Penrhyn operations

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A potted history[edit]

At the time of closure in 1946, Penrhyn Station still had a siding that served the Bakery, flour being delivered from the mill in Snowdon Street in Porthmadog. The reopening to Penrhyn in 1957 required the layout to be altered to add a loop for locomotives to run round. In effect the siding was removed as its alignment did not suit the new arrangement. Passenger trains would stop in the new loop so that locomotives could run round without ploughing through the throngs of passengers on the platform.

The loop was retained after the railway extended to Tan y Bwlch in 1958 and was used occasionally to pass trains, although Minffordd was used for preference.

In 1968 when the extension to Dduallt was opened, the High Summer service required the use of three train sets, with the timetable arranged for trains to pass at Minffordd and Tan y Bwlch. However train loadings began to put extraordinary pressure on the railway; with more frequent departures from Harbour Station. This could only be accommodated by shifting passing moves from Minffordd to Penrhyn, giving a 45 minute frequency during the peak of the day. After the experience of 1968, the timetable was recast on a more permanent basis with the majority of trains passing at Penrhyn and Tan y Bwlch; indeed by 1973 Minffordd only saw one such flurry of activity towards the end of the day.

The layout at Penrhyn in 1968 was much as it had been for the past 10 years, although the loop had been extended as far as possible towards the level crossing to accommodate six-carriage trains. Ballast was laid up to rail height to form the platform for trains on the main line.

The passenger explosion of the late 1960s and early 1970s continued apace with new carriages being built and longer trains run. Penrhyn could still cope provided one of the trains was a maximum of 6 carriages long, but this was not to last and soon two out of the three standard train sets were 7 or more carriages long. This necessitated a headshunt extension at the bottom of the loop to take a long Down train (Penrhyn featured left hand running whereas Minffordd and Tan y Bwlch still maintained traditional FR right hand running). In 1972 temporary colour light Home signals and a Down Gate Repeater signal were installed – see Penrhyn Temporary Colour Light Home Signals.

1974 saw the last regular timetabled use of Penrhyn to pass trains. Having a loop line acting as the passenger platform for Up trains was not exactly ideal. The restrictive operation of trains in the station area, where only one train at a time could move, was not conducive to good timekeeping. The answer lay about one mile up the line at Rhiw Goch, and in 1975 a new fully signalled loop was opened. Penrhyn was used occasionally for a few more years, but the loop and associated signalling were eventually removed, and at last a decent platform was constructed. The Down Gate Repeater remained in use.

The layout (extract from the 1975 Rule Book)[edit]

Operating Penrhyn, a recollection by Tim Maynard[edit]

For those heyday years, a typical day would see the signalman/porter/booking clerk/postal clerk arrive on the 09:45 'C' set. At this time the Railway Letters were franked at Penrhyn and posted in the box down the hill. The Block Post was situated in the old goods shed, containing the single line staff instruments and a panel to control the two colour light home signals.

Control (Terry Turner or Alan Skellern) was phoned to get permission to open the block post, the signals were switched on and the U boards turned over; in addition the Target board starting signals were placed in their respective posts (believed to be the ends of old boiler tubes).

The U boards on the home signals were used to indicate to drivers if a signalman was present, 'U' meaning 'station unmanned', work the block instruments yourself; signal number uncovered meaning 'station manned', signalman working the block instruments and fixed signals.


Up to 1973 Penrhyn was normally switched out and Long Section working between Minffordd and Tan y Bwlch was in use. The Penrhyn signalman contacted Minffordd (Ian Rudd) to indicate readiness to open. This was done as Penrhyn was considered under Minffordd's jurisdiction.

When the 09:45 reached Tan y Bwlch the signalman there (John Harrison or sometimes David Stirling) would bell "Come on Omnibus Telephone" (1-2) to Minffordd who would get Penrhyn onto the circuit. Minffordd and Tan y Bwlch would both "hold down" their Bell tappers on the Long Section staff instruments to release a special lock containing the switch-over key at Penrhyn.

Attached to this key by stout chains were two Short section large staffs. At all three stations a switch similar to that used for the Remote Operators was used to initiate Short section working; and the bells were tinged once to ensure the circuits worked. The large staffs were now inserted into their respective instruments and Opening Section (5-5-5) sent, with a cacophony of bells as replies from Minffordd and Tan y Bwlch rang out at the same time.

Are you still with me? Then let's go on.

The next up train[edit]

The next train was the 10:20 'A' set, fixed at 6 carriages. Minffordd would 'call attention' (1) and request 'is line clear' (3-1), Penrhyn would reply and hold down the tapper on the last 'ting' for Minffordd to take the staff. Once 'on line' (2) was given, the Penrhyn Up home signal would be cleared to Green for the main line, and the 'is line clear' process repeated to Tan y Bwlch. The Up starting signal was turned to show green and the nail reinserted in the holes in the post to ensure it didn't revert to red in the wind.

