Published: 29th November 2015
The Ffestiniog Railway’s new 90 metre-long five-road shed featuring nearly half a kilometre of track represents the first time in UK railway preservation history that a building has been constructed on this scale for the storage of freight vehicles rather than locomotives or carriages.
The £120,000 building in the historic 1ft 111/2ins gauge lines Minffordd yard will house the railway's unique collection of 19th century rail vehicles, the largest such fleet in the world. All are original FR assets and number some 220 in total with the building capable of housing the entire stock, both restored and unrestored.
Opened in 1836, the Ffestiniog Railway was originally constructed to transport slate from quarries around Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog harbour for onward transport by ship. Later, an exchange yard was built at Minffordd enabling slate to be transferred to the main line rail network. A classic feature of the early years of FR operation were long trains of wagons descending from Blaenau by gravity, the empty vehicles then being hauled back up the line initially by horses until steam was introduced in 1863.
Around 60 of the vehicles in FR’s collection have thus far been restored, the majority being slate wagons. During special events the FR operates demonstrations of these vehicles working by gravity. The aim is to raise the total of restored vehicles to 120, allowing the recreation of gravity slate trains of the same length as operated in FR’s Victorian heyday. These trains have been described as 'the longest and oldest roller coaster ride in the world'.
Construction of the building fulfils a key objective of the Ffestiniog Railway Heritage Group’s ‘Waggon Tracks Project’. Finance has been raised by donations to the Waggon Tracks appeal, supported by the FR Society.
Track leading into the ‘Waggon Tracks’ shed will be material lifted during reconstruction of Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway’s Harbour station, a £1.3million project assisted by the Welsh Government's Station Improvement Programme officially opened on May 22 2014.
"We are delighted that the shed is finally under construction. This represents a massive leap forward in our ability to care for our historic rolling stock and grow the fleet of restored vehicles," commented F&WHR Heritage Director, Sam Miller. "In the past, there has been a sense that we're running to stay still, with even carefully restored wagons steadily deteriorating in the elements, whilst our large reserve of historic unrestored wagons continues to rust. Our team of young volunteers now know that every time they restore a wagon, it will remain in excellent condition for generations to come."
The F&WHR is about to embark on large-scale development of Boston Lodge - the oldest railway works in the world - with new engineering facilities, storage and preparation facilities for the extensive fleet of steam locomotives and carriages.
F&WHR is also planning construction of a radically enhanced station at Caernarfon.