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Snowdonia & the Lleyn Peninsula - Heritage Railways

The Ffestiniog Railway

The Ffestiniog Railway is the oldest independent railway company in the World - being founded by an Act of Parliament in 1832. The railway was built as a gravity and horse drawn line to transport slate from the quarries in the mountains around Blaenau Ffestiniog. As the slate industry flourished, so did the railway and the town of Porthmadog. Slates from Blaenau Ffestiniog were exported to ports all over the globe - many in ships built in Porthmadog.

The railway was extremely successful and introduced many innovative engineering solutions to cope with the rapid increase in output from the quarries and in the number of passengers it carried. Engineers from around the world came to study the Ffestiniog Railway and, as a result, it has influenced the design and construction of railways in many countries.

However, the slate industry - and then passenger numbers - slowly declined, until finally the railway closed to traffic in 1946. Luckily, pioneering railway enthusiasts were determined that the railway should survive and it was re-opened in 1954.

But it was not until 25 May 1982, the 150th Anniversary almost to the day of the Company's first Act of Parliament, that the Ffestiniog Railway once again ran from Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog.

The Railway’s historic trains can take you on a 13.5 mile journey as they climb over 700 feet from sea level into the mountains through tranquil pastures and magnificent forests, past lakes and waterfalls, round horseshoe bends (even a complete spiral) clinging to the side of the mountain or even tunnelling through it.

The Welsh Highland Railway

The Welsh Highland Railway runs from Caernarfon on a spectacular scenic journey, climbing over 650ft from sea level as it crosses the flanks of Mount Snowdon, before zigzagging dramatically down the steep hillside to reach Beddgelert village, the magnificent Aberglaslyn Pass, Pont Croesor beside the RSPB Glaslyn Osprey Centre and through to Porthmadog.

Here the trains now connect with the Ffestiniog Railway, offering onwards travel as far as Blaenau Ffestiniog. In total, a trip from Caernarfon to Blaenau is a staggering 40 miles – truly a new 'Great Railway Journey'.

For your journey, the Welsh Highland offers high-quality saloon carriages with on-train refreshments and toilets, the superior comfort of First Class in the Pullman Saloon "Bodysgallen" and a panoramic Pullman Observation carriage - or you could even experience the scenery with the wind ruffling your hair in one of the railway’s open coaches! The railway starts beside the awe-inspiring Caernarfon Castle.

The route south of Caernarfon follows the former line to Afon Wen to link up with the old terminus of the Welsh Highland at Dinas. The line runs east from Dinas, snaking around seemingly impossible bends, up hard gradients and around the foothills of Snowdon to arrive at Rhyd Ddu, about 12 miles from Caernarfon and high up in the Snowdonia Mountains.

Leaving Rhyd Ddu, trains pass glistening Llyn y Gader and climb to the summit of the line at Pitts Head. The descent to Beddgelert follows rapidly, as the line ‘zig-zags’ down the steep hillside revealing new and unexpected vistas of the surrounding mountains at every turn.

After Beddgelert, the railway heads toward the Aberglaslyn Pass. Trains run beside, then high above, the fast flowing Afon Glaslyn before plunging dramatically into a tunnel through the hillside. Emerging on the far side, the line descends past Nantmor village to reach Pont Croesor and on to Porthmadog.

Llanberis Lake Railway

This narrow gauge steam railway runs for 2.5 miles along the north bank of the lake starting from Gilfach Ddu station in the Padarn Country Park along the route of the Padarn Railway, which served the slate quarries in the area.

The five mile return trip takes around 60 minutes, and all advertised trains are scheduled to be hauled by one of the railway’s vintage steam engines rescued from the nearby Dinorwig slate quarries.

The Welsh Highland Heritage Railway

Located just north of Porthmadog centre off Tremadog Road near to the Machynlleth to Pwllheli Cambrian Coast line railway station, a train on the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway will take you for a short ride and then stop at the Engine Sheds where passengers get to climb into the cabs of the locomotives and see how things work.

Find out about the narrow gauge railways of Porthmadog and how they became famous around the world with your free visitor guide. There is a miniature railway version at the Engine Sheds, a shop and tea room.

The Snowdon Mountain Railway

Built in 1896, the only public rack and pinion railway in the UK scales the highest mountain in England and Wales. Steam hauled, single carriage trains have taken visitors to the summit for well over a century and 2009 saw the opening of the Hafod Eryri, the new building at the top of Snowdon. The return journey to the Summit Station takes 2.5 hours which includes a 30 minute stop at the peak.

