Fairbourne Railway

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Fairbourne Railway
Locale Wales
Dates of operation 1895 – present
Track gauge 2 ft (610 mm), 18 in; 15 in; 12¼ in
Headquarters Fairbourne
Beddgelert, a model of an engine from the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways.

The Fairbourne Railway is a privately owned miniature railway in North Wales. It runs for 2 miles from the village of Fairbourne (near the Fairbourne standard-gauge station) to the end of a peninsula, where there is a connection with a foot ferry across the Mawddach estuary to the seaside resort of Barmouth/Abermaw. The track is laid to a gauge of 12¼ inches.

The line was opened in 1895 as 2 ft (610 mm) gauge, initially as a horse-drawn construction tramway. It was converted in 1916 to 15 inch gauge, and again to its present gauge in 1986.

Steam locomotives run most of the services, some of the locomotives are approximately half-size replicas of locomotives running on existing narrow-gauge lines such as the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and Lynton and Barnstaple Railway


The Railway has run from Fairbourne village to Penrhyn Point since 1895.

With the arrival of the Cambrian Coast Line and the construction of the Barmouth Bridge there were schemes to develop the area for tourism. There were several horse drawn construction tramway in the area, the tramway that was used to construct the village became the Fairbourne Railway.

The Early Days

Beginning life at 2 ft (610 mm) gauge, the line was converted to a 15 inch gauge steam railway in 1916 by Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke and Miniature Railways of Great Britain. It played an important part in the development of the 15 inch gauge railways in the UK.

The railway had mixed fortunes during the inter war years (at one time it was leased to the ferrymen) and at another time it experimented with dual gauge track after trying to solve a motive power shortage by buying a locomotive of a different gauge (18 inch). The line closed in 1940 after operating its final year with a Lister 'Railtruck' petrol locomotive.


The railway was rescued by a consortium of Midlands businessmen in 1946 and after rebuilding, was reopened by 1947. The line's owner John Wilkins funded the redevelopment of the railway and the purchase of new steam locomotives. The heyday was in the 1960s and early 1970s but the advent of mass foreign holidays meant there was a steady decline in the 1970s and 1980s.


The line's ownership changed in 1984 to the Ellerton family and was re-gauged to 12¼ inches in 1986. Four new steam locomotives were introduced, two of which had run on the Réseau Guerlédan in Brittany in 1978. All four steam locomotives are half sized replicas of narrow gauge engines: Yeo, Sherpa, Beddgelert and Russell. Of the extant 15 in gauge locomotives only Sylvia (rebuilt at Lilian Walter) remained.

The railway was again put up for sale in 1990 and the line's fortunes appeared to be declining once again. During the five years it was up for sale the railway deteriorated dramatically.

1995 to present day

The current owners Prof. & Mrs Atkinson and Dr & Mrs Melton bought the line in April 1995. There has since been considerable investment in the railway and Rowen Nature Centre. The Rowen Nature Centre named after Fairbourne's beach's original name "Ro-Wen," is located on Fairbourne station, and houses a variety of local wildlife. The railway runs daily between April and September, with special events throughout the season including the "Friendly Fairbourne Engines" events, and Santa Specials.

In the 2000s Chris Price was appointed Chief Mechanical Engineer.

The Fairbourne Railway Preservation Society (formerly the Fairbourne Railway Supporter's Association) are actively involved with the running of services and maintaining the locomotives, rolling stock, stations and track work.



Current locomotives

Name Builder Type Works Number Built Notes Status
Beddgelert David Curwen 0-6-4 1979/1980 Half size model of the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways locomotive In Traffic
Yeo David Curwen 2-6-2 1978 Half size model of the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway locomotive In Traffic
Sherpa Milner Engineering 0-4-0 1978 Model of a Darjeeling Himalayan Railway class B locomotive. Undergoing winter overhaul
Russell Milner Engineering 2-6-4 1978 Originally a half-size model of a Leek and Manifold Valley Light Railway locomotive; rebuilt as an approximate model of Welsh Highland Railway locomotive Russell in 1985. Undergoing a major overhaul
Lilian Walter Guest Engineering 1961 Built as 15 inch gauge locomotive "Sylvia" (see below). Regauged to 12¼ inch gauge in 1986. A project has been launched to restore this locomotive back to the original double cabbed appearance of the 1960s /70s by altering the bodywork fitted in 1986 In Traffic
Gwril Fairbourne Locomotive Works 4w BE 1987 Battery electric shunting locomotive. The second locomotive at Fairbourne to carry the name Gwril. Stored
T.J.Thurstson Thurston 4-6-2 1948 Not suitable for use at present, as it has scale wheels. Formerly worked on the Hayling Island Railway Stored

Other locomotives

Locomotives that have previously run on the Fairbourne Railway:

Gauge Name Number Builder Type Works Number Built Notes Current Location
15" Prince Edward of Wales Bassett-Lowke 4-4-2 22 1915 Sold 1923 Unknown
15" Katie Heywood 0-4-0T 4 1896 Dismantled at Fairbourne 1926, ex-Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway. Frames with Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway Heritage Group for restoration.
15" Count Louis 3 Bassett-Lowke 4-4-2 1924 Sold With the Little Giant Trust, undergoing restoration.
18" No.1 Regent Street Polytechnic 4-2-2 1898 Third rail laid as far as Golf House; Sold 1936 At Sandy Bay Museum, Exmouth.
15" Whippit Quick Lister 4w Sold Windmill Farm Railway
15" Gwril Lister 4w Sold Windmill Farm Railway
15" Dingo Bo-Bo Scrapped at Fairbourne -
15" Ernest W.Twining G&S Lt Engineering & Maint Co Ltd 4-6-2 10 1949 Sold and exported to Japan Shuzenji Romney Railway, Japan
15" Sylvia G&S Lt Engineering & Maint Co Ltd Bo-Bo 1961 Regauged and rebuilt as "Lillian Walter" (see above)
15" Rachel G&S Lt Engineering & Maint Co Ltd Sold Haigh Hall Railway, Wigan
15" Siân G&S Lt Engineering & Maint Co Ltd 2-4-2 18 1963 Sold Windmill Farm Railway Owned by the Siân Project Group
15" Katie G&S Lt Engineering & Maint Co Ltd 2-4-2 Sold Windmill Farm Railway
12¼" 24 Fairbourne Locomotive Works 2-6-2 1990 Built as a half size replia of an engine from the Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes Railroad in the workshops at Fairbourne. Sold to Roger Loxley and now running at the Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway in Lincolnshire. Regauged to 15"


  • Alan C. Butcher (ed). Railways Restored 2005. Ian Allan Publishing Co, Hersham, Surrey, 2005. ISBN 0711030537
  • J.I.C.Boyd Narrow Gauge Railways in Mid Wales
  • W.J.Milner Rails through the Sand. Rail Romances, Chester, 1996. ISBN 1-900622-00-9

External links

Flag of Wales 2.svg Heritage railways in Wales

Amman Valley Railway - Bala Lake Railway - Brecon Mountain Railway - Bridgend Valleys Railway - Corris Railway Society
Fairbourne Railway - Ffestiniog Railway - Gwili Railway - Llanberis Lake Railway - Llangollen Railway - Narrow Gauge Railway Museum
Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway - Rhyl Miniature Railway - Snowdon Mountain Railway - Swansea Vale Railway - Talyllyn Railway
Vale of Glamorgan Railway - Vale of Rheidol Railway - Welsh Highland Railway - Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway
Heritage Railways: England - Scotland - Wales - Northern Ireland - Isle of Man - Channel Islands