Brief history of the Penrhyn Quarry Railway
The Penrhyn Quarry Railway dates back to 1801 when Lord Penrhyn's land agent Benjamin Wyatt designed a narrow gauge railway to link Penrhyn slate quarries at Bethesda with Port Penrhyn at Bangor, North Wales, a distance of some six miles. Wyatt would incorporate a short section of existent track then known as the Llandegai Tramway constructed in 1798 to link Port Penrhyn with a flint mill near Llandegai village.
The railway took a very direct route and consisted of four level plains divided by three inclines, the first at Maesgeirchen near Bangor the second at Dinas near Tregarth and the third at Tanysgafell known as Tyn Y Clwt incline. The railway was completed in 1801 and featured iron edge rails three feet in length and supported on slate and stone blocks. The gauge was measured from rail centre to centre which gave a gauge measurement of two feet. However, when the measurement was taken from inside the rails, Penrhyn Quarries ended up with the rather unusual gauge of one foot ten and three quarter inches, a gauge that was adhered to throughout until closure in the 1960's.
The railway was operated by horses working between the inclines pulling up to around twenty rustic wagons laden with slate.
The original railway was becoming increasingly decrepit by the 1870's and competition from the Caernarfonshire quarries prompted action. The first development in the improvement scheme took the form of the Tyn Y Clwt incline deviation completed in 1876 and extended from the north side of Felin Fawr to Hendurpike with a gradient of 1 in 35.
This significant improvement meant that for the first time, a steam locomotive could be used between the quarry and the head of Dinas incline a distance of some one and a half miles. Penrhyn had taken delivery of their first steam locomotive in 1875, a rather strange machine that carried the name George Sholto, built by Henry Hughes & Co at Loughborough and supplied by Augustus Beatson on behalf of his father John Beatson of Derby, this locomotive was put to use on the new section of railway but proved to be quite unsuccessful.
A trio of DeWinton mainline locomotives were ordered in 1876, again rather strange rare machines but of a conventional locomotive design featuring horizontal rather than their trademark vertical boilers. These were named Edward Sholto, Violet and Hilda.
In the 1880's Penrhyn ordered a their first locomotive from Hunslets in Leeds which was delivered in 1882. The loco was specially designed for the Penrhyn Quarry Railway. This design proved so successful on the mainline that ten years later two more of this type was ordered from Hunslets, which carried the names 'Blanche' and 'Linda'.
In 1924 Penrhyn purchased three 2-6-2 Baldwin locomotives for use on the mainline, however, constant de-railments and lack of refinement meant that they proved to be no match for the Hunslet product. The locomotives named Felin Hen, Llandegai and Tregarth were withdrawn from service after just three years.
The Penrhyn Quarry Railway officially closed to traffic on the 24th of July 1962, however, Blanche worked several slate runs after this date before being loaded onto a lorry at Felin Fawr in December of 1963 destined for Porthmadog. The six miles of bullhead railway track between Felin Fawr Works, Bethesda and Port Penrhyn, Bangor was donated to the Ffestiniog Railway and was lifted in 1965.
Thoughts of preserving the Penrhyn Railway date back to the spring of 1962 when the decision was taken to close the mainline. The Penrhyn Quarry Railway had for years, evoked the passion of many enthusiasts who had appreciated its uniqueness and historic significance.
A preservation group was established in 1962 and became known as the Penrhyn Railway Preservation Society, this group worked tirelessly for almost three years amassing a significant membership. Although most of the infrastructure was at that time, still in place, they faced major obstacles in trying to gain access to the railway.
Fifty years later and the Penrhyn Quarry Railway is slowly being revived by Felin Fawr Cyf and PQR Engineering LTD, two local companies that are working together to restore the line. The first phase of the restoration at Bethesda has been restored and is currently ran as a demonstration railway.