The Route of the Welsh Highland Railway

II. WHR (Caernarfon): the Operating Railway, Dinas to Waunfawr

A detailed illustrated account of the rebuilding of Phase 2 from Dinas to Waunfawr can be found on a separate page.

The map accessed via the link below (which should open the map in a separate window so you can consult it in parallel with this page) shows the completed route with the definitive bridge numbers rather than those used for reporting purposes during construction.

Route map ( J.C. Sreeves)

Jump to: [Dinas] [Cae Moel] [Rhostryfan Road] [Cae Wernlas Ddu] [Tryfan Junction] [Gwredog Isaf] [Gwyrfai valley] [Waunfawr] [Top of page]

The second phase of the Welsh Highland Railway Project has seen the reinstatement of the original North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways line from the original terminus at Dinas to Waunfawr, at a cost of around two million pounds. Travelling by road, the journey from Caernarfon to Waunfawr (spelled "Waenfawr" when the old WHR was running; pronunciation is the same, approximates to "Wine-VOW'r" if transliterated into English) runs more or less in a straight line, climbing almost the whole way. The railway route is considerably longer and more circuitous, but still involves a steady climb as the railway approaches the mountains of Snowdonia. For the most part hidden away from roads, these four miles were until recently the least known section of the WHR.

While Phase 1 (Caernarfon-Dinas) occupies three miles of the former standard gauge Bangor-Afonwen line, Phase 2 represents the rebuilding of the first four miles of the narrow gauge route of the historic North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways, later incorporated into the Welsh Highland. The border between the two phases is passed in the South Yard at Dinas, where the line from Caernarfon swings to the left past the engine shed, and enters a cutting leading to the bridge under the A487. The picture above shows this point before the start of work. The work on the overbridges has involved lowering the trackbed through them in order to accommodate the larger locomotives now being used; the effect is perhaps at its most striking at Dinas, where substantial gabion (mesh cages full of rocks) walls line the cutting sides.

Jump to: [Dinas] [Cae Moel] [Rhostryfan Road] [Cae Wernlas Ddu] [Tryfan Junction] [Gwredog Isaf] [Gwyrfai valley] [Waunfawr] [Top of page]

The line now curves back on itself, and passes under another overbridge at Cae Moel, carrying a road to the villages of Rhos Isaf and Rhostryfan. Most unusually, the original road overbridge was combined with an underbridge crossing a stream. This arrangement was changed at the initiative of contractors to reduce the risk of flooding of the railway when the stream is in spate, by diversion of the stream through a new opening which is visible beside the line, and a new bridge carrying the railway over the stream.

The line now crosses fields on low embankments. At this point, the railway has acquired fields on either side of the line, the intention being that the one on the seaward side will be developed as a nature conservancy area, planted with examples of interesting species found along the line. During construction it served as a point for delivery of ballast by road.

The line now crosses Plas Bodaden farm, where a NWNGR underbridge has been restored to use. This is also the section where members of the WHRS West Midlands group laid a "First Track Panel" in November 1999.

(pic by Mike Hadley)

Not quite up to the usual standard (the lengths of rail were unearthed during clearance work), but we are assured it WAS to the correct gauge!

Jump to: [Dinas] [Cae Moel] [Rhostryfan Road] [Cae Wernlas Ddu] [Tryfan Junction] [Gwredog Isaf] [Gwyrfai valley] [Waunfawr] [Top of page]

Shortly past this point, the trackbed crosses two small streams, where new bridges have been built, and then runs parallel to another road to Rhostryfan for a short distance, before passing under it at Wernlasddu by a concrete bridge which replaced the original in 1933 as part of road improvements. It has undergone further, less drastic alteration during rebuilding of the railway.

