© Copyright 1990 Alun Turner & the Welsh Highland Railway Ltd.
The outcome of the enquiry was the incorporation on the 30th March 1922 of a new company under the Light Railways
Acts of 1896 and 1912 called the Welsh Highland Railway (Light Railway) Company. It acquired from the 1st January
1922 the undertakings of the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways (NWNGR) and the Portmadoc, Beddgelert and South
Snowdon Railway Company (PBSSR) together with the powers of these companies relating to the building of railways
between Caernarfon and Portmadoc. The authorised capital of the Company was £120,000, but only £90,000 was issued,
fully paid, to the two undertakings acquired, in lieu of purchase money; £40,000 to the NWNGR and £50,000 to the
PBSSR. No dividend was ever paid on these shares.
The Government agreed to subscribe an amount to the debenture stock of the Company equal to half the cost of
completing the railway between Dinas and Portmadoc, providing the sum advanced did not exceed £37,500. The Ministry
of Transport duly advanced £35,774 to the Company. It was stipulated that the Compnay could not raise more than a
total of £175,000 in share and loan capital without the Minister's consent. Local authorities contracted to take
debenture stock in the Company as follows: Caernarfon County Council £15,000; Caernarfon Corporation £5,000 (in
respect of the proposed line from Dinas to Caernarfon); Gwyrfai Rural District Council £5,000 (£2,000 of which was
in respect of the Dinas-Caernarfon link); Glaslyn Rural District Council £3,000; Deudraeth Rural District Council
£3,000; Portmadoc Urban District Council £5,000. As the Dinas-Caernarfon link was never built, the £7,000 for this
section was never subscribed, but the remaining £29,000 was duly forthcoming.
In January 1922, the survey for the connecting section between between Croesor Junction and South Snowdon was
commenced by Sir Douglas Fox & Partners and the contract for the building of the line was given to Sir Robert
McAlpine & Sons on the basis of their experience of railway work, although theirs was not the lowest tender. The
work was commenced in March 1922. Attention was first given to reconditioning the old NWNGR section between Dinas
and South Snowdon: this was re-opened for passenger traffic on the 31st July 1922. Although initially planned,
passenger services were never re-introduced on the Bryngwyn branch however; for the rest of the life of the railway,
this branch remained goods only. Russell was the mainstay of the services during 1922 and the first six
months of 1923, with Moel Tryfan only being used in an emergency, being in need of urgent repairs. Work was
then commenced on the new 8¼ mile linking section and in reconditioning the Croesor Tramway line between Portmadoc
and Croesor Junction.
The track was relaid between Portmadoc and Croesor Junction to make it suitable for steam traction. The bridge at
Pont Croesor, previously largely of wooden contruction, was replaced with a series of steel girder bridges. The
original route planned by the PBSSR had involved a gradient of 1 in 28 on a three mile section between South Snowdon
and Beddgelert. In order to ease these, the Company sought and obtained an Amendment Order in February 1923 which
gave it powers to abandon the partially constructed PBSSR route and to purchase land to reduce the gradient on this
section to 1 in 40 with curves of a minimum radius of three chains instead of the much tighter curves envisaged by
The linking section was completed early in May 1923 and a series of trial runs carried out. The first, on 12th May
1923, consisted of a Ffestiniog Railway locomotive, Palmerston , ten loaded slate wagons and an open
toastrack coach to carry the W.H.R. directors and representatives of the contractors. Further test runs were carried
out on the 15th, 19th, and 22nd May prior to Ministry inspection on the 24th May 1923. The completed railway was
officially opened for passenger traffic on 1st June 1923.
Locomotives and Rolling Stock
The new railway was now faced with an acute shortage of locomotive power. Only Russell and Moel
Tryfan remained from the NWNGR days. Although these had been sufficient to maintain the reduced goods-only
traffic on the NWNGR in its final years, and even the re-introduced passenger service prior to the opening of the
complete line, they were insufficient to handle the proposed volume of traffic on the new line. Moel Tryfan
was out of service by November 1922 and in need of a complete overhaul before it could be run again. Under these
circumstances the WHR considered the re-purchase of Gowrie , the former NWNGR locomotive. An engineer from
the Ffestiniog Railway was despatched to Wakes yard to inspect the engine. His report, possibly influenced by
stories of previous unreliability, was against the re-purchase however.
