Llanberis Lake Railway
The train trip which thousands of visitors make every year on the Llanberis Lake Railway mostly follows a route constructed in 1843 to carry slates from Dinorwig quarry to the dock at Y Felinheli, also known as Port Dinorwic during the era of slate exports. This lakeside route, known as the Padarn Railway, replaced an 1824 tramway and was worked by horses until 1848, when two steam locomotives were purchased. One of them, Fire Queen, is displayed at Penrhyn Castle, Bangor.
Unusually, the rails of the Padarn Railway were set 1.2m (4ft) apart. Standard gauge in Britain was 1.4m, while the tracks in Welsh slate quarries (including Dinorwig) were usually 58cm gauge. Wagons which arrived at Gilfach Ddu laden with finished slates were placed side by side on Padarn Railway "host" wagons for the trunk haul to Port Dinorwic, where they were placed onto the harbour’s own 58cm-gauge tracks for positioning alongside waiting ships. A host wagon is preserved at the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum, Tywyn. The photo shows host wagons in use (courtesy David J Mitchell).
A similar system, using standard gauge wagons, was employed between Blaenau Ffestiniog and Deganwy quay. This system minimised manual handling of slates, reducing labour and the risk of breakage. Today the same princple underlies the trolleys and other wheeled freight containers which take supermarket foods, parcels and other goods on and off lorries, aircraft and trains.
Dinorwig quarrymen rode to work on the Padarn Railway on passenger-powered “velocipedes”, known by the quarrymen as Ceir Gwyllt (“wild cars”). There are tales of velocipedes reaching 64kph (40mph) or being grossly overloaded. Sometimes one group of men tried to bump the preceding velocipede, whose occupants would try to evade bumping. After several accidents and fatalities, in 1895 the company started a daily passenger train for those employees willing to pay a fare.
The railway closed in 1961 when road transport took over. It reopened, with 58cm-gauge track, in July 1971 after enthusiasts had obtained leases on part of the route and bought redundant quarry railway equipment. In 2003 the railway was extended from Gilfach Ddu to the town terminus, with Gwynedd Council’s support.
Postcode: LL55 4TY
Other RAILWAY HiPoints in this area:
Dinorwig quarry inclines - easily visible from Gilfach Ddu station
Old Llanberis railway station - station building is now a shop
Felin Fawr workshops, Bethesda – base of narrow-gauge Penrhyn Railway, now partly restored