The train would arrive or even pass through non-stop (up to 1973 Penrhyn was a request stop), staffs exchanged between the fireman and signalman and bells would be rung for 'train on line' (2) to Tan y Bwlch and 'out of section' (2-1) to Minffordd, and the Minffordd section staff placed in the relevant instrument.

So far so good, from now until tea time trains crossed at 45 minute intervals.

The long and the short of it[edit]

Remember, an Up train on the main line needed the loop to be clear; otherwise the platform would be under the Down train! So let's have a look at the various combinations of trains. Short trains were six carriages with Upnor Castle, Mountaineer, Blanche or Linda, the latter two sharing the longer trains with Merddin Emrys. The 'B' set would start with the 11:00; the length of this set and the 'C' set would more often than not be classed as a Long Train.

The cycle would be 09:45 (C Short), 10:20 (A Short), 11:00 (B Long), 11:45 (C Long), 12:30 (A Short), 13:15 (B Long), 14:00 (C Long, and often the busiest train of the day), 14:45 (A Short), 15:30 (B Long), 16:15 (C Long), 17:00 (A Short), 17:45 (B Short last Penrhyn crossing), 19:15 (A Short crossing at Minffordd).

Crossing trains, two shorts[edit]

The first crossing movement was at about 11:15, with the Up train entering first on the main line. Before this the signalman would wander up to the top of the station and change the points for the loop. Incidentally this ground frame was unique, with the Facing Point Lock lever being locked by an integral TK3 (?) key, all other ground frames having a Standard A padlock.

The distinction between arriving and entering needs to be made; as often a Down train would arrive and be held at the Down home signal while the Up train dealt with passengers. When all was ready and safe, the Down train would enter the loop, and with much tinging of bells, waggling of ground frame levers and turning of starting signals the trains would depart, the Up train leaving first, unless of course the Down train ran through non stop.

The signalman had to remember[edit]

One important rule applied only at Penrhyn at that time was 'only one train shall be permitted to move in the station area at any one time'. This protected a Down train departing across the bottom points being side swiped by a departing Up train that was setting back in order to try and start. Electrical interlocking was provided between the Home signals to enforce this when trains entered the station, for departing trains this relied on correct use of starting signals by the signalman.

Crossing trains, a bit more difficult[edit]

About 45 minutes later the same routine was repeated. The 11:45 Up train being 'Long', it stopped with the last carriages obstructing the crossover at the bottom end of the station. After the Down train entered the station, the Up train guard would give the 'right away' to the signalman who would relay this to the driver once the top end points had been returned to the main line position; and starter signal turned to Green and 'nailed' into position. Once the Up train was on its way, the Down train could depart. Bells 'tinged' and levers waggled as before.

If the Up train was running late, it was sometime possible to bring the Down train into the station first. This time the signalman would bring the Up train almost to a stand at the Up home signal, and then walk quite deliberately up the main line to the top of the station, waggle the points and turn, nail etc. Without exception the drivers co-operated by entering the station at walking pace as they knew that they would be required to stop beyond the starting signal to be clear of the crossover and the departing Down train.

Even better (as this would cause Ian Rudd to exercise his legs a bit) if the Up train was really late was to move the crossing to Minffordd. This had the advantage for timekeeping as it meant that the next train off Porthmadog had a fighting chance of leaving on time.

Crossing trains, two longs[edit]

Another 45 minutes would elapse, and the fun would really start with two Long trains to deal with. The Up train would enter first, a rookie signalman was known to let the Down train in first, being asked by the Up train Guard 'And just how am I supposed to let my passengers off?'

An aside

At that time the FR sold cheap day returns which were only on sale at Minffordd, Penrhyn and from the Guard for journeys to Porthmadog, used quite a lot for shopping trips to the great metropolis on the coast, oh and the local kids getting out of their mothers' hair during the summer holidays.

Passengers would be dealt with and the Down train would enter and be signalled into the headshunt by the lower of the two starting signals. The Up train would depart much as the previous train. Once it had cleared the starting signal, the signalman would turn it back to Red, and change the points back to the loop position. The signalman would now indicate to the driver of the Down train to reverse out of the head shunt, ready to depart towards Minffordd. Optimum time for all this to happen was four minutes.

The day continues[edit]

This procedure would cycle through the day, the first reduced train set usually being the 17:45 with Upnor Castle and the 'B' set, except on Friday when this and the 19:15 didn't run. The 17:45 path was often taken Up by a Deviation Materials train, occasionally steam hauled, and a rare opportunity for a passenger Guard to work with wagons.

