The Bala Lake
Railway Trust

Preserving our past to enrich our future

The Bala Lake Railway Trust is raising £3.5 million as
part of the Red Dragon Project to construct the
extension of the Bala Lake Railway to Bala Town Station

Help us now by joining the Red Dragon Appeal

An Introduction from Julian Birley B.E.M.

Chairman, Bala Lake Railway Trust

The latest recorded figures from the Heritage Railway Association state that heritage railways:

  • generated £106 million in revenue
  • injected back £286 million into local communities through shops, cafes, hotels etc
  • carried 7.7 million passengers
  • has been responsible for the creation of in excess of 300,000 local jobs in associated businesses since 2010

The Bala Lake Railway is exceeding growth expectations and showing a sustainable increase of:

  • 19% in revenue, 3% ahead of the trending statistics
  • 12% in passengers, 4% ahead of trending statistics
  • 38% in retail sales and catering

Largely based in rural regions, these railways are becoming a lifeline for people in areas of high unemployment and in need of regeneration. I draw a comparison from the North Norfolk Railway in East Anglia, where I was a Director for over 20 years and also served as Chairman. The NNR is a 5½-mile standard gauge railway on the coast of the North Sea. In high season it employs 50 staff and carries 170,000 passengers annually. A recent survey carried out by the East of England Tourist Authority announced that apart from the staff that it employs, there are 600 jobs dependent on the railway's existence. It is a considered fact nationally that for every £1 spent on the railway, £2.70 is spent locally in the community. With an annual turnover of £3million the NNR contributes nearly £8million annually to the regional economy. Of particular note is that the nearest place of dense population is Norwich, which is an hour's drive or rail journey away. 95% of visitors are tourists, either on holiday or day trippers and only 5% are railway enthusiasts.

The Bala Lake Railway is a 4½-mile narrow gauge railway, established over 40 years ago on a former Great Western Railway track bed. The visitors are almost all entirely tourists and it is one of the thirteen narrow gauge railways of Wales. Deep in the heart of the Snowdonia National Park from its start point at Llanuwchllyn, the line runs parallel to Bala Lake and descends to almost lake level offering the visitor spectacular views of the lake itself and the lush surrounding pasture and woodlands that leads the eye to the stunning vista of mountains Arenig Fawr, Aran Benllyn and Aran Fawddwy. Picnic sites at Llangower provide the perfect spot for a break in the journey on a summer's day for a picnic on the foreshore.

The line currently terminates at Pen y Bont, a remote terminus some 1,200m from the town itself. With limited parking, a poor visible profile and no amenities, passengers rarely venture into Bala Town and visitors to Bala Town are largely unaware of the railway's existence.

The Red Dragon Project, under the auspices of the Bala Lake Railway Trust, has been established to build a £3.5 million extension into the town of Bala and fulfil the potential of one of Wales' most scenically beautiful railways.
Quarry Hunslet "Alice" hauls a rake of restored slate waggons on the Bala Lake Railway.

Introducing the Bala Lake Railway

The little railway with the big ideas!

The current Bala Lake Railway is built on a section of the former standard gauge GWR Ruabon - Barmouth Junction route and opened in August 1868. The line joined the Corwen & Bala Railway at Bala Junction, and with the Cambrian Railways at Dolgellau. The line was operated by the Great Western (GWR), which later absorbed it in 1877. In 1896, the GWR enlarged Llanuwchllyn station, with an extended building and a new signal box. A long passing loop and second platform were also added.

The Beeching cuts determined that passenger services through Bala ceased on Monday 18th January 1965, and the line from Llangollen to Barmouth was closed. From that time, the line was gradually run down and other facilities rationalised. Goods traffic finally ceased on the 1st January 1968, when the Pontcysyllte branch was closed. However, through rail services had effectively ceased in December 1964 when the last Mail Train from Chester used the line.

The rebirth of the line as a narrow gauge railway came when a local engineer, George Barnes, with the help of the late Tom Jones CBE, then Chairman of Merioneth County Council's Finance Committee, saw the potential of the lakeside section for both local and tourist traffic. The new company, Rheilffordd Llyn Tegid Ltd (Bala Lake Railway Ltd) became the first company to be registered in the Welsh language, with operations beginning in 1972.

Enlisting help from local ex-BR staff, they started to rebuild the railway as a 2ft gauge line. This was to utilise the mass of equipment that had become available from numerous slate quarries in North Wales that had abandoned steam and railway operations in favour of machines and road transport. The first train consisted of two specially made open carriages and a small industrial diesel. From these humble beginnings, the line and rolling stock collection grew to the railway being the proud custodians of the largest collection of original Quarry Hunslet locomotives built for the slate industry of North Wales. Construction of the Bala Town extension will complete George's vision for the railway.
Llanuwchllyn station as it was Great Western days.
The existing 4½ mile route of the Bala Lake Railway from Llanuwchllyn to Bala (Pen-y-Bont) and the proposed extension to Bala Town.

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