January 14th 2008 - The Institution of Mechanical Engineers
hosted a Heritage Lecture at its London headquarters, "Welsh Highland
Railway - The greatest railway journey in the world? - Probably",
delivered by WHRS Director Peter Randall. The demonstration short
track panel created by the Imperial College Railway Society in 2007
was also in attendance.
February 8th 2008 - Brian Faulkner's Lister Rail Truck (works no. 56371 of 1970) was delivered to Phase 4 via LC105 at Hafod Garegog, to work on tracklaying while resident Dolgarrog was out of action for repairs. More information about the loco can be found here.
March 7th 2008 - Conway Castle took a gauging train of full-size carriages to Hafod y Llyn, in preparation for the forthcoming Sponsors' Day specials.
March 14th 2008 - No. 143 took a test train of ten carriages (plus Castell Caernarfon for shunting) to Hafod y Llyn. The trip also involved the first steam working through the Aberglaslyn Pass in over 70 years.
Videos c/o Youtube
(1) Beddgelert, Aberglaslyn and beyond; climbing out of Beddgelert and through both Cwm Cloch level crossings (Mike Fisher)
(2) Return run climbing through Pont Cae'r Gors cutting (Richard Southey)
April 1st 2008 - An early morning test train was run to Hafod y Llyn, with Castell Caernarfon hauling the E-set. The train left Rhyd Ddu around 07.00, and returned there about 09.30, having taken roughly 45 minutes for the uphill journey.
April 5th 2008 - Special trains took appeal supporters from Rhyd Ddu through Beddgelert and Aberglaslyn to Hafod y Llyn. See Sponsors' Day 2008 for more details and pictures.
April 11th 2008 - Brian Faulkner's Lister Rail Truck left the railway, after deputising successfully for Dolgarrog on tracklaying duties (see February 8th 2008 story above). Its run up to Rhyd Ddu for loading (delayed by a hailstorm) meant it had traversed the full northern section of Phase 4 in the course of its stay.
April 18-20th 2008 - The FR and WHR(C) were visited by fourteen colleagues from partner railway system the Harzer Schmalspurbahnen in Germany, who took part in train operations on both railways.
April 2008 - Volunteers from cycling charity Sustrans paid a working visit, and moved the siding point at Beddgelert so the siding could be lengthened.
May 9th - 11th 2008 - WHR (Caernarfon) held the fourth of its very successful Cwrw ar y Cledrau/Rail Ale festivals, with Dinas Goods Shed serving as the main bar, plus a country craft market at the station on the Sunday. Special shuttle trains linked Dinas with pubs in Caernarfon and Waunfawr. Prince was a late addition to the attractions, arriving on Friday 9th to haul the weekend's daytime shuttles (with Castell Caernarfon due to be used in the evenings); unfortunately Prince failed with a cylinder problem on the Saturday, leading to the perhaps equally rare spectacle of Conway Castle on passenger duties. The first Sunday shuttle was worked by K1 with a normal service rake of carriages, and its departure from Dinas for Waunfawr shortly before the regular train left for Caernarfon led to the unusual sight of two passenger trains in the same platform (middle row of pictures).
A "social gallery" from the event is available here, c/o Roger Dimmick.
May 26th 2008 - North Wales was battered by very high winds, leading to a record callout frequency on Snowdon for the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team. Lower down, the WHR was blocked by fallen trees at Salem and Glanrafon. A train hauled by Castell Caernarfon was forced to set back to Waunfawr because a fallen tree at Glanrafon was too large to deal with using the tools available on board (with which the blockage at Salem had been removed). Having met K1's up train at Waunfawr loop, the diesel's passengers disembarked and its train was shunted on to the back of K1's; the Garratt then pulled both trains (possibly the heaviest load it has ever pulled) forward to clear the points at the Dinas end of the station, before running round to take the diesel's original train and passengers back to Caernarfon. K1 then set off with the next service to Rhyd Ddu after the tree at Glanrafon had been cleared, and crossed the other train (now hauled by no. 143) at Dinas. Another fallen tree was encountered at Ffridd Isaf, near Rhyd Ddu, and it was removed by the train crew.
