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Historic locomotive to take part in Welsh Highland Railway’s centenary celebrations

12 Jun 2022 4 minute read
Russell at Pont Croesor by Gareth James is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway has announced that it is welcoming flagship locomotive Hunslet ‘Russell’ back to the railway to take part in the heritage railway’s centenary celebrations which begin this year

The event, taking place on the 30th and 31st July, will see Russell operating heritage trains between Dinas and Rhyd Ddu, which is, according to steam train expert Mike Holden, a ‘preservation-first.’

Young steam enthusiasts maybe excited to know that Russell inspired ‘Fearless Freddie’ in the Thomas the Tank Engine stories, an old engine who returns to the narrow gauge railway after many years, bragging about being the fastest engine in the hills and challenging his fellow locomotives to a race.

Russell was built by the Hunslet Engine Company in 1906 for the never completed ‘Portmadoc, Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway’ (PB&SSR) and subsequently sold to the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway (NWNGR), as part of a deal for a two-year delay in electrifying its line by that Company.

In 1922 the locomotive became the property of the Welsh Highland Railway (WHR), which acquired the NWNGR and the partially completed PB&SSR, and was in turn taken over by the Ffestiniog Railway (FfR) in 1924.

At this point, Russell too tall to get through tunnels and under bridges on the FfR line and was reduced in height to allow it to work trains on the line.

Although Russell’s chimney, steam dome and cab were lowered, the locomotive was still too wide to pass through the long Moelwyn tunnel.


When the WHR closed in 1937 Russell ran the last through-train before being left in the sheds at Dinas.

During the war it was requisitioned and further adapted and refurbished before spending post war years initially in Dorset and then Birmingham where it was secured for preservation.

In 1955 it went on display at Tywyn Wharf station on the Talyllyn Railway before returning to the reformed Welsh Highland Railway Limited’s base in Shropshire a decade later.

Undergoing further refurbishments and adaptations through the 70s, Russell steamed again at the Gelerts Farm Works in 1987 and has since operated trains regularly on the Welsh Highland Railway at Porthmadog and visiting and operating trains on the Ffestiniog Railway.

Since 2000 the locomotive has again been refurbished in between visits to different parts of the WHR, attending the Talyllyn Railway’s 150th anniversary in 2015, and then completing a test run on the main Welsh Highland Railway, reaching Beddgelert for the first time in over 80 years.

Beddgelert by Trainiac is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0.


Speaking to RailAdvent, Mark Seale, who is co-ordinating on behalf of the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway said: “As custodians of flagship narrow gauge steam locomotive ‘Russell’, built by the Hunslet Locomotive Company in 1906, the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway is constantly committed to ensuring that it is maintained in the best condition possible.

“The recent work undertaken by our small mechanical engineering team on its valve gear and timing will now ensure that narrow gauge railway enthusiasts will be able to enjoy seeing it performing at its best for many years to come.”

Graham Farr, the Chairman of the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway adds: “We are delighted to confirm that it is intended that, subject to final testing, Russell will participate in the WHR 100 event from Dinas on 30th-31st July 2022.

“It will be accompanied by our heritage train including the original Buffet Car and Gladstone Car, alongside the replica Ashbury corridor and newly-built Pickering Brake carriages.”

Paul Lewin, Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways General Manager, says: “We have really enjoyed working with the team at the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway on the preparations for this event.

“Their volunteers have done a sterling job to get the locomotive ready, and of course we are all looking forward to sharing the pleasure of seeing Russell in action with our many supporters and friends.”

Tickets for the centenary events go on sale later this month and more details can be found here

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