Phase 4: Rhyd Ddu to Porthmadog

Rhyd Ddu - Pont Cae'r Gors

Phase 4 pages:
Rhyd Ddu - Pont Cae'r Gors
Beddgelert: Bridges & Station

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 section of the line runs first alongside and slightly above the A4085, then passes under it at Pitt's Head by the last stone overbridge encountered in rebuilding, then runs mainly in a cutting past the summit of the line to the start of the forestry land at Pont Cae'r Gors. This stretch represented contract 4A-1B.

Initial clearance (see below) was done in early 2005 by Achnashean Fencing Ltd of Llandygai, who also fenced this section (starting on April 11th), and reconstruction proper started in July 2005. The civils contract was let to Phasey Construction of Porthmadog on July 4th. The contractors started work the next week, establishing a new work base immediately south of the Rhyd Ddu headshunt, with an access roadway, and started scraping the trackbed back to ballast level. This contract also included smoothing out the difference in track levels between the south end of Rhyd Ddu Station and the trackbed beyond, earthworks for this were well advanced by the end of July.

In the following week Phasey entered the Pitt's Head site, establishing a new temporary access from the road, and began grading the trackbed which had been the subject of the earlier clearance work.

Rhyd Ddu - Pitt's Head

This is a straightforward section, running from the south boundary of the station to the culvert UB120, which required reconstruction and thus formed a convenient break between work sites.

The scraped trackbed is shown below in early August 2005, looking back towards Rhyd Ddu. Although the effect is accentuated in this telephoto shot, the trackbed (like the road) is quite undulating along this stretch.

Work on culverts was advancing well in mid-September, in a similar style to those on Phase 3, which in turn were designed to resemble originals while incorporating modern pipe work, and concrete behind stone facing. In the case of UB120 (seen on the right below), this is a change from the original style with iron or steel waybeams largely peculiar to this section (see below), and which had not resisted time and the elements well.

By the end of September the contractor had made a start on laying the sub-base of rolled crushed slate waste onto which the ballast would be laid, starting from the Rhyd Ddu end. This had reached the end of the straight section, just short of UB120, by October 9th.

Ballasting started on October 28th, from the Rhyd Ddu end, after excavation to clear the short section of trackbed past the contractor's compound and so link up this section with the station. A paving machine was used experimentally to start laying the ballast; the previous method was to lay it direct from lorries or dumper trucks, and then compact it with a roller. This section lent itself to experiment, as it had road access at both ends. The ballast bed reached the end of the section to the boundary with the Pitt's Head site within the following week (right-hand picture).

Tracklaying started on December 30th 2005 from the Rhyd Ddu end, and is seen below in progress on January 8th 2006, using the new type of sleepers with Pandrol clips. The wagon shown carrying sleepers is EAG 3, one of the ex-Duxford Hudson wagons renovated and adapted for WHR construction work by the WHRS East Anglian Group.

The pictures below illustrate the change in the rail fixings. The left-hand picture shows recently extended track within Rhyd Ddu loop, using the South African materials with bolt-down clips, while the other two show all-new Phase 4 materials with Pandrol clips. Tracklaying continued the following weekend, marking the start of the anticipated pattern for most Phase 4 tracklaying. with alternating fortnightly gangs seeing the Head of Steel advance every week.

The small Simplex diesel Dolgarrog was soon brought into use, propelling RRMs and rails as the Head of Steel moved further away from the rail store at Rhyd Ddu towards and over the summit. The loco's container shed currently forms part of the Rhyd Ddu South yard layout. Tracklaying southwards resumed over the May Day Bank Holiday, following a pause for completion of the station layout and the start of fresh deliveries of rails from Dinas. LC67 was reached over the weekend, and additional ballasting was also in progress at the Rhyd Ddu end.

As tracklaying continued southwards, the track already laid was consolidated by top ballasting and tamping, to bring it up to a high standard quickly, to allow works trains to run. The Matisa tamper is seen below coupled to the ballast plough and the ex-SAR ballast hopper wagons south of Rhyd Ddu on May 6th.

Dolgarrog is seen below arriving to collect rails at the south end of the straight on June 17th for laying further on; top ballasting immediately south of Rhyd Ddu can be clearly distinguished in the distance.

The pictures below, taken from LC67 on July 1st, illustrate the difference between track which has been tamped by the Matisa tamper and top ballasted track which is about to have the treatment. In the right-hand picture yellow bottle jacks can be seen in place; these are needed for tamping by the Matisa, but not by the Plasser & Theurer KMX machine. The KMX was driven up from Dinas to Rhyd Ddu on the evening of June 29th, for further commissioning and staff training work.

