Four of the world’s oldest narrow gauge steam locomotives are sitting side by side in the Ffestiniog Railway’s workshops in Porthmadog for the first time in living memory. Built in London between 1863 and 1867, together they represent almost six hundred years of steam power on the Ffestiniog.
In 2013, Princess will be on display in her home town at Paddington Station from St David’s Day, While Prince will be in steam at London Transport’s Acton Depot in a joint celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Underground. The locos – painted in matching deep red livery – will also visit Dublin’s Heuston Station and the Great British Beer Festival at Olympia in-between taking part in celebrations on the Ffestiniog Railway throughout the year. Welsh Pony is receiving a cosmetic makeover and will be on display in green, while Palmerston will be in steam in maroon.
In 1863 the Ffestiniog Railway began the use of steam locomotives built in London by George England, to haul trains of empty slate wagons from the harbour at Porthmadog to the quarries of Blaenau Ffestiniog. Two were named Prince and Princess, reflecting widespread public interest in the marriage of the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, to Princess Alexandra of Denmark, one Palmerston after the then Prime Minister, who was also an investor in one of the Ffestiniog slate quarries, and a fourth Mountaineer, reflecting the rugged terrain over which the railway operates.
Built barely more than 30 years after Stephenson's Rocket, the George England locos are the oldest surviving narrow gauge locomotives in the world. Remarkably, after 150 years, four of the six built still survive, two of them in regular use.
The Ffestiniog was the first railway in the world to adopt and make regular use of steam locomotives on a very narrow gauge, on a public railway, and over a significant distance. The introduction of these steam locomotives was a vital first step in the transformation of a well-engineered and well-run horse and gravity mineral railway into a state-of-the-art steam traction system worthy of emulation world-wide.
The introduction of steam locomotives on the Ffestiniog Railway demonstrated that the technology of the steam railway that had evolved on the main lines from 1829 onwards could be applied to railways built on a much smaller scale and at much lower cost. As such it paved the way for further innovations on the Ffestiniog itself, including the introduction of passenger traffic in 1865, for articulated locomotives in 1869 and for the locomotive trials of 1870 which attracted engineers from around the world.The technology and skills developed on the Ffestiniog were exported around the world and led to the proliferation of narrow gauge railways in other countries where inexpensive and cost-effective systems were required. The narrow gauge railways of France, India, the USA, Hungary, South Africa, Namibia, Venezuela, New Guinea and Morocco – as well as industrial systems and those built in the trenches of the First World War – can all trace their roots back to a 13 mile line in North Wales.