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Fairbourne Railway

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Fairbourne Railway
Rheilffordd y Friog
Official badge of the railway
LocaleWales Wales
TerminusFairbourne and Barmouth Ferry
Coordinates52°41′42″N 4°03′03″W / 52.69512°N 4.05085°W / 52.69512; -4.05085
Commercial operations
NameFairbourne Miniature Railway
Built byNarrow Gauge Railways Ltd
Original gauge1895-1916: 2 ft (610 mm)
1916-1940: 15 in (381 mm)
Preserved operations
Owned byNorth Wales Coast Light Railway
Operated byFairbourne Railway Limited, supported by Fairbourne Railway Preservation Society
Stations2 and 4 halts
Length2 miles (3.2 km)
Preserved gauge1947 - 1986: 15 in (381 mm)
1986 – present: 12 14 in (311 mm)
Commercial history
1916converted to 15 in (381 mm)
Preservation history
1925Arrival of Bassett-Lowke locomotive Count Louis
1927Brief period of dual gauge operation (18 in or 457 mm and 15 in or 381 mm)
1935First Internal Combustion locomotive Whippit Quick arrives.
1947Purchased and re-opened by John Wilkins
1959Fairbourne Station expanded
1976Line extended to its present length
1984Purchased by John Ellerton
1986regauged to 12 14 in (311 mm)
1995Purchased by Professor Tony Atkinson and Dr Roger Melton
2006Fairbourne Railway Supporter's Association becomes Fairbourne Railway Preservation Society
Route map
Barmouth Ferry Barmouth Ferry
Jack Steele Tunnel
Estuary Halt
Passing Loop
Loop Halt
Golf Halt
Beach Halt
Penrhyn Corner Crossing
Car Park Crossing
Springfield Crossing
Former section to old Brickworks
Fairbourne National Rail

The Fairbourne Railway (Welsh: Rheilffordd y Friog) is a 12 14 in (311 mm) gauge railway running for 2 miles (3.2 km) from the village of Fairbourne on the Mid-Wales coast, alongside the beach to the end of a peninsula at Barmouth Ferry railway station, where there is a connection with the Barmouth Ferry across the Mawddach estuary to the seaside resort of Barmouth (Welsh: Abermaw).[1]


A Postcard by Valentine and Son of the horse-drawn tramway from Fairbourne to Barmouth Ferry, taken between 1895 and 1916.
A Postcard by Valentine and Son of the horse-drawn tramway from Fairbourne to Barmouth Ferry, taken between 1895 and 1916.

The line has provided a service between Fairbourne village and Penrhyn Point since its opening in 1895 as a 2 ft (610 mm) narrow gauge horse-drawn construction tramway. It was converted in 1916 to 15 in (381 mm) gauge, and again to its present gauge in 1986. Originally built to carry building materials, the railway has carried holidaymakers for over a hundred years. At its peak in the 1970s it was carrying in excess of 70,000 passengers a year.[2]

The early days – Fairbourne Tramway

Following the construction of the Cambrian Coast Line in 1865 and the completion of the Barmouth Bridge in 1867 there were lavish schemes to develop the area for tourism, the area being easily accessible to day-trippers and weekend visitors from the Midlands.[3]

There were several horse-drawn construction tramways in the area serving the Henddol Quarry above the neighbouring village of Friog. The tramway that was used to construct the Fairbourne village soon introduced passenger cars to transport people to the ferry station.[4]

The pioneering days – Fairbourne Miniature Railway

Train between Loop Halt and Estuary Halt.
Train between Loop Halt and Estuary Halt.
A Fairbourne Railway round trip

The line was converted to a 15 in (381 mm) gauge steam railway in 1916 by Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke of Narrow Gauge Railways Ltd (NGR). They were keen to promote tourism in the area after the failure of the Arthog scheme in the early 1900s. The railway played an important part in the development of the 15 in (381 mm) gauge railways in the UK. Services were operated by Bassett-Lowke Class 10 locomotive Prince Edward of Wales designed by Henry Greenly and passengers were conveyed in four open top carriages.

The railway had mixed fortunes during the inter war years and went through a series of changes in ownership. At one time it was leased to the ferrymen. The railway experienced motive power problems and at one stage experimented with dual gauge track after purchasing an 18 in (457 mm) gauge locomotive. This was a model of a GNR Stirling 4-2-2. A third rail was laid as far as the Golf Course.

The line closed in 1940 after operating its final year with Whippit Quick, a Lister 'Railtruck' petrol locomotive, as the steam locomotive Count Louis was out of service.

The Wilkins era – 1947–1984

The railway was rescued by a consortium of businessmen from the Midlands in 1946 and after rebuilding, was reopened by 1947. The line's owner John Charles Wilkins (of Wilkins & Mitchell, Darlaston), funded the redevelopment of the railway and the purchase of new steam locomotives. The line's heyday was in the 1960s and early 1970s but the advent of mass foreign holidays meant there was a steady decline in passenger numbers during the 1970s and 1980s.

The Ellerton era – 1984–1995

A train with Yeo leaving Fairbourne (1994)
A train with Yeo leaving Fairbourne (1994)
Yeo heading along Beach Road towards Penrhyn Corner.
Yeo heading along Beach Road towards Penrhyn Corner.