Pitt's Head

In contrast, this is one of the most involved sites on the whole railway. Unlike the Phase 2 and 3 overbridge sites, the difficulty here is not the bridge itself, but the drainage. The bridge (OB123) was built with adequate vertical clearance for electric overhead wiring and thus already has ample clearance for the modern rolling stock, and the arch was the subject of strengthening work carried out by the highways authority in 2000, in anticipation of reconstruction.

To the north of the bridge the railway curves away from the road before returning to pass under it. This site had become what could best be described as a flooded and impenetrable thicket, clearance of which formed part of Achnashean's clearance contract for various Phase 4 sites in early 2005.

Pitt's Head bridge is seen below before the start of the clearance and initial drainage work.

Clearance work started at Pitt's Head in the second week of February 2005, with provision for traffic control on the road to cover access from the northern end. The cutting to the north of the bridge, where the line dips down from the roadside, started to emerge for the first time in decades, and proved, as expected, to be wet, with a stream running along the trackbed. The site appeared comparable to some of the damper Phase 2 sites as they were before drainage work was done. The bridge is at the far upper right of the right-hand picture below.

On Sunday February 20th the contractors were carrying out further work north of the bridge, revealing the line of the trackbed, curving alongside the boundary of the railway land.

This long-invisible formation was clearly visible when seen below on March 6th, looking back from the bridge towards Rhyd Ddu.

Further clearance was in progress in mid-April, excavating down to the proper base level of the trackbed, and improving the drainage of the site north of the bridge. In the right-hand picture below, the trackbed is the curve by the far edge of the site, whereas the line nearer to the road is a drainage channel, along which a considerable flow of water was exiting the north end of the site, to a culvert under the road from which a stream runs to Llyn y Gader; there had been very heavy rain preceding when these pictures were taken.

Thanks to this work dry ground was finally visible under the bridge. There had been speculation as to whether any rails might be found here, as it was believed that not quite everything from this flooded site was recovered in the FR's "Garraway's Bath" exercise here in 1958. About seven lengths of rail were recovered in 2005 - not the 1922 WHR steel flat-bottom rail that might have been expected, but iron T-bulb rails resembling the original rails of the Croesor Tramway! It will be interesting to see if any answers can be found as to how they came to be at Pitt's Head, several miles from Croesor Junction; they are too light to ever have carried WHR trains of the 1920s and 1930s. The rails were offered to the Welsh Highland Heritage Group for preservation.

Also, original culverts emerged into view, of a different pattern to the NWNGR ones further north; this may fuel speculation as to whether this section was originally constructed as part of the PB&SSR works, or as part of the NWNGR's abortive extension to Beddgelert, one of the remaining historical grey areas. To complicate matters still further, this section was worked as a forestry tramway in World War 1, between the abandonment of the work of the 1900s and the completion of the WHR in 1922-3. The left-hand picture below shows the waybeams of a still-buried culvert immediately north of the bridge, and the middle and right-hand ones show a more visible example (UB120) at the Rhyd Ddu end of the site.

Phasey entered the Pitt's Head site the week after starting the contract, establishing a new temporary access from the road, and began grading the trackbed which had been the subject of the earlier clearance work.

The views below show progress in early August with clearance and consolidation of the cutting north of the bridge.

In the middle of the month chainage posts were in evidence along the track centre line, here and further back towards Rhyd Ddu.

Soon after this, work started to provide a retaining wall (in local materials) along the east face of the cutting. Ditches were being dug along this side, presumably to provide both footings for the wall and drainage once joined up; a new cross drain had been cut a few metres south of culvert UB120, leading to the culvert facing UB120 which leads away under the road.

The pictures below show progress with the wall, plus the cutting and north face of the bridge, on September 5th.

Rapid progress was made on the wall in the second half of September; by the end of the month it was close to its full length.

In early October work was also in hand to grade the area between the trackbed and the drainage channel, which had been serving as a spoil bank. At the bridge end of the cutting the buried culvert had been broken up ahead of replacement, revealing its very basic construction.

The picture below shows the full sweep of the wall in mid-October, with just one short incomplete area near the far end. Despite very heavy rain in the days beforehand, the drainage channel and the cess between trackbed and wall were doing an efficent job of draining the site with flows running north, suggesting that the extensive works here have been successful in dealing with the main difficulty of this site.

