WELSH HIGH­LAND AM­BI­TION

the reawak­en­ing of the Welsh High­land rail­way is one of preser­va­tion’s great­est tri­umphs, but it’s not quite ‘fin­ished’, as GOR­DON RUSH­TON ex­plains.

Steam Railway (UK) - - Contents - For more in­for­ma­tion on the Welsh High­land Rail­way, timeta­bles and a list of forth­com­ing events, visit www.fes­trail.co.uk

Any­one vis­it­ing the tem­po­rary Welsh High­land Rail­way (WHR) book­ing of­fice at Caernar­fon may be for­given for mak­ing un­favourable com­par­i­son with the fine, fully sig­nalled ter­mi­nal at Porth­madog. Un­til now the ex­cuse would be that, like Caernar­fon Cas­tle it­self, Caernar­fon sta­tion was un­fin­ished. But not for much longer, be­cause peo­ple have been dig­ging deep in their pock­ets to sup­port the building of a top-qual­ity ter­mi­nal sta­tion. Not so ter­mi­nal, though, that the WHR couldn’t re­gain the tun­nel un­der the town for rail­way use if the op­por­tu­nity presents it­self, and grand enough to of­fer vis­i­tors the fa­cil­i­ties they now ex­pect. Building work has now be­gun on this crown­ing glory - the cul­mi­na­tion of a new steam rail­way line run­ning 25 miles from the Ffes­tin­iog Rail­way’s (FR) ter­mi­nus at Porth­madog to Caernar­fon. Like Caernar­fon sta­tion, the Welsh High­land Rail­way was ‘un­fin­ished’ when it opened in 2010, but the glory of an al­most 100% steam rail­way has been steadily added to ev­ery year since then. To run a rail­way with two trains in ser­vice to­gether, and steadily grow­ing traf­fic, de­mands enough car­riages of the right qual­ity, and re­li­able lo­co­mo­tives to haul them - and the story of steam lo­co­mo­tives on to­day’s WHR is quite spe­cial, not least ow­ing to the daunt­ing ter­rain they cross.

OVER­COM­ING OB­STA­CLES

The rail­way of­fers chal­lenges, 2ft gauge or not. Al­most at the plat­form end at Caernar­fon the gra­di­ent steep­ens to 1 in 50, which is not wel­com­ing to a cold steam lo­co­mo­tive. And there’s about two miles of 1 in 40 a short way out of Di­nas to­wards Rhyd-Ddu as a re­minder not to mess with this part of Wales! Although the jour­ney out from Porth­madog is like a bil­liard ta­ble for the first five miles, it sud­denly rises with a vi­cious 1 in 40 climb af­ter Hafod-y-Llyn, and this goes on al­most with­out in­ter­rup­tion for the next five miles along with curves of 55-me­tre ra­dius. This is twice as steep as the 13-mile long FR, so the WHR was a som­bre prospect for the rail­way re­stor­ers - un­til it was re­mem­bered that it had al­ready solved this prob­lem, or rather Beyer Pea­cock in Manch­ester had. It was clear from the start that the WHR was go­ing to work hard for its liv­ing –- in­deed, many peo­ple promised fail­ure and eco­nomic dis­as­ter at an early date. Her­bert Gar­ratt and Beyer Pea­cock, how­ever, saved the day. Gar­ratt’s fa­mous pro­to­type ‘K1’ had been re­turned from Tas­ma­nia, and the Ffes­tin­iog had bought it when Bey­ers closed. It stood idle for many years, with no one will­ing to butcher it to fit the Ffes­tin­iog load­ing gauge. It was a re­minder of the so­lu­tion for which no one had yet found a prob­lem. When that prob­lem came, it co­in­cided with the avail­abil­ity of a prime an­swer. The clo­sure of the 610mm nar­row gauge lines in South Africa of­fered ex­am­ples for sale of the pow­er­ful ‘NGG16’ 2-6-2+2-6-2 Beyer Gar­ratt lo­co­mo­tives - and the Ffes­tin­iog bought two. The first lit­tle stretch of the WHR opened, with the three miles be­tween Caernar­fon and Di­nas prov­ing to be a per­fect test­ing ground for Nos. 138 and 143. The cal­cu­la­tion that they would each be able to pull 12 cars on a dry rail was con­firmed. Ef­fi­cient san­ders have been fit­ted to achieve the same per­for­mance on a wet rail. Then, a cu­ri­ous phe­nom­e­non came to visit as the rail­way es­caped from Di­nas and made its way into the moun­tains. There were knocks on the door from peo­ple of­fer­ing gen­er­ous projects to run their Gar­ratts in reg­u­lar ser­vice on the WHR. Such kind­ness has re­ally solved the mo­tive power prob­lem in the most glo­ri­ous way. The ‘not fin­ished’ na­ture of the WHR meant a mea­gre five car­riages to its name when start­ing to run the first three miles, but this num­ber of ve­hi­cles in­creased steadily, grad­u­ally load­ing the lo­co­mo­tives as the rail­way got longer. By the time the full length opened, with stock bor­rowed from the Ffes­tin­iog, the two rakes com­prised up to ten cars each and

there was the de­mand for two trains per day. For­tu­nately, the first of the ex­tra Gar­ratts - a Bel­gian-built ma­chine, No. 87 - was over­hauled and work­ing. No. 140 was also avail­able, but kept as a kit of ‘ready parts’, with the lo­co­mo­tive’s iden­tity set by the boiler and cra­dle (so No. 140 will ap­pear in due course). Yet this was too close to the edge with a 100% steam rail­way run­ning two trains a day. In 2016, No. 87 ran 13,189 miles and No. 138 ran 14,120 miles – and when run­ning that far, re­li­able backup is es­sen­tial. For­tu­nately, again through gen­eros­ity, Gar­ratt No. 130 is now surg­ing to­wards com­ple­tion with a new boiler, No. 109 is await­ing over­haul as a kit of parts at Di­nas, and a spare boiler is now out to ten­der for re­pair. The ob­jec­tive is to be ‘safe’ for mo­tive power, so that over­hauls find the pace that is af­ford­able – this has hap­pened.