It became necessary to borrow Ffestiniog Railway engines to make up for the shortage. Most of the passenger trains in
1923 were worked by the Ffestiniog's England locomotives, although it was not unknown for the Double-Fairlie engines
to work straight through from Blaenau to Dinas Junction. This loan of locomotives was not as unusual as it
might at first appear. The Board of Directors of the Ffestiniog Railway at the time was Henry Jack, Chairman (also
Chairman of the W.H.R.), Sir John Stewart and Evan Davies (both also directors of the W.H.R.).
The WHR's 590 and the Ffestiniog's Little Giant at Dinas Junction.
Russell and 590 at Beddgelert Station.
This locomotive crisis was partly relieved when Colonel Stephens, who had been appointed Locomotive Superintendant
and Civil Engineer of the railway on 1st April 1923, purchased Baldwin 590 , built in March 1917, from
Messrs E.W. Farrow & Sons of Spalding. This ex-War Department locomotive was one of many Baldwins built for use
on the Western Front during the First World War. 590 had Walschaerts valve gear, square cased side valves
on the top of the cylinders and a large sandbox. It had 8 x 12 inch cylinders, 2ft coupled wheels, a grate area of
5.6 sq ft and a heating surface of 254.5 sq ft. The total wheelbase was 12ft 2in, and tank capacity was of 496
gallons. The weight in working order was 14½ tons and working pressure was 140lb/sq in (although this has been
stated as 178lb/sq in). In fact it had scarcely been altered from the condition in which it worked the Military
Light Railways in France. The locomotive was to prove unpopular in service, giving a rough ride and being very prone
to slipping. It was mainly used as a spare engine, although it did haul passenger trains. It was more usually to be
found, at least in the early days, at work on the Bryngwyn branch. Moel Tryfan was duly taken into Boston
Lodge Works and, after a complete overhaul, returned to service sometime after July 1923.
590 is described further and illustrated here.
There was also a shortage of rolling stock. Once again the deficiency was made up by loan of Ffestiniog stock. Six
new open "toast-rack" carriages with light roofs of War Department design
were acquired from Robert Hudson Ltd of Leeds. In later years one of the original NWNGR coaches was converted into a
refreshment car, apparently around 1928, in an attempt to give the railway
more appeal to the tourist.
The Fall into Receivership
Correspondence between Boston Lodge and Colonel Stephens reveals that all was not well with the Welsh Highland
finances from the start. Economies were made with men being laid off at Dinas Junction and all repairs being carried
out at Boston Lodge. Traffic on the new railway did not reach the projected figures and the person who took the
blame for this was Henry Jack, who resigned as Chairman with effect from 1st November 1924 and was replaced by
Colonel Stephens. His first actions were to have Moel Tryfan and Russell cut down in size to
enable them to run on the Ffestiniog's more severe loading gauge to facilitate through working from Dinas to
Blaenau. This was successful in the case of Moel Tryfan and the outward effect of having the cab roof
lowered and the chimney reduced in size merely gave the engine a Ffestiniog appearance. Due to the larger boiler of
Russell , however, the cut down was not a success. On a test run, Russell stuck in the Moelwyn
tunnel and had to be reversed out, never to try this route again.
With the failure to pay an ordinary dividend on the shares and with the railway defaulting on debenture interest
payments, a receiver was appointed in March 1927. The slate industry had declined and the amount of freight the
railway carried was well below expectations whilst passenger traffic had never reached its projected figured due to
the slow, infrequent and unattractively timed service. The timetable allowed 2 hours 10 minutes for the through
journey from Dinas to Portmadoc, compared with a time of between a half and a third of that by road transport.
In 1929, Russell was in need of re-tyring and his wheels were sent to Hunslet Engine Co. Ltd, but when the
work was finished the financial state of the railway left left it unable to pay. Russell was to remain out
of service for nearly two years until the County Council stepped in and paid the bill so that the wheels could be
returned and Russell put back into service.
Various attempts at economies were made, each reducing further the appeal of the railway to the public. By 1931
passenger trains ran only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Reflecting the fall off of the slate trade, goods
trains ran only Tuesdays and Thursdays. In 1933, a small halt was established at Portmadoc immediately to the north
of the Cambrian railway. Here passengers had to alight and cross the Cambrian on foot into Portmadoc New (1923)
station, where a connecting service, provided by the Ffestiniog, would run them into Portmadoc Harbour station. In
this was the Welsh Highland trains could avoid crossing the Cambrian line and so save paying the expenses of manning
and signalling the crossing.
