An introduction to the line
The 28 miles of single track railway linking the mainline at Llandudno Junction with Blaenau Ffestiniog offers some of the most picturesque and spectacular scenery anywhere in Britain. The line also forms part of the Cambrian Rail Cruise - the circular route around North Wales by train
The railway climbs from sea level at Llandudno Junction to a summit of 790 feet in the Blaenau tunnel and the variety of scenery on offer is breathtaking - estuary, woodland, moorland, mountain, industrial - is all to be seen through the train's windows.
All the seasons of the year can be appreciated - sometimes on the same day! Intermediate stations offer attractions of their own and, for the active, there is a free leaflet available with guides to walks along the route. The first section of the line to be built was from Llandudno Junction to Llanrwst, this was opened in 1863. A subsequent extension saw passenger services extended to Betws y Coed in 1868.
Reopening of the Ffestiniog Railway throughout and the new Blaenau Central station in 1982 gave a boost to passenger figures and has seen more special trains run. It has now become possible to do a complete circular tour of North Wales by rail using the North Wales Coast line, Conwy Valley, Ffestiniog and Cambrian lines - see my Cambrian Rail Cruise site for full details of times and fares. Connections with the Snowdon Sherpa bus network are available at Betws y Coed while at Blaenau there are bus connections to the Slate Caverns.
Newer forms of passenger trains - Sprinter and Pacers - appeared from 1986. Pacers were however very soon banned from the line following complaints of squealing wheel flanges and they remain prohibited. The older DMU's reappeared in 1994 when two sets were dedicated to the line. Despite their age these trains were popular with passengers because of the forward view they offered. Nowadays all services are formed of more modern units, generally a single car Class 153 unit in the winter and a 2 car 150 unit in summer. Class 158 and 175 trains are not permitted on the line.
The line would appear to have a secure future as a passenger carrying line as the emphasis on green tourism grows but it would be desirable for some investment to take place particularly in the signalling system. At present both Tal y Cafn (for the road crossing) and Llanrwst need to be manned for a service to run. The introduction of radio signalling would both cut costs and enable a more frequent service to run as far as Betws y Coed - the most popular destination. Until then the ritual of exchanging tokens at Llanrwst will continue. Another item worthy of attention is carriage of cycles, the present timetable has a warning note concerning limited space for bicycles, in a tourist area with many dedicated cycling trails this is a disappointment. Hopefully the introduction of regular freight services for slate waste will result in substantial investment in both track and signalling systems.
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