Full Steam Ahead: Part 1 Welsh Railways


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Full Steam Ahead: Part 1

In April 2011 Wales's most ambitious new railway, the Welsh Highland Railway in Snowdonia, was completed by hundreds of volunteers who worked tirelessly for the love of steam.


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# It's a wonderful day for a ride on the train. #

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April 2011, and Wales' latest railway is almost complete.

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25 miles of a narrow gauge track

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running through the stunning scenery of Snowdonia.

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It's got to be one of the great mountain railways of the world.

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It certainly will be when it's finished.

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I like building railways, full stop.

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I'm looking forward very much to it.

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It'll be one of the nicest runs in Europe, I'm sure.

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Supported by royalty and donations from around the world,

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the Welsh Highland Railway has taken 15 years to build

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and cost almost £30 million.

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Whoa!

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Whoo-whoo!

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But it hasn't been an easy ride.

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Many have objected to what they see as the defiling of a quiet valley

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in the National Park.

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The railway's here and we can't do anything about it.

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We've got to work around the railway.

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It won't succeed. The one before it didn't.

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It's just toys for rich men.

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But for the volunteers who do it for the love of steam,

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it's a dream come true.

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This is not an enthusiasts' railway.

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This is a railway.

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Built to carry slates from the mountainous quarries of Snowdonia to the port of Porthmadog,

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the trains running on the original Welsh Highland were too small

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to operate successfully on the steep gradients between Dinas, Waunfawr,

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Rhyd Ddu, Beddgelert, Nantmor, Pont Coroesor and Porthmadog.

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The railway went into receivership in 1927 and closed in 1937.

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Some, though, like retired local farmer John Pritchard,

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still remember it in its heyday.

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I remember it being built when I was very, very young in the first place,

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from Rhyd Ddu right through to Porthmadog.

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They used to come up from the school at Beddgelert

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for a weekend with my granny up the road there on...

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I think it was the 3:00pm train.

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Dropped at the little station and walked down to the farm.

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I remember very well Miriam Roberts, she was about my age,

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and she'd dress up in a Welsh costume

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and she sold little souvenirs in the station in Beddgelert.

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During the Second World War,

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the railway was stripped of sleepers and tracks

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as metal of any kind was a valuable commodity in the war effort.

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The track bed was never sold off, but remained an entity,

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incorporated into fields, farms and footpaths.

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But the dream of resurrecting the railway held fast

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and in 1996, after years of local controversy

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and thanks to the personal intervention of Transport Minister John Prescott,

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work finally began in Caernarfon.

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Welcome to the launch of the Welsh Highland Railway project.

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We're delighted to see you all.

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Launching the construction of the railway

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is something we've planned for for many years.

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The two men closely associated with the planning

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and execution of the project have become known as the two Mikes.

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Mike Hart runs a manufacturing business in Yorkshire.

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Mike Schumann is a successful businessman from Norfolk.

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I like building railways, full stop.

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This is a railway, which has been crying out to be rebuilt for years.

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But the Welsh Highland Railway could never have been rebuilt

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without its thousands of supporters and hundreds of volunteers.

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People like Tony Murphy from Caernarfon.

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It's just the enjoyment of coming out. The fresh air.

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It's totally different from work.

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We've got a mixture of people here.

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The computer men, ex bank managers.

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A good gang of lads.

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What more do you want?

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I'm a gas engineer with British Gas.

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I haven't done any other job. That's where I've been all my working life.

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So to get out and do something different is fantastic.

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It was Thomas the Tank weekend and we'd gone with the boys.

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There was a Welsh Highland caravan with a big banner, WHRS.

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So he went and joined up.

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He said he was going on a weekend, so I said,

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"You're going with your WHRS?" And it stuck!

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They go on trips and that, which he loves.

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-It's nice and quiet...

-Get rid of me, yeah?.

-Yes.

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Other volunteers have spent years working here in Boston Lodge Works.

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This is the engineering heart of Ffestiniog Railway

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where steam engines and railway carriages are built and maintained

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under the beady eye of former speed cop, Tony Williams.

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I had a lot of interest in the proposal to open the railway

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from Porthmadog to Caernarfon or Caernarfon to Porthmadog.

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and the fact they were looking to purchase steam locomotives

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in South Africa to operate on the railway.

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When the opportunity came, I and a few others went out to see

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what we had agreed to buy and had been renovated in South Africa.

