A railway to the summit of Snowdon was proposed.
A railway to the summit of Snowdon was first proposed in 1869 by Sir Richard Moon, Chairman of the London & North Western Railway, after a branch line from Bangor to Llanberis had been completed. Initial Parliamentary Bills were met with stiff opposition from the landowner Mr George William Duff Assheton-Smith of the Vaynol Estate, who thought a railway would spoil the scenery.
Snowdon Mountain Tramroad and Hotels Company Ltd. was formed.
Plans to promote a railway from Porthmadog to the summit of Snowdon and the opening of a narrow-gauge railway to Ryd Ddu on Snowdon’s southwest flank in 1881 led to a significant loss of trade to the community of Llanberis. All this gave Assheton-Smith’s agent, Captain N. P. Stewart, enough concern to argue for a railway to the summit from Llanberis. Assheton-Smith eventually withdrew his objections and Sir Richard got his way. In 1894, the Snowdon Mountain Tramroad and Hotels Company Ltd. was formed and the scene was set for one of the world’s greatest feats of engineering to begin.
Railway construction begins.
Snowdon Mountain Railway was constructed between December 1894, when the first sod was cut by Enid Assheton-Smith (after whom locomotive No. 2 was named) and February 1896, at a total cost of £63,800 (equivalent to more than £10m in 2023). 150 men with picks, shovels and dynamite laid almost eight kilometres of track up the mountain – all in 14 months.
Five steam locomotives manufactured in Switzerland.
The technology for safely transporting carriages of people up and down a mountainside had existed in Switzerland for some time, so that was where the newly-formed Snowdon Mountain Tramroad and Hotels Company Ltd. went. They purchased five Swiss steam locomotives – L.A.D.A.S, Enid, Wyddfa, Snowdon and Moel Siabod.
New steam locomotives added to the fleet and Snowdon Mountain Railway was formed.
Three more steam locomotives were built in Switzerland – Padarn, Ralph and Eryri – along with two more carriages. All of the railway’s steam locomotives were built by the Swiss Locomotive & Manufacturing Co. of Winterhur at a cost of £1,525 each, which would have the equivalent purchasing power of around £120,000 today. In 1924, the Snowdon Mountain Tramroad and Hotels Company Ltd. sold the Royal Victoria Hotel and formed as Snowdon Mountain Railway.
Original summit buildings replaced.
It’s not really known when the first building was erected on the summit, but by 1820, there definitely was one. A few years later, you could even buy a cup of tea up there, and by 1847, there was a small community of wooden huts clustered around the cairn. By 1930, these had deteriorated to such an extent that the decision was made to build one multi-purpose building instead. This was designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, better known for the village of Portmeirion, brought to the public’s awareness as ‘The Village’ from the 1960s TV show The Prisoner.
Locomotive and carriage modernisation.
During the 1950s and 60s, the four original locomotives were sent to Hunslet to be overhauled – No. 2 in 1958, No. 5 in 1959, No. 3 in 1960 and No. 4 in 1963 – and the original open carriages were remodelled so that they became enclosed in an attempt to better protect passengers from the elements.
British diesel locomotives added to the fleet.
90 years after the original steam locomotives were purchased, Snowdon Mountain Railway took delivery of two diesel locomotives, Ninian and Yeti, costing £250,000 each. Equipped with turbocharged 320 horsepower Rolls Royce engines, they proved so efficient and reliable that two more were acquired, Peris and George, in 1991 and 1992. In 1995, three diesel-electric railcars were added to the fleet.
Hafod Eryri construction.
The Clough Williams-Ellis building of the 1930s was no longer able to withstand the challenging mountain conditions and became unfit for the needs of visitors to the summit. In 2002, the Snowdonia National Park Authority agreed to replace the summit building and station facilities with a new visitor centre. A competition to design a replacement building, commissioned by the Snowdonia National Park Authority, was won by Ray Hole Architects and construction began in 2006. Today’s £8.3m building, Hafod Eryri, was officially opened to the public by First Minister Rhodri Morgan in 2009.
New carriages put into service.
New railway carriages were put into service between 2013 and 2014. Four contemporary carriages built by Garmendale Engineering for use with diesel locomotives were introduced, along with two new heritage carriages – the Snowdon Lily and the Mountain Goat. Pushed by original Swiss steam locomotives and built on the original chassis and bogies, these heritage carriages are accurate reconstructions of the carriages used in 1896.
Snowdon Mountain Railway celebrated
its 120th anniversary.
The railway celebrated its 120th anniversary in 2016. A Victorian-themed weekend was held at Llanberis Station during September, with local Welsh food and drink stalls, steam traction engines, swing boats, Punch and Judy and a variety of entertainment throughout the three-day event.
Moel Siabod returns.
After almost 20 years out of service, steam locomotive No. 5 Moel Siabod returned to service after a comprehensive refit. The railway also employed its first-ever female fireman to work on board the steam locomotives.
Investing in a greener future.
In 2022, the railway’s coal-fired steam locomotives began operating on Ecoal, a smokeless manufactured coal, which significantly reduces smoke and emissions output. The eco fuel is specially designed and formulated to replace traditional smoky coals, providing a much cleaner burn while maintaining the power and performance required to give passengers the best experience on board the historical locomotives. The fuel is the cleanest choice, providing up to 80% less smoke and up to 33% less coal than traditional coals.