In November 1933, the joint committee representing the local authorities with investments in the Company decided to
ask the debenture holders to close the line. But the point was raised that the section between Portmadoc and Croesor
Junction waas essential if the hoped-for resurgence of the slate industry happened for the quarries in the Croesor
Valley. The suggestion was made that Portmadoc Urban District Council could take over this section and the rest
closed. Negotiations were attempted with numerous organisations, including other railways. After prolonged
negotiations, an agreement was reached on the 1st July 1934 whereby the Welsh Highland Railway was leased to the
Ffestiniog Railway at a nominal rent of one pound for the first six months and subsequently for a percentage of the
The Ffestiniog in Control
The Ffestiniog immediately tried to brighten up the Welsh Highland Railway as part of a campaign to attract more
passengers. Several stations were given facelifts, with light green paint being applied to the stations at Dinas
Junction, South Snowdon (Rhyd-Ddu) and Beddgelert. The refreshment room at Dinas Junction was re-openend. The
passenger coaches were painted a variety of colours - red, grey, pink, blue and green all being used.
Russell emerged from Boston Lodge from repairs painted a shade of light green. 590 displayed a new
Miriam Jones at Beddgelert
Nantmor station was re-named Aberglaslyn . An employee was taken on to meet each train at Beddgelert in
Welsh National dress - she was the late Mrs Mirian Jones. 500 sleepers were bought secondhand from the L.M.S.R. and
cut in half to provide 1000 narrow gauge sleepers for permanent way repairs. Advertising attempted to attract more
holiday makers to make the "round trip" - running from the North West coast by standard gauge to Dinas, then on the
narrow gauge through to Blaenau Ffestiniog, and then back to their starting point by standard gauge again. It was a
brave attempt but one doomed to failure. In another desparate attempt to save money, all the stations were closed
and a conductor/guard travelling ont the train dispensed tickets from the equivalent of a bus conductor's ticket
Decline and Closure
Four and then six trains ran daily in each direction with Beddgelert becoming something like a border town. There was
little, if any, through running and trains from both Portmadoc and Dinas met here and then returned whence they had
come, passengers having to change trains if their destinations were further north or south. Trains however were not
timetabled to arrive at Beddgelert at the same time and the difference in arrival times further increased travelling
time and proved unpopular with the passengers. Since 1930 the line had catered for passengers only during the summer
season and had run as goods only during the winter months. (In fact there had been an earlier winter closure of
passenger services between 15th December 1924 and 30th January 1925. When the service was re-introduced it was on a
Friday only basis - Portmadoc Market day). The 1936 summer service duly ceased on 26th September 1936, and
passengerservices were never resumed. Goods traffic continued, but this consisted of only one or two trips per week
on the Bryngwyn branch and even these ceased on 1st June 1937.
Early on the morning of June 19th 1937, Russell left Dinas Junction to collect all the Ffestiniog wagons on
Welsh Highland metals and deliver them to Portmadoc. After leaving these in the siding behind the harbour, Russell
ran on to Boston Lodge to collect the Baldwin, which had been sent there for repair. Russell then propelled
the Baldwin back to Harbour station and collected all the Welsh Highland wagons in the sidings there. Pushing the
Baldwin and pulling the wagons, Russell proceeded to Beddgelert where more wagons were attached and the
sorry train continued towards Dinas. At Hafod Ryffyn the overgrown track caused much slipping and the load proved
too much. Russell was forced to return to Beddgelert, drop off the wagons, and try again. This time Dinas
Junction was safely reached and the Baldwin pushed into the loco shed. The following week Russell returned
to Beddgelert for the wagons that had been left behind and proceeded back to Dinas with them, stopping along the way
to collect other wagons in sidings along the route. On return to Dinas, Russell was run into the loco shed
in front of 590 where they were to remain undisturbed for nearly five years.
An enthusiast who visited the line early in 1939 wrote:
"The locomotive shed at Dinas has a gaping hole in the roof. Underneath, open to the weather, stands Russell in
quite good condition and looking well in her light green paint and red buffers. Alongside is 4-6-0 No. 590,
painted dark red, but rusty and dirty. About 40 wagons lie in the sidings to the north of the passenger station,
in various stages of decay and overgrown with weeds. The track between Dinas and Tryfan Junction is well
preserved, although much overgrown."
