Top Five Narrow Gauge Steam Locomotives on Heritage Railways in Wales
Published: Tuesday 8th Apr 2014
Written by: The Wales Cottage Holidays Team
At the end of the 1950s, there was much discussion about plans to restore the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway. The Talyllyn and the Ffestiniog had already been reopened - was there enough interest to sustain another line in Wales? Today there are in the region of twenty operational railways here and they are one of the most popular attractions for visitors to Wales Holidays self-catering cottages.
The trains are hauled by a wide range of locomotives and this is a choice of the top five. “Prince” is one of the original locomotives built in 1863 when steam power was introduced on the Ffestiniog Railway and it is still hauling trains from Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog in North Wales; together with three other of the Railway’s engines, these are the oldest surviving narrow gauge locomotives in the world.
The recently reopened Welsh Highland Railway, which operates from Caernarfon to Porthmadog, has some very different locomotives. K1 for example was the world's first Garratt articulated locomotive, built in 1909 for a railway in Tasmania. After it was no longer required, it was shipped back to the UK and subsequently acquired by the Ffestiniog Railway and put on display at the National Railway Museum in York. Restored to working order, this giant of narrow gauge engines started working on the Welsh Highland on 2007.
In 1951 the Talyllyn Railway at Tywyn on the Cardigan Bay coast became the first volunteer run preserved railway in the world. One of its earliest members that year was the Rev. Wilbert Awdry who had by then already written five books of his Railway Series. His tenth book featured a narrow-gauge railway in which, by “coincidence”, the engines on this railway all had “twins” on the Talyllyn. No.6 Duncan was introduced in later books and the Talyllyn’s No.6 locomotive (originally called “Douglas” is now painted red and running in the guise of “Duncan”.
Not all the steam locomotives on the narrow gauge railways in Wales are old. When the Corris Railway near Machynlleth in Mid Wales was being restored there was a problem in that when the line closed in 1948, the surviving engines were sold to the Talyllyn Railway. The solution was to build a new one - a modern version of the "Tattoo" class similar to their loco No.4. In 2005, this brand new steam engine was delivered to the Railway and another one is also being built.
The Brecon Mountain Railway’s locomotive No.2 was built in the USA in 1930 and until 1974 it was hauling limestone near Port Elizabeth in South Africa. However in that year it decided to go off on its own (in other words, someone left the brake off) but after a few miles it derailed and was written-off. Iit was shipped back as deck cargo to Liverpool and subsequently had a long rebuild; today this 47 ton locomotive is hauling trains out of the Railway’s station at Pant near Merthyr Tydfil. Both narrow gauge and standard gauge lines are featured in Wales Holidays pages on Heritage Railways with information on operating days and events.