June 2008 - It was announced that the Institution of Mechanical Engineers had awarded an Engineering Heritage Award to Garratt locomotive K1 in recognition of its historical engineering significance. The K1 Group and WHRS expressed delight at this news and thanked the IMechE for this recognition. The plaque was likely to be similar to that shown below, with a date and a citation that would probably say this: "The Beyer Peacock K1 Locomotive. Built in 1909 to H W Garratt's patent, the first of over 1000 Garratt type articulated locomotives exported from Manchester to all corners of the world. They gave reliable service in some of the most remote places on Earth".
July 9th 2008 - NGG16 "no. 148" made its début. No. 143 returned to action fitted with the rear power unit from no. 138. See the explanation on the no. 143 page.
July 12th & 26th 2008 - The WHRS West Midland Group were in action at the Perrygrove Railway in the Forest of Dean. The task was to build panels of 15" gauge track to enable the Perrygrove Garratt to operate at Dinas at the "Garratt 50" celebrations in September. In all, thirteen 12' long panels were constructed on the 12th, no mean feat as the rail is ex M.O.D. Broughton Moor (2'6" gauge) and the sleepers are from the same source cut in half. Seven volunteers returned to Perrygrove on the 26th to complete the remaining panels, giving a total of 24 panels that are required to give a 94-yard running line. A most enjoyable time was had and thanks are due to Michael Crofts (seen with the volunteers in the last picture), owner of the Perrygrove Railway, for inviting us to come and play with his fantastic garden railway! The loco is truly magnificent and will surely be a star guest at the gala.
While this work went on at Perrygrove, volunteers at the Echills Wood Railway were assembling piles of 7.25" track for the line on which another K1 would run at Dinas during the gala.
July 28th 2008 - Welsh Assembly Government Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones AM visited WHR (Porthmadog) for the formal launch of the project to develop the Welsh Highland Railway Museum at the Gelert's Farm site.
WHR Ltd press release:
A new museum is being built to celebrate the importance of narrow gauge railways in Gwynedd in shaping Welsh history - and rail networks across the world. The development, at the Welsh Highland Railway (Porthmadog), was officially launched by the new Heritage Minister, Alun Ffred Jones AM.
The birth of the network of narrow gauge railways in the area was the result of the once booming slate industry. By 1882, the annual output of slates from the region's quarries was 450,000 tons and much of it was shipped from Porthmadog. The concept of narrow gauge railways was copied by engineers from as far away as New Zealand, India and the United States.
The new museum will enable the Welsh Highland Railway (Porthmadog) to move many of its existing displays into a dedicated building, to provide more interactive exhibits and improve access for people with disabilities. Among the fascinating artifacts will be the observation carriage used by the Prime Minister, Gladstone, in 1894, and the only surviving railway hearse in the country.
James Hewett, Chairman of the Welsh Highland Railway (Porthmadog) said: "It's no exaggeration that Porthmadog owes a large part of its existence to its narrow gauge railways. The town was originally built as a port for slate, which was brought from the quarries at Blaenau Ffestiniog, Cwm Croesor and Cwm Ystradllyn by narrow gauge train. The narrow gauge trains of Porthmadog also influenced others around the world. In the 19th Century, engineers came from Russia, India and the United States to learn from the way things were done here in Wales. Even today, railways as far away as South Africa, New Zealand and America can trace a connection back to the success of the narrow gauge in Porthmadog. Nowadays, thousands of people come to the town every year to see the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways, and it's appropriate that Porthmadog should have a museum which can tell the story of why the narrow gauge railways are here, and the role they played in making the town what it is."
