Welsh Highland Railway

From TrainSpottingWorld, for Rail fans everywhere
Welsh Highland Railway
(Rheilffordd Eryri /
Rheilffordd Ucheldir Cymru)
WElsh highland railway train leaving caernarfon.jpg
Locomotive No. 138 Millennium/Mileniwm and train, leaving Caernarfon station
Place Wales
Terminus Caernarfon and Porthmadog
Commercial Operations
Name Welsh Highland Railway Company
Built by North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways (NWNGR) and the Portmadoc, Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway (PBSSR)
Gauge 1 ft 11½ in (597 mm); also
between Caernarfon and Dinas
3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) - Nantlle Railway then
4 ft 8½ in (1,435 mm) - L&NWR Caernarfon to Dinas
Preserved Operations
Operated by Festiniog Railway Company and Welsh Highland Railway Limited
Stations 7 (northern end), and 3 (southern end)
Length 13 miles and 1 mile
Gauge 1 ft 11½ in (597 mm) WHR(C)
600 mm (1 ft 11⅝ in) WHR(P)
Commercial History
Opened 1922
Closed 1937
Preservation History
1961 Welsh Highland Railway Society formed
1964 WHR Society reformed as Welsh Highland Light Railway (1964) Limited
1980 WHR (Porthmadog) opened for passenger service
1987 Original locomotive Russell restored
1990 Ffestiniog railway became involved
1997 WHR (Caernarfon) opened from Caernarfon to Dinas
1998 Transport and Works order obtained for full restoration from Dinas to Porthmadog
2000 Reopened - Dinas to Waunfawr
2003 Reopened - Waunfawr to Rhyd Ddu
2005 WHR (Porthmadog) celebrates 25 years of passenger train service
2007 WHR (Porthmadog) extended to Traeth Mawr
The route of the WHR (1923-1937)

The Welsh Highland Railway (WHR) is a narrow gauge railway in Wales, which originally ran from Dinas near Caernarfon to Porthmadog, with a branch line to Bryngwyn and the slate quarries at Moel Tryfan. The line is in the process of restoration as a heritage railway.


The original railway was never a commercial success and went into receivership in 1927. The service however continued, operated by the Festiniog Railway Company under a newly-signed 42-year lease, but only survived until 1936. Thus the WHR managed only fourteen years of operation, and the longest narrow gauge railway in Wales closed. The track was lifted during scrap collections in World War II.

The restored line is known as both Rheilffordd Ucheldir Cymru and Rheilffordd Eryri in Welsh. Rheilffordd Ucheldir Cymru - Welsh Highland Railway - has been used since 1980 by the Company operating the Porthmadog end of the line. Rheilffordd Eryri - literally Snowdonia Railway - is a brand name used by the Caernarfon end. The original Welsh Highland never had an official Welsh translation of its name, despite running through the heartland of the Welsh language. Locals tended to refer to it by informal names such as Y Lein Bach or Lein Bach Beddgelert (the little Beddgelert railway).


The Welsh Highland Railway was formed in 1922 from the merger of two companies - the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways (NWNGR) and the Portmadoc, Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway (PBSSR) (successor to the Portmadoc, Croesor and Beddgelert Tram Railway).

The Croesor tramway had run from Portmadoc since 1863 up into the Croesor Valley and the slate quarries in this area. This was a horse worked line laid to a nominal 2 foot gauge.

The NWNGR had originally built a 1 ft 11½ in (597 mm) gauge line from a junction with the standard gauge London and North Western Railway line at Dinas to Bryngwyn with a branch from Tryfan Junction via Waunfawr to Llyn Cwellyn (Snowdon Ranger). The line was opened in 1877 and was extended to South Snowdon (Rhyd Ddu) in 1881, a total of 9 miles. This closed to passengers in 1916, but goods traffic continued up to its absorption by the WHR in 1922.

