The Slate Industry of North and Mid Wales

Quarry railways and Tramways

The horse worked Deeside Tramway route near Glyndyfrdwy.  It was of 2' 6" gauge and partly laid with wooden rails covered by an iron sheath.  The rails were kept to gauge by using tie bars and not conventional sleepers.  The tramway closed in the 1950's.

The tramways in the quarry districts were an indispensable part of the quarrying process.  Developed from humble beginnings they became quite a sophisticated method of transport.  In most cases they were laid to two foot (60cm) gauge although this varied with Nantlle having a three foot six inch network, the Glyn Valley Tramway employing half standard gauge i.e. 2 foot 4 inches and the Corris and Talyllyn being 2 foot 3 inches.  The gauge was somewhat larger or smaller in the working areas because of the rough trackwork and wheels with double flanges freely moving on an axle were widely used.  The lines hauled the finished product out and the raw materials - fuel, machinery, ironwork, food for horses and humans, etc. in.

The tramway to Moel Tryfan Quarry featured horseshoe curves and steep gradients.

Many thousands of people a year travel on the restored Ffestiniog Railway from Blaenau to Porthmadog, less well known are the quarry tramways which acted as feeders to this line.   The Rhiwbach tramway was the longest of these, from the Ffestiniog connection at Blaenau it rose by three long inclines and then ran across desolate moorland serving various quarries on the way.  Another line ran from Tanygrisiau up Cwmorthin to Conglog Quarry.  In the quarries themselves were many miles of two foot gauge track with inclines connecting to the various levels on the surface and underground. 

Two views of part of the route of the Rhiwbach Tramway above Blaenau Ffestiniog.  This tramway ran for nearly 3 miles to isolated quarries to the east of Blaenau.  It was laid out for gravity working towards Blaenau, a horse being used for the returning empty wagons.  In its later days a light petrol powered tractor was used.  The last use of this tramway was in the early fifties and although all rails have been removed, much of the trackbed is in excellent condition.  Llyn Bowydd, in the view above, was created to supply water to Votty and Bowydd Quarry where it was used to generate power using water wheels and later hydro electricity.  It is still used as a source of power today and the water leaves the reservoir along a slate lined leat. Further views and a history of the tramway can be seen on my Rhiwbach Slate Quarry website.

Penrhyn Quarry constructed a horse tramway to Port Penrhyn as early as 1801 and replaced this with a locomotive powered line in 1878.  At Dinorwic a unique 4 foot gauge line was built to Port Dinorwic on which the 2 foot gauge slate wagons travelled 4 to a wagon.

Porthmadog was at one time terminus of  three narrow gauge lines - the Ffestiniog, Croesor Tramway and Gorseddau Tramway.  This gives some idea of its then importance as a port.  The last  named of these had a brief but chequered life.  Opened in 1857 as a 3 foot gauge line it ran for 8 miles to Gorseddau Quarry. A few years later Gorseddau closed as a disastrous failure and the line was regauged to two foot and further extended to Prince of Wales Quarry - another hopeless undertaking.  The whole line closed for good in 1886 although much of it is traceable to this day.


Two views of the route of the 3 foot gauge tramway to Gorseddau Quarry.

Some of the other lines born out of slate quarrying were the North Wales Narrow Gauge - forerunner of the Welsh Highland - serving principally Moel Tryfan and Glanrafon quarries, the Hendre Ddu Tramway with a small network around Aberangell, the Oernant Tramway in the Horseshoe Pass area of Denbighshire, the Cwm Eigiau tramway with a six mile line from Dolgarrog and the Deeside Tramway from Glyndyfrdwy to quarries in the Berwyn mountains.

Few motorists on the A542 road over the Horseshoe Pass are aware of the trackbed of the Oernant Tramway just a few yards away.  This horse worked line ran from Pentre Felin near Llangollen to quarries on Moel y Faen.   It closed in the 1920's.

Standard Gauge lines were also attracted to the quarrying areas.  Branches were built to Llanberis, Bethesda, Blaenau Ffestiniog (two lines), Nantlle, along the Tanat Valley and to Dinas Mawddwy.  The Cambrian Railway was extended along the western coastline to Pwllheli interchanging with the Ffestiniog and Talyllyn along the way.  A journey today along the Conwy Valley line from Llandudno to Blaenau shows just what investment was thought worthy to tap the slate traffic, the Great Western had an equally expensive and tortuous line to Blaenau from the other direction.

A level stretch of the Hafod y Llan tramway between two inclines.

Many of the track beds of the tramways have survived the intervening years since abandonment and nowadays make excellent walking routes.

Track bed of the tramway to Pant Mawr quarry on the side of Moelwyn Mawr.  The tramway attained this height after ascending two long inclines from the Croesor valley.

The level trackbed of the 2 foot gauge horse worked Croesor Tramway is seen in the valley floor.  This served the Croesor and Rhosydd slate quarries.  More views of this tramway are on my Rhosydd slate quarry website.

The embankment of the Croesor Tramway with Cnicht on the left.

The track bed of the Gorseddau Junction & Portmadoc Railway which led to Prince of Wales quarry, visible in the right background. 

The tramway to Conglog Quarry ran up Cwmorthin.  Its route can be seen to the left of the pine trees.

Next page: Working tramways in the 1960' and 70's

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