Jump to: [Dinas] [Cae Moel] [Rhostryfan Road] [Cae Wernlas Ddu] [Tryfan Junction] [Gwredog Isaf] [Gwyrfai valley] [Waunfawr] [Top of page]

Beyond the Rhostryfan Road, the crosses Cae Hen farm, where a field was rented to serve as a base for the Civils and Earthworks contractor, and then as a base for tracklaying; indeed most of the track materials laid between Dinas and Waunfawr were laid working outwards from this site, known as Cae Wernlas Ddu [Cae = field].

The first panels of track on the main line were laid by the WHRS North Wales Group track gang, together with other volunteers and WHLR Ltd. staff, over the first weekend in April 2000. The views below show the "Black Hand Gang" at work on the first weekend of tracklaying.

(Thanks to Andy Goodman for the pictures)

Rapid progress was made; the dramatic results of this work are illustrated by these views from the Rhostryfan Road railhead at Easter 2000, showing the long straight with its steep 1 in 45 gradient, looking towards Tryfan Junction; the Cae Wernlas Ddu site is just visible in the middle distance, to the right of the track.

At the far end of the Cae Hen stretch, a new farm access road has been constructed to replace the original, which crossed the line by a small overbridge which was demolished some years ago. In the picture below taken from the adjacent road bridge, the hump in the middle distance indicates the site of the demolished bridge. This point has acquired the nickname "Morgan's Hump" after the farmer at Cae Hen. There is also an adjacent stream underbridge, which retains its original styling.

Jump to: [Dinas] [Cae Moel] [Rhostryfan Road] [Cae Wernlas Ddu] [Tryfan Junction] [Gwredog Isaf] [Gwyrfai valley] [Waunfawr] [Top of page]

The line now reaches the site of the station at Tryfan Junction, which lies almost immediately beyond Cae Hen. This is a grand name for a modest station; indeed the few local passengers who used it seem to have referred to it instead as Tyddyn y Gwydd. Serving no community other than a few farms, this was the point where the Bryngwyn Branch left the main NWNGR/WHR route, curved sharply back upon itself, and climbed to tap slate traffic from the quarries that were the main reason the NWNGR came this way in the first place. The very few surviving photographs of Tryfan Junction show a simple but tidy station. Below we see a train of Festiniog Railway stock hauled by Palmerston at Tryfan Junction in the 1920s (picture: coll. P.Johnson):-

Tryfan Junction lies a little way off a very minor road, under which the line passes by a typical NWNGR bridge.

The views below are taken from the bridge, showing no. 138 passing with a train bound for Waunfawr.

Almost the whole area of the station was overgrown by a dense thicket in the years following closure, with the station building, in distinctive NWNGR style, reduced to an overgrown, roofless ruin.

The now exposed remains of the building are visible beside the line (on the right if travelling from Caernarfon). On the other side of the line, the remains of the base of the signal box are also visible.

There is a level crossing at the Waunfawr end of the station - the only one apart from farm crossings on the line from Dinas to Waunfawr.

Jump to: [Dinas] [Cae Moel] [Rhostryfan Road] [Cae Wernlas Ddu] [Tryfan Junction] [Gwredog Isaf] [Gwyrfai valley] [Waunfawr] [Top of page]

Bridge works south of Tryfan Junction involved substantial modifications to two adjacent bridges, one over and the other under the line. These formed part of the accommodations reached with the neighbouring farms, and reflect the practical needs of modern agriculture - the overbridge was too narrow for vehicle access to fields, and the underbridge opening was too small for tractors with safety cabs, or for emergency vehicles. The masonry arch of the overbridge was thus removed, and a higher, shallower concrete arch cast in situ. The modified bridge has an unusual asymetrical pattern to the arch, dictated by the site.

The underbridge was largely replaced with a modern structure (not completely finished in the pictures below) giving adequate clearance and meeting the relevant Health & Safety requirements.

Similar bridges to the originals exist elsewhere on the line, indeed a long-disused underbridge of y similar type has been restored to use nearer to Dinas, at Plas Bodaden, accommodating the particular needs of the farm in question.

