Supported by royalty and donations from around the world, the new Welsh Highland Railway spans 25 miles of narrow-gauge track through the stunning scenery of Snowdonia.
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# It's a wonderful day
# It's a wonderful day For a ride on the train. #
April 2011, and Wales' latest railway is almost complete.
25 miles of a narrow gauge track,
running through the stunning scenery of Snowdonia.
It's got to be one of the great mountain railways of the world.
And it certainly will be when it's finished.
I like building railways. Full stop.
Well, I'm looking forward very, very much to it.
It'll be one of the nicest runs in Europe, I'm sure.
Supported by royalty, and donations from around the world,
the Welsh Highland Railway has taken 15 years to build
and cost almost £30 million.
IMITATES STEAM ENGINE
But it hasn't been an easy ride.
Many have objected to what they see as the defiling of
a quiet valley in the national park.
The railway's here and we can't do anything about it.
We've just got to work around the railway.
It won't succeed. The one before it didn't.
It's just toys for rich men.
But for the volunteers who do it for the love of steam,
it's a dream come true.
This is not an enthusiasts' railway.
This is a railway.
For the past ten years, the Welsh Highland Railway has been
managed by an unflappable Leicestershire man.
But as the day of the opening ceremony draws closer,
even he can't contain his excitement.
I better go. Ever so sorry. Yeah, thank you. Bye-bye.
I'm Paul Lewin and I'm the general manager of the Ffestiniog and
Welsh Highland Railways and I'm just on my way to work this morning.
I live in the railway station at Minffordd.
I drive two miles into Porthmadog,
following the route of the railway as I go.
It's particularly nice going down here because of the wonderful
view out across to Porthmadog and across the Cob.
Before I came to the Ffestiniog Railway, I was actually
working for a company on a global IT project based in Switzerland.
So it was a big project management job.
But at the same time as that,
my hobby, of course, has always been working with railways.
So this job gave me the opportunity to bring together the hobby
and the professional career in one place.
# Every morning when I wake Dear Lord, a little prayer I make
# Oh, please do keep thy lovely eye On all poor creatures born to die. #
Another enthusiast whose life has been profoundly affected by the railway
is Paul Hoskins, or Tom Jones, as he's known to his fellow volunteers.
Paul has been giving up his weekends to work on the Welsh Highland for 15 years, whatever the weather.
Well, I try to come up here every other weekend
but it doesn't always work out like that.
I usually come this way.
Even if I've got plenty of time, I normally come up around here.
Paul Hoskins is a founder member of the volunteer works party
known to everyone as the Black Hand Gang.
# Pussycat, pussycat, I love you
# Yes, I do. #
I think there's only, out of the original gang,
which I'd like to include myself in obviously,
I think there may be about six or seven of us left.
I've been coming up here from Llanelli, 129 miles.
And I don't get anything from them!
I wouldn't mind something towards the expenses from the hierarchy,
shall I say, but I'll be in a box a long time before that happens.
It's just a good craic.
This is the Black Hand Gang, which are the local team.
It's really a lot of enthusiasts involved with the whole thing.
And it's great to see such teamwork.
When we have visitors, we usually bring them for a ride on the train
and it does feel special because you've been involved with it.
So, yeah, it is great.
I'm a good gofer, and setting things up for them.
But obviously I'm not an engineer
and I wouldn't like to fiddle about with the tracks myself.
But there's lots of other things that you can do.
The Black Hand Gang were not the only ones who helped to rebuild the railway.
Another group, the Rest of the World Gang, have spent alternate weekends laying track.
The old line ran between Dinas, through Waunfawr, Rhyd Ddu,
Beddgelert, Nantmor, Pont Croesor and Porthmadog.
It was originally built to carry slate.
Rebuilding the derelict line has been a dream shared by many
since work began in 1996.
And it's not just the volunteers who are enthusiastic about
this huge project finally reaching its conclusion.
How do you measure enthusiasts? I was very enthusiastic, shall we say that?
I was very enthusiastic, indeed.
I'd led projects to overhaul locomotives,
I'd been a director of a supporting society,
and I spent an inordinate amount of cash getting here
so that I could spend weekends working on the trains.
My father and his father before him liked to spend their spare time
building fairly large-scale model steam locomotives.
