Nantlle Railway

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Nantlle Railway
Nantlle Tramway wagon.jpg
Horse-drawn slate wagon used on the Tramway, now preserved at the Welsh Slate Museum, Llanberis
Locale Wales
Dates of operation 1828–1865
Successor Carnarvonshire Railway
Track gauge 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) and 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Headquarters Penygroes

The Nantlle Railway (sometimes referred to as the Nantlle Tramway) was a Welsh narrow gauge railway built to carry slate from several slate quarries in the Nantlle Valley to the harbour at Caernarfon for export by sea. The line received its Act of Parliament in 1825 and was constructed by Robert Stephenson, son of George Stephenson.[1] It opened in 1828 and was operated using horse power. Although built primarily for the transport of slate, the line provided a passenger service between Caernarfon and Talysarn from 1856 to 1865.

Ownership changes[edit]

The railway was absorbed into the Carnarvonshire Railway in 1865 and later the London and North Western Railway. The central part of its route, from Pant, on the southern edge of Caernarfon to Tyddyn Bengam, a short distance north of Penygroes, was rebuilt in 1867, in places on an adjacent alignment, to single track standard gauge main line standards to allow the operation of the Carnarvonshire Railway's steam hauled trains through to Afon Wen.

This left 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge sections at both northern and southern ends of the line, with five miles of standard gauge in the middle. Slates were loaded onto narrow gauge wagons near the quarries and drawn by horses to Tyddyn Bengam, where the narrow gauge wagons and their contents were pushed onto standard gauge wagons, three at a time. A train of these piggy-back wagons was made up and hauled by a locomotive north to Pant, where the narrow gauge wagons and contents were pushed off the standard gauge wagons onto narrow gauge tracks and hauled by horses the last 50 chains (1.0 km) to the quayside at Caernarfon Harbour. This process was slow, costly and unpopular; it also led to pilfering and breakages.

In 1870 the LNWR (who had taken over both the narrow and standard gauge routes) extended the standard gauge line northwards past the edge of the harbour estate to Caernarvon, thereby linking to Bangor and the rest of the UK. Shortly afterwards a branch was opened extending initially to St Helens Road, just into the harbour estate. This moved the northern transshipment process nearer the water's edge, but it continued all the same. Within a couple of years the standard gauge tracks were extended to the quayside, obliterating the narrow gauge infrastructure north of the Afon Seiont and permanently removing the need for transshipment in the town.

In 1872 the LNWR built a standard gauge line at the southern end of the route from Penygroes to a new station at Talysarn, which, confusingly, they named Nantlle. This was built partly on new ground and partly over narrow gauge infrastructure. Extensive transshipment yards were laid out at 'Nantlle'. Thereafter narrow gauge wagons arrived from the quarries, their contents (not the wagons and contents) were transshipped onto standard gauge wagons[2] to be taken to the quays at Caernarfon or to anywhere else the LNWR served. This left a couple of miles of 3 ft 6in gauge, horse-drawn tramway linking 'Nantlle' (Talysarn) with several quarries. This remnant was operated as such by the LNWR, then from 1923 the London Midland and Scottish Railway and from 1948 until 1963 by British Railways as far as the Pen-yr-Orsedd Quarry. It is the last recorded use of horses by BR, and closed only with the closure of the branch line to which it connected.

In its closing years the line attracted a number of enthusiasts' railtours.[3] Conversely, when the Ffestiniog Railway celebrated its centenary on 22 May 1963 a Nantlle horse and handler hauled a demonstration train at Porthmadog.[4]

Two miles of the northern section of the original Nantlle Railway trackbed, between Dinas and the Afon Seiont, now forms part of the reopened Welsh Highland Railway.

Rolling stock[edit]

The narrow gauge line was a form of wagonway constructed to a gauge of 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) and equipped with four wheeled wagons fitted with double-flanged wheels,[5][6] which were loose on fixed axles. For many of their later years many wagons had extended axles which protruded beyond the wheels. Some wagons had eyes bolted to the tops of their sides to enable them to be lifted bodily by the Blondins used in some of the quarries.[7][8] The wagons were owned by the tramway, rather than the quarries and the many that survived into BR ownership had narrow steel plate bodies, which were mounted between the wheels and bolted to the axles. Their shape and structure appears little changed from the railway's earliest years.

Caernarfon slate quay with loaded wagons and slate stacks
Caernarfon slate quay with a loaded wagon and stacks of slates

Modern times[edit]

Most of the route has been overlaid with later track or obliterated by later developments, but in 2016 the remains of three significant Nantlle Railway structures could still be found:


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Boyd 1990, p. 15.
  2. ^ Anon 2011, p. 306.
  3. ^ "Railtour at Nantlle". BBC. 
  4. ^ Stretton 1999, p. 73.
  5. ^ Hatherill & Hatherill 2009, pp. 7 & 45.
  6. ^ Messenger 2008, pp. 25-9 & 32-5.
  7. ^ "Bondins at Pen-yr-Orsedd Quarry". Penmorfa. 
  8. ^ "Bondins at Pen-yr-Orsedd Quarry". Yooniq Images. 
  9. ^ "Coed Helen tunnel remains". Welsh Highland Heritage. 
  10. ^ Baxter 1966, p. 140.
  11. ^ "Bontnewydd bridge remains". Welsh Highland Heritage. 
  12. ^ Baxter 1966, p. 127.
  13. ^ "Plas Dinas tunnel remains". Welsh Highland Heritage. 


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]