Weather conditions on Snowdon are very unpredictable and can change quickly. If weather conditions become severe and trains cannot proceed to the Summit they will terminate at Clogwyn Station (3/4 distance up Snowdon) or Rocky Valley (5/8 up Snowdon). A reduced fare is offered for such journeys.

2013 saw the beginning of a new era at the Railway when the four new carriages will be pushed by the four diesel locomotives in a beautiful new livery. The steam locomotives will be restored and the old carriages would continue to operate with the steam service from May to September.

The National Slate Museum, Llanberis

The National Slate Museum at Llanberis offers a day full of enjoyment and education in a dramatically beautiful landscape on the shores of Llyn Padarn. Located in the unique 19th Century workshops of the massive Dinorwig Slate Quarry, much is as it was when the quarry was being worked.

Today the Loco shed is home to Una, a 0-4-0, narrow gauge steam engine, built in 1905 by Hunslet of Leeds. Una is a good example of the kind of steam engines working in the quarries from the 1860s onwards. Without these engines, the quarries would not have developed as they did - railway connections could make or break a quarry. Una spent her working life at the Penyrorsedd quarry in the Nantlle Valley. The Museum staff has worked very hard to restore her to her former glory, and Una is now fully operational and she is steamed on a regular basis.

The Conwy Valley Rail Museum

The Conwy Valley Rail Museum is open all year round and is situated by the rail station at Betws-y-Coed; here visitors can trace the history of this line, visit an extensive model shop, ride on steam and diesel trains on a miniature railway and have tea in a 1950’s railway carriage.

The Great Orme Tramway

The Great Orme Tramway at Llandudno has been delighting visitors since it opened in 1902. An engineering marvel of its age, it's still the only cable-hauled tramway still operating on British public roads. At the Halfway Station exhibition, visitors can discover the fascinating funicular tramway and re-live the experience of travel more than 100 years ago in the original tramcars - each named after a Saint. The whole tramway has been lovingly restored, ready for another century of service.

The views from the Great Orme's 679ft (207m) summit are breathtaking - from Snowdonia and Anglesey, all the way to the Isle of Man, Blackpool and the Lake District.

Trams run every 20 minutes, seven days a week from late March to late October starting at 10am and finishing at 6pm (5pm March and October).

Penrhyn Castle Railway Museum

Dedicated to industrial locomotives, some of which were once used in the Penrhyn quarry, Penrhyn Castle's Railway Museum is open daily. Located near Bangor, this enormous 19th century neo-Norman castle sits between Snowdonia and the Menai Strait. In the care of the National Trust, visitors to the museum can discover more about the previous lives of steam engines and their connections with Penrhyn and the quarry.

“Fire Queen” was built in 1848 and was amongst the first engines to be used on the Padarn Railway; she has been lovingly restored to her original style. “Charles” is a saddle tank locomotive, one of the 'main line' engines used at Penrhyn Quarry; built by Hunslet in 1882, “Charles” worked until the 1950s and was later restored. “Hugh Napier” has just been restored by the National Trust and the Ffestiniog Railway Company; it spent its working life at the Penrhyn quarries.

Bala Lake Railway

The Bala Lake Railway offers a delightful 9-mile (approximately an hour) return journey alongside Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake). This is the largest natural body of water in Wales at 1,084 acres, much used by water sports enthusiasts who benefit from the winds sweeping through the mountain valley in which it is set; it is 4 miles long by a mile wide.

This narrow gauge line has been laid on the trackbed of the former standard gauge Great Western Railway route from Ruabon to join the Cambrian Coast line at Morfa Mawddach (Barmouth Junction). It is operated by former quarry steam locomotives and runs from the southern end of Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid) at Llanuwchllyn to Bala Halt, just south of the former Bala Junction, where another line used to run to the town of Bala and onto Trawsfynydd and Blaenau Ffestiniog - the latter section still exists although it has been closed for some years now.

The railway's HQ is located in Llanuwchllyn, where ample free car-parking, refreshments, small gift shop, toilets, picnic tables plus all the railway's storage and repair facilities can be found. All trains start and finish their journey at Llanuwchllyn and early visitors may be able to view the day's engine being prepared prior to the departure of the first train of the day.

After each trip to Bala and back (except the last journey), the locomotive is serviced at the water tower at the western edge of the Llanuwchllyn station site; the station features an original GWR Signal Box that is often open to visitors and provides an unique perspective on the station.

Hunslet 0-4-0 saddle tank ‘Winifred’ dating from 1885 was repatriated in 2012 from a warehouse at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the USA and the Bala Lake Railway will be its new home. The loco is currently undergoing an overhaul prior to entering service on the railway. The Railway also has the total rebuild of a Hunslet 0-4-0 ‘George B’ going ahead in the workshops.