How long the railway might have lain, rusting quietly away, is anyone's guess but the outbreak of war and the
resulting acute metal shortage brought action from the Ministry of supply who, in 1941, requisitioned the metals for
£1,280 to assist the war effort. All the surviving equipment, with the exception of Russell , was purchased
as scrap by George Cohen, Sons & Co. Ltd in July 1941. The nameplates, numberplates and workplates of Russell
and 590 were sent to the York Railway Museum at the instigation of Mr V. Boyd-Carpenter, where they can be
The demolition contractors arrived at Dinas Junction in August 1941 and the undergrowth cleared in the cutting at
Dinas. On August 11th a petrol tractor and observation coach started out but broke down near the carriage sheds. The
following day another attempt waas made and the train reached a point just beyond Tryfan Junction but had to return
to Dinas due to the danger of overhanging branches breaking the glass of the observation coach. The following day a
train consisting of the petrol tractor, a bogie flat wagon and a four wheeled wagon set off again. All the level
crossings had to be dug out along the way due to the danger of derailment, and Home Guard barricades had to be
dismantled at Plas-y-Nant and in the Aberglaslyn tunnel. After dismantling the latter the train again returned to
Dinas and the next day was successful in running through to Portmadoc New (1933) Station. This was as far as the
train could go as the crossing over the Cambrian line at Portmadoc has been taken out in October 1938 and the
crossing box removed at the same time. The line was cut at South Snowdon and worked in two parts, being dismantled
towards Portmadoc on the southern half and to Dinas Junction on the northern end. Rails were left in situ between
Croesor Junction and Portmadoc (in the expectation of the re-opening of the Croesor Valley quarries after the war)
and between Hafod Ruffyn and Pitts Head (for use by the army for gunnery practice against moving targets). When the
Croesor Valley Quarries failed to re-open after the war the Croesor Junction to Portmadoc section was lifted in
1948. At the same time much of the Hafod Ruffyn to Pitts Head section was also lifted although the Ffestiniog
Railway recovered track from this area in the late 1950s.
Pont Croesor in 1995
All the girder bridges, with the exception of Pont Croesor, were left intact. Pont Croesor was dismantled. Station
buildings on the former North Wales Narrow Gauge section, all of stone construction but by then largely derelict,
were left standing. But the Welsh Highland corrugated iron buildings were dismantled, with the exception of
Portmadoc New (1923) Station.
In June 1942 an auction of rolling stock was held at Dinas. Baldwin 590 was cut up there outside the loco
shed in August 1942. Russell was sent to the Ministry of Supply to Brymbos, near Wrexham, for overhaul
before working on their ironstone quarries at Hook Norton in Oxfordshire. Several of the carriages were purchased by
local people and could be seen dotted around the hillsides for years afterwards. Two of these later came into the
hands of the Welsh Highland Railway Ltd - the car, known as the Gladstone coach because it was once used by that Prime Minister, and
the former refreshment coach.
Prior to the demolition, a suggestion appeared in "The Modern Tramway" magazine. Could not the line be saved and used
to carry timber and slate and perhaps even passengers, therefore saving on buses and petrol, both scarce during the
early years of the war? Another correspondent suggested in February 1941 that the line be taken over by an
enthusiast organisation: an interesting if impractical suggestion in wartime but one which, if it had been adopted,
would have preceded the Tallylyn and the start of the preservation movement by more than a decade. A third
correspondent expressed the hope that "efforts would be made to re-open this necessary and picturesque railway and
that such efforts will be crowned with success."
In March 1941 the Ministry of Transport replied that they understood that the Welsh Highland had been operating at a
loss since its opening in 1923 and that there was no prospect of attracting sufficient traffic to the line to
warrant its re-opening. The operation of the railway at a loss could not be justified on grounds of local public
need and therefore no useful purpose would be served in pursuing the matter at the present time.
The Liverpool & District Federation of the Ramblers Association prepared an appeal which was sent to the local
councils in November 1942 asking that the trackbed be converted to a long distance footpath, pointing out the
success that the conversion of the former Leek and Manifold Narrow Gauge Railway track into a footpath had had. They
had not done their groundwork properly however, and had not realised that the section of the track between Hafod
Ruffyn and Pitts Head was in use by the Army, and that the Croesor Junction to Portmadoc section was still intact,
hopefully to be re-opened at the end of the war, and so this scheme failed too.
Meanwhile the Ffestiniog railway was left in an unusual position. It still held a lease on the Welsh Highland
Railway, which it had been trying to renounce since before the last train. It was not until the 4th November 1942
that they were able to get a Court Order cancelling the lease on the basis that they could not run a service on a
line that had been demolished.
The Welsh Highland Railway had lasted just fourteen years. The main reason was that although conceived early it was
executed too late to gain a foothold with the public. By the time it finally opened, road transport was gaining the
ascendancy and the slate industry diminishing, its product being replaced by roof tiles on new buildings. But it was
not to die, however, for an enthusiast group, inspired by the success of the preservation movement in the Tallylyn
Railway, would be formed in 1960 with the intention of restoring as much as possible of the glory of the former