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It was a very interesting experience!

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The new steam railway needed steam engines and these were found

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in Port Shepstone on South Africa's east coast.

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The Beyer-Garratt locomotives that worked the Banana Express line

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were probably the only ones in the world still capable of working

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the steep and difficult terrain of North Wales.

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We had a person who worked here, Evan Davies,

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who was due to take charge of the locomotives when they arrived,

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he was out there gaining experience.

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We're greasing up. We've got to grease every day.

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These parts, they move so much,

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that they'll wear if you don't grease them.

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For the Welsh enthusiasts who made the trip to South Africa,

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seeing steam locomotives on a working railway was a boy's own dream.

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Before I forget, they're all wearing there...

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Evan Davies' tutor on the Alfred County Railway

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was Afrikaans train driver, George Van Niekerk.

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That you can do with grease.

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It's a great sense of achievement that we planned so long ago

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to bring these engines back for the Welsh Highland Railway.

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It's exciting. We're about to set off with these machines

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up a railway, which has not had a passenger train for quite a number of years.

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You know... It's great.

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It's in my heart and it's a big day for us today.

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By the time they've finished sorting the engines out

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and the tank of water, because they don't carry enough water,

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get all that sorted out and the train sorted out.

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I'm not sure how many but there's a lot of empty wagons going up and the carriages behind,

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but once we get all that on we'll be going up to the Banana Express Station

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to pick up all the travel from the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway.

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I remember Evan in the cab of the locomotive enjoying himself with a big smile on his face.

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That's never disappeared.

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Unfortunately, he always had a cigarette that went with his smile.

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The thing in Africa was they'd been provided with a little swing-out seat

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so the driver was quite comfortable sitting out,

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feet dangling over the scrub.

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We were just able to reach the break with one hand

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and the regulator with the other. It was the cool breeze.

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It's a huge undertaking to track down and transport two locomotives

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from the South African veldt to the mountains of Wales

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at a cost of well over £200,000.

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And to everyone involved it's an amazing moment and a rebirth of their dream.

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Welcome to Alfred County Railway.

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Our own staff, John and Evan, have been here and have mucked in

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and were working late yesterday to make sure that our engine could go on your train.

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Huw and Mike have provided the money to pay for the locomotives to be rebuilt.

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Mike, perhaps you would like to receive a small memento.

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Loco number 143.

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And, Huw, locomotive number 138.

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Here's a small token of my appreciation to my tutor

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for putting up with me.

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It's that. That's my engine in Ffestiniog Railway.

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David Lloyd George.

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The special charter in South Africa was a huge success

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but, sadly, for Evan Davies, it was to be his last involvement with the railway.

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Within months of returning home, he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

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Evan is missed, very much so.

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When he passed away, the train passed the cemetery

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and the train slowed and made a salute with the whistle.

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A very moving experience.

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I never thought I'd be sitting here today

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with responsibility for the maintenance of the rolling stock

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on both the Welsh Highland and the Ffestiniog Railway.

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Perhaps it's just as well we don't know what's going to happen.

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After nine months at sea, the South African Beyer-Garratts

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finally arrived in the UK, ready for restoration work to begin.

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It would be several more months before they reached the Welsh Highland Railway depot.

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It's the gala weekend of the Ffestiniog Railway.

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It's an event we hold every two years or so.

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It gives people a chance to see aspects of the railway they wouldn't normally see.

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This year, the main attraction are the scarlet locomotives from South Africa.

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We've got the red one, which is in the condition it was in in Africa

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and the green one has been refurbished.

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With each step in the renovation dependant on securing new funds,

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the track began to take shape, winding down from Caernarfon, through Dinas,

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to the foot of Snowdon at Rhyd Ddu, the highest point of the track at 650ft above sea level.

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I'd been coming up here from Llanelli, 129 miles,

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and I don't get anything from them.

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It's such a thrill, I've been waiting for this to happen for about three years.

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It's nice to see it getting there.

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I live in Oregon. I've worked there for the last 20 years

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building the light rail system there.

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Now I've retired I have time to come back and work on this.

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The more volunteers we have, it's another way of finding match-funding

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because every hour of volunteer work has a value placed on it

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and that enables the Millennium Commission to release cash to us.

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The volunteers are necessary and, hopefully, we can attract them

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as we do on Ffestiniog

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by giving them self-fulfilment in the jobs they do.