The Corris Railway

The Corris Railway was the first narrow Gauge railway in Mid-Wales. Built originally in 1859 as a 2' 3" gauge horse-hauled tramroad to convey slate from the quarries around Corris down to the main line at Machynlleth, steam locomotives arrived in 1878 and passengers were carried from 1883 to 1930.

The Railway closed in 1948 and was dismantled soon afterwards. The Corris Railway Museum opened in 1970 and passenger services recommenced in 2002, with regular steam-hauled services returning in 2005, operated by volunteer members of the Corris Railway Society.

On days when passenger trains are in running, the museum is open between 10:30 and 17:30 and trains leave Corris station on the hour from 11:00 until 16:00. The round trip takes 50 minutes, including a guided tour of the 133-year old engine shed and workshops at Maespoeth.

No single tickets are issued as under planning requirements all journeys must start and end at Corris Station; passenger services are steam-hauled whenever possible.

The Talyllyn Railway

The narrow gauge Talyllyn Railway was built in 1865 to carry slate from the Bryn Eglwys quarries near Abergynolwyn. The line runs for 7.25 miles from Tywyn on the Cardigan Bay coast to Nant Gwernol, from where a series of horse-drawn tramways continued into the mountains.

In 1951, history was being made - a group of enthusiasts had saved the Talyllyn Railway from closure and the scrapman, and were operating it as volunteers. A Society was formed to take over then railway and ensure its future, and thus it became the first volunteer run preserved railway in the world.

Many people were attracted by the idea, including the Reverend Wilbert Awdry, who became a volunteer Guard, and who was inspired to base some of his railway stories on it. This year we are celebrating sixty years of success, and by coincidence, the Centenary of Rev Awdry's birth.

Since the 1950s other historic locomotives and carriages have joined the original stock, new carriages have been built (heated in winter), a new locomotive has been constructed in the railway's Pendre Works, and the line has been extended to Nant Gwernol.

Passenger facilities have also developed; Wharf station now boasts King's Cafe and Bistro, a well stocked Gift Shop, and the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum. At Abergynolwyn light refreshments are available in the Quarryman's Tea Room, and there is the 'Railway Adventure' Playground for younger passengers.

The Narrow Gauge Railway Museum at Tywyn

The Narrow Gauge Railway Museum collection began in the 1950s when the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society was formed to take over and operate the Railway. Narrow gauge railways were at that time becoming redundant and their equipment was being scrapped. Immediately, items from other narrow gauge lines began to be offered to the Society and a committee was formed with the specific objective of acquiring examples of locomotives, rolling stock and other equipment to place them on public display.

In 1964 a charitable trust was formed to manage and develop the museum; this role was later taken on by the present Narrow Gauge Railway Museum Trust in 1994. The main activity of the Trust takes place at Wharf Station of the Talyllyn Railway with a display of static exhibits illustrating the diversity, individuality, technical ingenuity and charm of over seventy British narrow gauge railways.

A new station and museum complex was opened by the Prince of Wales on 13 July 2005 - a two storey building to house the museum, a refreshment room, and railway offices combined with a shop and booking office in an extended version of the original building.

Visitors can discover the role played in the development of the communities of Tywyn and the Fathew valley by the quarrying of slate and its transportation to market by the Talyllyn Railway. They can compare this with the experience of other narrow gauge railways in opening up remote areas of countryside and in supporting industries such as mining, manufacturing, forestry, agriculture and tourism as well as in the more industrialised parts of the country and in military establishments and in the support of armies in the field.

On the ground floor the story takes in the historical development of narrow gauge, permanent way, industrial, military and Welsh slate railways. Narrow gauge railways as "public carriers" in Great Britain and Ireland are featured on the first floor, along with a section on signalling. Many railways in England, Ireland and Wales are represented by a wide variety of relics.

The Fairbourne Railway

The Fairbourne Railway is a 2 mile long miniature railway which has provided a service between the village and Penrhyn Point since its opening in 1895. Originally built to carry building materials, the railway has carried holidaymakers for over a hundred years.

It runs alongside the beach to the end of the peninsula and at Penrhyn Point there is a connection with a pedestrian ferry across the Mawddach estuary to Barmouth.

The ferry has been in operation from early times and one of its passengers was the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1188.Before Henry VIII it was operated by local monks and thereafter by fishermen. From George III’s time, it was owned by the Barmouth Harbour Trust and let to suitable tenants providing a lifeline for Barmouth with a constant flow of goods and livestock.