Portmadoc, Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway
The Portmadoc, Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway was a Railway scheme that constructed some mileage of permanent way and track, though never ran a single paying mile of railway.
The line was authorised by the PBSSR Act of 1901, sponsored by the Northern Counties Traction Co. Ltd. The Act authorised an electric railway and also powers to build an hydro-electric power station and feeder lines across North Wales. Two years later on 31st July 1903 another company, the North Wales Power and Traction Co. Ltd, was formed with agreements to acquire the PBSSR, and the rights to the land needed for the Power Station. By an Act of 1904 the electrical generating and distribution powers were transferred from the PBSSR to the Power Co.
There were several attempts by this company to promote lines between Portmadoc and Beddgelert with extensions at either end. The first was in 1901 and would have run from the western end of Black Rock sands via Morfa Bychan, Borth y Gest, Portmadoc and, using part of the Croesor Tramway, to Beddgelert to link with the South Snowdon Quarries (hence the title) in the Gwynant Valley. There was no intention to connect with the North Wales Narrow Gauge system which, at that time, terminated at Snowdon (now called Rhyd Ddu). It was to be electrically powered by a three phase system at about 630 volts. (See Bruce Peebles Electric locomotives.)
Only realised plan: the power station
The electricity was to be produced at a hydro electric power station further up the Gwynant Valley and surplus power was to be available for local domestic & industrial use. This part of the scheme was actually built and the power station still operates.
No railway construction was started but by 1903 a revised scheme was being put forward to link up with the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways Beddgelert extension. This resulted in a further revised scheme being approved in 1904. It appears that there were legal problems with the powers given and in 1906 these were reapproved with amendments. Work had started in February 1904 and continued for a couple of years before being abandoned (certainly no work done after 1910**), and much of the unused materials were sold off.
Bits and pieces in use
The line from Snowdon (Rhyd Ddu) was virtually complete for well over a mile and was used for a while (mainly during WW1) to extract timber from Beddgelert forest. At the Beddgelert end a roughly laid track for horse drawn wagons was also used for timber. An engine Russell was ordered in the name of the PBSSR in 1906 from the Hunslet Engine Co., but this was at the behest of the Power Co. to placate the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways directors, the Power Co./PBSSR having failed to honour its agreement of November 1904 to electrify that Company's line. The Power Co. had provided share capital of £50,000 to the PBSSR Company which it spent on construction in 1905, but (by 1908) the Power Co. spent a further £62,590 on the undertaking (in addition to £155,670 on the electric power undertaking). Hence, Russell was paid for by the Power Co., but was NWNGR property.
The original intention to run to Black Rock had been forgotten and no mention was made of the line to South Snowdon quarries. However, in 1908 they did promote a further line up the Gwynant Valley and on to Betws y coed. No work was done on this line.
World War I, renewed attempt
It was intended to electrify all the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways once the two lines were connected. In 1914 local councils got together to try to get the building restarted but failed due to the start of WW1. Another attempt was made after the war which resulted in the building of the Welsh Highland Railway following most of the same route but with changes made near Beddgelert to ease the gradients to allow the use of steam locos.
- Dolgellau Record office document Z/CD/162 (1901 scheme)
- National Archives documents MT6/972/8 (NWNGR Beddgelert extension 1897), MT6/1367/11 & MT 54/435 (1903), MT6/1721 (1906), MT58/317 (1908) plus others.
- Documents in Gwynedd Archives, Caernarfon, summarised with other sources in Welsh Highland Heritage No. 33 (Sept 2006) and No.34 (Dec 2006).
- ** Some early research by Vic Bradley seemed to indicate that no physical construction took place after 1906.