Welsh Highland Railway

From Festipedia, hosted by the FR Heritage Group
Welsh Highland Railway
Rheilffordd Eryri
Place North Wales
Termini Caernarfon
Porthmadog Harbour Station
Gauge 1 ft 11 1/2 in
Length 25 miles (40 km)
Stations 13
Owner Festiniog Railway Company
Opened 1922
Closed 1937
11 October 1997 WHR (Caernarfon) opened from Caernarfon to Dinas[1]
7 August 2000 Reopened – Dinas to Waunfawr[2]
18 August 2003 Reopened – Waunfawr to Rhyd Ddu[3]
7 April 2009 Reopened – Rhyd Ddu to Beddgelert[4]
21 May 2009 Reopened – Beddgelert to Hafod y Llyn[4]
27 May 2010 Reopened – Hafod y Llyn to Pont Croesor
4 January 2011 Reopened – Pont Croesor to Harbour Station

The Welsh Highland Railway or Rheilffordd Eryri is a narrow gauge railway running from Caernarfon to Porthmadog in North Wales. Completed in 1922 the original railway was not a success and closed in 1937. Starting in 1997 the railway was progressively reopened and is now a succesful tourist attraction.

Original Railway[edit]

The Welsh Highland Railway was formed in 1922, when a new company took over the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways (an ambitious scheme to build an extensive network of narrow gauge lines which only succeeded in building a line from Dinas, near Caernarfon, to Rhyd Ddu with a branch to Bryngwyn) and the Portmadoc, Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway (a scheme to connect the NWNGR to Porthmadog using electric traction which was abandoned whilst still under construction). The PBSSR had already taken over the Croesor Tramway (which carried slate from quarries in Cwm Croesor to Porthmadog),

The WHR was expected to help the local economy and reduce unemployment. It was therefore welcomed by local interests and several local authorities invested in the railway.

Unfortunately the WHR was not a success. Although it was an ideal tourist railway, there weren't enough tourists to allow the WHR to survive. There was insufficient mineral traffic to sustain the line. Passenger and general freight traffic lost out to competition from road transport. The fact that the WHR terminated at Dinas, three miles south of Caernarfon, did not help the situation.

The WHR reopened passenger traffic on the NWNGR section from Dinas to Rhyd Ddu in 1922, and opened the new line from Rhyd Ddu to Portmadoc (as it was then spelt) in 1923. The WHR and FR Co. had come under common control and the owners, North Wales Power and Traction Co. Ltd, adopted joint management and operation. There is evidence that the FR Co. was providing a hidden subsidy to the WHR at this time.

However financial results were very disappointing and the Chairman of both railways, H. J. Jack, resigned in 1924, and thereafter the railways were operated separately. However the WHR's results were not much improved and the WHR went into receivership in 1927 but continued to operate until 1933.

The FR Co. took out a 42 year lease on the WHR from 1934. The WHR had effectively closed at the end of 1933, but with this lease, passenger operations continued under the FR Co. until 26th September 1936. There was some sporadic goods traffic until 1st June 1937 when the FR ceased to operate it. The FR Co.'s attempts to rid itself of the lease failed until the track was removed in 1941. Since the FR Co. could not reasonably be expected to continue leasing a railway which no longer existed, the lease was terminated in 1942.

Further reading[edit]

Early restoration efforts[edit]

Efforts to restore the WHR started in the early 1960s but encountered many difficulties, never getting the use of the old WHR trackbed which remained in the hands of the official receiver. Numerous schemes were proposed to reuse parts of the trackbed as either a railway or a walking/cycling route. However none of the schemes came to fruition. These early schemes were promoted by the Welsh Highland Railway Society which later became Welsh Highland Railway Limited. Some track was laid from Beddgelert station towards Goat tunnel and a pile of rail was established just north of A4085 Nantmor road bridge. These early works were removed when the F&WHR built Phase 3. Later on the Festiniog Railway Company became involved and they also set out to acquire the trackbed, originally without the intention of rebuilding the line themselves.[5]

The Welsh Highland Heritage Railway[edit]

Main article: Welsh Highland Heritage Railway

The early attempts at restoration resulted in the creation by WHR Ltd of the railway now known as the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway. This railway is not located on the trackbed of the old WHR but on the site of a standard gauge transshipment siding.

The modern railway[edit]

The Festiniog Railway Company (FR Co.) eventually acquired the trackbed and, following a change of priorities, set about rebuilding the WHR itself, including an extension into Caernarfon over the old LNWR standard gauge route. The first section of line from Caernarfon to Dinas was opened in 1997 and the final stretch to Porthmadog opened in 2011.

The rebuilt railway is not a preserved railway in the traditional sense. Modern trackwork and signalling and imported locomotives allow the railway to be run in a very different way to the old line. Some of the equipment used in the rebuilding came from South Africa (such as the NGG16 Garratt locomotives) whilst much is brand new (such as the purpose-built carriages).

The modern railway is owned and operted by the FR Co. It was originally known as the Welsh Highland Railway (Caernarfon) but since its completion is known simply as the Welsh Highland Railway. In Welsh, the name Rheilffordd Eryri (literally "Snowdonia Railway") is used.

Further reading[edit]


See WHR Locations for the full route with links to pages about individual locations

The present route runs from Caernarfon to Porthmadog Harbour Station. Principal stations are Dinas, Waunfawr, Rhyd Ddu and Beddgelert. Originally there was a branch to Bryngwyn but this is long closed.

The section from Caernarfon to Dinas is built on what was formerly a standard gauge railway of the LNWR. The section from Dinas to Rhyd Ddu is the old NWNGR line, from which the Bryngwyn Branch diverged at Tryfan Junction. The section from Rhyd Ddu to Croesor Junction was built for the WHR in the 1920s making use of the part completed PBSSR works. The section from Croesor Junction to Porthmadog uses the route former Croesor Tramway.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Rebuilding the Welsh Highland Railway Phase 1: Caernarfon to Dinas, 1997". Retrieved 3 September 2011.
  2. ^ "Rebuilding the Welsh Highland Railway Phase 2: Dinas to Waunfawr, 1999/2000". Retrieved 3 September 2011.
  3. ^ "Phase 3: Waunfawr to Rhyd Ddu, 2000-3 Opening Day, August 18th 2003". Retrieved 3 September 2011.
  4. ^ a b "The WHR Project: Phase 4 – Completing the Welsh Highland Railway". Retrieved 1 March 2009.
  5. ^ Johnson, Peter (2002). An Illustrated History of the Welsh Highland Railway. Hersham: Oxford Publishing Co. ISBN 0-860935-65-5. OCLC 59498388.