Phase 4 - Completing the Welsh Highland Railway

Will past photographic contributors to this website, and to this phase of construction, please refer to the annoucement on this page.
Phase 4 pages:
Introduction & Appeal
Beddgelert: Bridges & Station

[Jump to the latest updates within this page]

Access for Viewing Phase 4 Work - Company Notices

While supporters and the general public are keen to see progress in the construction of WHR Phase 4, and to view the reopened sections, we ask everyone to respect the privacy of our neighbours. In particular we remind you to please not attempt to use private roads to access the railway, for example:

The above rules also apply to the Railway's volunteers and staff. Footpaths at all the above locations are clearly signposted for walkers. Please help us ensure our neighbours' privacy is maintained by not taking vehicles onto their private roads. Thank you for your help and understanding.

The whole of Phase 4 is now an operating railway, and visitors are reminded not to walk along the line.

Ffestiniog Railway Company

What is Phase 4?

Phase 4 of the WHR Project represents completion of the reinstatement of the Welsh Highland Railway. This means rebuilding from the present WHR (Caernarfon) terminus at Rhyd Ddu right through to join up with the Ffestiniog Railway at Porthmadog Harbour Station. The route includes the stretch north of Porthmadog rebuilt by WHR Ltd as an extension of the WHR (Porthmadog) line, with which the "main line" has a junction at Pen y Mount.

The Welsh Highland Railway Order 1999, and powers under it which have already been enacted, means that all the necessary authority to rebuild and operate the railway is now in place. The necessary funds have been raised, and construction is now in its final stages.

Phase 4 will double the length of the Welsh Highland to its full 25 miles. The link to the Ffestiniog will give a through route of about 40 miles, much the longest of any UK heritage railway system, and a world-class attraction which will build upon the benefits which the project has already brought to the region.

Porthmadog Harbour, the near future.
No. 143 arrives from Caernarfon.

The Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways opened Phase 4 for full public services in three main stages:

Who funded Phase 4?

Phases 1-3 (Caernarfon - Rhyd Ddu) formed a single finance package, based on a major grant from the Millennium Commission, and match funding from a variety of other sources. 

For Phase 4, the project has again scored a major success in attracting a large grant from public sources, in the form of funds under the European Union Objective 1 scheme and funds from the Welsh Assembly Government. This 5,000,000 grant is the largest yet attracted for the WHR Project.

Match funding for this grant comes from a number of private and commercial sponsors, but to complete the package we made and quickly fulfilled - a commitment to raise half a million pounds via a public appeal - details below. And then we doubled it and raised a million! The total cost of Phase 4 was estimated before work started at 10,750,000.

When and how did all this happen?

Construction work proper started in Summer 2005. As on Phases 2 and 3, work has proceeded simultaneously at multiple sites which  gradually joined up to form the full route. The major tasks for Phase 4 may be outlined roughly as follows, in no particular order:

The work to stabilise rock faces and the three tunnels in the Aberglaslyn Pass had already been completed and approved prior to Phase 4 (see Phase 3 for why and how).

The construction company for the Millennium Commission-funded Phases 1-3, Welsh Highland Light Railway Ltd, was wound up, with its work done. A new company, Welsh Highland Construction Limited, was created for Phase 4. Like WHLR Ltd this is a wholly-owned member of the Ffestiniog Railway group of companies.

Although actual construction was some time ahead, a traditional "Cutting the First Sod" ceremony was held at Rhyd Ddu South on September 23rd 2004; Peter Johnson's picture shows Dr John Prideaux and Mike Schumann doing the honours, with representatives present from management, staff, Cymdeithas Rheilffordd Eryri and WHR (Porthmadog).

What is the route of Phase 4 like?

Varied, spectacular, and with features unseen on any other UK railway. From Rhyd Ddu the line runs to the summit of the WHR near Pont Cae'r Gors, then drops steeply to Beddgelert via sweeping mountain and forest vistas, and sets of remarkable S-bends which more than rival the "seriously twisty" approach to Rhyd Ddu from the north. Beyond Beddgelert the line passes through the narrow, rocky Aberglaslyn Pass, for many the scenic jewel of the whole route, before leaving the mountains via a long tunnel and deep rock cuttings. The long stretch across the low-lying land won from the sea when the Cob was built across the Glaslyn was the "racing stretch" of the old WHR, and brings the line to the outskirts of Porthmadog and the junction with WHR(P) at Pen y Mount. The main line runs alongside the WHR(P) line before crossing the Cambrian Coast Line on the level; from here the "Cross-Town Link" runs through the edge of the town and alongside the main tourist car park, followed by a short section of street running to Harbour Station and the junction with the FR.

