Festiniog and Blaenau Railway
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Viaduct on the Festiniog and Blaenau Railway at Blaenau Ffestiniog, c. 1875
|Dates of operation||1868–1883|
|Successor||Great Western Railway|
|Track gauge||1 ft 11 1⁄2 in (597 mm)|
The Festiniog & Blaenau Railway was a 1 ft 11 1⁄2 in (597 mm) narrow gauge railway built in 1868 to connect the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog with the slate quarries around Tanymanod and the smaller town of Llan Ffestiniog. At Blaenau Ffestiniog it made a direct connection with the Ffestiniog Railway with which it was closely associated during its brief existence. The railway was purchased by the Great Western Railway in 1883 and converted to standard gauge to extend the Bala Ffestiniog line, a branch of the GWR's line from Ruabon to Barmouth.
By the early 1860s Llan Ffestiniog had largely become a dormitory town supplying workers to the slate industry centred about three miles north-east at Blaenau Ffestiniog. The quarries at Blaenau were connected to the harbor at Porthmadog by the recently built Ffestiniog Railway and as a result were able to significantly increase their output and profitability. However the Ffestiniog was struggling to cope with the volume of traffic from the quarries and some owners were looking for other outlets for their product.
At the same time, several standard gauge railway companies were looking to extend their lines into the region to tap the demand for slate transport. In particular the Corwen and Bala Railway reached Bala, about 22 miles south of Blaenau in April 1868.
The quarries around Tanymanod - especially Graig Ddu Quarry - were not rail connected and were on the proposed route of a northward extension of the Corwen and Bala Railway. In September 1866 the quarry owners issued a prospectus announcing the formation of the Festiniog and Blaenau Railway Company to construct a line from Llan Ffestiniog to Blaenau where it would connect with the Ffestiniog Railway.
Although initially promoted as a branch of the Ffestiniog Railway, the F&B was built on a formation that was designed to be easily converted to standard gauge when the Corwen and Bala Railway approached from the south.
Construction started in 1867 and the line was ready to open in 1868. In that same year the Great Western Railway began operating the Corwen and Bala Railway, effectively taking it over and running it as a branch line from Ruabon. The GWR also started to plan its Bala and Festiniog Railway to link Bala with Blaenau Ffestiniog and in 1873 received an Act of Parliament allowing the construction of that line.
In 1876 further capital was raised for repairs to the F&BR. The Great Western Railway took the majority of this shareholding through its Bala and Festiniog Railway interest. In 1882 the F&BR directors voluntarily wound up their company and it was taken over entirely by the Bala and Festiniog company, thus effectively passing ownership of the narrow gauge line to the GWR.
The standard gauge Bala and Festiniog Railway opened to Llan Ffestiniog in 1 November 1882 and work began on converting the narrow gauge line to Blaenau to standard gauge. During conversion a third rail was provided to enable the narrow gauge trains to continue operation until conversion was complete. Narrow gauge operation ceased on 5 September 1883 and the third rail was either removed or switched to serve as a check rail on curves. The formal standard gauge opening was on 10 September 1883, at which time the Festiniog and Blaenau Railway ceased to exist.
There were differences in location and names of the standard gauge stations. The F&BR had stations at Festiniog, Tyddyngwyn, Tan-y-Manod and Duffws. The GWR stations were at Llan Ffestiniog (about 30 feet above and north-east of the F&BR station), Manod (probably on or near the Tyddyngwyn site) and Blaenau on the F&BR Duffws site. Tan-y-Manod site was heavily developed by the GWR but as a slate transit wharf only.
They worked for the entire duration of the line's existence as a narrow gauge railway. In 1884 following conversion to standard gauge they were sold to the Ruabon Coal and Coke Company. Their final fate is not recorded.
The two Manning Wardle locomotives were not delivered until three months after the line opened. During this period trains were hauled by locomotives on loan from the Ffestiniog Railway. Further loans of Ffestiniog Railway locomotives were made when the F&BR locos were being repaired.
Six four-wheeled passenger carriages were supplied to the railway by the Ashbury Railway Carriage and Iron Company Ltd of Manchester. These were similar in size and design to the early passenger carriages of the Ffestiniog Railway. There were also 19 workmen's carriages built by J.H. Williams & Sons of Porthmadog; these were primitive open four-wheeled vehicles.
The very small wagon fleet consisted of an unknown number of wagons of similar design to those used on the Ffestiniog Railway. Almost all the general freight and mineral traffic originated on the FR and travelled in FR wagons. All slate traffic was destined for Porthmadog or Minffordd and it also travelled in FR slate wagons as did the output of all the other Ffestiniog Quarries.
Following the winding-up of the F&BR Company, the narrow gauge railway continued to operate, but under GWR management, until conversion to standard gauge was complete. The stock comprising the two engines, six carriages and 17 workmen's carriages was offered for sale but no bids were received. The stock was then dispatched to Swindon in August 1884 for scrapping and in due course the GWR paid the F&BR the scrap value of £178 19s 8d.
- Boyd, James I.C. (1988). Narrow Gauge Railways in South Caernarvonshire, Volume 1 (2nd ed.). The Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-85361-365-6.