About mid afternoon the Railway letter boxes were received from other stations together with the Travelling boxes from the trains. The letters and cards were franked with the relevant station name or TPO, and mostly popped into the letter box just down the road. Occasionally items would be stamped for carriage by British Rail, and would be forwarded to Harbour station booking office, Alan Heywood handing over to the care of BR at Penrhyndeudraeth station on his way home.

At the end of the day[edit]

At about 18:10, the signalman would seek permission from Control to close when the 17:45 arrived at Tan y Bwlch, and inform adjacent signalmen of the situation. Assuming that the Down train had passed Minffordd and been given as Out of Section (2-1), the next action was to receive Out of Section from Tan y Bwlch. Penrhyn would then bell 'Closing of token station' (7-5-5), first to Tan y Bwlch then Minffordd who would on the last ting in reply hold down their tapper to release the chained Short section large staffs. All three signalmen then came on the phone (1-2), the switch-over key was returned to the special lock, and long/short section switches returned to the Long Section position.

During the 20 minutes that would elapse before the return of the 17:00 train, the 'U' boards were turned up, starter signals removed, signals switched off and the ticket takings booked up. Normally 20 or 30 tickets would be sold during the day, but on a day when the rest of the railway was quiet Penrhyn added the magic 100 to the passenger total.

Then back to Porthmadog to hand in the takings to the Booking Office (Mair Watson or Alan Heywood) and sign off.


Two things changed the operation of Penrhyn in 1974: a change to the block sections and making the station a timetabled stop.

In preparation for the opening of Rhiw Goch in 1975, Minffordd to Penrhyn and Penrhyn to Tan y Bwlch became permanent block sections, with short section working using Rhiw Goch being introduced in time for the peak service in 1975.

Another aside

As today, passengers wanting to stop a train at halts would wave at the driver. Except for Boston Lodge and Penrhyn, the Guard would tell the driver to stop with a written Stop Order. Up to the end of the 1973 season, the Guard would show a red or green flag to the driver, Pen Cob or leaving Rhiw Plas Bridge for the Lodge, Ty Fry or 100mph straight for Penrhyn. From 1974, Boston Lodge required the use of Stop Orders, and Penrhyn became an advertised stop, trains needed to stop for exchange of staffs anyway.

Opening and closing Penrhyn still involved switching home signals off and on and turning 'U' boards and setting out starting signals replete with nail. However gone was the need to switch in and out of short section working, simply switching off the Remote Operators and tinging bells was all that was needed. The same arrangement applied at Minffordd and Tan y Bwlch.

One feature of the timetable that changed was advertising departure times at Penrhyn, previously this was simply stated as five minutes after leaving Minffordd or 20m from Tan y Bwlch. As noted above, this sometimes gave a few minutes in hand to recover late running, as departure was 4 minutes later in the working timetable. In practice trains would depart when ready.

Unfortunately the 1975 public timetable reflected the working time departure, and trains now had to wait. This reduced the ability to recover a few precious minutes, and meant that less use was made of Minffordd to cross trains, resulting in even less exercise for Ian Rudd.

So ended the use of Penrhyn to cross trains, the use of the headshunt and a strange arrangement where trains ran on top of the platform. The station returned to a permanent sleepy existence which continues to today. Even the bakery siding has been restored as an ornamental eye-catcher.

Those to thank[edit]

  • Mary Roberts for the milky coffee every morning
  • Anne Evans for the tea every 2¼ hours, starting at just gone noon. Quick quiz 1, which train set?
  • Gladys Owen for the sandwiches and a good meal at the end of the day
  • Visits every couple of weeks by Bob MacGregor to balance the staffs
  • Contributors to the Penrhyn Hostel library for reading matter (and Mad comics)
  • Everyone else on the railway at that time for the excellent team working, keeping trains running to time as far as possible and the JGF
  • The passengers, for coming in their droves and keeping us on our toes. Just consider the occasion of a Down train at about 16:30 with standing room only including the Guards van! Quick quiz 2, which train set?
  • The local constabulary for dealing with a local youth who decided one day that he needed more than his fair share of the Cheap Day Return tickets.

Predecessors at Penrhyn included Howard Wilson, Hamilton Sparks, Pete Smyth and others. The loop was used a few more times after August 1974, but in reality Rhiw Goch was better situated for the timetable, and a lot easier to operate. But it was JGF all the same. Successors, well probably Ian Rudd, Terry Turner and ??

The addition of photographs of Penrhyn during this period, please don't hesitate to add them to this page. I'm afraid I was generally too busy to use my camera, the trains came first.

The Penrhyndeudraeth village web site includes a few pictures of the railway including Merddin Emrys and blockman, yes thats me.

See also[edit]