Russell (locomotive)

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Russell running on the Welsh Highland Railway (Porthmadog) in 1995

Russell is a narrow gauge steam locomotive originally built in 1906 for the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways (NWNGR), but most famously associated with the original Welsh Highland Railway (WHR), and currently undergoing a rebuild at the Welsh Highland Railway (Porthmadog).
There have been a number of books written either about, or containing details of the engine, but the succinct parts are detailed below.


Russell approaching Gelert's Farm halt

Russell has a complex history.

  • 1906 Russell was built by the Hunslet Engine Company to the order of the Portmadoc, Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway,[1] a railway that was never completed, and was bought for the NWNGR as part of a deal for a two-year delay in electrifying its line by that Company (which still did not happen), and named after the Chairman, Managing Director and second receiver of that company.
  • 1922 It became the property of the WHR along with the NWNGR and the partially completed trackbed of the PBSSR.[2]
  • 1924 after the WHR was taken over by the neighbouring Ffestiniog Railway (FfR), Russell was reduced in height in order to allow it to work trains on the FfR. The Ffestiniog's bridges and tunnels were built to a restrictive loading gauge. The work entailed lowering Russell's chimney, steam dome and cab; however the locomotive was still too wide and could not pass through the long Moelwyn tunnel.
  • 1937 the WHR closed, with Russell running the last through train. The locomotive was left in the sheds at Dinas.[3]
  • 1953 commonly believed to have been laid up after breaking a driving axle...
  • 1954 Russell was purchased by the Birmingham Locomotive Club for £70 in order to secure it for preservation.[4]
  • 1955 It was put on outside display at Tywyn Wharf station on the Talyllyn Railway.
  • 1970 fitted with a new boiler by its makers the Hunslet Engine Company at Leeds[5] and it returned to Kinnerley on 29 January 1971.
  • 1971 sent to Lakeside Railway Estates Co. Ltd. at Carnforth for further repairs.
  • 1974 moved from Carnforth to Hills & Bailey Ltd. at Llanberis for further overhaul work.[5] Subsequently the engine was moved to the Gelerts Farm Works of the WHR where the restoration work continued.
  • 2000 visited the Welsh Highland Railway (Caernarfon) and operated trains on the occasion of the official reopening of the line between Dinas and Waunfawr.
  • 2005 Was withdrawn from service pending the commencement of a major overhaul, with the aim of running again between Porthmadog and Dinas, on the completed Welsh Highland Railway.
  • 2014 Russel back in service on WHHR


A 2-6-2T steam locomotive, the design of Russell is more closely related to Hunslet No 865 of 1905 otherwise known as Leeds Number 1, although certain engineering aspects can be more readily associated with design of locomotives supplied to the Sierra Leone Government Railway. One of the driving wheel centres bears the initials SLR, however this has been found to have been a later replacement and not as originally supplied. Originally built with air train brakes, it was converted to vacuum train brakes following the linking of the Welsh Highland and Ffestiniog Railways.


A character, Fearless Freddie, based on this locomotive, appears in the children's TV series Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.


  1. ^ Boyd, James I.C. (1972). Narrow Gauge Railways in South Caernarvonshire, Volume One: The Embankment Tramway, Gorseddau Tramway, Festiniog and Blaenau Railway, Croesor Tramway, Bettws-y-Coed & Festiniog Railway, North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways and Portmadoc, Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway. The Oakwood Press. 
  2. ^ Richards, Alun John (2001). The Slate Railways of Wales. Gwasg Carreg Gwalch. pp. 158–159. 
  3. ^ Lee, Charles E. (1945). Narrow-Gauge Railways in North Wales. The Railway Publishing Co. Ltd. 
  4. ^ a b c Mitchell, Vic and Smith, Keith (2006). Dorset & Somerset Narrow Gauge. Middleton Press. 
  5. ^ a b c d Boyd, James I.C. (1989). Narrow Gauge Railways in South Caernarvonshire, Volume Two: The Welsh Highland Railway (Second Edition ed.). The Oakwoo Press. 

See also[edit]