The Welsh Highland Railway (Porthmadog) has built up a reputation in recent years for encouraging visitors to climb into the driver's cab of its locomotive collection, rather than simply viewing from the ground. The railway plans to build on this hands-on theme with interactive displays explaining how the Ffestiniog Railway brought slate trains down from the quarries by gravity, without using steam locomotives at all - and chance to find out how steam engines are put together. The new building will also mean the railway can offer better facilities to school parties, and give the children of Gwynedd chance to understand an important part of the area's history.
Alun Ffred Jones, Welsh Assembly Government Heritage Minister, said: "I'm delighted to support the development of the new museum facility at the Welsh Highland Railway in Porthmadog. Wales's industrial heritage is as much a part of our identity as our castles and mountains. It is a growing market, and one in which we can be one of the leading destinations; there are few places that can match us for the unbeatable combination of industrial history and natural beauty in the same setting. The museum and the railway will make the story of our industrial heritage more accessible for all to enjoy and will also make a valued contribution to the area's economy."
Dewi Davies, Regional Strategy Director of Tourism Partnership North Wales, added: "The investment in this museum is very welcome and an added attraction for people on holiday or on day trips to the area. Many visitors are attracted here by our slate heritage, whether that be the railways, quarries or even craft attractions like Inigo Jones. This is one of our tourism giants, like our castles and Snowdon, and the museum will give people even more reason to visit the area and extend the time they spend here in Porthmadog."
The new museum building is being partly financed with money from the family of Peter Thomason, the former Vice Chairman of the Welsh Highland Railway (Porthmadog) who was killed in a car crash in 2003. The museum development will help secure the long-term future of the Welsh Highland Railway (Porthmadog), which has been operating a short length of railway since 1980. It will complement the reopening of the Welsh Highland Railway through Snowdonia from Caernarfon to Porthmadog. This project is due to be completed in 2009, and is being led by Porthmadog's other narrow gauge railway, the Ffestiniog.
James Hewett added: "Visitors to the Welsh Highland Railway (Porthmadog) in 2009 will have chance to take a short train ride with us as well as to tour the new museum. We hope that this means we can offer people an alternative to the longer train trips to Caernarfon, Beddgelert and Blaenau Ffestiniog which will be operated by the Ffestiniog Railway."
August 18th 2008 - Flooding at Castell Cidwm overbridge obliged K1 to propel its Down train back to Rhyd Ddu, from where passengers were taken onwards by bus. For the remainder of the day and on the 19th, services ran between Caernarfon and Waunfawr only; K1 was able to return its train to Dinas after the end of the normal service on the 19th, by which time the flood had receded. A one-off delivery of coal from Boston Lodge to Rhyd Ddu took place to enable the return run to take place.
August 25th 2008 - The last load of S30 rail for Phase 4 was loaded at Dinas to be delivered for laying on the Pont Croesor - Traeth Mawr section.
The change of scene from when the rail was delivered in Autumn 2005 is one measure of the scale of what has been achieved on Phase 4.
August 29th 2008 - It was announced that seventeen rare token instruments had been acquired from Ireland, enough to equip the entire WHR.
FR Company Press Release, 29.08.08:
A five-year quest that stretched across the globe has been brought to a successful end thanks to Celtic camaraderie and the generosity of Iarnród Éireann, the state-owned railway network of the Irish Republic. The Ffestiniog Railway Company had been searching for extremely rare Single Line Token Instruments for half a decade, with fruitless leads as far away as South America - with "Plan B" including South Africa and India! But hearing of their plight, Iarnród Éireann decided to assist their Celtic cousins and ensure the Welsh Highland Railway (Caernarfon) has the essential equipment ready for its grand opening in 2009.
Paul Lewin, General Manager of the Ffestiniog Railway Company, said: "The Safety of Ffestiniog Railway Operations has been ensured for over 100 years by use of the 'Electronic' Electric Token System. Understandably, we were very keen to use the same system for the new WHR(C). However, at one stage this was looking to be almost impossible as no equipment could be found. But hearing of our plight, Iarnród Éireann worked very hard to release suitable equipment and we are immensely grateful to them."
