Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways: First through train from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Caernarfon 25 March 2011
It's not often that a rail trip is organised by rail fans for rail fans, but on 25 March 2011 Kim Winter of the Ffestiniog Railway Society's London Area Group was able to do just that.
I can say that this is one of the best trips I have had the pleasure to travel on. The organisation was spot on in very respect.
With the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways connected up, there had to be a first journey from one end to the other.
The following snaps show, for late March in North Wales, the weather was also on form.
By way of bonus, 'Linda' was finally out having undergone a very protracted overhaul at Boston Lodge Works. In plain black she looked a treat, and was offered to the LAG for their rail tour, but the offer was declined. However, she did perform the pull-back duties for the second leg of the tour.
She had her day however on the Sunday, when she piloted 'Merddin Emrys' with a UK Pathfinders tour - at the bottom of the page there is a short clip showing her departing from Tan-y-Bwlch.
A commemorative mug was issued to all passengers - a nice touch. Click here for details of my first journey on the FR circa 11 August 1966.
The first all-line trip was organised by the London Area Group (LAG) of the Ffestiniog Railway Society. This was to be the first Blaenau Ffestioning - Porthmadog - Caernarfon since the closure of the original Welsh Highland Railway in 1936. An early idea was that the train might also take in the Tremadog Road terminus of the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway, but this was not to be - one for a future trip! To commemorate the event, LAG produced a mug. On the front it read 'FRS London Area Group. Eighty Miles on the Two-Foot. ERYRI VENTURER 25th March 2011: PORTHMADOG - BLAENAU FFESTINIOG - CAERNARFON - PORTHMADOG', and on the back, 'LIVING THE DREAM' 'EIGHTY MILES ON THE TWO-FOOT' 'I RODE THE FIRST TRAIN TO COMPLETE A FULL ROUND TRIP OF THE COMBINED F&WHR'. On the bottom it claims to be made by R.E.V.Gomm Ltd, Established 1908.
Ready for the off. 'Merddin Emrys' stands at Porthmadog pointing towards Blaenau Ffestioniog. The loco is standing on the connection to the Welsh Highland Railway, which passes to the right of the old goods shed in the background, and then becomes a street tramway as it crosses Britannia Bridge, before swinging north onto its dedicated alignment. Behind 'Merddin' is car 123 aka 101. This was an original first class Observation Car but was to be replaced. However on being assessed it was found to be in fairly good condition, so was given a new lease of life as a Third Class Observation Car. Although the internal paintwork was not quite finished, this was its first day in traffic. marshalled at the top end of the train (FR Observation Cars are traditionally at the bottom or downhill end of trains).
'Merddin Emrys' runs round at Blaenau Ffestiniog. Over the wall a school now occupies the site of the old Great Western Railway Goods Yard. This had both standard gauge and narrow gauge tracks, as the GWR had to service quarries at Manod, which used two-foot gauge tracks internally. The facilitate this, the GWR built both suitable slate waggons and piggy-back trucks to bring them up to Blaenau. The L&NWR also built its own two-foot gauge waggons: examples of both survive. The use of the double g in 'waggons' is the form the Ffestiniog has traditionally used.
'Merddin Emrys' takes water at Blaenau Ffestiniog. Note the wooden cladding to protect the tank at this exposed location, and the coloured-light signal marked with a white cross to show it is not in use - part of a scheme to automate the signalling at the station which had a brief moment of glory before being decommissioned.
The interior of the newly-commission 123 at Blaeunau Ffestiniog. Note how conventional wooden seats have now been fitted, replacing the original swivel chairs, and how the end seats face each other. The old louvre windows (originally designed for caravans and very difficult to keep clean with both coal and oil fired locos) have been replaced with neat drop lights.
I can honestly say that I have not laid very much track. But this section is the primary exception. Ably aided by John Sowerby and Andy Savage, we laid this section one afternoon when permanent track was being laid to enable access for both works trains and a short-lived passenger shuttle from Ddaullt.
The pumped-hydro electric power station from Tan-y-Grisiau station. The line used to run along the road leading to the power station and then through the actual site - the old cutting on the other side is still visible. The new line now climbs from the station before emerging just below the roof line of the Power Station, level with the upper windows. The ballast bed can just be made out. Commissioned in 1963, Ffestiniog Power Station was the UK's first major pumped storage power facility. Although of an older generation to those at Dinorwig, Ffestiniog's four generating units are still capable of achieving a combined output of 360MW of electricity - enough to supply the entire power needs of North Wales for several hours. The Generation Cycle begins at Llyn Stwlan - Ffestiniog's upper reservoir. Large screens inside the intake towers are opened to activate the high-pressure downflow.
The view across the Cob from either side of the train is spectacular. In this case Borth-y-Guest and the marina at Porthmadog are in view looking northwards as the train heads back to Harbour Station. For those who have followed the Michael Portillio railway journey programmes, there's a quick glimpse from this same spot but looking out to sea that appears in the opening sequence. The wave wall built in 1940 in an attempt to reduce flooding can be seen to the left of the train.