In 1902, the newly-formed PBSSR took over the failed Portmadoc, Croesor and Beddgelert Tram Railway with the aim of extending it to South Snowdon slate quarry in the Nant Gwynant Pass. Work was abandoned by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, although the tunnels through the Aberglaslyn Pass were mostly complete. By 1921, the NWNGR, the PBSSR, the Snowdon Mountain Railway and the Festiniog Railway were in common ownership and controlled by the owners of the Aluminium Corporation and the North Wales Power and Traction Company with headquarters at Dolgarrog.

In 1922 the order was made to create the Welsh Highland Railway (WHR), mainly funded by loans from the Ministry of Transport and Carnarvonshire County Council in the hope that it would help regenerate the area's economy and keep struggling quarries open. McAlpine & Sons were contracted to refurbish the existing lines and complete the link between Rhyd Ddu and Croesor Junction, thus creating a railway that ran from Dinas to join the Festiniog Railway at Porthmadog and which was opened in 1923.

As the modern WHR includes an extension north to Caernarfon, it is worth mentioning that the section of line between Dinas and Caernarfon was constructed as standard gauge in the 1860s by the Caernarvonshire Railway (later the LNWR) on parts of the Nantlle tramway (a 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge horse drawn tramway, that survived, albeit truncated at Talysarn until the 1960s).

The WHR venture was not a success and the hoped-for revenue from quarry traffic never materialised. When these hopes were dashed, the railway turned to another market; tourism. The owners tried to attract visitors by opening the first narrow gauge buffet car and by painting their carriages bright colours, including yellow and blue. However, these ideas did not work because the early tourist industry did not provide sufficient visitors to make the railway pay, especially during the Depression. The last passenger train ran on 5 September 1936 and the Welsh Highland Railway was formally closed on 1 June 1937. The majority of the track was removed for scrap during the Second World War.

Various legal manoeuvres followed this, including a serious application to turn the route into a long-distance footpath. Although these plans were ultimately unfruitful, they ensured that the trackbed was kept mainly intact, rather than sold off bit by bit, which would have made restoration much more difficult and potentially expensive. However, some parts such as the sites of Rhyd Ddu and Dinas stations were sold off.



Original Locomotives

Two locomotives were inherited from the predecessor companies: Moel Tryfan and Russell. When these proved insufficient, Baldwin 590 was acquired by H.F. Stephens and several Festiniog Railway locomotives saw regular use on the Welsh Highland Railway throughout its entire pre-closure existence from 1923 to 1937. 590 was planned to be part of a larger fleet to replace Moel Tryfan and Russell but it gained so little popularity that Stephens never bought another. By 1936 Moel Tryfan was out of use at Boston Lodge. When Russell and 590 were withdrawn the following year, they were placed in Dinas shed, but when the Second World War broke out, the Ministry of War came to see about appropriating them for the war effort. After some examination of the engines and questionning of those who had worked them, Russell (regarded as a good engine) was removed for further use, and 590 (seen as an unreliable, rough rider with difficult controls and inadequate adhesion) was broken up at Dinas. Despite the unpopularity of 590, the WHR (Porthmadoc) is currently refurbishing a similar Baldwin to act as a replica.

During the ownership of the WHR by the FR, Moel Tryfan and Russell were cut down to allow them to traverse the FR to Blaenau Ffestiniog. Moel Tryfan proved suitable, but Russell, even in cut down form, was not low or narrow enough to fit the Ffestiniog's the loading gauge. It has now been restored to its original form. Notably, 590 retained its original form until its demise.

