Phase 4: Rhyd Ddu to Porthmadog

Cae Pawb: The Cambrian Crossing

Phase 4 pages:
Beddgelert: Bridges & Station
Cambrian Crossing

Recent updates are underlined and in red.

Click for a map of the Phase 4 route in a separate window.

The route section of the site includes detailed illustrated descriptions - Rhyd Ddu to Beddgelert and Beddgelert to Porthmadog.

This visually unremarkable location on the edge of Porthmadog is one of the WHR's unique features; it is the only place in Britain where the tracks of two different railway companies cross on the level - and on different gauges to boot. The first three pictures below show the site looking towards Harbour - with the water tower base of the 1923 Portmadoc New Station visible - while the last two are looking the other way.

The narrow gauge was here a little before the standard gauge, in the form of the Croesor Tramway, part of which was upgraded as part of the WHR in 1922-3, just as the Cambrian Railways were absorbed into the GWR group. By this time the other narrow gauge crossing was long gone; the Gorsedda Junction and Portmadoc Railways crossed the Cambrian at a point adjacent to the present WHR (Porthmadog) café. The GWR seems to have regarded the crossing as an irritation, and the charges imposed on the WHR for manning it led to the practice of terminating most WHR trains north of the crossing from 1929 onwards - a commercially suicidal move, as it meant a trek well outside the town centre for intending passengers.

There could not be more of a contrast with the present relationship with Network Rail about the reinstatement and operation of the crossing. A comprehensive agreement has been signed which is to the satisfaction of both parties, and certainly does not affect the commercial viability of the WHR in the way that the old crossing did.

Design and planning for the new crossing covered a period of years, at no cost to the railway, and was done by a team of specialist railway engineers led by David Bateman and including consulting engineers Arup. The crossing will be automatically controlled by signal lights on both railways.

On October 20th 2006 David High (WHRC Ltd Cross-Town Link Project Manager) led a team of WHRCL design consultants, contractors and Network Rail engineers to inspect the Cambrian crossing manufactured by Corus Cogifer at their Scunthorpe workshops.

The components supplied by Corus comprise:

The two metal sleepers visible in these photos (one on a panel in the left-hand picture, and one on the crossing unit) are galvanised steel hollow bearers, which allow cables to be passed across the narrow gauge line without ducts. There is also a duct crossing laid in underneath the standard gauge.

The components were delivered to private land adjacent to the crossing site in Porthmadog on October 25th, ready for installation by crane during a three-day possession (October 31st - Nov 2nd) the following week. The narrow gauge spurs of the crossing unit were removed for transport, so it could be transported much like an ordinary panel of standard gauge track.

The crossing and panels are seen below on October 29th, with the narrow gauge spurs back in place on the crossing unit. Ballast and other supplies were also on site ready for the arrival of the contractors and their machinery.

The site was cleared on October 31st, including removal of all old ballast. This work revealed remains of retaining walls understood to be part of the original Croesor Tramway formation, predating the arrival of the standard gauge.

The trackwork installation was done on November 1st, as seen below, with November 2nd taken up with top ballasting and tamping of the standard gauge line with a tamping bank mounted on the road-rail excavator vehicle (RRV) used by the contractor, and other finishing works.

WHR (Porthmadog) kindly deployed one of their cameras for a few days to provide a view of part of the crossing works area. The camera showed a view between the Cambrian Crossing on the far left and the level crossing leading into Gelert's Farm Works on the right. The trackbed leading into the old Portmadoc New station runs across the view almost horizontally beyond the Cambrian line, on a level with the word "Listen" on the crossing board on the right. The views below from the webcam are reproduced by kind permission of WHR Ltd. The second picture shows the crossing itself on the left, shortly after it was lowered into place. The camera recorded around 4000 visits over three hours on November 1st.

The crossing is seen below from the Gelert's Farm crossing on November 5th, by which time Cambrian Coast services had resumed. Of the narrow gauge panels outside Network Rail land, the 113lb panel on the Gelert's Farm side had been connected up, with the 80lb panel resting on top of it for later installation, while the 113lb and 80lb panels on the Portmadoc New side had been put on the trackbed (right-hand picture) but not yet positioned or connected up.

The operational name Cae Pawb Crossing has been agreed on for use by both the WHR and Network Rail, as for reporting purposes it makes sense for both railways to call it the same thing. The name is one applied to this area of the town, and all the alternatives were already in use elsewhere on NR or the FR/WHR. It has also been agreed that the crossing's signalling will interface with the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), whose UK pilot installation will be on the Cambrian Coast Line.

The WHR has been beaten to the honour of running the first steam trains to use the crossing...

The crossing is seen from the air in these pictures taken on August 6th 2007, which show the proximity to Gelert's Farm Works.

The crossing is protected on either side by "wide to gauge" trap points on the narrow gauge. The blades and stockrails for one of these are seen laid out at the South Wales premises of Holdtrade (UK) Ltd.

