Welsh Highland Railway History
Part 3 - The Welsh Highland Railway Reborn
In the early 1960s the first determined efforts to revive the WHR began and in 1961 a group of enthusiasts formed a society which became the Welsh Highland Light Railway (1964) Co Ltd. Negotiations were opened with the liquidator, A. Thomas, but these efforts necessarily changed focus when he died and the assets were transferred to the Official Receiver in London. A base was eventually established on a former standard gauge siding in Porthmadog and a short length of line was laid to Pen y Mount. A public service commenced in 1980.
WHLR (1964) Ltd opened negotiations with the local authorities and the Official Receiver but the company's efforts were complicated by the threat of road improvement schemes which apparently required portions of the trackbed too. In the late 1980s, the FR became again involved in WHR interests, having completed restoration of the FR route, including a 2½ mile deviation, to Blaenau Ffestiniog in 1982.
In 1989 it was a matter of some controversy when it became known that the FR had made a secret bid to acquire the WHR trackbed from the Official Receiver. The FR plan was to start at Caernarfon, rebuilding back to Porthmadog and connecting with the FR to create a 40 mile railway - a new 'Great Railway Journey'.
In 1993 the Welsh Highland Railway Society was launched to focus volunteer efforts for the reconstruction of the WHR.
There then followed several years of legal arguments, a High Court hearing and three public inquiries, and an appeal before a decision that the reconstruction of the WHR was in the public interest was made and the necessary powers granted by means of a Transport & Works Order. Along the way a transfer order sanctioned the sale of the trackbed from the Official Receiver to the FR and a Light Railway Order authorised the Dinas-Caernarfon section.
Work started between Dinas and Caernarfon in 1997 and engineering contractor Mowlem made the trackbed ready for volunteer tracklayers. It was opened on 13th October 1997, with initial trains consisting of five new carriages. Subsequently a Pullman car, Bodysgallen, and two more semi-opens were added to the fleet. Some FR stock was also used and many FR locos have made appearances on the WHR from time-to-time.
From an early stage the railway was envisaged to be reconstructed to operate at as close to 25 mph as possible, to be operated by powerful locomotives capable of hauling 12 coaches up gradients of up to 1 in 40 and in such a way as to reduce long-term maintenance costs. A large amount of the necessary equipment was sourced from South Africa including two NG/G16 2-6-2+2-6-2 Beyer Garratts (Nos 138 and 143) and the Funkey diesel Castell Caernarfon. Another Funkey diesel was also imported and after a significant rebuild entered service on the FR as Vale of Ffestiniog. A third NG/G16, No 140, was donated to the cause in 1997 and two NG15 2-8-0s were subsequently obtained.
Funding was made available towards the estimated £9 million cost of rebuilding to Rhyd Ddu from the Millennium Commission (£4.3m), European Regional Development Fund, Welsh Development Agency, Wales Tourist Board and sponsorship from the WHR Society, Historic Houses Hotels and First Hydro.
The section to Waunfawr took about a year to finish, opening in August 2000 and work started almost immediately on the next section to Rhyd Ddu. However, progress was hampered by the national Foot and Mouth disease outbreak.
In early 2003, tracklaying started at Rhyd Ddu northwards to meet up with the section being laid from Waunfawr southwards. Following test running and a visit by HRH Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, the railway was opened to Rhyd Ddu on 18th August 2003.
Whilst these developments were taking place WHLR (1964) Co, now registered as the Welsh Highland Railway Ltd, reached agreement with the FR to rebuild the railway to Pont Croesor - and to operate trains of heritage rolling stock on this section of line until it was required for completing the route to Harbour Station. In 2003 work started for an initial extension to Traeth Mawr loop, about half way to Pont Croesor, but progress was also hampered by the Foot and Mouth outbreak. WHRL completed this initial section to Traeth Mawr loop and operated a regular service over it during the 2008 season.
In September 2004, the FR announced that funding of £5m had been forthcoming from the Welsh Assembly and the EU. This, together with funds from a hugely successful public appeal, finally meant that the full project would come to fruition.