North Wales Steam Railways Tour Journey Notes 4 - Blaenau Ffestiniog & the Conwy Valley Line to Betws-y-Coed.
Until 1960, Blaenau Ffestiniog was the terminus of two standard gauge passenger lines - a line from Bala and the Conwy Valley line from Llandudno Junction. Each had its own station; after British Rail was established in 1948, these were known as Blaenau Ffestiniog Central and Blaenau Ffestiniog North respectively.
The line from Bala was constructed as another alternative route to carry slate from Blaenau; at Bala Junction it joined the Barmouth to Ruabon line - Ruabon is on the Shrewsbury to Wrexham line. 24.75 miles long, it ran via Trawsfynydd through remote countryside; it closed to passengers in 1960 (the very short section between Bala itself and the Junction continued in use for another five years) and through freight the following year. This was due to the construction of a new reservoir (Llyn Celyn) over part of the route to the north-west of Bala. However, in 1964 a connection was made at Blaenau Ffestiniog with the Conwy Valley Line in order for the truncated route to be used as far as Trawsfynydd to serve the nuclear power station; with the plant being decommissioned, the line is no longer used but the track remains in place. Prior to closure the line had four Monday to Friday trains each way calling at 13 stations and halts and taking an hour and twenty minutes for the trip. There was also a daily freight and another to serve the slate quarry at Manod a mile or so out of Blaenau.
The Conwy Valley Line runs from Llandudno Junction (most trains start at Llandudno itself) via Llanwrst and Betws-y-Coed. It was constructed as far as Llanwrst in 1863 for visitors to the popular spa village of Trefriw, extended to the already famous tourist village of Betws-y-Coed in 1868 and reached Blaenau Ffestiniog in 1879 to provide an alternative method of transporting roofing slates from the quarries to the world-wide market.
The ‘Central’ station closed in 1960 but in 1982, with the completion of the rebuilding of the Ffestiniog Railway back to Blaenau Ffestiniog, the current joint Ffestiniog Railway/British Rail Conwy Valley Line station was opened on this site and the ‘North’ station closed.
Blaenau Ffestiniog to Betws-y-Coed.
Times in brackets are for halts and stations that are request stops - we may not call at these.
The Conwy Valley Line currently has six weekday services each way plus three on Sundays in the summer - between mid-May and early September. Passenger usage is around 45,000 a year at Blaenau Ffestiniog and 35,000 for Betws-y-Coed. The northern section of the line has had major flooding problems in the past with closure for nearly four months in 2004.
11.35 Depart Blaenau Ffestiniog and travel north past the former Gloddfa Ganol/Oakeley Slate Quarry (which was the largest underground slate mine in the world) on the left and Llechwedd on the right; gradients on this section of the line are as severe as 1 in 43 (2.3%).The line now enters Ffestioniog Tunnel under Moel Dyrnogydd; measuring 3726 yards (over 2 miles), it is the longest single track railway tunnel in the UK. Emerging from the tunnel, we turn east to follow the Lledr valley with the river on our left.
(11.45) Roman Bridge/Pont Rufeinig. R - The station building is now a private house; the lane leads from the A470 Blaenau Ffestiniog to Conwy road to a few scattered hill farms. This is one of the least used stations in Wales with only 764 passengers in 2013/14! Continuing east, we pass under the A470 with the Lledr still on our left.
(11.49) Dolwyddelan. The station (on left) is located at Pentre-bont with the village of Dolwyddelan a few hundred yards to our left. The name of the village translates as "Gwyddelan's meadow", referring to the 5th or 6th century Saint Gwyddelan, after whom the parish church is named. However, it was mis-spelt with “elen” at the end of the word when the railway opened and it took a hundred years for the mistake to be rectified! The goods yard was on the left; this closed in the 1960s.
(11.52) Pont-y-pant. R - As at Roman Bridge, the station building is now a private house. There isn’t village here but just a few isolated properties on this side of the river. There is a hotel about 500 yards further along the line which we pass via a short tunnel. After a couple of miles we cross over the Lledr and the A470, then turn north for the final mile and a half of our trip, passing under the A5 Llangollen to Anglesey road just before we reach Betws-y-Coed.
12.02 Arrive Betws-y-Coed and leave the train. The extensive station buildings have been preserved and adapted for use as cafes and tourist shops. There used to be a passing loop here (Llanrwst North is now the only station on the line with a loop) and the footbridge that previously served a down platform now provides access to the Conwy Valley Railway Museum and Model Shop which is located in one of the former goods yards - there were two yards and two signal boxes.
13.58 Depart Betws-y-Coed. Request stops are Pont-y-pant (14.06), Dolwyddelan (14.09) and Roman Bridge (14.13). Arrive Blaenau Ffestiniog at 14.32; cross to the Ffestiniog Railway’s platform to take the 15.05 (15.15 or 15.20 at peak times) back to Porthmadog.