The next two pictures show the last train of the day returning from Waunfawr; diesel Castell Caernarfon brings up the rear, having spent the day as Waunfawr shunter, prior to commissioning of the run-round loop there.

Mark Etheridge's picture below shows a train at this spot almost two years later, with rather more vegetation.

Beyond this area, gabion reinforcement beside the line marks the site of a landslip caused by failure of drainage after the long dereliction of the trackbed. Resolving this proved to be one of the most protracted tasks in rebuilding to Waunfawr.

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On the approach to Waunfawr, the line runs by the side of the meandering Afon Gwyrfai (the same river that the line crosses at Bontnewydd), on a most pleasant and picturesque section, with the first close views of the mountains (starting with Moel Eilio almost directly ahead) rising above the trees as the trackbed skirts the floodplain of the river. Erosion protection work has been done where river and railway are at their closest.

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At Waunfawr, the line passes under the A4085 by a bridge which was the first one started on by contractors, at the start of November 1999. Like the other similar examples, the trackbed has been lowered and the bridge underpinned; the picture below shows the dip.

The line emerges directly into the station, on the valley floor below the village, and the vista opens up here as the valley widens dramatically. We are clearly at the gateway to the mountains, with the rounded slopes of Cefn Du and Moel Eilio rising on the left, forming the first peaks of the Snowdon ridge, and the rocky bulk of Mynydd Mawr visible ahead on the opposite side of the Gwyrfai valley.

The NWNGR station building (built without proper foundations) suffered damage at the hands of evacuees during World War Two, and was subsequently allowed to fall into ruin. One of the first major volunteer tasks at Waunfawr was to carefully dismantle and catalogue what remained, for incorporation in the new station building, which will be to a similar design but extended in length to provide adequate facilities, and will be on a different site, on the island platform in the middle of the new passing loop. Unfortunately, significant portions of the materials from the dismantled building were stolen before they could be removed to safe keeping at Dinas, increasing the scale of the task of the recreated building, when it is eventually built.

In addition to bricks and stonework from the building, slate platform edging from the original station was also recovered (this also surfaced at Tryfan Junction). Excavation also revealed the long-forgotten site of the coalyard, which used to supply the village and other dwellings with coal brought up from Dinas by rail - indeed some lumps of coal were discovered between the slate slabs used as a shovelling base.

Waunfawr opened in a basic form. Until the run-round loop was brought into use (on September 9th 2000), trains reversed with the help of a diesel shunter. These views show the single platform edge that was ready for use at the start of services to Waunfawr; the whole platform has since been completed, and Waunfawr now gives the impression of a spacious station built to high standards in pleasant surroundings.

By August 27th 2000 the loop was almost complete, though trains were still reversing using the diesel.

By August 2000 Bank Holiday, the locomotive water tank had been craned into place on its support structure, with volunteers at work on painting and fitting out.

The tank was brought into use for the first trains of February 2001, replacing use of the temporary fibreglass tank visible on the ground in the left-hand picture above.

The footbridge access to the platform and to the caravan park beyond took some time to complete and get approved. The main structural steelwork was erected before the start of the February 2001 half-term trains.

By mid-May of that year work was advanced on fitting the woodwork to the galvanised steel frame, and it was possible to get an idea of the completed bridge, which is sturdy in construction but light in appearance, and well suited to the site. The West Midlands Group of the Welsh Highland Railway Society was closely involved with work on the bridge, having previously worked on the water tower.

In early June the stairway down to the platform was making rapid progress. In the left-hand picture below, Welsh Highland Railway Society chairman Dave Kent is fixing one of the foot treads to the stairway down to the platform.

The first part of the footbridge came into temporary use just in time for the September 2001 Vintage Weekend, giving access to the platform from the car park.

The bridge was completed gradually over the winter and early spring of 2002, complete with handrails and lighting (a safety requirement of Her Majesty's Railways Inspectorate), the lights being fitted to hoops at each end of the bridge and above the platform access. In mid-April 2002 the bridge was in use for access between the pub car park and caravan pitches on the far side of the station, while opening of the platform access, which had to await HMRI approval, was achieved before the end of the month.

