A Background to the WHR

The Welsh Highland Railway is a narrow gauge railway running between Caernarfon and Porthmadog. It has been fully restored to operation although much remains to be done to develop its facilities.

There are many websites that are dedicated to describing this railway and so only brief details are given here and these links will take you to the many alternative online sources of information available.


The Welsh Highland Railway was an amalgamation of a number of other narrow gauge railways in North Wales together with some new works: The Croesor Tramway, the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways (NWNGR) and the Portmadoc, Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway (PBSSR). The Croesor Tramway was a horse drawn railway opened in 1863 running from Porthmadog to the quarries at the village of that name. The North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways, opened in 1877, was much further to the north running from Dinas, 3 miles from Caernarfon, to Rhyd Ddu at the foot of the southern slopes of Snowdon. It also had a branch off to the Bryngwyn Quarries, although when built the Bryngwyn line was the main line and the line to Rhyd Ddu the branch.

The third piece in the jigsaw was the Portmadoc, Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway (PBSSR). This was a railway designed from the outset to be electric traction, and was intended to join up the two existing lines. Construction of the line was started but it was soon halted due to lack of funds.  The route was eventually redesigned for steam traction and completed. The Croesor Tramway was also converted to steam traction, and the three railways were finally merged into the Welsh Highland Railway.


It opened as such in 1923, and running through remote areas with never the forecasted freight traffic, it was only 4 years before a receiver was called in. However with the involvement of the Festiniog Railway, it actually hung on until 1937 before closure. The rails were lifted for wartime scrap in 1941 and the trackbed lay dormant, still in the possession of the Official Receiver.


The first inklings of a revival came in 1961 with the formation of a group with the aim of reopening the line. By 1980 there were trains running in the old exchange siding in Porthmadog, but only as far as the point where the siding joined onto the old Welsh Highland trackbed. Much legal wrangling was needed to obtain possession of the trackbed, and a proposal was eventually put together in the 1990's to commence reopening,  starting from Caernarfon using the the old Afon Wen standard gauge route out of the town. Funding was sought from the Millennium Commission and this being successful, the line opened in 1997 as far as Dinas, the beginning of the old WHR. This section was built under a Light Railway Order, the last one ever issued, whereas subsequent sections were to be built under the new Transport and Works Act legislation. 

Once the TWA covering the line beyond Dinas was approved, construction started towards Rhyd Ddu, the half way point of the line. As with Caernarfon to Dinas this section was covered by the Millennium Funding already in place. The section was opened in two stages, the first to Waunfawr opening in 2000, reaching Rhyd Ddu in 2003. Prince Charles agreed to undertake the official opening of this section in that year, driving the train for part of the journey.

After securing further funding, this time from the European Union Objective 1 scheme and the Welsh Assembly and also from generous donors, the reconstruction continued towards Porthmadog. Again the line opened in stages, firstly to Beddgelert in April 2003, then to a temporary terminus at Hafod y Llyn in May 2009 where a loop was installed for the purpose. The next section to Pont Croesor was opened in May 2010,  and in 2011 Peter Waterman  'officially' opened the completed line all the way through to Porthmadog . During the 2011 season some trains still had to terminate at Pont Croesor, and it was not until the 2012 timetable came into operation that all trains were able to traverse the full length of the line.

The layout of Porthmadog Harbour station was designed to serve the Ffestiniog Railway and was unsuited to regular Welsh Highland operations. Major works were therefore undertaken in the period 2011-2013 to widen the Cob and remodel Harbour Station in order to create proper accommodation for the Welsh Highland trains.

Further reading:



The WHR Project Website

This website chronicles in detail the work of rebuilding the Railway up to its completion when the first trains were running the full length of the line in  2012. The website was established by the late Dr Ben Fisher of Bangor University and maintained by him until his premature death in 2009.After a gap of some months other Society members were able to take over the task of maintaining it until the line was completed. The website is being preserved as a record of the project, but please note that it is no longer being updated,  so some links may not work and and some information may be out of date. 

To access the WHR Project website,  click here