Almost 60 years ago, on a rainy, windy and gloomy January day, the last passenger train traveled a scenic but secluded railway line in Snowdonia.
Carried by two basket locomotives, the eight-car train made the trip from Bala to Blaenau Ffestiniog and was greeted by a large crowd.
Regular passenger services, normally one or two cars and the locomotive, had ended the year before and freight trains stopped just a week after the special race.
The trip had been organized by the Stephenson Locomotive Society (SLS) and was filled with enthusiasts from all over Britain.
Although steam locomotives are still in daily use and an extensive rail network still existed, enthusiasts feared the end for both steam and remote areas, rural branches such as the Bala Line to Blaenau Ffestiniog were approaching at big steps.
The late Bill Rear, a prominent railroad historian, once wrote that the shutdown of the branch laid the groundwork for the Beeching cuts that would wipe out the rural network in five years.
As a little boy, I vividly remember the occasion in January 1961.
The line was passing by our family home and I could see the trains approaching Bala and I was asking, or rather insisting, my mom was taking me across the road to the Cwm Bowydd crossing to see the train up close.
I remember the rain – it never really rains in Blaenau Ffestiniog! – and the gloomy conditions and excitement as the train passed through the Maenofferen Cup and was in sight.
Unlike other special trains of the time which brought large pieces of equipment to the hydroelectric power station under construction at Tanygrisiau, the reception was silent and there were no cheers.
The people on the special train got out of the wagons and stormed the track to take pictures or just watch the two locomotives pull away from the front of the train and walk past the wagons and head to the Manod siding to make a half. -tower.
About an hour later, the train left Blaenau Ffestiniog in a cloud of steam and slippery wheels due to the wet rails.
Neither of the two locomotives, 8791 and 4645, has been preserved, but the Llangollen Railway operates two very similar locomotives.
The 24-mile-long line, which had 15 stations or stops, originally connected Bala to Llan Ffestiniog and opened on November 1, 1882. The following year the line was extended by converting the railway. Existing Festiniog (sic) and Blaenau from 1ft 11in to standard 4ft 8in gauge. The line ended at Blaenau Ffestiniog where, until 1939, it was connected to the Ffestiniog railway to Porthmadog.
The Bala and Festiniog were handed over to the Great Western Railway on July 1, 1910. Upon nationalization in 1948, management of the line passed to the Western Region of British Railways.
An unusual feature of freight operations on the line was the transport of 1 foot 11 inch slate wagons (supplied by GWR) on standard gauge freight wagons between Tan-y-Manod and Blaenau Ffestiniog where the wagons were unloaded. in the yard of the station and their loads of dressed slate were transferred to standard gauge cars for transport to Bala and beyond.
Trawsfynydd was a busy station during the line’s existence, handling military trains carrying equipment and soldiers using the firing range on the moors above Bronaber.
The track was quickly lifted between Bala Junction and Lake Halt, Trawsfynydd, as work was underway to build the Capel Celyn reservoir for the Liverpool Corporation.
One of the stops, Tyddyn Bridge, is now hidden by the massive dam and another stop, Capel Celyn, sits deep under the waters of the lake.
An alternative route for the railway was considered, but railway officials, aware of the decreasing number of passengers carried, decided that the closure was the easier option. This decision was taken before the Beeching Cuts which subsequently closed the line between Ruabon and Barmouth Junction which the Blaenau Ffestiniog branch joins at Bala Junction.
Local historian Keith O’Brien has conducted extensive research on users of the line.
He said: “The handwriting was on the branch wall, with a survey carried out in 1956 giving the average number of daily embarkations at Trawsfynydd Lake Halt as one; Trawsfynydd 28 and Cwm Prysor Halt three.
“It is interesting to note that the figures for Blaenau Central were 62 and 65 and for Bala 65 and 58.
“The rush of military traffic was over and, with the exception of a limited transport contract, the cement to the Tanygrisiau power plant was generally light.
The line served an extremely remote area of North Wales, most of which was not served by a main road until the opening of the A4212 road in the early 1960s.
The late Isgoed Williams said Halt Lake was built by the GWR to bring fishermen to the lake. In the pre-nuclear power plant, it was noted for its trout fishing.
He remembered hanging around the door near the stopover, especially on weekends, opening and closing it for fishermen heading to their stalls loaded with gear.
“Naturally we would get a little bit of thrupenny and sixpence on occasion and we felt like ‘entrepreneurs’ at that time,” he told Keith.
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The track from Lake Halt to Blaenau Ffestniog has been retained and even extended to join the network at Blaenau Ffestiniog Nord station allowing rail traffic direct access to the nuclear power plant under construction.
A nuclear vial loading facility was built on a siding about 100 meters north of Halt Lake and continued until the mid-1990s.
The last passenger train traveled the line to Trawsfynydd in October 1998. This day was also marked by heavy rains.
Attempts by an Essex contractor to reopen the line have failed, although some enthusiasts continue to hope that services could restart on some sections of the line.