It’s almost 200 years old, climbs more than 700 feet from sea level into the Welsh mountains and is just 13 and a half miles long.
This living museum stretches from the harbour in Porthmadog, Gwynedd to historic slate mining town Blaenau Ffestiniog in Merionethshire, passing through forests and waterfalls and chugging round a complete spiral on the way.
A special fleet
The Ffestiniog Railway, which appears in the second episode of the new series on 5 May, is well-known for its lovingly preserved steam engines but last spring, we hosted a naming ceremony at the railway’s Minffordd station for a very special fleet of three yellow engineering trains.
These Class 97 trains work solely on the nearby Cambrian Coast Line, which runs from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth and Pwllheli. It was the first to trial the European Railway Traffic Management System (ERTMS), which replaces traditional track-side signals with a state-of-the-art in-cab system.
We had already used this locomotive, which is compatible with ERTMS, for rail-head treatment during the autumn season.
Gallery: First image – Dr John Prideaux Chair of Ffestiniog Railway (left) with Sir Peter Hendy CBE chair of Network Rail (right). Second image – Sir Peter Hendy (left) with Dafydd Elis-Thomas (centre) and Dr John Prideaux (right). Images from Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways.
We held the train’s unveiling at Minffordd in April last year to celebrate Network Rail’s partnership with the Welsh heritage railway community and named it ‘Rheilffyrdd Ffestiniog ac Eryri/Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways’.
The Welsh Highland Railway, operating from Caernarfon to Porthmadog, is Britain’s longest heritage railway.
Sir Peter Hendy CBE, chair of Network Rail, said in April last year: “We are proud of our strong links with the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways and value its important role in increasing tourism on the Cambrian Coast Line.”
Gallery: The Ffestiniog Railway through the decades; the quarrymen's train at Blaenau Ffestiniog in 1879; Tan-y-Bwlch station in the 1930s; Porthmadog Cob in the 1960s, and the line in 2020.
Network Rail apprentices and volunteers
Paul Lewin, general manager of Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways, said in April last year: “We really value the relationship between Network Rail and The Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways.”
He highlighted the important contributions of apprentices and volunteers from Network Rail, who dedicate time to helping the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways.
Paul said last spring: “We both have a strong focus on skills that will be needed in future. Every apprentice that works for Network Rail in Wales and Borders spends some time with our team and we also look to help attract applicants from North Wales to join the training schemes offered by both our companies.
“Also, a number of Network Rail staff use their volunteering allowance to work on our railway, which is really appreciated.”
Gallery: Sinead Lawlor and colleagues volunteering on The Ffestiniog Railway
Sinead Lawlor, a senior project engineer at Network Rail, is among the many employees to have supported The Ffestiniog Railway. In March 2018, she organised a team of engineers and construction managers to help out on the line.
She said: “We spent the day carrying out vegetation clearance which Paul (the railways manager) was very thankful as it would have taken them seven days to complete what our little army did in one day. It was really a fantastic volunteer day and a really good team building exercise.”
Railway Heritage Trust
Meanwhile, The Railway Heritage Trust, which is funded by Network Rail and restores historic railway property for practical use, funded a war memorial for The Ffestiniog Railway in 2018.
The trust normally only provides grants for projects on Network Rail property but exceptionally, a legacy sum donated by an individual provided the funding for The Ffestiniog Railway’s war memorial at Tan y Bwlch.
Andy Savage, executive director of the trust, said the trust secretary of The Ffestiniog Railway researched its old pay records and compiled a full list of those who had served and lost their lives. The Railway Heritage Trust then designed and paid for the plaque, which was unveiled on the centenary of Armistice Day, in November 2018.
Andy’s links to The Ffestiniog Railway go back to 1968 and he served as a director of the organisation for many years, and as vice chairman until 2005.