For many years the FR Company used ballast that came in to Portmadoc as ballast in the empty sailing ships, much of it from the river Elbe estuary in Germany (Hamburg Ballast), which may have been cheap, but it did not drain well. During the closure period when there was little maintenance, from 1939 onwards the track deteriorated, with open ditches not being cleared, but fortunately many of the cross pipes kept themselves clear. When the new management took over in 1954 most of the ditches were full and the ballast silted up and much of the track grassed over, in many cases it was the grass holding the track together. In those days there were many volunteer group working parties, so clearing the open ditch with these often unskilled volunteers became a regular task. By the late 1960s many sections of track had been lifted making the open ditches even deeper. Then piping the ditches started, initially with earthenware, then concrete pipes. The pipes were covered with ballast in some tight clearance places, where ballast was put from wall to wall to reduce the chances of the track moving. This was important with the wider carriages then being introduced. The PW department had a large enough staff that during some periods of the year they could be employed in open ditch filling.
By the early 1980’s the railway company was very short of money due to the high cost of building back to Blaenau! The PW staff had to be reduced, and to offset that reduction the PW Manager asked for volunteers to take on some of the work that the permanent staff would not have time for. In February 1984 a meeting was held at Dr. Paul Harris’s house in Blaenau Ffestiniog to consider various options - the one that could most likely be undertaken by volunteers on a monthly basis was trackside drains. Rodney Thorp of the London Area Group, was well experienced in track and signalling, having been through the London Transport Apprentice training programme, and had joined London Underground working in several departments. Rodney offered to help, with labour and finance initially coming from the London area Group. Over the following years the number of volunteers travelling up from London gradually reduced and Rodney looked to the wider society membership for his labour force to keep the drains work progressing. The London Area group still financed the work to several thousand pounds per year. This work has continued ever since. Drains, as with the p-way, need regular monitoring and steady, in-time maintenance. If you would like to join in with this important, often under the radar, work, then please contact Ron Walker (firstname.lastname@example.org). Dated November 2017.
- Festiniog Railway Heritage Group Journal, Issue 129 Spring 2017