Back in 2010/11, the Heritage Group launched an ambitious appeal which set out to “preserve our rails and rolling stock for future generations”.
Waggon Tracks had twin aims, firstly to create a storage facility for our unique collection of historical waggons, secondly ensure some of the railway’s pre-restoration track continued to have a home and serve a useful purpose well into the 21st Century.
The railway’s original slate waggon fleet numbered in excess of 1,000 vehicles, over 200 of which still survive today. An enthusiastic team of volunteers was doing sterling work restoring them, but it must have been disheartening each time they completed a new waggon, only to then have to park it outside again, exposed to the elements. There was also a real danger some waggons would literally rust away before they reached their turn for attention.
Thankfully, that’s no longer a concern. Glance down to the right just as you depart Minffordd station on the way to Porthmadog and you’ll see a purpose built, 90 metre-long, five road shed. It contains not just the 60 slate waggons and assorted goods vehicles which have been restored to date, but also those awaiting restoration.
The second part of the project can be seen beneath the waggons, with almost half a kilometre of track inside the shed, historic in its own right.
Prior to the railway’s restoration, its permanent way consisted of double head and bullhead rail, carried in chairs, giving it a very distinctive look. Whilst dating to the 19th Century and getting to the stage where it was no longer suitable for the main line, it still had plenty of life left in it – especially if used in a covered environment!
So the Waggon Tracks team helped carefully lift it from the mainline, recycling the old rails as they went.
Four of the five sidings in the new shed are laid in bullhead track, with the other road using the older double head. There’s even a short section of stone sleepered ‘t bulb rail’, dating back to the pre-steam era.
Apart from the erection of the building, all of the work on the project has been carried out by volunteers; with financial support from the FR Society as well as individual donations to the Heritage Group’s Waggon Tracks appeal.
To take a closer look at the shed, and some of the unique waggons housed in it, head to YouTube for the January 2022 Ffestiniog Railway Moving Pictures, where Ian Wilkinson takes us on a fascinating guided tour.
As for the next steps… Well in the FR’s Victorian heyday, a typical gravity working could consist of 100-120 waggons. Now that would be quite a spectacular sight to see at a gala weekend in a few years wouldn’t it?