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My name's Helen Streeves and I've come up with my husband,

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who is a regular supporter of the railway.

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We come up every... whenever we can, really.

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It's very male orientated. We have good fun though.

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Persuading her to come more often is the problem.

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It's nice to get away from Swindon, really.

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One, two, three.. come on!

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The Black Hand Gang came about when everybody was getting black finger marks everywhere.

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Of course, "This Black Hand Gang have been here again, like."

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There were finger marks everywhere on the walls.

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It's something that's stuck - it's the North Wales gang.

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The other gang is the rest of the world gang - a miserable lot.

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Our gang has to re-do what the rest of the world gang has done because they rush the job.

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They don't even stop for a "panned"!

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By 2003, the railway had reached the halfway mark.

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But with work at a crucial stage, the Railway Inspectorate have not yet given permission

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for Ffestiniog to run passenger services to Rhyd Ddu. But they made one exception.

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It's a very special day today.

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We have the Prince of Wales arriving in an hour's time.

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He's going to ride on the section between Waunfawr and Rhyd Ddu.

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This train we've got today is a 1920s train, really.

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It's quite appropriate because it would have been typical

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of the trains that started running in 1922-1923

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when the Welsh Highland was first opened right through.

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It's named after the then Prince of Wales

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in 1864.

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He was later King Edward VII.

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It's a great honour that the Prince of Wales

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has asked to visit the railway and see what we've been doing for so many years.

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It's doubly so that he's requested to ride in the train part of the journey

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and then join us on the engine from Snowdon Ranger to Rhyd Ddu.

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Hopefully, he'll want to drive the engine himself and I look forward to it.

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They're not difficult to drive. Perhaps a little bit of hype regarding it.

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It's just an experience. I'm sure he's more than capable of driving the engine.

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One or two of us were selected to stand at the front.

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He shook hands with me personally and other prominent members of the track gang as well.

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We had these badges made up especially.

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We're called the Black Hand Gang because we get a lot of grease

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on our fingers when we're assembling the track panels.

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Not today. I cleaned my fingernails so it's all nice and clean now.

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The privileges of being the Prince of Wales.

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Prince Charles had let it be known that he would like to drive the loco on this historic day.

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At Snowdon Ranger halt, Mike Hart was on hand with a clean overall.

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APPLAUSE

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It was very enjoyable for me. He was an excellent driver.

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I was very impressed with the skills he has.

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In fact, it might be worthwhile writing to St James' Palace and ask if he'd like to volunteer.

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Since 1990, when the project kicked off,

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this is the day when we achieve the halfway point in the reconstruction.

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We can say, we've done that, we've built 20km of railway,

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only another 20km to go.

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# It's a wonderful day

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# It's a wonderful day for a ride on the train. #

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Within a few days, and with the Railway Inspectorate now on side,

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passenger trains were allowed to run as far as Rhyd Ddu, generating much-needed cash.

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Today has been an excellent day so far, and we're only halfway through.

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I think we're going to make piles and piles of money. I hope we are anyway.

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But not everyone was happy to see the railway reinstated.

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Many locals still oppose the railway on environmental grounds.

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The most important thing

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is that it's taken a really quiet, secluded valley in Snowdonia

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in a National Park where we're supposed to have quiet enjoyment of the countryside

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and it's intruded with noise and bustle and things.

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It's really been very difficult for us as a farm here.

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It's divided our farm into two and made it very difficult

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to gather sheep and to deal with the sheep.

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How many people were tourists on there?

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It was all railway people again, wasn't it?

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They owe them a fortune in free tickets.

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We've lost, because of this, good walking routes,

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it's damaged wildlife, it's lost amenities.

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This is going to be the seventh...

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..tourist railway in the National Park.

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It won't succeed. The one before it went bankrupt.

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This money from the Lottery, the Millennium Fund,

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has been given to something, which is just toys for rich men.

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Despite all the opposition and legal wrangling, work continued,

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thanks, in part, to Welsh and European grants,

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gifts from supporters and the effort of volunteers.

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By 2005, track laying had progressed beyond Rhyd Ddu

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and special excursions were organised to keep the work in the public eye.

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It was an opportunity for Paul Lewin,

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Ffestiniog Railway's newly-appointed general manager, to show off his driving skills.

