Ffestiniog Railway

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Begun in 1832, the Ffestiniog Railway started life as a narrow gauge gravity railroad to bring slate down from the mines to the docks at Porthmadoc Harbor. Horses were used to haul empty slate wagons back up to the mines, but this system was eventually given up in favor of the steam locomotive. Steam service and passenger service was introduced in 1864.

The line was shut down in 1946 during the decline of the slate mining trade; it was reopened beginning in 1955 under volunteer labor to become the tourist railroad that it is today.

Early on it was deemed necessary to increase the capacity of the line. Doubling the trackage was uneconomical given the terrain, so instead, a new, more powerful type of locomotive was developed by Robert Fairlie, which consisted of a boiler with fireboxes and driving position in the middle, giving the new "Fairlie's Patent" locomotives the look of two steam locomotives back to back. The engine is mounted on two bogies (trucks) that can swivel, like the front guide wheels of a larger steam locomotive, allowing the larger Fairlie to negotiate the curves on the railway. The Fairlie locomotives were built on site at the Railway's Boston Lodge Works (still in operation).

Nearly all of the original locomotives built for the Ffestiniog Railway are still extant; most of them are still in operation. New locomotives were built by the Boston Lodge shops in 1979 and 1992, including the David Lloyd George which hauled our train on September 6th, 2000, from Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog and back.

For non-railfans, the scenery along the route, through Snowdonia National Park, is the big draw. Climbing along the sides of various mountain peaks, the line passes close along to several waterfalls, crosses viaducts over a couple of deep ravines, and across the "Cob", a large stone wall built in 1812 across the mouth of the River Glaslyn, which allowed the reclamation of over 7,000 acres of land. The railroad and a road travel along the top of the Cob; cars must pay a 5 pence toll.

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Festrail - Official Site of the Ffestiniog Railway

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By David Pirmann.

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