A spokesman for Iarnród Éireann said: "We were approached through the company's Heritage Officer Gregg Ryan to see if we could help, and disused equipment, displaced from our network during the recent nationwide rail modernisation programme was identified as suitable. We were delighted to find a home for this equipment in the setting of an operating railway where it will continue to have a useful working life into the future."
The instruments were collected from Inchicore Works and transported to North Wales on Thursday 28th August. They were transferred to secure storage the next day. An official presentation and handover of the Token Instruments has been scheduled to take place at Harbour Station on Monday 1st September, starting at 10.45am.
August 31st 2008 - The long anticipated end-on meeting of WHR (Caernarfon) and WHR (Porthmadog) took place, as the WHR(C) Head of Steel reached the limit of WHR(P) train operations just south of the former Traeth Mawr loop. The two were not linked immediately - a short overlap was created, to be cut back later following fettling and tamping of the brand new track from the north. Although an impromptu "Golden Rail Clip" ceremony was held by volunteers, this did not mark the end of tracklaying; sections remained to be laid on the Porthmadog Cross-Town Link, plus two passing loops further north, and a formal ceremony would be held in Porthmadog once the CTL link had been laid through to Harbour Station. For more details and pictures look towards the end of the Phase 4 Pont Croesor - Traeth Mawr page.
September 5th 2008 - The Institution of Mechanical Engineers presented the Engineering Heritage Award announced in June (see above) to pioneer Garratt locomotive K1. The award, in the form of a plaque carried as a headboard, was unveiled by Professor Isobel Pollock, Chair of IMechE's Heritage Committee, in a ceremony at Caernarfon Station. The loco carried the plaque throughout the Garratt Fifty gala.
2009 is the centenary of K1. The K1 Group of the WHRS are very much looking forward to her second century of operation, and with that in mind is launching an appeal to raise funds over the next few years from supporters old and new, to keep K1 steaming. The K1 Group works closely with the WHR locomotive staff to maintain the engine in good condition, and are looking ahead to what will be needed after the current project to equip headlamps and lighting generator is completed. The water tanks are the originals, as is the coal bunker, and they will reach the end of their useful life in the not too distant future. With that in mind a start is being made on gathering estimates for replacements, and also to plan for the eventual 10-year boiler overhaul. The group has produced a leaflet (PDF) showing how supporters may help.
September 8th 2008 - WHR Construction Ltd played host to David Orr, the President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and a group of 60 members of the North Wales Branch of the Institution. They were taken for a guided walk over the Cross-Town Link to see the flat crossing of the Cambrian line at Cae Pawb and the tramway rails on Britannia Bridge. The itinerary allowed a site walkover at the Nantmor Incline and the new reinforced earth embankment. They were shown the works carried out in the rock cuttings, and were given the opportunity to inspect the southern end of the long tunnel, before being bussed to Rhyd Ddu to catch the 12:20 service train to Caernarfon. Speeches and presentations were held in the Galeri in Caernarfon, including three on the rebuilding of the railway, focussing on bridges (John Sreeves), geo-technical aspects of the project (Rob Evans and Debbie Scott) and an overview of the Cross-Town Link in Porthmadog (David High). The ICE president delivered a speech and presented medals to past chairmen of ICE North Wales branch.
October 8th 2008 - FR & WHR General Manager Paul Lewin issued the following text, detailing plans for the opening of Phase 4 and the 2009 timetable:
The Journey to the 2009 Timetable [Download the proposed 2009 timetable, PDF - please note that it is now out of date]
Finally the waiting is over, and we can share the timetable plan for 2009 with you. You might resonably ask: "wasn't this all planned years ago?" and the answer is, of course, "yes, it was". However, in the decade since the first plans were mapped out, the world has changed considerably, and our plans have developed too. The last major review took place in 2006, when the Management Team joined with Directors and Trustees at Crafwlyn, and generated a budget for 2009 in some detail. However, even at that stage, it was acknowledged that a number of key parameters might change before opening day. In the spring of 2008 the timetable for 2009 was drafted and submitted for Board approval, which it achieved. By June, however, the global economic situation was starting to cause concern. The sales forecast was therefore revised to reflect a modest increase of no more than 5% over current business levels. Against this forecast, it was clear that the timetable needed further tailoring to match the service to expected business levels. Advice was sought from other major tourist railways and a revised proposal presented to the Board.