'Linda' on pull-back duty. This was her first movement hauling passengers since her overhaul.
'Linda' readies to pull the LAG special out onto the Cob. Note she is without a dome cover at this stage. She retains her original Hunslet slide-valve cylinders, unlike 'Blanche' that needed a new pair after a crack developed in the originals. Also at this rebuild, a attention was paid to restoring a number of details, such as the smokebox handrail, which now resembles the one she had when she arrived on the railway. However the smokebox assembly remains as modified when the pony truck and superheater were added. Previously the heavy cylinders where simply attached to the smokebox sides; wheras now the bottom of the smokebox is integral with the frames, making for a much stronger assembly.
A curious aspect of 'Linda' when under steam was the way that the front end disappeared each time in a cloud of steam...
...and the reason was she did not have any drain cocks! I have a set of these bought from Wickes sitting in my garage...but they did the job.
Beyer-Garrett 138 ready to work the second leg of the first Blaenau Ffestiniog-Caernarfon train 25 March 2011 to Caernarfon. One thing the new station layout won't allow is better photos into the sun at mid-day.
138 and a very clear Snowdon summit from the first Blaenau Ffestiniog-Caernarfon train 25 March 2011
Sunday 26 March 2011
Sunday 26 March 2011 was again warm and sunny: in marked contrast to March 2013 which was one of the coldest on record! 'Linda' was this time allowed to assist with a UK Pathfinder special. The heraldic device on 'Linda's' tender definitely says 'Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway', and the loco is painted black... The L&YR did have a number of narrow-gauge systems, usually associated with its workshops. Horwich was the most well-known with its fleet of dedicated 18 inch gauge steam locos, and one of the locos survives. The Meols Cop electric deport in Southport also had a short length at the northern end of the complex. Although difficult to see, the safety valves have been moved back from the dome and now reside in the cab.
'Linda' and 'Merddin Emrys' make a fine sight as they back down on to their train at Porthmadog Harbour Station. This area is now being redeveloped to create a new platform for Welsh Highland Railway trains to be terminated. This has involved widening the embankment and relocating the wave wall constructed in 1940. The new signal box and relay room are now located behind and to the left of the photographer. The new scheme will feature lower quadrant semaphore signals and the restoration of a 'trident' - the original was brought down from Blaenau in 1923 but was finally blown down in the late 1960s.
'Linda' and 'Merddin Emrys' set off with the empty coaching stock (ecs) for Blaenau Ffestiniog. Both locos were converted to oil firing in the 1970s. This was undertaken as the railway's medium-sized locos had smaller grate areas that reflected their industrial origins ('Linda' and 'Blanche') and therefore were more prone to fire-throwing when worked hard - which was virtually all the time! 'Merddin Emrys' had a better ratio of grate to traffic effort and arguably was less prone to fire throwing and might have been better kept as a coal burner. It's conversion to coal required major work on its tanks, which at the time were virtually brand new. A second set of traditionally-styled tanks were made at the same time for 'Earl of Merioneth' but these have not yet been fitted, and these to will have to be modified for coal.
'Merddin Emrys' and 'Linda' stand at the water tank at Tan-y-Bwlch. The driver can be seen in the act of removing the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway badge from the tender (shame!). This reflected the origins of the restoration team, who hailed from the two counties mentioned. The breeze block structure to the right was constructed as a signal box, very much in the style of one that featured in Meccano's Bayko construction set as it features domestic window frames. There was a set of GWR signal box windows that sat in the car park for some time, but were ultimately not used. The structure now houses the relays to work the automated signalling at this location.
'Merddin Emrys' and 'Linda' make a splendid site working their way northwards over the village of Tan-y-Grisiau ('Under-the-steps' in Welsh). 'Linda' is in plain black, reflecting a loco only just out of the workshops. I remember walking down this section in 1970 and not really believing trains would ever be restored. The train is just crossing a road bridge which the council removed during closure and raised the road level - also believing that trains would not be restored! On restoration, road vehicle access was engineered from a totally new location away from the railway.
'Merddin Emrys' and 'Linda' running round at Blaenau Ffestiniog. This is the site of the Great Western station in the town, and the Network Rail standard gauge line in the foreground once ran through to Bala and Bala Junction; latterly servicing the power station at Trawsfynydd, and now terminates at a buffer stop to form a headshunt. Track remains to the Power Station, and has recently been cleared by local volunteers as part of a rail cycle tourist attraction proposal, although the infrastructure would require a major maintenance effort for trains to be restored.The FR's original line passed under the road to the right of the photographer, and terminated at Duffws. This is now the town's main car park, and the station building survives as public lavatories.
Finally a clip - without sound - of Merrdin Emrys and Linda departing TanyBwlch ecs for Blaenau Ffestiniog on Sunday 26 March 2011.