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On my days off, I can put my overalls on and drive this lovely steam engine.

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That is just great. It's the bonus.

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But what driving means is you get to meet people.

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Up here, this tells you that the breaks are off.

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I'm very proud of this railway and what those volunteers have achieved

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in building the railway.

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It's great to have an opportunity to show it to people.

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For important passengers like John Pritchard,

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the Black Hand Gang's unofficial mascot,

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it's a chance to ride the line again.

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I'm 90 years of age so I'm still looking forward.

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I've even drove it a little bit, under instruction, of course, from the experts.

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I'm looking forward very much to it.

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Very much.

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It'll be one of the nicest runs in Europe, I'm sure.

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John Pritchard's neighbours are not so enthusiastic about the project.

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Hill farmers John and Gareth Owen are facing the biggest upheaval of their lives.

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The bottom land will be divided into at least seven different

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parcels of land which will create a lot of problems for us.

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Negotiations have proved, up to now, difficult...

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..as regards to various aspects of ownership

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and rights of way and one thing and another.

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I hope that at the end of the day

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we come to a satisfactory conclusion.

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The close-knit gang of volunteers, under the leadership of Dafydd Thomas,

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are embarking on another weekend of laying track.

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The camaraderie has grown because the gang have been together for the last 15 years.

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People have come and gone, but that core of people has been there

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and we've made friends for life.

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It's a form of relaxation.

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People sometimes say, why do you work for nothing for the railway?

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I say to them, why do you organise a football team? This is what we do.

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On Cwm Cloch Farm on the outskirts of Beddgelert

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lies one of the most challenging sections of track.

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John Owen and his wife, Sian, were opposed to reinstating the railway,

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fearing the disruption it would bring.

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That's the problem we get.

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See that sheep? There could be eight or ten of them.

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Dafydd Thomas attempts to build bridges with Sian Owen and her family.

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Today I've taken Mrs Owen Cwm Cloch and her grandchildren on the train for a short trip up the line

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and I think it pays dividends ten-folds afterwards.

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We've lived here 36 years and only last summer we walked through it for the first time.

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It's no good barging in and saying, we're going to build this railway.

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We've got to work with them. That's the best way to do it.

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Tell them what we're going to do.

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Thank you!

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Gobeithio 'welwn ni chi eto cyn bo hir!

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This area, Cwm Cloch, is a very unusual bit of railway

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with a complete spiral.

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I'm not sure what the drop is in terms of metres

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but it's steep all the way down.

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This is one bit in particular I've been looking forward to working on.

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One, two, three.

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That's all right. It's still creeping back a little bit.

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Caernarfon gas fitter Tony Murphy is also here.

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Each length of track is 18 metres or 60 foot.

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There's 24 sleepers per length.

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On a good day we'd get six lengths down.

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So, 360 foot of track down on a good day, you know?

0:23:130:23:17

It is hard work but it's only as hard as you want it to be.

0:23:200:23:25

SCREAMING

0:23:260:23:28

Damn it!

0:23:280:23:30

If you don't want to do hard work, you don't have to.

0:23:300:23:33

That's the beauty of being a volunteer.

0:23:330:23:36

I came across this railway when I moved to the area

0:23:360:23:40

in the early 1970s.

0:23:400:23:42

Like many of the other people,

0:23:420:23:44

it seemed too good a dream to pass up on,

0:23:440:23:48

the thought of putting it back,

0:23:480:23:50

especially when other railways are being closed left, right and centre.

0:23:500:23:54

As long as the railway don't charge me,

0:23:540:23:56

I'll be one of the first to go on it.

0:23:560:23:59

For many enthusiasts, seeing the Beyer-Garratts working the S-bends

0:23:590:24:03

and the steep gradients through Cwm Cloch Farm

0:24:030:24:06

was always going to be special.

0:24:060:24:08

But, for many, the real excitement would be the completion of the track

0:24:080:24:12

through Beddgelert and the restored Aberglaslyn Pass.

0:24:120:24:17

This is a historic day in the story of the Welsh Highland Railway.

0:24:170:24:22

For the first time in over 70 years, trains are running again

0:24:220:24:27

through the world famous Aberglaslyn Pass.

0:24:270:24:30

On board, some very generous supporters.

0:24:300:24:34

Something like £10,000 is what I've put in to this railway.