The foundations for the building are already clearly visible, though its erection awaits funding. As far as passenger facilities go, there is of course the Snowdonia Parc Hotel immediately next to the station, plus shops in the village a few minutes' walk away. The station is also quite close to the nature trail at the old Dudley Park Quarry (once served by the railway), and to the nature park and community museum of local organisation Antur Waunfawr (who have also created flowerbeds at the station). Leaflets about both are available at Caernarfon Station. Signage on the platform indicates the way to Antur Waunfawr.

Although Waunfawr is a fairly quiet village, it has an important place in the history of telecommunications, as the site of the pioneering Marconi translatlantic radio transmitting station, which also sent the first transmissions from the UK to Australia. You can find out about the history of the Marconi station online. Annual events are held to mark International Marconi Day, and Waunfawr was visited in 1998 by the pioneer's daughter, Princess Elettra Marconi. The great antennae on Cefn Du mountain are long gone, but the buildings still stand above the village, now in use as a climbing centre; Although not connected to the WHR, the Marconi site had a steep narrow-gauge railway worked by stationary engines, used to bring building materials up from the Waunfawr - Llanrug road.

The pictures below shows the southern extremity of the station site in September 1999 and on opening day (7th August 2000), looking towards Mynydd Mawr and the prospect of Phase 3 - Onwards to Rhyd Ddu.

Beyer-Garratt no. 143 is seen below leaving Waunfawr with the last train of the day on October 22nd 2000, close to full of passengers even out of the main tourist season.

With the opening of the extension to Rhyd Ddu in August 2003, Waunfawr became a passing loop for the two-train service (though some services crossed at Dinas), and the eastern face of the platform came into use for departures to Caernarfon. No. 143 is seen below standing at Waunfawr following arrival from Rhyd Ddu.

This aerial view shows trains crossing at Waunfawr in August 2007, with the southbound train just entering the station under the road bridge.

In 2010 work finally started on a station building, a feature long been seen as missing from the station since its opening. The building won't be the rebuilt stone and brick structure that was such a feature of the station in original WHR days but instead will be of the 'shelter' type as found at Snowdon Ranger and Nantmor amongst other places. Two shelters are being provided funded by the Cymdeithas Rheilffordd Eryri, the WHR's supporting society. This will serve as an interim solution until such a time as the more permanent stone and brick structure can be re-built.

The pictures below from Andy Keene show work in progress for the footings.

The groundwork taking place for one of the two new station shelters. (Photo: A.Keene)The groundwork taking place for one of the two new station shelters. (Photo: A.Keene)The groundwork taking place for one of the two new station shelters. (Photo: A.Keene)

By the 8th September the building was being 'plumbed in'. The ground was then finished off with slate waste in preparation for Superpower the following weekend.

Ducting for the two station shelters. (Photo: S.Broomfield)Ducting for the two station shelters. (Photo: S.Broomfield)

Over a somewhat longer session than the usual weekend, from Wednesday to Sunday, 22nd to 26th September the North Wales /Black Hand Gang continued with the installation of the first of two shelters on the platform at Waunfawr.
The roof has now been completed, the bench seat installed, the toilet section is almost complete as well as its access ramp. Also the area surrounding the shelter has been tidied up following disturbance to install ducts for services.
Waunfawr buildings - Steve BroomfieldWaunfawr station building - Steve Broomfield
It is hoped to complete the remaining tasks on the first shelter and erect the second shelter over the long 'Station Blitz' weekend, 8 to 11 October.
[Opening route page] [Caernarfon to Dinas] [Dinas to Waunfawr] [Waunfawr to Rhyd Ddu] [Rhyd Ddu to Beddgelert] [Beddgelert to Porthmadog]

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Authored by Ben Fisher; last updated September 27th, 2010 by David Tidy