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Welsh Heritage Railway scoops prestigious industry award

15 Mar 2023 4 minute read
A train at Blaenau Ffestiniog. Picture by Alan Wilson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The team behind the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways (FfWHR) has scooped a prestigious national award for almost 40 years of work to preserve North Wales’ slate heritage alongside running an enormously popular tourist attraction.

The Heritage Railway Association has awarded its most coveted award – the Peter Manisty Award for Excellence – to the Ffestiniog team that has rescued and continues to restore and operate the unique gravity slate train.

Based at the railway’s Boston Lodge Works – itself the subject of a current £4m heritage development project – the team has rescued more than 200 waggons, which is thought to be the largest collection indigenous to a particular railway.

These are available for public viewing during special events held at the railway throughout the year. As part of a National Lottery funded project, new volunteers will be invited to join special workshops to learn the skills associated with the collection and to get involved themselves.

Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway team with the Peter Manisty Award for Excellence

The Peter Manisty Award, which is not presented every year, is awarded for exceptional achievements in the heritage railway world.

The Ffestiniog team’s submission not only included preservation work on the train, but also the construction of a building to house the 200 waggons, the creation of a workshop in the original forge building and all the work needed to operate the train safely in the 21st century.

Engineering miracle

The Ffestiniog Railway was built to transport slates to the sea from the great quarries in Blaenau Ffestiniog. It is considered to be an engineering miracle, built on a continuous gentle gradient over some 13 miles.

This allowed loaded slate waggons to be run down to the port by gravity. The empty waggons were then hauled back up the hill by teams of ponies.

This highly successful arrangement was in place until 1863 when steam engines replaced the ponies. The waggons, of which there were more than 1,000, were maintained in the very oldest part of the workshops at Boston Lodge works.

These forge buildings once again house the waggon maintenance work that sustained them during the original railway operation.

The remaining buildings from this era are currently being restored and missing buildings recreated so that the story of the early railway can be told again and saved for future generations.

The project, which is jointly funded by the FFWHR Trust, The Ffestiniog Railway Society and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, will give opportunities for visitors to learn more of the history, to get actively involved and to learn heritage skills through skills workshops when it is fully up and running in 18 months time.

Hard Hat tours for local residents and lottery players, to view progress with the project, are expected in the summer of 2023.

Gravity train

Paul Lewin, FfWHR director and general manager, said: “The award could not come at a better time. The efforts of this team over more than 30 years are truly outstanding and it is more than overdue that their contribution to railway conservation should come into focus.

“The team involved is one of the longest standing and most committed in the world of railway preservation. We are working hard to tell our story of the Ffestiniog Railway’s part in the Slate Industry World Heritage Site.

“The gravity train really brings that alive and, shortly, visitors will be able to hear the full story, learn new skills and get involved, but for now we will be taking a little time to celebrate this award and the achievements of over three decades work.”

Pictured receiving the award are (from left) are Brian Simpson, MBE, Heritage Railway Association chairman and volunteers Tim Elsby, Paul Wood and Peter Dennis, Carriage Works manager Glenn Williams,  director Iain Wilkinson and director and general manager Paul Lewin, all from the F&WHR.

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