Click for a map of the Phase 4 route in a separate window.

The route section of the site includes detailed illustrated descriptions - Rhyd Ddu to Beddgelert and Beddgelert to Porthmadog.

Preparations and Management

In Spring 2004, legal processes were set in motion to enact the Compulsory Purchase Order powers of the Welsh Highland Railway Order 1999, to secure all land required for rebuilding the remainder of the line to Porthmadog. The statement below was issued by Mike Hart on May 26th 2004:

The WHR Transport & Works Act Order that authorises the reconstruction of the line time limits the period during which we must commence the process of acquiring land compulsorily to five years from the date of making of the Order. The Order does not time limit the period during which the line is to be reconstructed.

We have therefore started issuing CPO notices for the remaining section of line from Rhyd Ddu to Porthmadog and will complete that exercise before the end of June. This will ensure we do not lose the option of securing any of the railway land over which there might be any doubt as to ownership through any adverse possession issues, etc. The notices also cover a few small additional areas of land within the Order's "Limits of Deviation" that we will need that are outside the old railway's boundary.

Doing this now will ensure there will be no doubt that all the land will be available for the reconstruction of the line onward from Rhyd Ddu to Porthmadog in the future.

The Dinas construction office, which had been kept "ticking over" on a one day a week basis since early 2004, was re-established as the base for the new company Welsh Highland Railway Construction Ltd (see above) and its General Manager Roland Doyle.

External firms started preparatory work along the Phase 4 route in Autumn 2004. By mid-November 2004 environmental consultants were well advanced with a detailed survey on the ground, which serves to identify the precise up to date position on the ground so as to enable detailed monitoring of environmental aspects during construction work.

It was announced on December 17th 2004 that Welsh Highland Railway Construction Ltd had awarded a contract to Achnashean Fencing Ltd. of Llandygai, Bangor, for clearance including three waterlogged sites between Rhyd Ddu and Beddgelert. The clearance of the three sites had to be carried out in advance of other construction work in order to enable the detailed topographical survey to be completed. The sites were located beside the A4085 near Pitt's Head rock, within Beddgelert Forest (between Hafod Ruffydd and the uphill end of the first S-bend - just out of sight in the second of the trackbed pictures above), and near Cwm Cloch Isaf close to Beddgelert Station. The work involved clearing out drains that had become blocked over the years and removing trees and other vegetation that had established in these wet areas. All the sites were checked for conservation and wildlife interests with the object of rescuing any special creatures or plants. However, nothing of special interest was found. Achnashean's work got underway in January 2005, and was completed in April.

The next stage was a topographical engineering survey, the contract for which was let to local firm NRG Engineering Services Ltd, of Llanfairfechan. They produced detailed computer-based drawings of existing levels, structures, etc which were then used by WHRC Ltd as the base layer information for drawing up the detailed construction designs. There was then a MOSS alignment survey which lays out the track alignment within the land restrictions; on Phase 3 this process was done using the MOSS computer program, also widely used in highway design, but for Phase 4 this was superceded by software provided by NRG.

All this information formed a large part of the details given to potential civils contractors invited to tender for construction contracts. WHRC Ltd let a number of specialist civils contracts rather than one big single contract, an approach which enabled Phase 4 to make greater use of small/medium sized local construction companies.

The topographical survey was completed in early Spring 2005. Following this, the precise specification was drawn up section by section for the civils and earthworks contracts to be let.

Exact details of diversions were also finalised with electricity, telephone, gas and water companies as to where their equipment conflicts with the railway and how it would be relocated. WHRC Ltd also worked with Network Rail, who have been extremely helpful in finalising detail of the "Cambrian Crossing" at Porthmadog, where the WHR crosses Network Rail on the level.

A large range of information was prepared for submission to the local authorities in respect of detailed appearance of new, and changes to existing, structures, land form, etc. A great deal of effort also went into ongoing liaison and consultation, through officer and member meetings, with the two local authorities with responsibility for planning matters, i.e. Cyngor Gwynedd Council and the Snowdonia National Park Authority, depending on the section of trackbed concerned.

