A Memory

WHR History

An anonymous memory of the Welsh Highland Railway...

The complicated story and the variable, uncertain life of the little line with all its romance has come to an end. The last traveller has journeyed through the Eryri region; the quarrymen has brought down the last slate from the mountains. Yard by yard the work of lifting the line and the sleepers is being completed, and these, together with the engines and coaches, will become mere spoils of war. Now there remains only a winding strip, which is neither road, nor railway, nor path.

Mr. Daniel Owen Jones, the official station- master of the magic railway, still remains as station master at Dinas, although no signals will be raised, nor will there be any trains arrive from the Snowdon direction. The main line, on the other side of the station, still operates, and it is on account of his work in connection with this line that Mr. Jones is paid- indirectly by the L.M.S. through the trustees of his old company. But he is not an official servant of the main line.

In the early days, before the coming of the uniformity of the big railways, Wales built its own railways- in its own way, on tracks of every gauge imaginable. During the latter part of the 19th century, as many as 40 railway systems operated in Wales. In Dinas Station itself I saw last week the carved names of the Cambrian, the LNWR, the North Wales Narrow Gauge, the WHR, as well as the LMS.

Travellers were carried on the first railway from Dinas 65 years ago, on May 21, 1877, when the train ran to Bryngwyn and from Tryfan Junction to Cwellyn. An additional 3/4 mile of track to Snowdon Ranger was opened on June 1, 1878, and a further 2 miles to Snowdon on May 14, 1881.

In 1885 came the first fruitless plan to extend the line from Dinas to Caernarfon, and in 1901 it was suggested that £270,000 be spent in extending the Croesor line to Beddgelert and to work it by means of electricity. But it was finally decided to continue work on the Croesor line, and the coaches were drawn by horses and not driven by electricity.

Between the summer of 1914 and autumn of 1916, 3 trains a day ran from Dinas to Snowdon and back, but up to 1921, these trains carried only goods traffic. A new company was established in 1922 and a sum of £90,000 was contributed towards the capital- £50,000 from the Caernarfonshire County Council, £3000 from the Glaslyn County Council, £5000 from the Gwyrfai Council, £3000 from the Deudraeth Council and £5000 from the Portmadoc Council. A sum of £7000 was set aside to extend the line to Caernarfon, but this amount was not subscribed because nothing came of the project. Rhydd-ddu was joined to Croesor Junction and the line joined to the Ffestiniog Railway.

The line now extended from Dinas to Portmadoc, passing through Tryfan Junction (for Rhostryfan and Bryngwyn) and then through the following stations: Waunfawr, Betws Garmon, Salem, Plas y Nant, past Cwellyn Lake to Rhyd-ddu, Pitts Head (650 feet above sea level), Hafod Ruffydd and Beddgelert, Aberglaslyn (Nantmawr), Hafod y Llyn, Hafod Garegog, Croesor Junction (for Cerrig Hylldrem), Ynysfor, Croesor Bridge and Portmadoc.

That is the little line as it is today (or more accurately, as it used to be)- 21.5 miles from Dinas to Portmadoc, through one of the most magnificentscenery in Wales. There are 3 bridges, each 70 feet long over the river Glaslyn, Nantmor and Dulif, and there is one tunnel which is 300 yards long.

As I crossed to Dinas Station for my last glimpse of the little line, a notice which read "Beware of the Loco" seemed to mock me. In point of fact the loco stood harmlessly enough waiting for a truck which was to convey it from its habitat for the last time. It was the "Russell", named after one of the line's chief directors- a stumpy, snub nosed loco which was once a characteristic dark green colour. In the shed was the "Baldwin" which had seen service on the continent during the last war. The loco "Moeltryfan" is in Portmadoc, whilst her two sisters "Snowdon Ranger" and "Beddgelert" have been converted into a pile of old iron since many a day.

Mr. Jones, the station master, remembers the time when all these locos were in running order. He came to Dinas in 1898 and he has many recollections. He remembers the arrival of a special coach to take Gladstone on the little line. He was in charge of the signals and at Tryfan station, when he saw the old gentleman in his seat on the way to Rhyd-ddu as the train waited to change staff.

The wagons were constructed and repaired at Dinas, where there was a staff of between 30 and 40, including carpenters and blacksmiths, many who were employed until quite recently. These workmen remained in the employ of the company for long periods, and as a result it was a rare occurrence for anything to go wrong on the line. The workmen knew every inch of each of the engines, and the drivers knew every inch of the line. Mr. Jones could remember only 1 fatality. A very watchful eye was kept on the weather, and he could not remember any occasion when the train was buried under the huge drifts of snow which were so frequent in winter. The wagons were often used to carry away the snow which occasinally threatened to block the line.

The track was 2 feet wide (or to be exact 1 foot 11.5 inches on straight stretches and 1 ft 11.25 in on bends). The line had several long, straight stretches, yet despite this, there were no gradients exceeding 1 in 40. The maximum speed of the trains was 15 mph, reducing to 5 mph when passing gates and at the approach to stations. There were periods when the line became quite important, especially with the travelling public. At first, the line was the only convenient link between the scattered Snowdon District and the market town of Caernarfon, and great use was made of the line. A special train carried the workers to Glanrafon Quarry before it was closed. Between 250 and 300 workmen travelled on this train, each one with his monthly ticket. There was a lot of singing and discussion and enthusiasm among the workmen. Glanrafon Quarry boasted 2 male voice choirs at that time, and Mr. Jones the station master was a member of one of the choirs.

In the summer, Sunday Schools went on their annual outings on special trains. Then special trains were chartered for band contests, concerts, preaching meetings and eisteddfodau over a period of many years. But as travelling facilities by road began to improve, the little line began to depend more and more on visitors. In the years before the opening of the Snowdon (Mountain) Railway, there were often so many visitors travelling on the little line that they could not all be accommodated in the carriages and additional wagons had to be used in which the passengers stood on planks. But by August 1934, there were only 840 passengers from Dinas on one particular day, and by September 1936, the last month during which passengers were carried, the figure fell to 519. The price of a ticket to Portmadoc from Dinas was 2/6, and to Beddgelert, 2/-.

Slates, of course, were the chief goods carried, but other commodities, including raw materials and wood were also carried during the last war. In the early days, coal and other necessities were brought by train to the population of Snowdonia.

Mr. Jones has seen the little line both blossoming and crumbling. He has witnessed the motor car and the Snowdon Railway enticing the visitor, and the lorry taking over the transport. Circumstances and other developments became stronger than the little line- the little line which came into existence and has now expired.

The last official train ran on May 29, 1937, but only once after that was it necessary to raise steam -and that was when an engine was driven up the line from Dinas to bring back various articles down to the station.

But it is hoped to keep open as a pathway the road on which the train once steamed and smoked its way towards the distant mountains so that the traveller who has the time may wander at a more leisurely rate than 15 mph.


Poised on the brink of a new era in WHR history, now with trains from the Caernarfon end complementing the current line out of Porthmadog, it seems a suitable time for this article. It is an anonymous translation from the Welsh of an account around the time of the original closure. It was collected by the late Mr David Harris, a well known North Wales local historian, and is reproduced by permission of his son.

£1 in those days is worth £25 or £35 today, maybe $45 US. 2/6 was an eighth of £1, 2/- one tenth of £1.

For a more extensive look at the past of this railway, have a look at Welsh Highland Railway: a history.

This page was kindly provided by David Stevenson.
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