0:24:340:24:39

I think it's been well worth the money both for my own personal point of view,

0:24:390:24:43

but also I think for the value it'll bring to the area.

0:24:430:24:46

I remember many years ago when I was a student here in Bangor,

0:24:460:24:52

walking along through the tunnels in the Aberglaslyn Pass,

0:24:520:24:56

and I just said to myself, wouldn't it be wonderful if one day we have a train through here.

0:24:560:25:03

For the first time, it's an experience.

0:25:030:25:05

The noise, because the engine is working quite hard climbing the hill,

0:25:050:25:09

is quite deafening.

0:25:090:25:11

You just burst out of this dark hole into this beautiful bright sunlight

0:25:150:25:20

and it's one of the best views in the world.

0:25:200:25:23

It's just stunning. It really is stunning.

0:25:230:25:26

It's a great thrill for me.

0:25:260:25:27

I love seeing steam locomotives in operation, I have to admit.

0:25:270:25:31

In that respect, perhaps I've never grown up.

0:25:310:25:34

But it's also a great thrill to see this wonderful new resource

0:25:340:25:38

for Snowdonia coming into operation.

0:25:380:25:40

We'll be able to take people in a green,

0:25:470:25:49

environmentally sustainable way

0:25:490:25:51

through one of the most stunning landscapes in the world.

0:25:510:25:56

I couldn't tell you when I started being interested in steam locomotives

0:25:560:26:00

but I can claim to be a trainspotter while still at infants school.

0:26:000:26:04

Steam railway is Wales' gift to the world.

0:26:040:26:10

Railways such as this were devised in Gwynedd in the 1860s

0:26:100:26:14

and they became a model that was followed all over the world.

0:26:140:26:18

They were a cut-price way of opening up parts of the world

0:26:180:26:22

that couldn't afford a mainline railway but needed the means

0:26:220:26:26

to export their goods or move their people around.

0:26:260:26:30

So you find railways based on this one in India, China, Mexico,

0:26:300:26:35

all over the place.

0:26:350:26:37

It's made me think of my school days when I used to go on the train

0:26:400:26:46

from Beddgelert to the farm to see my granny.

0:26:460:26:50

I enjoyed it. I had some very good photos of the river.

0:26:530:26:58

With the railway nearing completion, and with only four miles to go,

0:26:590:27:04

93-year-old John Pritchard had set his heart

0:27:040:27:07

on seeing the project through to the end.

0:27:070:27:09

But it was not to be.

0:27:090:27:11

For the Black Hand Gang, the death of their unofficial mascot

0:27:110:27:16

remains hard to take.

0:27:160:27:18

John Pritchard was quite a guy really.

0:27:180:27:22

He lived and died on a small farm just outside Beddgelert.

0:27:220:27:28

It was an inspiration to some of the gang, I suppose,

0:27:280:27:31

that this man in his 90s was taking an interest

0:27:310:27:34

in the railway and our achievements.

0:27:340:27:36

It was great talking to somebody actually,

0:27:360:27:40

who had been on this railway originally.

0:27:400:27:45

It can only be described as a tragedy

0:27:450:27:47

that God didn't give him enough time to see the thing through.

0:27:470:27:51

But he's watching from up there. I'm sure he is.

0:27:510:27:54

Next time in Full Steam Ahead, the work continues in all weathers

0:28:050:28:10

when the railway's very own steam Santa has to cool things down among his little helpers.

0:28:100:28:15

Come and get me if you think you can!

0:28:150:28:18

And things like this happen as well!

0:28:180:28:21

Completion draws nearer as a national celebrity is invited

0:28:210:28:25

to declare the railway open.

0:28:250:28:27

But there's sadness too for members of the Black Hand Gang

0:28:270:28:31

as they contemplate what lies ahead.

0:28:310:28:33

It's going to be strange.

0:28:330:28:35

I'm a little bit tearful now.

0:28:360:28:39

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:28:470:28:49

E-mail [email protected]

0:28:520:28:54

In April 2011 Wales's newest and most ambitious railway - the Welsh Highland Railway in Snowdonia - was completed. For the many hundreds of volunteers who worked tirelessly for little more than the love of steam, it was a dream come true.

Full Steam Ahead tells the story of this challenging and, at times, controversial project. Volunteers, benefactors and a vast collection of friends and supporters completed the remarkable feat of turning a run-down old industrial railway into one of the modern wonders of Wales.