In addition to work by staff and external firms, Phase 4 has taken full advantage of the expertise from volunteers which has characterised the WHR Project; virtually all the design work for this phase has been done in-house by volunteers. The potential saving to the project is in the region of 300,000 in consultants' fees avoided. The planning application drawings were produced by Peter Marston and Roland Doyle. The construction drawings were produced by a team of people. John Sreeves led the work on bridge design. The work also had the support of Roger Dick who was formerly the supervising engineer working for Mott McDonald employed by the Millennium Commission. Various others also offered their help in this mammoth task which began in earnest once the first sections of the topographical survey were produced.

The externally let civils work was followed by tracklaying by volunteers. As on Phase 3, paid staff then follow on site with fettling, tamping, etc in preparation for trains to start running. Details of this work can be found on the relevant geographical pages - follow the links in the table at the top of the page.

In June 2005 Arup Rail Ltd were appointed as consulting engineers for the sections between Bryn y Felin bridge and WHR (Porthmadog)'s temporary terminus at Traeth Mawr. Their work included turning the railway's engineering outline designs into the detailed specifications to be included in the tender documents to be sent out to contractors.

Track Material

Deliveries of rail, sleepers and fastenings started in September 2005. Phase 4 has been mostly laid on steel sleepers, but of a different design to those used before. With this change came a different style of fastening, elastic clips in place of the SAR bolted types used previously. With practice, the rate of fastening down rails was quicker. It was announced on August 1st 2005 that the contract had been signed that day for supply of new rail from Poland to complete the railway, some of which would go straight to WHR (Porthmadog) for the Traeth Mawr extension. Following lessons learned on Phase 3, gauge widening on the sharpest curves was incorporated from the outset, and enough special sleepers were supplied to give 3km of such track, most of which is between Hafod Ruffydd and Beddgelert.

All 1,300 tonnes of rails and fishplates had been made little more than a month after the contract was signed. The first half of the order was shipped from Poland in mid-September, and the first rails arrived at Dinas on Monday September 26th. Deliveries continued throughout the week at the rate of four lorries a day carrying 25 tonnes each, with the balance of the order following about a week later.

Terry Turner (General Manager of the Welshpool & Llanfair, which also purchased rails at the same time) visited the manufacturer to inspect the WHR rails on September 8th. His picture below shows wagons loaded up and ready for dispatch to the docks.

John Peduzzi's pictures below show rails being unloaded after three lorries arrived at Dinas on the morning of September 30th.

The rails were delivered packed in rigid bundles of three and have arrived in perfect condition, with no recurrence of the distortion experienced by some of the Phase 3 rails during shipping from South Africa. The new rails were pre-drilled for fishplates, which came from the same manufacturer, delivered as pallet loads with the rails.

The rolling marks on the rails show not only the year of rolling, but also the month, in Roman numerals.

The last lorry loads from the first ship arrived on October 4th. The rails from the second ship were all stacked on the dockside at Flixborough by the 11th. The first lorry load arrived at Dinas at 5.30pm on Sunday 16th.

The last loads arrived on Friday 21st. All the rail needed to complete the WHR was now safely in stock, ready for later movement onwards to the tracklaying sites. The movements to Dinas represent a major logistical task accomplished, with a total of about sixty lorry loads, typically received and unloaded at a rate of four a day but with the ability to turn round five if needed.

The second shipment included rails earmarked for delivery to Pen y Mount, to be laid on the stretch which was operated in 2007-8 as WHR(P)'s Traeth Mawr extension. Following uncertainty about these deliveries, the following joint statement was issued by Welsh Highland Railway Ltd and the Festiniog Railway Company on October 17th:

"Aware that some problems of understanding have arisen in recent days between the Welsh Highland Railway Ltd. and the Festiniog Railway Company, and following meetings between Board members of the Welsh Highland Railway Ltd. and the Festiniog Railway, it is agreed that the delivery of rails and other materials to Pen-y Mount will go ahead as previously agreed between the two companies to enable work as planned to go ahead at the site."

These rails (96 of them, i.e. 32 bundles) were delivered direct to Porthmadog and were unloaded on October 21st, in time for the WHR(P) "Autumn Bash".

The sleeper order, from Royal Forgings, comprised just over 21,000 steel sleepers and 84,000 Pandrol clips, enough to complete the railway - though timber sleepers fitted with steel baseplates were used in some locations. The first two shipments of steel sleepers (totalling over 8,000 sleepers and over 32,000 clips) was in transit by the end of the first week in October.

