namibia
Status Operational
Built by CH Funkey & Co (Pty) Ltd
Built 1967
1993 Arrived on WHR
Wheel Arrangement B-B
Length 34 ft
Fuel Diesel

Castell Caernarfon (English: Caernarfon Castle) is a large diesel locomotive in use on the Welsh Highland Railway. It is one of two 'Funkeys' purchased in the mid 1990s to augment the Ffestiniog fleet and prepare for the expansion coming with the rebuilt Welsh Highland Railway. The other locomotive is Vale of Ffestiniog, which received a heavy rebuild to fit the FR loading gauge.

Unlike the railway's other "castle" locomotives, this vehicle is named in Welsh only, after Caernarfon Castle which is in view of the WHR station in that town.


Origins in South Africa[edit]

Castell Caernarfon is one of two 27 ton, 335 hp turbocharged B-B diesel-hydraulic built by CH Funkey & Co (Pty) Ltd of Alberton, near Johannesburg, South Africa, for the Consolidated Diamond Mines of Namibia. After the diamond mines swapped to road haulage, they worked at the private siding of Pretoria Portland Cement Ltd, a twelve mile branch from the South African Railways Avontuur line. It is unknown exactly when the two Funkeys arrived there, but they were at work by 1975. Here the two locomotives were adapted to work in multiple and fitted with a crude vacuum braking system.[1] Originally built with Caterpillar 300 hp engines, they had been re-engined with Cummins 335 hp units in 1984-5.[2]

At Boston Lodge the rebuild nearly completed. Photo: James Hoyle

To Wales[edit]

It arrived at the Ffestiniog Railway on 16 October 1993, as one of three engines purchased from Pretoria Portland Cement Ltd. The second locomotive of the same type became Vale of Ffestiniog on the FR. The third locomotive was Hunslet Taylor 6357, which never left South Africa.

When they arrived, the two Funkeys were equipped with quite complex electrical control systems on them that allowed them to run in multiple. This system even included switches on the seats to make sure the driver was sat down. They had tachographs installed with discs still in showing impressive high speeds. They were festooned with safety cut-out switches most of which were shorted out to get them to run.

There was a deliberate decision to treat the two locomotives differently but with a caveat for "later on" offering the possibility of them working together. Of the two locos, one had evidently been crashed at some time and had had a new cab made out of steel. This locomotive (now Vale of Ffestiniog) was selected for trials on the FR on the grounds that the gas axe doesn't work so well on fibreglass, and the cabs fouled the FR loading gauge. Without its cab it ran several trials on the FR. The one with the intact fibreglass body (now Castell Caernarfon), was selected for the WHR, where the greater loading gauge allows it to retain its original body work.

The point of the caveat and "later on" reference was that at the time it was decided to do the simple rebuild with the possibility of doing a more "Vale of Ffestiniog" type job on it later. The theory was that if it was sent to Dinas Junction in its tall form it would suffice until the lines were connected and by then it would be due an overhaul the extent of which could be decided at the time. In subsequent overhauls it has not so far been significantly altered.

At Dinas still with red cowcatcher on a cold and dismal Boxing Day, 2002

Rebuilt for the WHR[edit]

The loco is fitted with a turbocharged 335 hp Cummins engine, making it one of the most powerful narrow gauge diesels in the UK. After arrival at Minffordd Yard it was first known as "Funkey 2" and was overhauled at Boston Lodge in 1995-6. It was decided to rewire and rework the control systems to a simplified pattern. To this end it was fitted with Bowden cable drives for the throttle and gear selection and a simplified electrical scheme but with the deadman systems needed for single-manning these days. Paul Martin did the rewiring of the loco at Boston Lodge. In this form it did several test trips across the Cob.

Prior to taking up duties for the WHR(C) it was placed on display in July 1996 at Gwyl Caernarfon Festival (during which a naming ceremony took place). It became the first locomotive to be moved to Dinas, in January 1997, and took part in that month's construction launch ceremony.

For the 2000 season, the livery was amended slightly, with the addition of "cat's whiskers".

Having given eight years of trusty and reliable performance from arrival, heavy maintenance was undertaken between January and April 2005. Gearbox issues resulted in the locomotive borrowing Vale of Ffestiniog's bogies from 2006 - 2008. It subsequently received a full overhaul and repaint in 2009.

By May 2017, the locomotive was out of action again. Further gearbox issues required parts and for one of the final drives to be sent away for overhaul.[3] By September 2018 Castell Caernarfon's bodywork was in the paint shop at Boston Lodge where it was receiving a new green livery.[4] With the sidelining of Vale of Ffestiniog after the Beddgelert run-through on 16/4/19, work resumed in earnest on Castell Caernarfon, which was hauled from Dinas to Boston Lodge on 24/5/19 by Upnor Castle. The rebuild work included complete rewiring of the controls and replacement of the braking system including the addition of a new type of vacuum exhauster taken from a BR Class 47.[5] The cab was also replaced as the original fibre glass one was life expired. The replacement is constructed from steel. The old cab is now located at the Cab Yard at the Llanelli and Mynydd mawr Railway.[6] Work was completed by the Autumn of 2022 and the locomotive was in use around Porthmadog during the week beginning 14th November. It returned to Dinas on the 18th, in readiness for winter works train duties.

Castell Caernarfon is one of only two diesels capable of hauling a 6 carriage passenger service over the Welsh Highland Railway route, and as such can be called upon for "Thunderbird" duties should it be required. It is otherwise used on permanent way and works train duties.

A recently cleaned Castell Caernarfon runs round its train at Rhyd-Ddu, 2005

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lewis, Charles. "Port Elizabeth - Loerie: The Limestone Traffic". Soul of a Railway. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
  2. ^ Paxton, L; Payling, D. (2005). "Narrow Gauge Super Power - Limestone to Port Elizabeth". The Narrow Gauge. Narrow Gauge Railway Society (192).
  3. ^ "Workshops & Running Shed", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 237 (2017)
  4. ^ "What is happening in the Paint Shop", Inside Motion, September 5 2018
  5. ^ Moving Pictures, Thirty Three - 26/7/19
  6. ^ "History The Cab Yard Story". The Cab Yard. Retrieved 18 November 2022.