The surroundings of the crossing are the focus of a Welsh Highland Heritage Group initiative and appeal to provide a replica of the original crossing cabin, which will also serve a useful purpose as the crossing will often be manned. At times when it is not manned, manually operated gates will be closed across the narrow gauge, and these and the signalling will be operated by train crews rather than the crossing keeper. The gates are to a heritage design, and have been purchased by the WHRS West Midlands Group; they are seen in store at Carillion's Llyn Bach compound in December 2007.

David Allan of the Heritage Group has kindly provided the following statement about the costings for the cabin appeal:

Cambrian/Cae Pawb Crossing - Costing

"Welsh Highland Railway Construction Ltd has a budgeted cost of £20,000 for this item. This sum includes not only the cost of the "box" itself (to provide cover for both the equipment and the operator) but also the concrete base and the associated and necessary other works, including the protective gates. The Heritage Group, as part of its contribution to the whole Welsh Highland construction project, agreed to raise, co-ordinate and to ensure that £20.,000 was available to the Construction Company for the project. The Group saw this not only as an ideal opportunity to recreate a very visible aspect of the original WHR scene, but also to demonstrate its committment to both WHR heritage and the project as a whole. Its ideas were approved and agreed by FR Heritage Ltd., Welsh Highland Railway Construction Ltd, and the FR Company. The actual replica box itself will cost in the region of £9,500, which includes the authentic Welsh-slated roof. The remainder of the budget covers the other necessary works (including the concrete base for the box, the signalling installation and the provision of the various services, water and electricity). Welsh Highland Railway Construction Ltd has put £5,000 into the scheme, while other monies have come from the Heritage Group, from an appeal organised by the Group (£8,000) and from the WHR Society. The replica wooden gates have been provided an paid for by the West Midlands branch of the WHRS."

The gateposts on both sides of the Cambrian had been erected when seen in mid-January 2008. The foreground also shows the start of ballasting on the Cross-Town Link.

The gates had recently been installed when seen here on January 24th 2008.

These views show the crossing in mid-April 2008. Just visible on the right in the first picture is Network Rail's recently installed cabinet for ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System) equipment, receiving its UK pilot installation on the Cambrian.

The WHR trap points on both sides of the crossing were installed in the week beginning August 4th 2008. The contractor doing the work (K.G.J. Price Railway Contractors Ltd, of Caerphilly) was active south and north of the crossing on the 4th; on the south side, volunteers assisted in positioning the trap point adjacent to the old water tower, and moved a pair of rails into position between the trap point and the crossing, in addition to laying another length onwards from the previous day's CTRL Head of Steel. The last picture shows work north of the crossing. In the first picture, the WHR crossing is underneath the first carriage of the Cambrian steam service.

On a very wet August 5th 2008 the volunteers assisted the contractors north of the crossing, moving a pair of rails into position between the transition panel leading away from the crossing (seen in the first picture after Thermit welding) and the trap point. The latter was moved into position, having been resting on the track a short distance to the north for some months.

On August 7th 2008 Jack Lane was used to deliver ballast to the contractors working on the trap point north of the crossing, demonstrating that 21st-century Quarry Hunslets can do the sort of job that their older cousins were designed for.

The crossing and trap points are seen below on August 8th 2008, with the contractor's work done and signed off. Top ballasting remained to be done once the ballast hopper wagons can reach this point from the north, but the tracklaying across the crossing was complete, leaving the signalling installation (including the actuating mechanisms for the trap points) as the last major task to be done here.

6th July 2010
The following description of the works to complete Cae Pawb has been submitted by Quentin Macdonald, the Signalling Project Engineer for Cae Pawb crossing:
The WHR Construction Ltd invited tenders from signalling contractors and in August 2008, a contract was placed with MGB Signalling to construct, install, test and commission the system.
The installation work began on Monday 22nd February 2010 and testing was completed on Wednesday 24th March 2010. This was just in time to allow the empty stock working topped by Vale of Ffestiniog and tailed by Palmerston the next morning on the 25th March. This was the first train to be signalled over the crossing but it was done under possession of the Cambrian because although we know that the release from Machynlleth does actually work it has yet to be tested and commissioned and thereby hangs a very long tale!!
There is that last piece of testing and commissioning to do, as well as building the crossing keeper’s cabin, moving the panel into it, training crossing keepers and agreeing maintenance routines. Last but not least the whole system needs the blessing of the Railway Inspectorate. Then, and only then, can we say "Job Done".
Meanwhile on Network Rail they are still planning on commissioning the ERTMS on the Harlech to Pwlleli section over the weekend of 4/5 September with ERTMS only trains running from first train on Monday 6th September 2010. The rest of the ERTMS is planned to be commissioned in one go in October.

 Back to WHR Project homepage or the opening Phase 4 page
Maintained by Ben Fisher; last updated July 6th, 2010 by Bob Smith