The first batch of 3,000 sleepers and 12,000 clips reached Felixstowe Docks on November 13th, and was delivered to Dinas over the 21st-23rd. This included one lorry load for onward delivery to WHR(P), where the first consignment arrived on November 24th. The second shipment, 8,000 sleepers and 32,000 clips was in the UK by the 22nd, for delivery to Dinas in the week beginning November 28th.

In the run up to the start of tracklaying four members of FR Company permanent way staff were seconded to WHRC Ltd to look after lining and tamping of the Phase 4 track once volunteers had laid it, and to work on maintenance and upgrading of track laid on Phase 1-3. Pete Gray is Permanent Way Manager, supported by Emlyn Davies, Dafydd Roberts and Alun Tomlinson. The Fr Co's Fred Howes will continue to monitor track to ensure that FR standards for running trains are being met.

Two lorry loads of rails were delivered to Rhyd Ddu on December 1st, in preparation for the start of Phase 4 tracklaying at the south end of the station and onwards towards Pitt's Head.

Following initial trial tracklaying with the new materials, it was decided that all Phase 4 track would be laid with specially made 3mm thick plastic pads between the sleeper baseplates and the rails. This provides a better interface, and is common practice where elastic clips are used. A limited quantity kindly supplied by the Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway (left over from their track laying on concrete sleepers) was used to prove the technique at Rhyd Ddu during January 2006. A bulk order for all the pads needed was placed with manufacturers, and supplies started arriving in mid-February. The picture below shows a complete rail fastening, with one of the W&LLR pads.

The next picture gives a clearer idea of the shape of the pads, and how they locate on the sleepers.

Also during January 2006, WHRC Ltd ordered a gantry crane, to be installed above the Dinas rail stacks and to be used in moving rails onto rail wagons or road lorries; this cost less than repeated crane hire. The idea that such a crane would be generally useful at this site even after the rails have gone is not a new one. The gantry is seen below, almost complete, on March 12th. It allowed rail bundles to be loaded onto wagons on the fuel road (the siding leading to the Goods Shed).

Although initial rail consignments went to Rhyd Ddu by road, far more rail movements were done by rail than was the case on Phases 2 and 3. This led to adaptation of the existing rail wagons (a pair of SAR flat wagons with a semi-permanent spacer bar between them with swivelling bolsters), which much increased the carrying capacity. This combination delivered rails to be dropped off in the "two foot" close to the Head of Steel, to then be picked up for laying by RRM trolleys. The rail transporter is seen below on April 22nd 2006, close to completion. The bolsters run almost the full length of each wagon, bearing through rollers onto steel plates at each end. Loads are retained by removable steel posts at the end of each crossmember, and the total capacity per load is 20 tons of full length rails.

The transporter was tested successfully on April 25th, taking a partial load (seven packs of three rails each) to Rhyd Ddu. It is seen below receiving a load of fourteen packs on May 4th, and on the right standing fully loaded, coupled to Upnor Castle. The second pair of pictures shows the consignment on arrival at Rhyd Ddu South on the 8th.

Upnor and the rail transporter are seen below at Waunfawr on June 1st, waiting to cross with the last service train of the day.

Tamping and Lining

Basic tracklaying was followed by additional ballasting, then by mechanical tamping and lining to bring the track up to operational standard relatively soon after it is laid. Initial tamping at Rhyd Ddu and on the first stretch southwards was done using the Matisa tamper acquired for Phase 3, but most Phase 4 work has been done by the newer (1995) and far more sophisticated Plasser & Theurer KMX machine imported from France in 2005 and modified for FR/WHR use at Boston Lodge. See Construction Stock for more details.

CTS Rail Services Ltd assisted WHR Construction Ltd with commissioning of the KMX and staff training.

Signalling and Communications

The FR Company (as operator of Phase 4) has been giving consideration to various options for signalling systems for the completed WHR. Consideration is being given to laying a cable alongside the line from Porthmadog to Beddgelert, and possibly as far as Rhyd Ddu. It may be noted that sections of Phase 4 pass through terrain where radio reception is poor, and where there is little or no mobile phone coverage. A further option which is being investigated is an electric token system using standard token machines linked by internet connections to avoid the need for long lineside cables.


Newcomers may be a little confused at first by use in discussion of Phase 4 of terms such as UB120, OB123, LC106 or CH27500. All of these sequences start at Dinas and are specific to the construction phase.

The Appeals

See also: Barrie Hughes' unofficial construction news.
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Maintained by Ben Fisher; last updated November 15th, 2012 by Laurence Armstrong