Spanning 3 Centuries
Snowdon Mountain Railway is exceptional in that it was the first railway to be built in the UK with the main objective being the carriage of tourists.
Since 1869 a new branch line of the London and North Western Railway from Caernarfon to Llanberis had brought people to the foot of Snowdon, however, the only way to reach the peak then was to walk or take a donkey ride, so it was declared that the next extension must go to the top of Snowdon.
The local landowner George William Duff Assheton Smith thought a railway would spoil the scenery and turned down every proposal for the next twenty years but then a rival plan to build a railway to the summit of Snowdon, from Rhyd Ddu station on the other side of the mountain, brought fears that Llanberis would lose its tourist trade forever.
With this in mind Assheton Smith changed his decision and allowed the land to be used and on the 16th November 1894 the Snowdon Mountain Tramroad and Hotels Co. Ltd was formed to build the railway.
To ensure the trains were able to embark upon the steep and continual gradients of Snowdon safely, the newly formed Snowdon Mountain Tramroad and Hotels Co. Ltd went to Switzerland to find the best mountain railway technology. A German engineer, Dr. Roman Abt, had patented a rack and pinion system that was being used reliably in the Swiss Alps. Whilst in Switzerland the company purchased three steam locomotives and they arrived in Llanberis in 1895 to help with the construction, a further two trains arrived in 1896 when the railway opened.
Smooth and constant operation when tackling the steep gradients is achieved by a double racked rail used with a rotating toothed pinion. The pinion is mounted underneath the locomotive and guarantees the locomotive does not lose grip on the mountain. The pinion is the only source of traction for the locomotive with the wheels supporting the weight of the engine. Unique to rack railways, the locomotive always pushes the carriage up the mountain and, for safety reasons, is never coupled to the train. The carriage has its own set of brakes that bring the carriage to a standstill if it disengages from the locomotive.
The building of the railway
The first sod was cut at Llanberis station by Assheton Smith’s daughter Enid in December 1894. The railway was due to be ready for summer 1895 however, the harsh winter of 1894 was one of the worst in living memory, and the construction of the two large viaducts between Llanberis and the waterfall took much longer than expected and they were not completed until August 1895. Once the viaducts were completed the remaining track to the Summit was laid in a remarkable 72 days and the first train reached the summit in January 1896. With the remaining work on fencing and signals then being finished the railway was ready to open to the public at Easter 1896.
Locomotive number one, L.A.D.A.S., was named after Laura Alice Duff Assheton Smith, the wife of the local landowner. Arrived in 1895 and played a pivotal role in the construction process. L.A.D.A.S. is no longer in service.
Locomotive number two, Enid, was named after Assheton Smith’s daughter who cut the first sod at Llanberis in 1894. Enid is still in service today and it is estimated that she has covered enough miles in her history to reach the moon and back four times.
Locomotive number five, Moel Siabod, is named after a neighbouring mountain and is out of service at present.
Locomotive number four, Snowdon, is named after the mountain and arrived in 1896 when the railway opened. Snowdon is also still in service today.
Locomotive number five, Moel Siabod, is named after a neighbouring mountain and is out of service at present awaiting boiler repairs.
In 1922/23 a further three locomotives (six, seven and eight) were ordered from the Swiss locomotive and machine works Winterthur.
Locomotive number six, Padarn, is named after the lower lake in Llanberis and is still in service today.
Locomotive number seven, Ralph, is named after the one time company consulting engineer Ralph Sadler. It was removed from service and dismantled in the 1980’s.
Locomotive number eight, Eryri, is the Welsh name for Snowdonia. It was also removed from service and dismantled in the 1980’s.
Between 1986 and 1992 the company took delivery of 4 British built diesel locomotives. The names of the diesels are: Ninian, Yeti, Peris and George.
The original carriages were open above the waist and had canvas curtains, which provided little protection against the elements. Between 1951 and 1957 the superstructure of the original carriages was modified to produce the enclosed bodies. In earlier times, pictures showed the trains pushing two carriages; the rear carriage was roofed with canvas curtains.
On Monday 5th November Snowdon Mountain Railway took delivery of the first of four new passenger carriages which will enter service in 2013.
These new coaches have been designed and built in the UK by a partnership between Garmendale Engineering Limited of Ilkeston, Derbyshire and the Hunslet Engine Company, to a performance specification defined and project managed by the Railway.
a lifetime Click here for details.