The Festiniog Railway Company is the owner and operator of both the Ffestiniog Railway and the Welsh Highland Railway. Incorporated in 1832, it is the world's oldest surviving railway company. Originally belonging to private shareholders, the majority holding is now owned by the charitable Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways Trust.
Start in the 1830s
The circumstances which led to the promotion of the enterprise which became the Festiniog Railway Company are explained in History Of The FR. With initial capital raised at least part in Dublin by financiers with an office in Dame Street in 1831-2, the company was incorporated by an Act of King William IV's Parliament on 23rd May 1832 with powers to build and operate a narrow gauge railway line from Portmadoc to Blaenau Ffestiniog. Opened in 1836 as a basic mineral tramway with horse haulage and gravity working, the railway transformed itself over the following forty years until it was conveying 130,000 tons of slate a year and pioneering passenger operation on narrow gauge, becoming a world exemplar for narrow gauge railway practice.
Later history up to 1946
Control soon transferred to local interests with links to the slate trade, where it remained until 16th July 1921, when it passed to the North Wales Power and Traction Co. Ltd, whose plans to become a major public utility and transport company in the area never fully materialised. Declining traffic on the railway led eventually to the withdrawal of passenger traffic in September 1939 and the remaining slate traffic in 1946.
Rebirth in 1954 and present ownership
Another change in control took place on 22nd June 1954, when Alan Pegler and his appointees took control of the company, subsequently transferring their interests to the Festiniog Railway Trust, with the intention of reopening the railway. A majority of all classes of shares in the Company are now held by the Trust, giving it control of the company, but not outright ownership.The first section from Portmadoc to Boston Lodge was reopened in July 1955, with restoration throughout to Blaenau Ffestiniog being achieved in 1982 .
Restoring the Welsh Highland Railway
By means of a Light Railway Order (LRO) in 1997 and a Transport and Works Order (TWO) in 1999, the company obtained powers to restore the former standard gauge line from Caernarfon to Dinas Junction and the abandoned Welsh Highland Railway from Dinas Junction to Porthmadog. Two wholly-owned subsidiary companies — Welsh Highland Light Railway Limited and Welsh Highland Railway Construction Limited — were formed to undertake this work. Restoration is now complete with services running the whole length of the line since March 2011.
The Festiniog Railway Company is the world's oldest surviving railway company and one of very few statutory companies still trading. It is a member of the Great Little Trains of Wales publicity consortium.
Spellings and names
Note that over the near two hundred years of the company's existence some place name spellings have changed with promotion of Welsh spelling over English for Welsh names and also standardised spelling in the Welsh (Cymraeg) language; in particular Festiniog has become Ffestiniog and Portmadoc has become Porthmadog. The company's legal name is as given in its 1832 authorising Act and quoted as the title of this page.
Also note that in general usage, and also in publicity material and articles in the Festipedia, the terms Ffestiniog Railway or Rheilffordd Ffestiniog mean the railway from Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog, and Welsh Highland Railway or Rheilffordd Eryri mean the line from Caernarfon to Porthmadog, although the Festiniog Railway Company is owner and operator of both lines.