The timetable proposed for 2009 will build up throughout the season, reflecting the need to consolidate the new railway and the time required to train the many staff involved. The WHR line will be complete and approved for passenger operation by Easter. The first trains over the whole line, for our supporters, sponsors, staff and volunteers, will run during the weekend of 16 and 17 May. Some public trains will run from Caernarfon to Beddgelert between Easter and May and, after the opening weekend, special workings for charters will also run the full length of the line. In early July a full daily service will begin to operate and will continue until the end of the season. A formal celebration of the opening is expected at a later date. Details of special opening trains are being worked on at present and will be added to the timetable In due course.
The Ffestiniog Railway timetable will remain very similar to the present but will utilise two sets for a much greater part of the year and can be enhanced by the use of the Vintage train at peak times.
The spring WHR timetable offers three levels of service from Caernarfon to Beddgelert. The pink service has two steam-hauled trains leaving Caernarfon each day. The green service introduces a second set and adds in a diesel-hauled service. The dark blue service brings in another steam engine, generating three steam services and one diesel service. The summer and autumn service, which incorporates the Beddgelert - Porthmadog section, is carefully crafted to be as flexible as possible. Previous experience has taught us the importance of flexibility and, with the cross-town link being a complex section to operate, we need to make adequate provision. As a result, the timetable is arranged to operate to the same basic timings, but in two modes. In "frontier" mode, two sets work from Dinas and turn round at Beddgelert. There they meet a third train set which shuttles between Porthmadog and Beddgelert three times a day. In through-running mode the same sets originate and terminate in the same locations, but run right through. Through-running mode is planned for peak season weekdays, whilst frontier mode allows for the operation of a heritage set of either F&WHR or WHR(P) stock between Porthmadog and Beddgelert, if desired, at weekends.
The gold service offers one steam service and one diesel service from Caernarfon each day, along with a diesel service from Porthmadog. The brown service is similar, but the Porthmadog service is converted from diesel to steam. The purple service is the frontier-mode timetable, typically expected to run at weekends. This offers two steam services and one diesel service from Caernarfon to Beddgelert. At the same time, three vintage services can operate from Porthmadog. In the summer peak the red timetable comes into play. This, as one might expect, builds on the brown timetable and runs with all-steam traction until late afternoon, when an additional diesel-hauled service runs from Caernarfon to Beddgelert. On selected peak days a steam-hauled Food On The Move service will also operate between Caernarfon and Rhyd Ddu.
The train sets for the WHR will be designated E and F, and will be based at Dinas, supported by a modified FR B set, or vintage sets, working from Porthmadog. The E set will include the new Pullman observation car, No.2100, and the service vehicle, No.2010. It is hoped that these two vehicles will be in service by Christmas 2008 to give members a taste of what is to come. The F Set will include an upgraded No.2090, and Pullman No.2115, Bodysgallen. The B Set will have driving trailer observation car No.111 and buffet car No.14, running together, to provide buffet and toilet facilities, supported by a number of vintage carriages. Vacuum pump-out systems for the toilets have been installed at Porthmadog and Dinas.
Planned locomotive allocations are for all WHR locos to remain at Dinas until May, when K1 will move to Boston Lodge to work the steam-hauled services from Porthmadog. No.87 will join the operational fleet as soon as practicably possible, and No.138 will displace No.143 later in the year. Castell Caernarfon will receive a new diesel engine during the course of the winter. On the FR Earl of Merioneth is undergoing a full overhaul at present and DLG is overhauled once EofM is complete.
