Friog avalanche shelter, near Fairbourne

Friog avalanche shelter, near Fairbourne

From this end of the seafront you can see a concrete avalanche shelter on the steep slope to the south. It was built by the Great Western Railway in the 1930s after landslips twice sent locomotives crashing down to the rocky seashore. The shelter is 56 metres long and made from reinforced concrete. Its sloping top deflects falling debris downwards.

When the Cambrian Coast line from Machynlleth to Pwllheli was built in the 1860s, engineers faced a stern challenge where the mountains come right up to the sea here. They cut a ledge in the side of Gallt Ffynnon yr Hydd c.30 metres above the sea. The road is a similar distance above the railway.

The railway soon began to suffer as sea erosion and underground streams disturbed the hillside. A suggested railway tunnel to divert the route was too expensive. The ledge has been shored up many times with stone and concrete.

On New Year’s Day 1883 a passenger train from Machynlleth ran into fallen debris, including stone from the road’s collapsed retaining wall. The locomotive, named Pegasus after a mythical flying horse, was deflected and fell to the shore, killing its driver and fireman (stoker). None of the three carriages or the van at the rear fell.

A watchman had recently walked the line, but vibrations from the approaching train may have triggered the landslip. The deceased were both named William Davies and from Porthmadog. More than £122 was collected for their families. The driver was a widower c.60 years old and left three daughters. The fireman, aged c.25, had grown up in nearby Llanegryn. He left a widow and baby son.

In almost a carbon copy, another locomotive crew died at the same place on 6 March 1933 as they took a mail and passenger train northwards. Fallen debris, including a retaining wall from the road above, diverted their engine over the parapet alongside the track. All three carriages and the milk van at the rear stayed on the ledge.

The driver was John Humphreys, aged 58, the fireman John Price Kenny, 30, both of Machynlleth. The official inquiry recommended consideration of a weight limit for vehicles on the road.

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