Snowdon Mountain Railway railcars

The railcars with their unusual modern clestory roof look were a short lived phenomenon in the history of the Snowdon Mountain Railway. Built in 1995 they were scrapped just 15 years later, having seen service for at the most just eight years. They had cost £250,000 each.

A recent search of the internet turned up several new images of the railcars in service. The best is this view of the three railcars on an up service approaching Tryfan bridge on 14th August 1996. Many thanks to wwatfam for the excellent image.

The railcars were mostly unused between 1995 and 1997, only being used when passenger demand was high. On August 8th 1996 the first ever trip consisting of three railcars took place. This occurred another two or three times during that August including the 14th where they were seen (pic above.)

Ironically 1996 was the Snowdon Mountain Railway’s centenary year. Perhaps this is one reason the railcars were kept back througout that year, but its likely to do with the technical problems encountered.

The above picture of the railcars (No22 leading) was taken by alanfrombangor on 28th August 1999.

Another view of Railcar no.22. It was seen in a layby on the A5 near Oswestry May/June 1995

The above picture is an excellent one taken by On Tour with the Class 13 Army, and there is a further picture on his Flickr page showing the underneath of Railcar 22.

Yet more pics of the railcars have come to light. These are from davidncooke_686’s Flickr photostream. Please click on images to link with David’s photos:

The railcars are seen passing Waterfall station and approaching the top of the upper viaduct. It appears the unit leading downhill is No.24. The other is unidentified.

Railcars at the summit by Austin7nut.

Austin7nut (Clive Barker) has posted this excellent picture of two of the railcars at the summit. The nearview one is no.23. It was taken in the railway’s centenary year (1996)

As Austin7nut’s picture showed, the railcars with their excellent livery were indeed a very nice addition to the railway.

The railcars were perhaps known to most for the long period of time they were stored in the SMR’s upper car park just off Victoria Terrace. The railcars were brought up here via a reverse incline from the carriage sidings on tracks long since gone. The railcars were put up for sale but no takers emerged.

The railcar storage area seen in August 2010 shortly after the railcars were scrapped

Railcar 22 at Llanberis June 2010 – its last few weeks before being scrapped

The railcars were a radical step for the Snowdon Mountain Railway as its motive power was previously traditional, (eg a rack locomotive pushing a carriage.) Railcars nos. 21-23 were built by HPE of Tredegar in 1995. A diesel-electric drive within the railcar powered motorised axles. Roof mounted resistors dissipated energy generated through constant braking as they descended.

Despite their innovation the railcars soon proved troublesome. The units were not able to synchronise with each other properly meaning it was sometimes an uncomfortable ride when units were out of sync.

Just two years after last being used, the railcars languish in the sidings at Llanberis. This and many other excellent pictures in the sheds and around the yard were taken by Dave Sallery on 23rd February 2005 and can be viewed on Flickr

The railcars had to work in two or threes because each had just one pinion drive. Three units were the maximum length possible for the platforms and passing loops. As built they had quite an elaborate lined livery, which was soon relegated to a more basic colour scheme. Their service on the SMR did not last long, railcar. 21 was withdrawn in 2001, and 22-23 in 2003.

Interior of 22. Railcar 21 on the other side was being used as a store and had no seats.

Railcar 21 seen in the compound June 2010

The builders – HP Engineering

The company who built the railcars was originally known as Hugh Phillips Engineering. The company was formerly based at the Tafarnaubach Industrial Estate, Tredegar. HPE were specialists in steam locomotive valves and controls. In 1982 they rebored the cylinders and valves of GWR 2857. Other work included the restoration of six 2-8-2’s and construction of 3 diesel railcars for Sudan Railways. The company went into receivership during 1992, but was resurrected as HPE Tredegar Ltd. HPE moved to new premises at Goat Mill Road, Dowlais near Merthyr Tydfil. HPE Ltd went into liquidation during 1996.

One of the Dowlais railway’s rack locomotives

Ironically the SMR’s railcars were built at a place that had one of the few examples of another UK rack railway. The short-lived Dowlais tramroad had two 0-6-0 rack locomotives, Perseverance and Dowlais, which regularly hauled trains of 40 to 50 waggons up the rack sections on Morlais (or Dowlais) Hill between 1832 and 1848.

Railcar liveries & mementoes

Railcar 23 leaving the summit. The later colour livery is clearly seen.
This image is a crop of a larger picture exhibited at the SMR’s Llanberis station.
A pair of railcars seen in the earlier livery, near the Llanberis Path below Halfway.
This image is from Wikipedia

Pictures of the trio of railcars working together seem to be quite non-existent. It seems they worked as a trio only during August 1995 thence afterwards always no more than a two car operation. One of the SMR’s leaflets displayed at Llanberis has a picture showing the three working in tandem below Rocky Valley:

The leaflet is unusual in having the railcars instead of the obligatory steam locomotive, but also has a badge declaring “Public rack and pinion railway,” which does not seem to have been used in any other publicity.

Mementoes of the railcars were still on sale at LLanberis station in August 2010. These included a handful of souvenir rubbers:

Diesel railcar souvenir rubbers on sale at Llanberis in 2010

Few videos exist of the railcars in service. You Tube has a couple of videos briefly showing the railcars. The firstshows them in their original livery at Halfway, whilst the second shows a re-livered pair leaving the summit in misty weather.

Updated December 2011

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