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Railwatch 079 - April 1999

Railwatch - Park and rail

By Dave Sallery

The Welsh Highland Railway's plan to rebuild 25 miles of narrow gauge railway is turning out to be highly contentious.

The route goes through Snowdonia National Park, and would link Caernarfon with Porthmadog, so through trains could run from Caernarfon to Blaenau Ffestiniog.

The Ffestiniog Railway, which is in charge of the Welsh Highland scheme, believes the new line would cut car traffic in the national park with frequent services to important tourist/walking locations like Beddgelertand Rhyd Ddu, at the foot of Snowdon.

However, the scheme has encountered strong opposition which at times has bordered on the hysterical.

One of the more valid concerns is that the railway would attract a large number of cars because Caernarfon, the end of the line most accessible from major conurbations, does not have a mainline rail service (or a bus-rail link service).

Reopening Bangor-Caernarfon has been a long-running campaigning issue for RDS.

It is ironic that nothing has been done about this scheme, which would boost tourism in Caernarfon and help local people yet funding has been put in place for the Welsh Highland which will cost roughly the same to rebuild but will be of little use to local people as a mode of transport. We support the WHR scheme but in the context of it being part of a wider rail development plan for Snowdonia which would include rebuilding Bangor-Caernarfon.

A frequent service from Chester, and further east, direct to Caernarfon would reduce the number of people travelling by car to the steam railway and to northern Snowdonia.

In this context the WHR, like the Ffestiniog, would be a link between two parts of the main line rail system and could be useful as a through route between Mid and North Wales.

With the Bangor-Caernarfon line in place, an additional peak-season service could run perhaps every two hours from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Caernarfon, via Betws-y-Coed, Conwy and other tourist venues.

This service would connect with narrow-gauge trains which close the loop from Caernarfon to Blaenau Ffestiniog. Round Robin tickets would allow tourists to make the circuit, breaking as they wished.

They would be able to penetrate the area inside this circle of railways by means of the frequent bus services that are already being planned by the Snowdonia National Park.

With Bangor-Caernarfon and the WHR in place, two very modest investments by comparison with some of the road schemes being promoted locally, northern Snowdonia should suddenly start to compare with Switzerland for travel and access opportunities.

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