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A contemporary engraving of a horse hauled train of waggons on the Cob together with a gravity train at Rhiw Plas.

Horse operation was a feature of the FR from its opening until the introduction of steam locomotives.

James Spooner's elegant survey for the Festiniog Railway described a line of railway falling at a fairly steady gradient from the upper terminus near Blaenau Ffestiniog (700ft) to Boston Lodge, at the eastern end of the Cob (Sea Level) and was designed to allow loaded waggons to run down the line under gravity with empties being hauled back up by horses.

For a period after the opening of the railway, in 1836, the smooth line of James Spooner’s survey was interrupted by a pair of inclines that took the line over a shoulder of the Moelwyn mountains. Spooner had planned for a tunnel but had been overruled by Henry Archer on the grounds of cost. After a couple of years, and as traffic developed, the inclines became such a hindrance that Spooner prevailed and, in 1839, work began to drive the tunnel. It was opened in 1842 and from then on the FR was able to operate as it had been designed; loaded waggons exploiting the free power of gravity and being taken back up to the quarries by horses.

Each horse could haul 7 or 8 slate waggons and, though they are usually referred to as ‘empties’ they were, in fact, frequently loaded with a lucrative back traffic of goods for the growing community at Blaenau Ffestiniog. Each train included one extra wagon, known as a Dandy. These were high-sided open wagons with a door at one end, designed to carry the horse on the downward journey, permitting them to rest between duties. The earliest examples were wooden, as were the contemporary slate waggons. Later, iron dandies were built at Boston Lodge. (more...)