At the opposite end of the site, the formation was made up on either side of the replacement UB120 culvert at the end of October, restoring the continuity of the trackbed through the whole Rhyd Ddu - Pont Cae'r Gors section.

In mid-November the extensive work at Pitt's Head was moving towards completion. With its effectiveness proven, the drainage channel running the length of the site was put into pipes, and spoil was being used to cover the drain from view, landscaping the area between the trackbed and the road.

The two remaining gaps in the wall were filled by November 27th, at culvert UB121 (left-hand picture below), and at the south end, completing the wall up to the channel in the cutting wall close to the bridge (middle); the short length of cutting face from here to the bridge was being excavated ready to build a further short wall from the channel to the bridge. Adjacent to this point and on the other side of the trackbed, the south end of the long drain was being completed with a slate enclosure in a style similar to the facing of other culverts (right).

The lower part of the wall up to the bridge was built in the following week.

The sub-base of rolled crushed waste slate was laid through the cutting in mid-December, ready for ballasting; landscaping of the area between railway and road remained to be completed.

By January 8th 2006 further drainage works were in hand, with a new channel dug alongside the western side of the trackbed, and work under way to line the one on the eastern side with slabs, in a similar style to the long drain alongside the line south of Snowdon Ranger. The retaining wall was being built up to a higher level where it meets the road bridge, and coping stones had been laid out ready to be added to the remainder of the wall; however these were subsequently removed. The right-hand picture shows the completed stepped wall adjacent to the bridge a week later. By the 22nd the lining of the eastern trench was more or less complete, and work had started to treat the one on the other side of the trackbed similarly.

At the end of February Phasey's staff were completing the last stage of the landscaping prior to moving off site, and work was in hand to replace the low roadside wall, which had been removed to make the site access.

Track reached the north end of the Pitt's Head site over the weekend of May 13-14th 2006. This also marked the first curve south of Rhyd Ddu, and the track gang are seen below getting to grips with a new hydraulic rail bender.

The pictures below were taken the following weekend, with the curve laid, and sleepers laid out far ahead into the site.

The Black Hand Gang are seen below pushing on into the cutting on May 28th.

With all tracklaying effort now going into the push South following the completion of the layout at Rhyd Ddu, and with volunteers and staff working in the week as well as at weekends, progress was speeding up appreciably by early June, and was almost up to the bridge when seen below on June 3rd.

Rails were laid under the bridge the next day - finally reversing the FR's "Garraway's Bath" tracklifting exercise of 1958.

Contractors fenced off the Pitt's Head site from the road in late June 2006, with a single wooden gate for access, replacing not only the fencing removed for site access, but also the decrepit concrete fenceposts on the approach to the bridge. The bank concealing the long drain was finally starting to green over.

Remedial work on part of the Pitt's Head drainage system took place took place in September 2007. The ground is essentially peat and quite soft; the walls on each side of the ditch between railway and road north of the bridge were not well founded, and when the ditch was flowing at or near capacity, the fine material behind the front face was washed out, with the result that they had both been failing progressively. New pipes were thus being installed over a 36m length; the remainder of the stone walls was grouted behind and pointed, and the invert at the top end was concreted. The work was completed in late September.

The Summit

South of the bridge, clearance in 2005 revealed the summit of the line, which is reached between Pitt's Head and Pont Cae'r Gors (site of the trees in the middle distance in the middle and right-hand pictures below). The bog along this stretch was a problem for the old WHR, but with proper drainage installed it has not proven problematic in the modern era.

A week on from the above pictures, the thicket just south of the bridge had been cleared, giving an even better view.

The piers visible above were for a farm occupation bridge which was never completed.

Working from the Pitt's Head access, Phasey did some work on this stretch in early August; in the view below consolidation work can be seen in the summit cutting.

In early October Phasey created a new entrance from the road to this section, at the Pont Cae'r Gors end.

By the middle of the month there was evidence of significant work starting south of the bridge, with consolidation of the cutting side started between the road bridge and the abutments of the farm bridge.

Drainage work was in hand from the Pont Cae'r Gors access by the end of October.

The cutting is seen below in mid-November, with cutting sides flatted back where necessary, and drainage largely in place. Stocks of sub-base material had been established at the Pont Cae'r Gors access, ready for laying on this section prior to ballasting.

