There are just four surviving passenger coaches from the old Welsh Highland. Two can be found at WHR (Porthmadog), where the beautifully restored "Gladstone Car" is in regular service, and the Buffet Car awaits restoration. The other two, both Ashbury "Summer Coaches" built for the NWNGR in 1894, belong to the Ffestiniog. In addition, a replica carriage is now in service at WHR (Caernarfon).
Coach 23 passed to the FR when the WHR closed, and was one of the first coaches used on the revived FR from the 1950s onwards. It has been kept in a condition quite close to how it was when it ran on the WHR, and is seen here in sidings at Porthmadog, having been repainted in 1920s WHR livery. Like almost all the NWNGR carriages still in use in 1923, no. 23 had its height reduced to enable it to pass through the FR's notorious old Moelwyn Tunnel, although in practice the WHR coaches seem to have stayed mainly on the WHR section.
The other ex-WHR coach on the Ffestiniog, no. 26, has been extensively restyled in rebuilds since entering FR service, and now bears only a passing resemblance to the original design, and includes no original parts. It came to the FR after some decades as a hen house near the village of Y Groeslôn. Like the surviving carriages at WHR (Porthmadog) it had been sold from Dinas in 1942, following the demolition of most of the line.
No. 23 visited WHR (Caernarfon) for the September 2000 and 2001 Galas, and has also visited WHR (Porthmadog). Under a restoration scheme announced in May 2001, no. 23 has now made a permanent return to the WHR, following overhaul and repaint at Boston Lodge. It was used in the Heritage trains in the Summer of 2002, alternating with the modern coaches hauled by a Garratt; in 2003 it will be used on regular services when the two-train service runs. The coach retains its glazed doors (they were originally without windows) as a concession to modern standards of comfort. The work on no. 23 formed part of an extensive range of FR/WHR Heritage carriage projects funded by an anonymous donor. Chris Jones' picture below shows progress on no. 23 on January 13th 2002, with an FR "Barn" being rebuilt behind.
Another WHR relic is visible in the foreground - a newly restored slate wagon from Rhosydd Quarry, which is now used in the FR's demonstration slate train. The wagon was virtually completed in July 2002, and is seen on the left below having a first meeting with Lilla, a loco with historical WHR connections of its own (explained here). The right-hand photo shows the wagon at Tan-y-Bwlch at the October 2002 Vintage Weekend, forming part of a 50-wagon gravity slate train, about to be towed to Dduallt by David Lloyd George before being released for its downhill run.
The picture below shows no. 23 on February 24th 2002, with repanelling in progress.
No. 23 was moved to Dinas in early June 2002, in time for the start of the two-train service over the Golden Jubilee holiday, and is seen below at Caernarfon, freshly painted.
No. 23 was moved back to the FR in September 2004, to participate in the 2004-5 celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the preserved FR, as it was one of the very first carriages put back into service there. Its place at WHR(C) has been taken by no. 26 while no. 23 is away "down south".
Early announcements suggested that no. 26 would be the subject of a similar but even more extensive restoration, to original condition. However examination of the carriage proved that after its many rebuilds, literally no original features survive. In light of this, no. 26 has been left in FR service, and Boston Lodge has built a replica of no. 23, but in its original 1894 NWNGR condition, apart from the provision of glazed doors; the donor expressed a specific preference for an "original" version of the NWNGR Ashbury "Summer coaches". It is numbered 24. The attention to detail extends to original pattern curly-spoked wheels; it was necessary to make a new pattern for the steel castings for these. Chris Jones's picture below shows the new chassis, and many wooden components for the body and roof, at Boston Lodge on February 24th 2002.
The body was complete and in the final stages of paintwork and lettering in late July, as seen in Chris Jones's pictures below.
John Cordrey's pictures below show the bogies on July 24th, with the bottom end (FR parlance) one essentially complete apart from fitting of the brake rigging, and the top end bogie assembled ready for rivetting. The bogies are as close as possible to the type originally fitted to no. 23 (which no longer has its original bogies - having been much modified for "ambulance" duties these were sold to the Bredgar & Wormshill Railway in the 1980s), including rivetted construction and genuine NWNGR axleboxes found in store at Boston Lodge, but with more substantial material used for the frames. The only significant design change is the addition of secondary suspension, for an improved ride.
Andy Rutter's pictures below show the almost finished carriage on August 17th, and a close up of the axleboxes, reading "N.W.N.G. RLY. 1894".
No. 24 had its first runs on the FR (whose loading gauge is now able to take a full-height NWNGR vehicle), an evening test run to Blaenau Ffestiniog on August 19th 2002, followed by three days of revenue-earning service on the Porthmadog - Tan-y-Bwlch vintage shuttle service. It was moved to WHR (Caernarfon) on August 24th, and is seen below at Dinas that day - just six months on from the first picture of the chassis above.
No. 24 went straight into service on the following day's Heritage Train service, seen below at Waunfawr making an interesting comparison with no. 23.
Despite their modest external size compared with the modern carriages, these vehicles have a deceptively large capacity of 56 passengers each, and are useful members of the fleet in addition to their Heritage value.
In addition to these carriages, which are now permanently based at Dinas, the FR can provide, from its own heritage stock, numerous other vehicles often used on the old WHR. For the 2002 Heritage Train service, coaches 11 and 12 were in use, returning to the FR in the autumn.