Penrhyn Quarry Rail

From Festipedia, hosted by the FR Heritage Group
PQR high noon on the FR. On a photo charter in early November 1996, Linda rounds Dduallt Tank Curve with a short slate train. Oil fired at the time, the oil tank was concealed in the coal wagon behind the loco. Also running on ex-Penrhyn Railway bullhead track. Photo: Graham Bond.

In the early years of the Festiniog Railway revival Penrhyn Quarry rail was used to replace the railway's original track as it wore out. This second hand material, obtained from the Penrhyn Quarry Railway became the new standard for relaid FR permanent way from the time of its purchase.

The purchase of five miles of rail was announced in Festiniog Railway Magazine No. 24 in Spring of 1964, and it was with this in mind that a financial appeal had been made in the Winter 1961 - 62 Magazine.[1] Negotiations for purchase of PQR rail were opened when the PQR mainline closed in 1961 leading up to the 1964 announcement.

The first deliveries to Minffordd were in early 1965.[2] The track was lifted by contractor.[3] PW staff and volunteers stacked, restacked, loaded and unloaded more than 2,000 rails weighing more than 4 cwt each plus nine times that number of chairs. In the Autumn 1966 FR Magazine [4] it is mentioned that 75% had been received and stacked at Minffordd and the remainder was due to arrive during September 1966. The bulk of the rails were 24 feet long bullhead of approximately 50 lb per yard when new and there were two patterns of chairs with two or four holes in roughly equal quantities. The most modern rail was rolled in 1909.

Experience of the first eight lengths laid above Tan y Bwlch top points made it clear that the rail could not be used haphazardly. Volunteers and a member of staff were despatched to the PQR before much track had been lifted to paint numbers and letters on the rails to denote their sequence and hill and valley rails. When laid on the FR the two rails were laid in their original sequence but transposed so that the wheel flanges on the FR now ran against the outside of the rail head as they were on the PQR. On the FR four hole chairs were used on curves - initially with only two screws used. The spare holes were available for later use if gauge widening became a problem. On straights the pattern of chairs used was 4-2-2-4-2-4-2-2-4 on each 24 foot length of rail.

This bullhead rail was used for the entire relaying from Tan y Bwlch to Dduallt, eliminating by 1968 double head rail above Whistling Curve except through Tan y Bwlch station. This was the first time a long length of track (approx. 2.5 miles) was relaid with replacement rail and sleepers after the FR revival. There was a limited amount of PQR rail in 30 foot lengths and this was used on the FR at sensitive locations such as Penrhyn Crossing and Garnedd Tunnel, in both cases Thermit-welded into even longer rails. The Cob was relaid with PQR rail in the 1968/9 winter.

By the end of January 2017 PQR rail (and thus all bullhead rail) was eliminated from the FR running line, after the last remaining section at High Gates Crossing, Penrhyn, was relaid with modern flat bottom rails. This was a significant event in the evolution of FR permanent way. Bullhead rail was introduced on the FR in about 1878 and so it formed part of the main line for 139 years.[5]


  1. ^ "The Penrhyn Rail", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 24, page(s): 6
  2. ^ Garraway, Allan (1985). Garraway, Father and Son. Midhurst, West Sussex, England: Middleton Press. ISBN 0906520207. OCLC 17508087.
  3. ^ Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 40 (1968)
  4. ^ Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 34 (1966)
  5. ^ Boyd, James I.C. (1975) [1959]. The Festiniog Railway 1800 - 1974; Vol. 2 Locomotive and Rolling Stock and Quarry Feeders. Blandford: The Oakwood Press. ISBN 085361-168-8.