So, even when I was a kid,
there were always steam engines around the garden.
I got the job of driving them and running them in.
So, you know, I've been driving locos since I was about five years old.
And, for many volunteers, driving, or being carried by a steam or
diesel train, is a huge part of working on a narrow gauge railway.
Do you know, I could still be in bed with a gorgeous blonde now?
But here I am.
We're heading down to Corlan,
which is just on the other side of the Bryn y Felin road bridge.
Today, the works party head off from Rhyd Ddu which,
at 650 feet above sea level, is the highest point on the railway.
Two teas, one coffee, sir.
We have the North Wales gang in the back.
There's quite a crew of them.
Well, still on the train now.
-Where's she going?
-Nowhere. She's taking two inches off the top.
You've got to have something to do.
There's only so much decorating you can do in a house.
And then the wife gets fed up with you so you get thrown out.
So that's what I do.
Every hour of volunteer labour has enabled the railway to
match fund and attract grant money.
The value of the work done by gangs such as this one has been enormous.
We sort of evolved and honed our skills,
laying the track down to Caernarfon.
And, subsequently, then going up towards Waunfawr and Rhyd Ddu
and now all the way through to Port.
And I think that's our achievement,
that over the period of the last 13/14 years,
we've laid this line from Caernarfon through to Porthmadog,
90 percent of it done by volunteers.
I've known Dafydd Thomas now for over 40 years.
He's just had two major operations on his knees.
And he has worked hard on his physiotherapy,
so he can get back to what he loves, which is this.
And, through his dedication to this thing,
Dafydd Thomas has become the chairman or,
as we know him, Ogo. O-G-O.
O Great One.
And Ogo's in charge.
Those that are having their tea break, can have their tea break.
And the rest of you can get these tools off.
The generator we'd normally use has been stolen by naughty boys
when it was stored at Dinas.
So we have to use the old one and its output isn't very good.
It takes a month to boil a kettle of water.
And all these guys here are complaining that their tea's not ready for dinner
so I'm going to be in the bad books, yet again!
But never mind!
I don't know why I come here, you know.
I love trains. I have done since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.
My father was a quarryman in Bethesda
and he used to come home on the Penrhyn Railway.
And we used to put Blanche and Linda to bed in the sheds.
And then I would go home on the back of my father's moped,
back to where we lived.
And I think some of that steam got stuck in my blood.
And it's still there now.
Working on the railway has become a central part of all their lives.
But for Dafydd, it's been a lifesaver.
Until two and a half years ago,
I was the director of Theatr Gwynedd in Bangor.
Unfortunately the theatre was closed and I was made redundant.
You felt bitter towards the end, you know.
And to me personally, it was...
I did try for other jobs but, at the time, I was 60 years of age.
Who wants to take on a 60-year-old person that's
worked in the theatre for over 30 years?
I'll have to go up out of the way.
You can take this one, yeah?
Being involved with the railway was a great help to me.
I was able to sort of throw myself into projects there.
And it took my mind off it.
It was an alternative way of filling my day, if you like.
For Paul Hoskins also, the railway has been a source of strength
through difficult times of his own.
It was confirmed back in November 2009 I had prostate cancer.
And I started having radiotherapy for it.
Actually I fared very well.
I mean, I didn't feel tired or anything.
I was able to do lots of things after.
It's sort of a funny thing, cancer.
I'm not saying it will ever come back.
Touch wood, I hope it never will.
You know, it did scare me.
But the family, oh, I'd say it scared them quite a bit.
But me, I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.
I just had to carry on.
Paul has been a lucky man to realise his dream.
But, due to work commitments in Llanelli,
he was unable to be at Caernarfon on a truly historic day.
A day organised to thank the volunteers
and supporters who have given so generously of their time and money.
The chance to be the first-ever passengers on
the completely restored track.
Yet another momentous day for the Welsh Highland Railway.
But this one is a bit special, isn't it?
Going all the way to Porthmadog on a Welsh Highland train from Caernarfon.
And, when you look back at the beginning of the project,
there was the poster with a picture of a train in the Aberglaslyn Pass,
hauled by a red Beyer-Garratt steam engine. And guess what?
We're on a train hauled by a red Beyer-Garrett steam engine
that's going to take us all the way to Porthmadog.
So, yeah, a very special day.