The first photo below shows drainage being installed in early December, with a layer of geotextile under the pipe; the centre and right-hand ones, just over two weeks later, show drainage almost complete, with sub-base laid but not quite fully rolled as yet; the shoulders on either side conceal the slotted drainage pipes, which lead water downhill and through the bridge, to join the new drainage system north of it. The efficiency of the drainage speaks for itself - on a particularly wet day.

The picture below shows work in hand on a small culvert just short of the southern end of the Rhyd Ddu - Pont Cae'r Gors contract length, in early January 2006.

Ballasting started from the Pont Cae'r Gors end in the third week of January, and is seen below reaching over the summit. It had reached the bridge by the 27th.

The ballast bed was complete by February 2nd, joining up with that previously laid at the northern end of the Pitt's Head site; the contractor was completing final work on the drains and landscaping the earth bank north of the bridge prior to moving off site.

The pictures below show the site from north of Pitt's Head to the summit on February 9th. Landscaping of the bank between the railway and road was at an advanced stage.

Snow in early March gave an impromptu opportunity to get an idea of how the area would look - apart from the snow - once the landscaping greened over, which it did in the following months.

In June, some remedial works were being carried out immediately prior to tracklaying over the summit, including revised drainage arrangements; the buried pipe drains were being replaced with slot drains, using specialised precast sections rather than the slab assemblies seen at various other sites on the railway.

In addition, a stepped drain similar in style to those north of the bridge was added immediately south of OB124, the never-completed bridge between fields; it directs water from the pasture on the eastern side directly into the new slot drain.

Track then advanced rapidly to the summit, as seen below over the weekend of June 17-18th; with the support of a party from Imperial College London, 19 lengths were laid over the weekend.

Upnor Castle is seen below delivering rails along the newly laid track on June 20th (please disregard the date stamp on the pictures), and the last picture shows the Tuesday Gang at work on the same day.

The Black Hand Gang got to within two lengths of the end of the ballast bed at the southern extremity of this section on June 25th.

Following a brief pause when the RRMs were posed at the Head of Steel, the Tuesday Gang completed the last two lengths to the end of this section on July 4th.

Conway Castle became the second main line loco to work through Pitt's Head and up past the summit on the evening of July 5th, propelling a works train comprising a flat wagon which would be used later for recovery of the unused loop turnout from Plas y Nant, a B wagon carrying Black Hand Gang and Team Wylfa volunteers and a supply of slotted French drain pipes (which were placed in the cess on the east side of the line at Pitt's Head), and a DZ wagon of ballast left over from the winter's works at Caernarfon. The DZ was to be left at the Head of Steel, but it was decided to leave it instead just north of Pitt's Head bridge.

Top ballasting and tamping - which initially used the Matisa tamper - is following the tracklaying. When seen below on July 18th 2006, initial tamping had passed Pitt's Head bridge.

The KMX tamper is seen below at work in Summit Cutting on February 15th 2007, plus Conway Castle standing with the SAR ballast hoppers (for adding top ballast) on the approach to Pont Cae'r Gors.

The Black Hand Gang were back in this section on October 12th 2008, putting in staggered rail joints for the curve leading into Pitt's Head cutting from the roadside straight.

Following reopening in Spring 2009, there were a small number of cases of lineside fires which started at almost the same spot in Summit Cutting, one of which spread to a significant area of neighbouring land. Steps taken in response to this include lineside patrols at this point (the only one on Phase 4 where there have been problems), which also happens to provide those on patrol with a viewpoint unavailable to the public (see below). The railway has also equipped a wagon with six water tanks (total capacity c. 4000 litres) and a motorised pump. This vehicle, which was deployed to Rhyd Ddu on June 26th 2009, is not in itself a firefighting vehicle, but is intended to support the fire service with extra water as and when required, a pattern which has been used successfully on the FR.

On the 22nd of March 2010 the summit board was installed at Y Copa by Tony Rowlands (yellow jacket), Rod Williamson, and Cedric Lodge (flat cap and orange Hi-viz vest).

The North Wales Black Hand Gang were in action North of Pitts Head on the 17th July 2010 in order to clear the lineside drainage ditch. These had become clogged with silt and vegetation and around 150m in all were cleared.

Clearing the drainage ditches North of Pitts Head. (Photo: S.Broomfield)Clearing the drainage ditches North of Pitts Head. (Photo: S.Broomfield)138 approaches the North Wales Track Gang as they clear ditches North of Pitts Head. (Photo: D.Firth)Clearing the drainage ditches North of Pitts Head. (Photo: D.Firth)

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Authored by Ben Fisher; last updated July 19th, 2010 by Laurence Armstrong