Welsh Highland Railway Permanent Way

From Festipedia, hosted by the FR Heritage Group

Description of the permanent way of the Welsh Highland Railway and its predecessors.

The NWNGR[edit]

The original track was described by Major Marindin when he inspected the Dinas to Quellyn section in July 1877. The rails were Vignoles (i.e flat-bottomed) iron 35 lbs per yard of 24 ft lengths. The sleepers were of larch 4'6" x 9" x 4½" half round at 2' 5¼" centres, 2' at joints. The ballast was gravel mixed with a clay shale, 'said to be' 7" under the sleepers. The width between the rails 'at siding level' was 6ft and the width of the formation 10ft. When he inspected the final Snowdon Ranger - Rhyd-ddu section in May 1881 he described iron rails of 40 lb as well as 35 lb, secured by 2 fang bolts at joints, and one fang bolt and one spike at intermediate sleepers, some of which were rectangular, ballast sharp gravel, but in March 1882 the directors report to the half yearly accounts to December 1881 stated that the parts of the line where the gradients were the most severe and traffic the heaviest required renewal, and that £100 had been reserved for the purchase of steel rails for that purpose.

An article in the Railway Press in 1883 [1] described the NWNGR track in detail with drawings. It confirmed that as the original 35 lb iron rails became worn they were being replaced with 40 lb rails, either 24ft. 2½", 22ft., or 19ft. 9½" in length. There was no cant. The track was spiked, but 6½" x 3 1/8" sole plates bent over the flange on one side and with a clip on the other, to Pain and Cleminson's patent,[2] were also used, fang-bolted to the sleepers. Sleepers were now described as being rectangular 4'6" x 7" x 4½", 2000 per mile at 2ft 7½" centres, not creosoted, ballast being light gravel or coarse river sand. The sharpest curve was about 2 chains.

Between 1883 and 1887 3 miles were relaid with steel rails, latterly with 41¼ lbs rail.(Indian Standard) A renewals reserve was set up in 1888 to spread the cost in the 6-monthly accounts. By 1893 6½ miles of the 12½ miles had been relaid, and in March Russell, as Receiver and Manager, submitted an Affidavit to the Court to be allowed to spend £800 from Revenue to relay another 2½ miles. This was ordered and in October the Chairman told shareholders the directors hoped that in the course of the next two or three years the line would be relaid from beginning to end.

During the 1914-18 war passenger traffic fell away to the point where only £11 was received from 211 passengers in 1917, and thereafter the passenger service was abandoned. By the time Major G. C. Spring made his report in the autumn of 1921 the track was in a 'very poor state of maintenance', there being only two Permanent Way men. He reported that the majority of the tonnage was between Bryngwyn Station and Dinas Junction where 1000 sleepers had recently been renewed, and 'bars' introduced to check the spreading of the gauge. A further 500 sleepers were urgently required and Bryngwyn Station needed immediate attention; the track from Tryfan Junction to about a mile from Snowdon (Rhyd-ddu) Station required at least 300 new sleepers per mile before any passenger trains could be run without serious risk of derailment. Every curve required packing and lifting and a lot of ballast was required, especially under joint sleepers.

The PBSSR[edit]

The specification attached to the works contract of 31 July 1905 required 41¼ lbs Vignoles rails in standard lengths of 30 ft. 95% were to be of this length, the remainder 27ft or 24ft, or as directed. The Carnarvon & Denbigh Herald of 16 July 1904 recorded: "An interesting cargo of 252 tons of steel rails arrived in the harbour on Monday from Belgium for the extension of the Narrow Gauge Railway to Beddgelert." Part of these were probably laid from Rhyd-ddu to Pitts Head.