We live in Nottinghamshire, in a little village close to the Derbyshire border.
And we've come here today because we're sponsors
of the West Highland Railway and, as we're sponsors, we're able to
come on this first trip which is rather exciting, really!
I've been a supporter since I was in school, really.
And it was one of my favourite lost causes.
To walk the track down the Glaslyn Gorge and through the tunnels,
through the Nantmor tunnel, and try and visualise the trains there,
without ever actually dreaming that it would ever happen.
I've been volunteering in the Black Hand Gang and contributing.
Ten years we've been striving.
Bit of a Speedy Gonzalez.
Oh, he was a speed type person!
All the people you see around us here
have all been involved in some way or other.
Whether they've come along and wielded a shovel or sent a cheque,
it's all helped to get where we are today.
You know, it's been done.
When those trains hauled into Porthmadog
and those people came out waving flags and cheering...
Well, I'd never seen anything like it in my life.
Ten years ago, "We don't want trains in our streets.
"We don't want these dirty things going through our countryside."
Forgot about it all now,
the local people.
A truly remarkable sight, to see a huge steam train running along and
across the High Street in Porthmadog for the first time in decades.
You never thought for one moment that all those people in Porthmadog
would be there just to say thank you in a way.
Well, it brought a lump to my throat.
It brought a tear to my eye, I think.
For Tony Williams, who drove the first ever Beyer-Garratt loco
on the railway in Wales, it's a proud moment.
I'm a very lucky man and if I don't have to drive again, it'll be sad.
But there we are, I've achieved something.
Personally, it's very much a dream come true.
Because there was a time, last Christmas,
when I didn't think I'd ever see it done.
So today it's been very special and I am very lucky.
Rebuilding the line has meant that old stretches of derelict track,
that had been absorbed into fields and farms, have been dug out and
opened up again, altering not just the countryside but a way of life.
This is Cwm Clych farm and this is where my husband
and his father are farming.
We've got two young daughters and, as you can see,
the railway's cutting through the farm three times.
The railway, really, it can affect the farm on a daily basis,
to be honest with you.
If my husband is gathering on the mountain, it can be very
difficult bringing the sheep down to the bottom fields here.
Before the railway, there was only two of them gathering.
But, at the moment, because we've got an open crossing here,
it takes about four, five people to bring them down,
so that can be very difficult.
The girls, they're seven and five.
It's an adventure for them, isn't it?
You know, that the train is passing the house.
Every time they see the train, they come out, they wave
and people on the train wave back, so it's nice for them.
But, as I say, at the end of the day we can't do anything about it.
We've just got to work together and hope for the best.
Good morning, welcome to Santa HQ.
It looks very cold outside.
-I can see that from your goosepimples, Martin!
-Raring to go?
-Raring to go!
Let's get elfing!
Remembering elf and safety, of course.
Take that man out and shoot him.
The Black Hand Gang are a versatile lot
and don't just work on the track bed.
For the actors and exhibitionists amongst them,
Christmas is an opportunity to get into the festive spirit.
My name's Tony Murphy and I do it for the fun of it.
And to see the sparkle in those little eyes is wonderful.
This is our tenth anniversary this year.
Those ten years have gone quick, I tell you.
It's an hour and a half round trip, which is just right.
If it was any longer, the little ones would get fed up, I think.
Oh, it's going very well.
Speak for yourself, fatty.
Ho-ho-ho! He's a miserable elf, that one, isn't he?
We've got seven minutes per coach.
Sometimes we have to slow the engine down.
If we're not on the second coach by Dinas, we're in trouble.
-Ready, Santa! Wheeeee!
-Hwnna i Tomos?
What do you want from Santa for Christmas?
-Tell him, "Sausages, Santa."
-He doesn't want sausages!
Lego! Ho-ho-ho! I love Lego!
In deepest winter, trains seldom run between Caernarfon and Porthmadog,
as conditions are too icy and passengers few and far between.
At £10 a head though, these Santa trains are a good source
of income for the railway and fun to boot.
Brilliant fun! Your own kids are grown up
and you lose that little bit of magic at Christmas.
Oof! And things like this happen, as well!
All good, clean fun.
I'm having such a good time.
I've had a direct hit on my head
so I've been trying to get my own back on him.