Name or Number Wheel arrangement Builder Date built Notes
Moel Tryfan 0-6-4T Vulcan Foundry 1875 ex-North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways
Russell 2-6-2T Hunslet Engine Company 1906 ex-Portmadoc, Beddgelert & South Snowdon Railway
590 4-6-0T Baldwin Locomotive Works U.S.A. 1917 ex-War Department Light Railways

Current Locomotives - WHR (Porthmadog)

No Name Wheel arrangement Date built Builder Image Notes
Russell 2-6-2T 1906 Hunslet RussellPorthmadog.jpeg The only surviving original WHR engine
Karen 0-4-2T 1942 Peckett and Sons 150px Stored out of traffic on display in the shed. The first steam engine to haul a passenger train on the WHR (1964)
Gelert 0-4-2T 1953 Bagnall 150px Currently handling the majority of trains on the line with the absence of Russell and Karen
Sezela No. 4 0-4-0T 1915 Avonside Engine Company 150px Worked at the Sezela Sugar Mill in Natal, South Africa until 1971, when it was brought back to the UK. It was restored at the Knebworth Park and Wintergreen Railway where it ran until the early 1990s. It was purchased in 1993 and moved to the WHR (P) where it was returned to steam in 1997. In 2006 it was moved to the Leighton Buzzard Light Railway
Moel Tryfan 0-4-2T 1953 Bagnall 3023 Sister loco to Gelert and allocated the name Moel Tryfan but never carried nameplates. After many years awaitng restoration, in February 2008 it has been reported that this locomotives has now been sold to the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway at Woody Bay.[1]
120 Beddgelert 2-8-2 1949 Societe Anglo-Franco-Belge 150px Ex-SAR NG15 Class, up for sale in 2007 [citation needed]
Lady Madcap 0-4-0ST 1896 Hunslet
590 4-6-0 1917 Baldwin Baldwin Class 10-12-D imported from India, original number 794 but renumbered 590 to match the original, scrapped WHR locomotive.
1 Glaslyn 4wDE 1952 Ruston & Hornsby 150px
2 Kinnerly 4wDE 1953 Ruston & Hornsby 150px
58 0-6-0 1977 Faur 350hp Diesel Hydraulic built in Romania by Faur for PKP as Class Lyd2 and imported from Poland in 1995.[2]
60 Eryri 0-6-0 1977 Faur 350hp Class Lyd2 imported from Poland 1993.[2]
69 0-6-0 1980 Faur 350hp Class Lyd2 imported from Poland 1994.[2]

See also WHR (Porthmadog) Stock

Current Locomotives - WHR (Caernarfon)

No Name Wheel arrangement Date built Builder Image Notes
K1 0-4-0+0-4-0 1909 Beyer-Peacock 150px ex-Tasmanian Government Railways K Class, the world's first Garratt. Restored and entered service in autumn 2006. Converted to coal firing and due to re-enter service autumn 2007.
87 2-6-2+2-6-2 1937 Cockerill ex-SAR NGG 16 Class Garratt, Black unlined livery. Stripped and undergoing restoration at Boston Lodge Works, expected in traffic for Spring 2008. No. 87 will be coal-fired when it enters service.
133 2-8-2 1953 Société Anglo-Franco-Belge 150px ex-SAR NG15 Class Unrestored. Stored at Dinas.
134 2-8-2 1953 Société Anglo-Franco-Belge ex-SAR NG15 Class Unrestored. Stored at Dinas. Some preparatory works have been carried out on 134, which will be restored before no.133. However, work is currently on hold pending the completion of the restoration of K1 and the work to bring no. 140 into service.
138 Millennium/ Mileniwm 2-6-2+2-6-2 1958 Beyer-Peacock 150px ex-SAR NGG 16 Class Garratt, green livery. Likely to be taken out of service autumn 2007 to have the boiler recertificated. Although it had seemed likely that 138's boiler would be replaced by that from no.140, the preferred option is to refurbish its own boiler.
140 2-6-2+2-6-2 1958 Beyer-Peacock ex-SAR NGG 16 Class Garratt, red livery. Currently stripped with restoration proceeding at Dinas. 140's boiler is being overhauled may be used in no.143 in 2009. 140 will be the fourth NGG 16 to enter service.
143 2-6-2+2-6-2 1958 Beyer-Peacock 150px ex-SAR NGG16 Class Garratt, black livery. This was the last locomotive built by Beyer, Peacock and Company in Manchester. Currently in service, but due for boiler recertification in 2008/9: it may use no.140's boiler when it is overhauled.
Castell Caernarfon B-B 1967 Funkey 150px This 335hp diesel hydraulic locomotive was built for work in a diamond mine and was later used for cement traffic at Port Elizabeth, South Africa. It is one of a pair imported by the Ffestiniog Railway, the other (Vale of Ffestiniog) being re-bodied to fit the FR loading gauge. It was the first locomotive to be moved to Dinas, in January 1997.
Upnor Castle 4-wheel 1954 F.C. Hibberd This 180hp Gardiner 6LXB diesel engined locomotive was built for R.N. Chattendon and Upnor Railway. Sold to Welshpool and Llanfair Railway in 1962 and to the Festiniog Railway in 1968 and re-gauged. Transferred Dinas, in August 1997 for use on reconstruction work.
Castell Conwy/Conway Castle 4-wheel 1958 F.C. Hibberd This 180hp Gardiner 6LXB diesel engined locomotive was built for R.N.A.D. Ernesettle, Plymouth. Bought by the Festiniog Railway in 1981 and re-gauged, it was re-bodied and overhauled at Boston Lodge in 1986 and frequently used on 'pull and push' trains. After several years on light duties a new engine was fitted in October 1999. Transferred to Dinas, in April 2000 for use as a stand-by on passenger engine. Used also on civil engineering rosters.