The Original WHR[edit]

The contract of 30 April 1922 with McAlpine for building the WHR included a sum of £9,278 for refurbishing the NWNGR, including installing 5,000 new sleepers at £1,666, loosening existing ballast and laying 3" of top ballast at £3,510, replacing one turnout at Dinas and five at Bryngwyn at £20 each, and renewing a diamond crossing at Dinas for £50. The WHR contract specified 40 lb rail in 33ft lengths, although 'second hand or reject imperfect material will be accepted provided the engineers are satisfied with the quality of the rails proposed.' The minimum radius for curves was to be 198 ft (3 chains) [3]

Most of the WHR was laid in 40 lb. per yard flat-bottomed rails and some of this was used on the FR in 1936 partially relaying the double track section of the Dinas Branch near Glan-y-Pwll[4] and was eventually lifted by G. Cohen (Scrap Merchants) in November 1955, some being resold to the Talyllyn Railway[5]. . This 40 lb. rail was held in stock by the WHR when leased by the FR in the thirties. Most of this rail was lifted for wartime salvage during The Dismantling of the Welsh Highland Railway but a small amount was left in the flooded section at Pitt's Head which was salvaged in 1958 and relaid on the Cob.

The January 1923 Light Railway Order for building the connection between the FR and WHR specified an axle loading of ten tons on a minimum rail weight of 50 lb. per yard. This section was always FR property from the Britannia Bridge to the Madoc St junction with the old Croesor line (see Junction Railway). The WHR track material from Madoc St to Portmadoc New (1923) was acquired by the FR following the closure of the WHR (Boyd p239).

The Reconstructed WHR[edit]

The paragraphs below are based mainly on the following Wikipedia web site: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_Highland_Railway_restoration#Phase_1:_Caernarfon_to_Dinas

Caernarvon to Dinas[edit]

The rails and steel sleepers were imported from South Africa. This may have been the first use of steel sleepers on a passenger carrying gauge of less than the Snowdon Mountain Railway in the UK. There were a variety of steel sleeper, clips, screws and fishplates to different patterns which had to be sorted by volunteers before use. Most lengths were built up on site although eighty panels of straight track were supplied. Some of these were laid using a tracklaying gantry. The rails are inclined at 1 in 20 unlike FR track which used to have all vertical rails at least as long as it was chaired track. (Dow 2014)

Dinas to Waunfawr[edit]

The track materials came from South Africa and were lifted from the Umzinto-Donnybrook line.

Waunfawr to Rhyd Ddu[edit]

The track for this section also came from South Africa and included 15,000 steel sleepers and rail fastenings from the Donnybrook branch line. Twelve miles of new rail was rolled in South Africa of the same section as Donnybrook rail with a weight of 30 kg per metre and in 18 metre lengths. Due to the way the rail was treated in transit roughly half had to be re-rolled after arriving in the UK at the expense of the shipping agents or met by their insurance.

Rhyd Ddu to Porthmadog[edit]

Track for this part of the line was purchased new from Poland (rail) and India (sleepers and Pandrol clips). (Dow 2014) There were 1,300 tons of rail, 21,000 steel sleepers and 84,000 elastic rail fastenings similar to Pandrol clips manufactured in the orders. Timber sleepers and baseplates were used through stations. The materials were all delivered in 2005.

A notable feature of this section is the flat crossing at 65 degrees of the Cambrian Coast standard gauge line at Porthmadog. See Cambrian Crossing for the original installation and Cae Pawb for the modern version. This crossing is made up from rails and does not use a cast manganese crossing because the frequency of trains does not justify the expense of that type of construction. There is also a section of street running across Britannia Bridge where the rail is tramway type grooved section rail (Ri52-13 type). This rail is also used for Snowdon St crossing, see CTRL.

On the new WHR all joints are square except on sharp curves where staggered joints are used.

For details of current WHR PW rolling stock see Permanent Way Department.


Boyd JIC (1975) The Festiniog Railway, Oakwood Press, England. Page 194, 284.

Dow A (2014) The Railway: British track since 1804, pages 346 - 348, Pen and Sword, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, S70 2AS, UK.

Wikipedia web site: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_Highland_Railway_restoration#Phase_1:_Caernarfon_to_Dinas

  1. ^ Railway Engineer 1883, p197-8
  2. ^ James Cleminson was the NWNGR Engineer until 1884.
  3. ^ An Illustrated History of the Welsh Highland Railway, 2nd edition 2009, p55. Peter Johnson ISBN 978 0 86093 626 8
  4. ^ Boyd, James I.C. (1975) [1959]. The Festiniog Railway 1800 - 1974; Vol. 1 - History and Route. Blandford: The Oakwood Press. p. 284. ISBN 0-8536-1167-X. OCLC 2074549.
  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. p. 495. ISBN 085361-168-8.