The line was sold again in 1984 to the Ellerton family[5] and underwent dramatic changes to the infrastructure which included construction of a new station at Fairbourne and the re-gauging to 12¼ inches in 1986. Four new steam locomotives were introduced and most of the 15 in (381 mm) gauge locomotives left the site. Two of the new locomotives had run on the Réseau Guerlédan Chemin de Fer Touristique in Brittany, France in 1978. All four steam locomotives are half sized replicas of narrow gauge engines: Yeo, Sherpa, Beddgelert and Russell. Of the extant 15 in (381 mm) gauge locomotives only Sylvia (rebuilt as Lilian Walter) remained. Most of the 15 in (381 mm) gauge locomotives are still intact and have found homes on lines around the world.

In 1990 the railway built their first steam locomotive, Number 24, a replica of a locomotive from the Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes Railroad in Maine. The locomotive has since left the line and now operates on the Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway in Lincolnshire.

The railway was again put up for sale in 1990 and the line's fortunes appeared to be declining once more. During the five years it was up for sale the railway deteriorated dramatically.

Present: 1995 onwards

Professor Tony Atkinson and Dr Roger Melton bought the line in April 1995, they and their wives Mrs Maureen Atkinson and Mrs Amanda Melton being appointed directors. There was considerable investment in the railway to improve reliability of the locomotives and the quality of the track, and a new attraction, the Rowen Centre, was set up at Fairbourne station. In 2007 some of the displays were changed to accommodate a large G scale model railway which is gradually being added to and improved by local model engineers.[6]

In 2008 ownership of the railway was transferred to a charity, the North Wales Coast Light Railway Limited (Registered number 1127261). Professor Atkinson subsidised the railway's operation but the subsidy was withdrawn after he died on 19 June 2011, leaving the railway's future in doubt.[7] With reductions in staff and by the encouragement of donations the railway has been able to continue in operation.[8]

Preservation Society

Like most heritage railways, the Fairbourne Railway has an active volunteer society: Fairbourne Railway Preservation Society (formerly the Fairbourne Railway Supporter's Association). The society is actively involved with the running of services and maintaining the locomotives, rolling stock, stations and track work.[9]


For hundreds of years the ferry has been providing a crossing service over the Mawddach estuary and was originally operated by monks. In recent years it has been operated by independent operators. During the summer of 2007 the Railway Company acquired a ferry boat and commenced operating its own ferry service in July 2007.[citation needed] The new ferry boat "Y Chuff" was bought to ensure that a reliable service across the harbour to Barmouth would operate even during quiet periods of the season.[10]

Stations and facilities

Image Name Notes
Fairbourne (FR) Fairbourne station is the main headquarters of the line and location of the locomotive and carriage sheds and workshops. There is a small museum containing many photographs of the line, a nature centre, G scale model railway, tea room, booking office and gift shop. From here trains head along Beach Road crossing over three level crossings before arriving at Beach Halt.
Bathing Beach Halt, Fairbourne Railway - - 1626272.jpg
Beach Halt Beach Halt serves the beach, car park and amusement arcade. The station was formerly known as "Bathing Beach" during the time as a 15 in (381 mm) line. Typically, trains pass approximately 4 minutes after departing Fairbourne. From here trains head northward through the dunes, skirting the beach before arriving at Golf Halt.
Golf Halt Station.jpg
Golf Halt Golf Halt serves the 9 hole golf course and beach. Trains pass approximately 7 minutes after departing Fairbourne. From here trains continue northwards alongside the sea wall before reaching Loop Halt.
Fairbourne Railway passing loop - - 1088790.jpg
Loop Halt Loop Halt serves the embankment footpath to Morfa Mawddach and the Barmouth Bridge. Trains pass here approximately 9 minutes after leaving Fairbourne. Trains continue into the passing loop and during the two train service pass each other. The line then sweeps out into the sand dunes.
Fairbourne Railway at Estuary Halt (geograph 4679481).jpg
Estuary Halt Estuary Halt is adjacent to the Jack Steele Tunnel and serves the car park at the end of Penrhyn Drive North. Trains pass here approximately 16 minutes after leaving Fairbourne. From here trains continue through the tunnel and more dunes before arriving at Barmouth Ferry.
Barmouth Ferry Station.jpg
Barmouth Ferry Barmouth Ferry is the northern terminus of the railway and is situated on a balloon loop so the locomotives do not have to run round their trains (in practice, this is rarely used as all coaching stock has doors on only one side, so the locomotives run around the coaches in the traditional manner and set off for Fairbourne in the opposite direction to their arrival). It is also the site of the Harbour View café and from here passengers can catch the pedestrian ferry across the estuary to Barmouth.


Steam Locomotives haul most of the passenger services, some of the locomotives are approximately half-size replicas of famous narrow gauge prototype locomotives such as the Class B Tanks from the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and the Manning Wardle Tanks of the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway.


  1. ^ "Fairbourne Railway History page".
  2. ^ W J Milner (1996). Rails Through The Sand. Rail Romances.
  3. ^ "Mawddach Crescent History page".
  4. ^ Green 1996, p. 78.
  5. ^ Slater, John, ed. (April 1984). "Fairbourne Railway Sold". News and notes. Railway Magazine. Vol. 130 no. 996. Sutton, Surrey: Transport Press. pp. 163–164. ISSN 0033-8923.
  6. ^ "G Scale Model Railway".
  7. ^ Steam Railway No 291 (July 2011)
  8. ^ Steam Railway No 395 (November 2011)
  9. ^ "Preservation Society".
  10. ^ "Ferry Service".




  • One Foot Between The Rails published quarterly by the Fairbourne Railway Preservation Society.


External links

This page was last edited on 6 December 2020, at 06:06
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