Passenger Coaches and Vans


All coaches are bogie vehicles unless otherwise stated.

No. Date built Builder Body Type seats Image Notes
1 1973 WHR Ltd. saloon/brake 20 Observation and Brake end car with central glazed saloon and part-glazed observation compartment. Coachwork mounted on a modified Hudson bogie chassis. Sold to the Teifi Valley Railway in 1998.
2 1902 Midland Railway Carriage and Wagon Company rebuilt in 1938 by GWR. brake van 0 150px Ex. G.W.R. Vale of Rheidol Railway four-wheeled van, sold by British Rail 1968.
3 1980 WHR Ltd. open toast rack 18 Three open unglazed compartments. Bodywork mounted on a modified Hudson bogie chassis.
6 1995 WHR Ltd. Saloon 12 Bodywork mounted on modified RNAD four-wheeled flat wagon No. 69.
5 1913 Waggonfabrik Wismar Chassis of Deutsche Reichsbahn bogie coach awaiting new body. No. 960-104 imported 1972.
6 1981 WHR Ltd. semi-open part-glazed toast rack 18 Three compartments. Bodywork mounted on a modified Hudson bogie chassis. Sold to the Amerton Railway
7 1987 WHR Ltd. Fully glazed saloon with tables 32 150px 'The Eisteddfod Coach' Coachwork mounted on a modified Hudson bogie chassis.
29 1891 Metropolitan Carriage & Wagon Co. Central glazed saloon with open balcony at each end 24 150px 'The Gladstone Car' Ex North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways recovered 1988 and restored by WHR Ltd.
23 1893 Ashbury Carriage and Wagon Co Manchester Fully glazed saloon 30 'The Buffet Car' This carriage was initially given the number "23" in the combined FR/WHR stock list. However, there is documentary evidence that the carriage was formally identified as "No. 24" in 1936. It appears that this number change occurred in 1926 when the WHR exchanged one of their Ashbury "Summer" carriages (No 24) with the FR in return for three bogie coal wagons.

The carriage was modified by the WHR in 1927 to serve as a buffet car, a service which operated until 1929. It was recovered in 1987 and is being restored by WHR Ltd.

42 1924 Hudson open toast rack 24 Three open unglazed compartments. One of six original bogie toast racks built by Hudson for use on the WHR and FR. Completely rebuilt by WHR Ltd.
25 1893 Ashbury Carriage and Wagon Co Manchester Fully glazed saloon 30

WHR (Caernarfon)

The principal source of information for this table is the: "Rheilffordd Eryri - Welsh Highland Railway Traveller's Guide" by the Ffestiniog Railway Company circa 2002, supplemented by later information as it becomes available.

