Welsh Highland Railway

Gauge: 1ft 11½in (600mm)

The Welsh Highland Railway took over a number of complete and partially built lines, to provide a through route from Dinas Junction, about 3 miles from Caernafon, to Porthmadog in North Wales. The railway opened throughout in 1923, but was never financially successful, closing in 1937.

In 1961, a society was formed in an attempt to reopen the line. This now operates the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway at Porthmadog. Following various issues, the task of fully reopening the railway was achieved in 2010 by the Festiniog Railway Co., who trade as the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways.

The Welsh Highland Railway opened from Dinas, three miles south of Caernarfon, where there was a junction with the LMS, to Porthmadog, where it linked up with the Festiniog Railway, in June 1923. Thereby a scheme first mooted in the 1870s was essentially brought to fruition. Engineers to the new line were Sir Douglas Fox & Partners and the contractors Sir Robert McAlpine. Not long after the line’s opening Col Stephens was appointed engineer and manager to both the WHR and the FR.

The WHR incorporated two older narrow gauge railways: part of the Croesor Tramway opened in 1864 using horse haulage to bring slate from the Croesor valley to Porthmadog harbour, and the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway from Dinas Junction to Rhyd Ddu/South Snowdon, some three and a half miles north of Beddgelert. Until the opening of the Snowdon Mountain Railway in 1896 the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway provided the best means of accessing Snowdon’s summit.

From Tryfan Junction, two miles south of Dinas, a branch line went to Bryngwyn for the purpose of tapping the traffic provided by slate quarried on Moel Tryfan. Authorised by Act of Parliament in 1872 this system was fully operational by 1881 albeit in receivership from 1878.

In 1901 the Portmadoc Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway was formed to complete the link between the NWNGR and the Festiniog using an electric railway. It ordered a new steam locomotive “Russell” for the NWNGR and a lot of construction was carried out, including cutting the Aberglaslyn Tunnels, before work was abandoned in 1908. The only part of the scheme that was completed was the hydro-electric power station at Cwm Dyli, which still feeds power into the National Grid.

Passenger traffic on the Bryngwyn Branch ceased in 1913 and on the main line in 1916. During WWI there was substantial traffic in pit props from Rhyd Ddu and iron ore from Betws Garmon.

But for the war the WHR may have been earlier on the scene. In the event it arrived too late; the slate industry was in terminal decline and the motor coach was becoming a strong competitor for tourist traffic. On top of this the carriages were old and uncomfortable, the season of most trains too short and the journey taking too long. Invariably one had to change at Beddgelert – and wait for the connection – if travelling the full length of the line.

In 1934 the Festiniog Railway leased the WHR in an attempt to save it. Locomotives and carriages were painted in ‘attractive’ colours but all to no avail. The last passengers were carried in September 1936 and freight traffic ceased the following year.

Between 1941 – 42 the track was lifted to aid the war effort. Fortunately all was not lost for “Russell” and three of the original carriages are still with us, albeit substantially rebuilt.

In 1961 the original Welsh Highland Society sowed the seed for re-opening, a task completed by the FR in 2010.

Prior to 1937

Number / NameManufacturerTypeNotes
North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway
Snowdon RangerVulcan Foundry No.739 of 18750-6-4T Single FairlieScrapped by 1919
Moel TryfanVulcan Foundry No.738 of 18750-6-4T Single FairlieScrapped 1954
BeddgelertHunslet Engine Co. No.206 of 18780-6-4STScrapped 1906
Portmadoc Beddgelert & South Snowdon
RussellHunslet Engine Co. No.901 of 19062-6-2TSold to Hook Norton Ironstone 1942
GowrieHunslet Engine Co. No.979 of 19080-6-4T Single FairlieSold 1918
Welsh Highland Railway
590Baldwin Locomotive Works No.45172 of 1917Ex WD 1923. Scrapped 1940s

Post Preservation Welsh Highland Railway

Number / NameManufacturerTypeNotes
K1Beyer, Peacock and Company of 19090-4-0+0-4-0Ex Tasmanian Railways
87John Cockerill & Cie of 19372-6-2+2-6-2Ex South African Railways
109Beyer, Peacock and Company of 19392-6-2+2-6-2Ex South African Railways
130Beyer, Peacock and Company of 19512-6-2+2-6-2Ex South African Railways
133Société Franco-Belge of 19532-8-2Ex South African Railways
134Société Franco-Belge of 19532-8-2Ex South African Railways
138Beyer, Peacock and Company of 19582-6-2+2-6-2Ex South African Railways
140Beyer, Peacock and Company of 19582-6-2+2-6-2Ex South African Railways
143Beyer, Peacock and Company of 19582-6-2+2-6-2Ex South African Railways

Other steam and diesel locomotives are shared with the Festiniog Railway.

Post Preservation Welsh Highland Heritage Railway

Number / NameManufacturerTypeNotes
RussellHunslet Engine Co. No.901 of 19062-6-2TEx various owners 1987
KarenPeckett & Sons No.2024 of 19420-4-2TEx Africa 1978
GelertW.G.Bagnall No.3050 of 19530-4-2TEx Africa 1982
Lady MadcapHunslet Engine Co. No.652 of 18960-4-0STEx Dinowic Quarry. Dismantled
590 / 794Baldwin Locomotive Works No.44699 of 19174-6-0TEx India 1985


The railway has a number of diesel locomotives.