Welsh Highland Railway History
Part 2 - A Short Operating Life
In 1914 the local authorities promoted a Light Railway Order to take over the PBSSR and NWNGR and complete the unfinished railway. In 1920 the application was reactivated by the Dolgarrog-based Aluminium Corporation, which had acquired control of the PBSSR and the NWNGR, and an order was made to create the Welsh Highland Railway (WHR) in 1922. The WHR was mainly funded by loans from the Ministry of Transport and the local authorities, however, these loans were to lead to the WHR's downfall because it could never earn sufficient to pay the interest.
The WHR let the contract for construction to McAlpine & Sons to refurbish the NWNGR and Croesor Tramway and construct the 'missing' line between Rhyd Ddu and Croesor Junction, thus completing the link between Dinas and Portmadoc. The FR built the connection railway in Portmadoc and a new joint station there. The NWNGR section was reopened in 1922 and the line was opened throughout in 1923.
The two remaining original NWNGR locomotives (Russell and single Fairlie Moel Tryfan) were supplemented, in 1923, by an ex-War Department Baldwin 4-6-0T No. 590. However, there were still shortages of equipment and most of the FR's England locomotives and carriages saw use on the line.
The WHR was in trouble from the start; 1923 was the best year for traffic and it declined each year thereafter. In conjunction with the LMS and GWR, the FR and WHR were promoted as a circular tour but, despite this and other marketing initiatives, a profit was never shown. In 1923 interest on the loans was paid from capital; no more was ever paid. After the winter of 1923/4 the passenger service became seasonal and the goods service run pretty much as required.
Colonel Stephens, known for running a collection of poorly off light railways, had been appointed engineer in 1923 and a director in 1925 but even his expertise could not save the WHR. The slate industry was declining, tourists were discovering the delights of charabancs, locals the convenience of motor buses and cheap ex-military lorries were coming on to the market and the WHR stood little chance. The railway was put into receivership in 1927.
Despite this, there was enough revenue to keep the railway going, just. Hope remained, and following a good 1933 season, the FR put forward a plan to operate the two railways from 1934.
A 42-year lease on the WHR was signed, although this required the FR to pay rent even if the railway made an operating loss! The railway continued to perform poorly and the last passenger train ran on 5th September 1936. In December 1936, the FR asked to be released from the lease and all traffic on the WHR was formally suspended from 1st June 1937.
In 1941 much of the railway's equipment was requisitioned for the war effort with one portion of track even used for mobile target practice! The Croesor section was left in situ in case the quarries reopened after the war; but was finally lifted in 1948. Various legal manoeuvres followed this, including a serious application to turn the route into a long-distance footpath. Although these plans were ultimately unfruitful, they probably ensured that the trackbed was kept mainly intact, rather than sold off bit by bit. However some parts such as the site of Rhyd Ddu station were sold off.
Of the locomotives, Moel Tryfan had been dismantled at Boston Lodge since 1934 and was eventually cut-up for scrap, in a bid to raise much needed finance for the early preservationists at the FR. However Russell went to work in Oxfordshire, and then in Dorset, before being saved by the Birmingham Locomotive Club for fifty pounds and moved to the Talyllyn Railway for display. Since then it has been fully restored and although currently being overhauled, it will see use on WHR heritage trains come the full reopening of the line.
The section between Dinas and Caernarfon (previously the Caernarvonshire Railway) was taken over by the London & North Western Railway in 1870, becoming in turn part of the LMS Railway in 1923. The line was finally closed by British Railways in 1964, following which the local authority purchased the trackbed to develop the Lon Eifion cycle track.