A steam railway charity in Porthmadog is celebrating thirty years of service.

August 1980 and the first train, staffed entirely by women, makes its way from Porthmadog towards the far end of the line. (Credit Tony Statham)

The Welsh Highland Heritage Railway opened on 2nd August 1980, and has been carrying passengers ever since on its short line to Pen-y-Mount.

Almost half a million people have travelled on the railway in the last three decades, while steam locomotives and vintage carriages have been carefully restored.  A new museum telling the story of Porthmadog and its narrow gauge railways is also being developed on the site.

Since the day it opened, the WHHR has been operated almost entirely by volunteers.  Stuart Weatherby from Bethel near Caernarfon, one of the longest serving volunteers, said: “the first train was very basic – just one diesel locomotive and a single carriage.  The ticket office was an old wooden shed and the car park was just about surfaced with rough gravel.  It’s amazing how much things have changed”.

The first train in 1980 was staffed entirely by women, from the driver and guard to the ticket inspector and signallers.  The tradition continues with volunteers like Jane Partridge, who will be in charge of the museum on the anniversary day.  She said: “the WHHR has always been a very friendly place to work.  It’s always good fun making sure that the families who visit have a good time in the engine sheds and on the miniature railway.  The anniversary day also happens to be my birthday!”

Martyn Owen, Chairman of the WHHR, said: “the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway is proud to be part of the community here in Porthmadog.

“Over the last three decades, we’ve developed a successful tourist attraction which we hope has helped bring additional visitor spending to the area.  Our new museum also helps tell people the story of Porthmadog and how the town achieved world-wide recognition as a slate port and a centre for narrow gauge railways.”

The WHHR will be celebrating the day with a special intensive train service using two steam locomotives, a contrast to the very basic first train thirty years previously.  A commemorative first day cover has been produced, and will be carried on the train during the day before going on sale.


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