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Snowdon Mountain Railway
Llanberis to Summit Station, Gwynedd, Wales, UK
Snowdon Mountain Railway
associated engineer
Sir (Charles) Douglas Fox
Sir Francis Fox
date  December 1894 - January 1896, opened 6th April 1896, 1897
UK era  Victorian  |  category  Railway  |  reference  SH581597
ICE reference number  HEW 1222
photo  © Jeff Buck and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
The Snowdon Mountain Railway is Britain’s only rack railway and has the nation’s highest station, perched just below the summit of Mount Snowdon in Wales. Steam and diesel locomotives hauling individual carriages take about an hour to complete the journey from Llanberis along a single track narrow gauge line. A new visitor centre has been opened at the top station.
A railway from Llanberis to Snowdon was first proposed in 1869, by Sir Richard Moon (1814-99), Chairman of the London & North Western Railway. However, local landowner George William Duff Assheton-Smith (1848-1904) opposed the plans, only withdrawing his objections in the 1890s. The Snowdon Mountain Tramroad & Hotels Company Ltd was formed, and it obtained the necessary private land for building the railway, so an Act of Parliament was not required.
Sir (Charles) Douglas Fox (1840-1921) and his brother Francis Fox (1844-1927, knighted 1912) designed the railway, using the rack and pinion system developed by Swiss mechanical engineer Dr Carl Roman Abt (1850-1933). His patented design provides positive traction and braking via a central rack that meshes with pinions on a locomotive's axles.
The railway winds south eastwards from Llanberis Station to Summit Station on Yr Wyddfa, the highest peak on the Snowdon massif. The line has five intermediate stops — Waterfall, Hebron, Halfway, Rocky Valley and Clogwyn — all with slate-roofed stone station buildings. The railway’s single track has passing loops at the Hebron (SH583584), Halfway (SH597574) and Clogwyn (SH607561) stations.
Its route rises 957m in a distance of 7.5km, to the top station at an altitude of 1.06km above sea level. The average gradient is 1 in 7.86, with the steepest an astonishing 1 in 5.5 and the gentlest 1 in 50. In all, 42.5 percent of the line is constructed on curves with radii sharper than 402m.
Snowdon Mountain Railway was designed to the European narrow gauge of 800mm (2ft 7.5in) for the running rails, which are bolted to steel sleepers. The double-bladed steel rack is positioned centrally between the rails and bolted to each sleeper by steel chairs. The teeth of the rack are laid out of phase, so that they always engage with two pinions on the central cogged axle wheels of the engines and carriages.
The line crosses 10 bridges. The 152.4m long Lower Viaduct (SH577591) at the waterfalls of the Afon Hwch, south west of Llanberis, is the largest. It has 13 arches of 9.1m span and one skew arch spanning 11.7m over a road, and is constructed on a gradient of 1 in 8.5.
The railway spans the Hafoty Newydd road north of Hebron Station on a single brick-lined masonry stone arch (SH581586) 7m long, 10m wide and up to 7m high. It has masonry wing walls and is topped by iron railings between square masonry pillars. The track also twice crosses the Llanberis Path, which leads hikers up the mountain, on single span beam bridges with brick and masonry abutments. The bridges, 7m long and 10m wide, are located to the north east of Halfway Station (SH594577) and to the south of Clogwyn Station (SH608560).
The original steam locomotives — Enid, Wyddfa, Snowdon and Moel Siabod — were manufactured in Switzerland in 1895 and 1896. The first one cost £1,525. As is standard practice on mountain railways, each has an inclined boiler to keep the boiler tubes submerged in water when travelling on a slope. Locomotives travel chimney-first up the mountain, pushing a single open carriage along at an average speed of 8kph (5mph). The carriages each carry 56 passengers and a guard.
The contractor, A.H. Holme & C.W. King of Liverpool, completed the construction between December 1894 and January 1896. The workforce laboured for five days a week, unusually taking two days off owing to the arduous working conditions on the exposed mountainside.
When the line opened on 6th April 1896, a train derailment caused a fatal accident. The track was modified and inverted L-section guard rails were added either side of the rack blades. The railway re-opened in 1897, carrying 12,000 passengers during the year.
In 1922 and 1923, three more steam locomotives were built in Switzerland — Padarn, Ralph and Eryri — along with two more carriages. Between 1951 and 1957, the original open carriages were enclosed and automatic brakes added, which activate at speeds higher than 12kph (7.5mph).
In 1935, Summit Station was enlarged by the construction of a café and depot building designed by Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis (1883-1978) in somewhat brutalist style. It was refurbished in the early 1980s.
Between 1986 and 1992, four British diesel locomotives costing £250,000 each were added to the fleet — Ninian, Yeti, Peris and George — together with one new carriage. Since engine replacement in 2011-2, they have been powered by 238kW six-cylinder turbocharged 12 litre Rolls Royce engines.
In April 2006, the Snowdonia National Park Authority agreed to replace the summit buildings and station facilities with a new visitor centre called Hafod Eryri (SH609543). It is the highest building in England and Wales. It was designed by Ray Hole Architects in conjunction with structural civil engineer Arup and it was opened on 12th June 2009 by Welsh first minister Hywel Rhodri Morgan (b.1939).
Owing to its exposed location, the building is been designed to withstand wind speeds of more than 241kph (150mph), 5m of rainfall and temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius. Its walls, roof and floors are constructed in granite from Blaenau Ffestiniog and from Portugal. Much of the stone was hand cut on site, and the internal walls are lined in Welsh oak. A wall of glass provides panoramic views of Snowdonia.
In 2012-3, seven new railway carriages were put into service, each capable of carrying 74 passengers.
The Snowdon Mountain Railway now carries more than 140,000 passengers per year between March and November, weather permitting. It is calculated that some 12 million passengers have travelled the line since 1896, and the original locomotive Enid has steamed more than 3 million km up and down Snowdon.
Contractor: A.H. Holme & C.W. King, Liverpool
Steam locomotives: Swiss Locomotive & Manufacturing Co., Winterthur
Steam locomotives (1986-92): Hunslet Engine Co, Leeds
Carriages: Lancaster Carriage & Wagon Co Ltd
Carriages (1923): Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaft, Neuhausen
Carriage (1987): East Lancashire Coach Builders Ltd
Carriages (2012-3): Garmendale Engineering, Ilkeston, and Hunslet Engine Co
Architect (summit building, 1935): Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis
Architect (Hafod Eryri, 2006-9): Ray Hole Architects
Engineer (Hafod Eryri, 2006-9): Arup
Contractor (Hafod Eryri, 2006-9): Carillion
RCAHMW_NPRN 91415 [main entry], 32619, 41454, 506001, 506006, 506008, 506076, 506078
Research: ECPK
reference sources   CEH Wales

Snowdon Mountain Railway