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The Great Little Trains of Wales are a very special way of seeing some of the best scenery in the British Isles. All are narrow gauge steam railways and some have a history spanning well over 100 years. All of them have in common the charm of old-time steam trains with plenty of polished paintwork and brass.

Built in a time less hasty than our own, most originally served to carry Welsh slate from the quarries to the sea. However, no two are the same and they all offer a unique experience of a bygone era.The special attraction of narrow gauge railways lies in their modest size compared with the main line ones and their leisurely speed gives time to take in some of the splendid scenery.

The size and scope of preserved railways in Wales is extremely varied, and ranges from short lengths of track in urban environments to railways hidden in the lush valleys of west Wales, or clinging precariously to some of the most spectacular mountainside in the UK.
Some are embryo railways with no track of their own as yet, while another has begun to extend its track to reach the site of the highest station in England and Wales.

In Mid and North Wales, preservation is usually tied up with narrow gauge railways which once served the slate industry or - in the case of the Snowdon Mountain Railway - unashamedly targeted the tourist long before tourism became as important an element in the economy of Wales as it is today.

A Railway Story

Opened in 1923, the Welsh Highland Railway was formed by the merger of several much older railways: the Croesor Tramway, the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways, and the Portmadoc, Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway.

The Croesor Tramway had been opened in 1863. It was purely horse drawn, carrying mainly slate traffic. It extended from Portmadoc to the slate mines surrounding Croesor village. The dubious fortunes of the slate industry always kept the Croesor Tramway in a perilous financial position. The Tramway crossed the Cambrian Coast main-line railway (originally the Aberystwyth & Welsh Coast Railway) on the level. Unfortunately, this level crossing was another contributory factor in the Tramway's commercial failure and the subsequent commercial failure of the Welsh Highland Railway. Although it predated the Cambrian, the Croesor Tramway had to pay an annual rent to the Cambrian for use and maintenance of the crossing - normally the reverse would have applied. In the 1920s, the rent was equivalent to the total railway wage bill for six weeks.

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WORLDS FIRST

The first heritage railway to be rescued and run entirely by volunteers was the Talyllyn Railway in Wales. This narrow gauge line, taken over by a group of enthusiasts in 1950, is recognised as the start of the preservation movement. There are now several hundred heritage railways in the United Kingdom. This large number is due in part to the closure of many minor lines in the 1960s under the Beeching Axe.

Heritage railways are usually railway lines which were once run as commercial railways, but were later no longer needed or were closed down, and were taken over or re-opened by volunteers or for-profit organisations. Many run on partial routes unconnected to the commercial railway network, run only seasonally, and charge high "entertainment" fares. As a result they are primarily focused on serving the tourist and leisure markets, not local transportation needs. However in the 1990s and 2000s some heritage railways have begun to provide local transportation and to extend their running seasons to cater for commercial passenger traffic.

RAILWAY LIST

Bala Lake Railway
Brecon Mountain Railway - ??? miles in the Brecon Beacons National Park, Narrow Gauge
Corris Railway - 1 mile in Gwynedd, Narrow Gauge
Fairbourne & Barmouth Steam Railway
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Ffestiniog Railway
Gwili Railway
Llanberis Lake Railway
Llangollen Railway
Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway
Rhyl Miniature Railway
Snowdon Mountain Railway
Talyllyn Railway - 7 miles in Gwynedd, Narrow Gauge
Vale of Rheidol Railway
Welsh Highland Railway
Welshpool & Llanfair Railway.

SELECT AN AREA

Anglesey South East South West Brecon Beacons Pembrokeshire Central North East Mid North North West Coast Llyn snowdonia