RIS­ING TO CHAL­LENGES

Pres­sure never eases, though, as ef­fi­cient mar­ket­ing and sales in­creases pas­sen­ger num­bers - and a strug­gle has been tak­ing place to keep pace with pas­sen­ger de­mand by of­fer­ing two, com­fort­able ten-car cor­ri­dor trains of full-width WHR load­ing gauge stock. The new Caernar­fon sta­tion al­lows room for 12-car trains to op­er­ate on the WHR when nec­es­sary, as they do on the FR, so an or­der for new coaches is be­ing tack­led at the FR’s Bos­ton Lodge works. It has built the new ‘Su­per Sa­loons’ at a cost of £130,000-200,000 each, and con­tin­ues to build more for both rail­ways. Caernar­fon sta­tion will en­able 12-car trains and ex­pand­ing pas­sen­ger num­bers will mean that the cur­rent fleet of Gar­ratts are go­ing to have to work rather harder. For­tu­nately, the Ffes­tin­iog ‘Su­per Sa­loons’ have the same level of com­fort as a WHR saloon, which is the rea­son for building them! A new Ffes­tin­iog cor­ri­dor train is steadily emerg­ing from the Bos­ton Lodge

car­riage work­shop, ve­hi­cle by ve­hi­cle. It’s de­signed to run through ser­vices from Blae­nau Ffes­tin­iog to Caernar­fon, when needed, and that will make it the long­est heritage rail­way run in Bri­tain nearly 40 miles - by a 2ft gauge train. Soon No. 130 will join the ‘NGG16’ fleet that will com­prise Nos. 87, 109, 130, 138, 140 and 143. The awe­some point to make about the progress be­ing made is how the money is found for it. There are splen­did schemes un­der­way within preser­va­tion, es­pe­cially for lo­co­mo­tives, but the cost of re­triev­ing the WHR was £28m and £14m of that was raised from spon­sors and mem­ber­ship over the 20 years that it took to build. Some £14m was given by the State, but then eco­nomic stud­ies show that the com­bined FR and WHR put back some £25m per year into the lo­cal econ­omy, so the grants were good for both par­ties. You don’t of­ten come across fig­ures, but they are im­por­tant: with­out fundrais­ing, noth­ing would ever hap­pen. The F&WHR needs 40 ‘Su­per Sa­loons’, in­clud­ing ob­ser­va­tions and ser­vice cars - that’s £6m to find over the building pe­riod for the fleet (and then they have to be main­tained and sheds need to be built to put them in). The seven ‘NGG16’ Gar­ratts cost just un­der £500,000 each for a ma­jor over­haul and restora­tion, so that’s £3m, and this doesn’t in­clude any pur­chase price, nor run­ning main­te­nance. Added to­gether, this part of the ex­pen­sive game of trains al­ready nearly reaches £10m. Re­build­ing Caernar­fon sta­tion to of­fer vis­i­tors the fa­cil­i­ties they need and per­suade them to ac­cess the Na­tional Park by train (sav­ing per­haps 100,000 car jour­neys on Na­tional Park roads) is im­pres­sive. Even more so is the fact that Caernar­fon Cas­tle and WHR ‘an­chor’ peo­ple in the town by lur­ing a flood of over 200,000 vis­i­tors a year to spend money and im­prove com­mer­cial pros­per­ity. Per­haps for that rea­son the £2.5m sta­tion scheme has been gen­er­ously grant aided, but it doesn’t come free. The Ffes­tin­iog & Welsh High­land must pro­vide £420,000 to­wards that. Along with all the ex­pen­di­tures men­tioned (lo­co­mo­tives and car­riages) and not men­tioned (other new sta­tions, sheds and work­shops to keep the new equip­ment shel­tered and op­er­a­tional, track, wag­ons, and a myr­iad of other things) the WHR is al­ways look­ing at ways to raise es­sen­tial funds. One suc­cess­ful route has been in ar­rang­ing fun and in­ter­est­ing events aimed at en­cour­ag­ing as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble to visit and en­joy all that steam has to of­fer. And two forth­com­ing events are sure to prove ap­peal­ing to en­thu­si­asts and fam­i­lies alike - ‘Su­per Power - Welsh High­land Stars’ on Septem­ber 15-17 and a ‘Vic­to­rian Week­end’ on October 6-8, where you’ll per­haps get a glimpse of some of the se­crets be­hind closed doors. The rail­way looks for­ward to see­ing you there!

CHRIS PARRY

Snow­don seren­ity: Gar­ratt No. 138 drifts down­hill away from Bed­dgel­ert with a train for Porth­madog.

WHR

A Gar­ratt-hauled train snakes through the Aber­glaslyn Pass.

WHR

One of the power bo­gies for Gar­ratt No. 130, un­der over­haul, ar­rives at Di­nas.

WHR

An artist’s im­pres­sion of the new sta­tion to be built at Caernar­fon.

‘Su­per Saloon’ No. 119 was out­shopped in Septem­ber 2014 and was built thanks to a £100,000 do­na­tion from sup­porter Mar­garet Ritchie.

PHO­TOS: AN­DREW THOMAS

No. 119’s in­te­rior features panoramic win­dows and laser-cut maps of the F&WHR on each ta­ble.

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