No. Date built Builder Body Type Seats Image Notes
23 1894 Ashbury Carriage and Wagon Co Manchester 7 compartment 56 Built for the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways became Welsh Highland Railway property in 1923 and was reduced in height to fit the FR loading gauge. Became Festiniog Railway property (in exchange for three bogie wagons) in 1926. Prior to this exchange, this carriage had been WHR No 24. Subsequent to the exchange, the number "24" was allocated to Ashbury "Corridor" No. 23, re-establishing the division between FR and WHR stock in the combined stock list. No 23 returned to FR service in 1955 and full doors fitted in 1966. Refurbished in 2002 and returned to the WHR.
24 2002 FR Boston Lodge Works 7 compartment 56 A replica of an 1894 "Ashbury" NWNGR "Summer Coach".
1000 FR Boston Lodge Works 150px ex-Festiniog Railway coach now used as a mess coach for tracklaying crews
2020 1997 Winson Engineering semi-open saloon 36 The first coach built for the Caernarfon service, delivered to Boston Lodge for trials on the FR and transferred to Dinas in September 1997. All the modern coaches run on bogies imported from South Africa.
2021 2002 Alan Keef semi-open saloon 36 (design as above)
2022 2002 Alan Keef semi-open saloon 36 (design as above)
2040 1997 Winson Engineering saloon 36 Fully upholstered, heated and double glazed coach delivered to Dinas in September 1997 for the start of the Caernarfon service.
2041 1997 Winson Engineering saloon 36 (as above)
2042 1997 Winson Engineering saloon 36 (as above)
2043 2007 FR Boston Lodge Works saloon 36 A development of the Winson Engineering carriages delivered in 1997, including wider door opening for easier access to passengers with reduced mobility.
2044 2007 FR Boston Lodge Works saloon 36 (as above)
2045 2007 FR Boston Lodge Works saloon 36 150px (as above)
2090 1997 Winson Engineering guard/saloon 22 Fully upholstered, heated and double glazed coach with double doors for wheelchair access, sponsored by First Hydro and delivered to Dinas in September 1997 for the start of the Caernarfon service.
2115 1998 Winson Engineering Pullman saloon 20 150px Heated and double glazed. Fitted with Pullman style armchairs. Finished in U.K. Pullman Car Company livery and named "Bodysgallen". Sponsored by Historic Houses Hotels Ltd, the proprietors of Bodysgallen Hall.


Template:Welsh Highland Railway

WHR (Porthmadog)

WHR (Caernarfon)


  1. Steam Railway Magazine, March 2008
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Welsh Highland Railway Stock List - Eryri Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "eryri" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "eryri" defined multiple times with different content
  3. Phase 4: Rhyd Ddu to Porthmadog; Hafod Ruffydd - Beddgelert Forest Campsite. Retrieved on 2007-11-02.


  • Boyd, James I.C. (1988). Narrow Gauge Railways in South Caernarvonshire: Volume One (including NWNGR & PBSSR). The Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-85361-365-6. 
  • Boyd, James I.C. (1989). Narrow Gauge Railways in South Caernarvonshire: Volume Two - The Welsh Highland Railway. The Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-85361-383-4. 
  • Hopkins, John C. (2003). Rheilffordd Eryri/The Welsh Highland Railway: 1991 to 2003, 4th edition 388pp. The author. 
  • Johnson, Peter (1999). Portrait of the Welsh Highland Railway. Ian Allan Publishing Lts. 
  • Johnson, Peter (2003). An Illustrated History of the Welsh Highland Railway. Oxford Publishing Company. ISBN 0-86093-565-5. 
  • Turner, Alun (2003). The Welsh Righland Railway: a History, 4th edition. Stenlak Publishing. ISBN 1-84033-263-8. 

See also

External links

Wikimedia Commons
has media related to:
Welsh Highland Railway


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