In total, we expect to run some 56,000 passenger train miles in 2009 compared with 54,000 in 2008 (FR & WHR combined). This, we believe, provides a good balance between the train service offered to our customers, train capacity and cost control. All that is needed now is for our members, the greatest ambassadors for our railways, to persuade as many people as possible to come and see the wonderful new railway.
- Paul Lewin
October 24-27th 2008 - The railway hosted a four-day Bob Branch photo charter on Phase 4, using Prince and Palmerston. The event saw steam locos used on the original WHR return to Beddgelert and Aberglaslyn for the first time since the 1930s.
The BBC's John Craven was present on the last day of the charter, filming a report which was broadcast on BBC One's Countryfile on Sunday November 2nd.
See also Roger Dimmick's gallery from the charter.
November 20th 2008 - WHR Ltd announced that from 2009 onwards its trading name "WHR (Porthmadog)" would be replaced by "Welsh Highland Heritage Railway". Chairman James Hewett said: "The name of the charity which runs the railway will remain as Welsh Highland Railway Limited. We hope the new trading name will help avoid confusion with the operations of our neighbour, the Ffestiniog Railway, and allow the company to establish its own identity with short train ride and chance to tour the engine sheds." It was also announced that Baldwin 4-6-0PT no. 778 (based at Leighton Buzzard) would visit WHHR for the May 2nd-4th 2009 gala.
December 2008 - WHR(C) once again ran a very successful and fully-booked Santa Train service from Caernarfon to Santa's grotto at Waunfawr, over the three weekends leading up to Christmas.
On Phase 4 (taken in order from North to South), Beddgelert got its water crane and platform shelters, but not yet its station building. The old road bridge at Bryn y Felin was replaced by a brand new one. A Lister visited to help with the tracklaying push on from the 2007 Head of Steel at the Afon Nanmor, as Dolgarrog spent the year sidelined with engine problems, and saw use through the Croesor Junction deviation and past the crossing at Ynysfor. Pont Croesor got its new rail deck at the start of the year, followed by repairs and improvements to embankments and culverts to the north and south. Two new "tin bridges" appeared at Portreuddyn and Traeth Mawr. The rail stacks at Dinas were emptied in late August, followed by the long-anticipated meeting of rails and trains from north and south, and an impropmptu "Golden Clip" ceremony. The line parallel to WHR (Porthmadog)'s line was laid and connected up to Cae Pawb crossing. The Cross-Town Link progressed from a set of construction sites to become a railway, with the riverbank repair carried out and incorporated into the Britannia Bridge link span. Tram track was laid across Snowdon Street and Britannia Bridge, and by the end of the year the only tracklaying left to be done to complete the line of rails from Caernarfon to Porthmadog Harbour comprised two short transition sections and the final lengths leading into Harbour.
Test trains with full-size passenger stock made their first excursions on to Phase 4, with test runs to Hafod y Llyn including the first steam train into Aberglaslyn for over 70 years on March 14th, followed by special trains for sponsors in April. Steam appeared around Beddgelert and in the Aberglaslyn Pass again in the autumn, for photo charters.
In terms of the operational railway (present and future), K1 conquered almost all its gremlins and served as the stalwart of the year's services. Diesel Castell Caernarfon got its own bogies back, and operational NGG16 no. 143 swapped rear bogies with no. 138, which was out of service for boiler work. NGG16 no. 87 was close to emerging from Boston Lodge in working order by the end of the year. The works completed and delivered new service carriage no. 2010, and work was well advanced on the sensational-looking new observation car no. 2100; Romanian carriage no. 2060 was completed, and remained at Boston Lodge in anticipation of the point when it could be sent to Dinas by rail rather than road. At Dinas, work restarted on the overhaul of NG15 no. 134. Despite a year of poor weather, the crowds turned out for special events including the annual Rail Ale Festival, and the ambitious multi-gauge Garratt 50 Gala.