Festiniog and Blaenau Railway

From Festipedia, hosted by the FR Heritage Group
Jump to navigation Jump to search


The Festiniog & Blaenau Railway had a short independent existence as a narrow gauge railway connecting with the FR. It has always been overshadowed by its older neighbour, the FR Co.. It was originally promoted on 7th August 1862 by the Holland and Cassons families, to run from Dolgarreg ddu, near the FR's Duffws station in Blaenau Ffestiniog, eastwards to Llan Ffestiniog. The line was built in 1867-8, under wayleaves and clearances giving an option to convert to standard gauge 4ft 8 1/2 ins, and opened for traffic on 29th May 1868, although the Board of Trade inspection did not take place until a week later (see below). Initially, for nearly 3 months, it was operated by the FR under contract until the arrival of its own locomotives. Subsequently FR locomotives were hired as required. It was envisaged that the line would provide an outlet for finished slate from quarries to the east of Blaenau, such as Graig Ddu, as well as providing transport to and from work for quarrymen from Llan Ffestiniog. As the F&B made a junction with the FR, traffic in goods, coal, flour etc. from Portmadoc was also anticipated. Passengers from Llan who wished to travel to Portmadoc had to walk to the FR station at Duffws.

The chairman of the railway was Samuel Holland, and his nephew Charles Holland was on the Board. Relations between Samuel Holland and the Festiniog Railway were not always good, he believed the FR exploited its monopoly position, and the F&B was the first part of an attempt to reduce dependency on the FR. Samuel Holland's grand scheme was the 1871 proposal for construction of the Merionethshire Railway, a line that would have taken slate to the coast, over the hills on the southern side of the Afon Drwyryd, and an interchange with the Cambrian Railways. This proposal, which at one stage even involved Charles Easton Spooner as a consultant never got past the drawing board, but its threat had the desired effect of causing the FR to rethink its rates for slate!

Holland continued to seek ways of undoing the FR and was a major player in the promotion of the Bala And Festiniog Railway, a standard gauge line between the two places whose promotion was supported by the GWR as a means of obtaining access to the Blaenau slate traffic to compete with the LNWR.

Tanymanod Station

The line was eventually bought for the sum of £20,000 by the Bala & Festiniog railway, on 1st August 1876. This was a free-standing branch until 1st November 1882, when the B&F line reached Llan Ffestiniog. As the B&F was a puppet of the GWR, this purchase effectively meant it was taken over by the GWR. The line was subsequently re-laid to standard gauge between April and September 1883. The work included some deviations, and dual gauge track was laid to keep trains running on at least part of the line. From July 1882 to September 1883 the narrow gauge operated from Ffestiniog to a temporary terminus just short of Dolgarregddu until the standard gauge station and sheds were complete. After five days of closure to complete the work, the line reopened as standard gauge on the 10th September 1883.

There was one major alteration to the line just outside Blaenau, near Bethania. The original construction was a wooden trestle viaduct, followed by a stone viaduct, opened in August 1882 ready for the standard gauge, which still stands today.

Random jottings from the MJT Lewis article[edit]

Passengers, rather than freight, were the mainstay of traffic during its narrow gauge existence. An example year gives a 23% share of income for freight. Quarryman rate accounted for most of the income. When taken over by the B&F, passenger traffic increased to the maximum in 1877 in excess of 86,000 passengers, and nearly 17,500 season tickets. The goods traffic peaked in 1881, but less than half this was slate - the remainder was coal. The volume of slate carried varied year on year from a low of less than 2000 ton to more than 9000 ton, The only quarry served direct was that at Graig Ddu, with a connection at Tan-y-manod and this provided nearly 50 percent of the traffic.

Profit or at least breaking even was the norm except for during 1878 when a large amount was set aside for permanent way renewals. Staffing requirements were small, with only 13 people listed as employed from manager to track gangers in 1877, rising to 15 in 1881

Light repairs were usually carried out in Llan Ffestiniog by GWR staff sent up especially. More heavy work saw vehicles shipped to Minffordd and Dolgellau, for onward transfer to GWR Wolverhampton. It is recorded that when both engines were out of commission, traction was hired from the FR Co.

Passenger stock initially consisted of 19 quarrymen's carriages (built by J.H.Williams, Porthmadog), two third class carriages, a composite first/second, and guards van. The four passenger carriages were built by Ashbury Carriage and Iron Company. The GWR provided a further third class carriage and a composite carriage in 1878. The quarrymans had reduced to 17 by 1881, with improvements to the rest of them. Wagons were loaned from the FR Co. to start with, but later these were on hire.

Conversion to Standard gauge was undertaken by a contract let to JP Edwards of Chester to the value of £11,131 and work commenced in early 1883. Traffic was not interrupted due to the work entailing a dual gauge track. The stations at Duffws and Manod were not completed in time. Colonel Rich was invited to finally inspect on 31st July, but refused to allow operation due to additional work being required. His acceptance was given on 1st September. By the 5th narrow gauge operation ceased, and on the 10th September 1883 standard gauge operations commenced.

Random jottings from the Boyd Chapter in NGRISC (1st Edition)[edit]

There appears some confusion of the dates Colonel Tyler called for the final inspection, which report to the BoT is extensively quoted. The date confusion led to the Board authorising passenger carrying from 5th June, whereas in effect, they had been carrying passengers since 29 May 1868. With the FR Co. being subcontracted during the early period, the timetables were extremely well dovetailed. Once the FBR ran their own service, the exact opposite happened.

  1. Or so one article states. Boyd states that Capt Tyler had actually reported to the BoT on the 26th May which he includes in the book.

The quoted report states that the permanent way is laid in what is described as flat bottom sectioned rail, weighing approximately 38lb per yard.[1]


Two Manning Wardle 0-4-2ST locomotives, 259 and 260 of 1868, were used on the Festiniog & Blaenau from 1868 until conversion of the line to standard gauge in 1883. They were No.1 and No.2 and may have carried the names Nipper and Scorcher, although it is not clear which one was which. They had 8½" x 14" cylinders.

The Manning Wardle records state that they were delivered new to "Ffestiniog". Given the lack of other rail access, they may have been delivered over the FR, and given that the two lines were conected it is probable that they subsequently ran on FR metals from time to time even though the two lines had separate stations.

Following the re-gauging, it is possible that the two locomotives were sold to the Ruabon Coal & Coke Co.

Copy geograph SH7045 TM1 Richard Hoare 1478829 7502e4af.jpg


      • From the national archive, comment

The Bala and Festiniog Railway Company was incorporated under the Bala & Festiniog Railway Act 28th July 1873 and was amalgamated with Great Western Railway, GWR, Company as from 1st July 1910 by Great Western Railway (General Powers) Act 26th July 1910. Although controlled utimately by GWR, operationally it was probably run by the B&F Co.

See also[edit]


  • Bradley, Vic (1993) [1992]. Industrial Locomotives of North Wales. London: Industrial Railway Society. ISBN 0-9010-9672-5. OCLC 27769657.
  • M. J. T. Lewis Some Notes on the Festiniog and Blaenau Railway FRM-018-15 Autumn 1962
  1. ^ Boyd, James I.C. (1972). Narrow Gauge Railways in South Caernarvonshire. Lingfield, Surrey, England: The Oakwood Press. ISBN 9780853611158. OCLC 707587.

External links[edit]