Come and get me if you think you can!
I've got to watch. He's stood up there.
We nearly missed the train, coming across Anglesey in the snow.
But we got here. And they're really enjoying it, it's wonderful.
We've done it once before.
Me, the in-laws, my wife and my two kids
drove about four or five hours from RAF Mildenhall.
Coming out here just to enjoy the snow, the beautiful scenery.
We don't see a lot of landscape like this in California.
Best thing ever, all year round.
I can't wait till next Christmas to come round and do it again.
# We wish you a Merry Christmas
# We wish you a Merry Christmas
# And a happy New Year!
# Good tidings we bring To you and your King
# We wish you a Merry Christmas And a happy New Year! #
Nadolig llawen, Merry Christmas, everybody!
We love Christmas!
Just four months later, and at the Ffestiniog Railway
headquarters in Porthmadog, last-minute preparations
are under way for the formal opening of the Welsh Highland line.
OK, thank you.
-Could you pop in and...
For Paul Lewin, his PA Pauline Holloway, and their
65 full-time staff, this is the culmination of years of hard work.
I used to volunteer here which is how I started here. That was fun.
I still do some volunteering.
If Paul's out on the locomotive or my husband is,
then I'll go and clean the locos some mornings, don't I?
And I love that!
The formal opening by a world-famous celebrity has
been in the calendar for years.
The reason it's happening on the 20th April is that it's the
175th anniversary of the Ffestiniog Railway opening, back in 1836.
So it's a major day in our calendar.
As you can see, there's a photograph on the table here.
We'll be unveiling this plaque which has been made of
Blaenau Ffestiniog slate and, yesterday, it was transported
from Blaenau Ffestiniog down to Porthmadog by train.
And that's the plaque that we'll be having
unveiled by Peter Waterman on the actual day.
Down at Harbour Station, it's all hands on deck.
There's still a lot to do.
I'm busy trying to get ready for the event at the weekend.
So I've got lots of other things to do, as well.
Clare Britton is now commercial manager at Ffestiniog Railway,
and all because of her mother's pioneering spirit.
My mother was a volunteer back in the 1960s and '70s.
She was very interested in the railway
and we used to get dragged along when we were on holiday in Wales.
And I helped from when I was about nine or ten,
helping her to do little bits around the railway.
Then I found that I was interested myself and I stayed,
went to university in Bangor and here I am!
Angela Harrington, Clare's mum, has been a trailblazer all her life.
Well, yes, I was the first lady to be a fireman.
And I was also the first lady to be a director.
I've always been interested in trains, particularly steam engines
and I just like to be out in the fresh air,
and up in the hills.
You can't beat it in the winter on a sunny day.
Not so good when it's pouring with rain and
you've got cluttered up with oilskins and welly boots.
As the only female member of the track gang,
Angela visited Wales monthly.
Lodgings were a damp and dingy cottage in the Welsh hills.
The others used to sleep in bunks down the other end of the cottage
but I used to go in the kitchen because that was the warmest place.
I could put some money in the meter
and turn the oven on and open the door, and keep warm that way!
Several Monday mornings I've gone to work and gone up to the office on
my bottom up the stairs when nobody was looking because I was so stiff!
At 74, Angela Harrington is still busy helping out.
And, like many other volunteers,
the railway has become a huge part of her life.
Yes, I lost my husband nearly three years ago.
And I felt that I would like a complete change in my life.
It was time to do something different.
So I bought a little cottage here which I intended to
use as a holiday home and come and spend quite a lot of time here.
But every time I came, the more I came,
the less I wanted to go back to Nottingham.
So I've stayed.
It is the steam that interests her.
But, also, the railway is such a lovely big family thing that
you get hooked for lots of reasons.
I think it's not just the steam.
It's the people that you meet and it's running a railway.
There's a buzz about it.
From now on, passengers will be able to travel from Harbour Station
in Porthmadog in two directions.
On the Welsh Highland Beyer-Garratt engines to Caernarfon.
And on the smaller engines of the Ffestiniog Railway to
Tan-y-Bwlch and Blaenau Ffestiniog.
The workload has, in effect,
doubled and, with the formal opening about to happen,
it's a busy time at Boston Lodge for Tony Williams and his team.
When something like this comes along, it throws the schedule a little bit.
There's quite a lot to do.
Little things to finalise, things to check over.
There's a lot of jiggling and balancing,
getting the right locomotive in the right place.
Getting the right crew in the right place.
So it's just a bit of a logistical nightmare, more than anything else.
'We'll be ready at the time the train is signalled away by the guard, hopefully!'
It's the day of the grand opening.
And local dignitaries,
staff and volunteers are gathering to greet the celebrity guest.
Peter Waterman is a diehard train enthusiast.
He owns several trains and runs a railway workshop in Crewe.
He's built up a close relationship with the Welsh Highland project.
So much so that he even bought his own Beyer-Garratt engine.
I started on the railway
in 1962 in steam days.
I was born next to a railway line in 1947
so I've never known anything but railway engines.
And I've always said to people, "As I lay in my cot, it was
"the sound of those coal engines coming out of the collieries."
You know, that's what I grew up on.
And it's never left me.
He's a good railwayman, yes.
He's been in the business for over 50 years apparently.
For him to be here today, obviously it's a very special occasion.
The story of Peter Waterman is simply that he had never
travelled on a narrow gauge train.
I invited him along to come for a ride on the Ffestiniog Railway.
He agreed to do that and he came for the day.
He rode in a gravity slate train.
He went on the footplate of a Ffestiniog engine.
But then we took him on a Welsh Highland Railway Garratt locomotive,
number 87, and we gave him the shovel and he fired the engine.
And he absolutely loved it!
Nothing prepared me for the day that Paul put me on the Beyer-Garratts.
I mean, that was me. I was like a schoolboy.
It was the most revolutionary...
It doesn't matter how many steam engines I owned,
I left and it was that inevitable thing, I said to Paul,
"If I bought one of these, do you think I could run it here?"
And I remember him saying, "Yeah, yeah." And I said, "Are there any?"
And he said, "Yeah."
I don't think he thought I was serious but I got back to Crewe
and I said, "Ring this guy at the Welsh Highland. His name's Paul.
"Get hold of where we can get these engines in South Africa and get one back."
And the guys at Crewe, still to this day, say,
"When you actually told us to go to South Africa
"and buy one of these locos, we didn't really think you meant it."
After 175 years, I'm sorry it's an Englishman pulling this plaque
but I have got a claim.
My children are half Welsh.
And I did once enter a Welsh song that I wrote
into the Eurovision Song competition.
Not a lot of people know this,
and it was called
to a tune.
I kid you not.
It actually made the last eight.
So I'm going to now open this because there's a lot to do.
I'm so proud of this.
And I would like to say to all the guys
and all the people that have done this, well done.
It really is magnificent. Well done.
After decades in the planning, and 15 years in the building,
Wales' latest railway is now open for business.
Many have supported the venture.
Royalty, celebrities and thousands of men and women who have
given time and money to see the realisation of a dream.
For the architects of the project, the reality does not disappoint.
To rebuild a narrow gauge railway is,
to me, a heaven-sent opportunity.
And rebuilding the Welsh Highland Railway
has caused me immense satisfaction.
It seemed an impossible dream.
And, well, impossible dreams are just challenges.
I don't know if, from the beginning, we were actually convinced we could
do the job but we said, "We're going to give this our best shot." And it's worked!
It's come together and it's been a wonderful success.
I can look back over those 20 years and say,
"Yeah, that was a great time, building that railway."
I'm going to feel lost, but only for a short time because I'll still
be coming up here, volunteering.
There'll still be things to do.
You've always got something to do cos it's a living, breathing thing.
Putting it down is OK.
Now we've got to run it.
25 miles through Snowdonia.
It doesn't look after itself.
I think the work will be here when the rest of us
have all gone to meet our maker.
And, when my days are finished,
I want my ashes scattered along it somewhere.
It's going to be strange.
I'm a little bit tearful now.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
In April 2011, Wales's newest and most ambitious railway, spanning 25 miles of a narrow gauge track through the stunning scenery of Snowdonia, was finally completed.
Supported by royalty and donations from around the world, the Welsh Highland Railway has taken 15 years and cost almost 30 million pounds to build. It wasn't an easy ride. Many locals initially objected to what they believed to be the defiling of a quiet valley in the National Park, but for the many volunteers from Wales and across the world it was a dream come true.