The earliest proposal for a railway up Snowdon seems to have been one from the writer’s mind. In 1848 Hood’s magazine a story is related about a man named Mr Beverley whose skill seems to have been that of taking up directorship of quite obscure railways – a bit like the later real-life Colonel Stephens. At one point in the story Mr Beverley finds himself director of a railway up Snowdon, clearly described as a funicular style operation with a track up either side of the mountain and the balanced cars from each point offering a service to the summit The fictional railway was designed as such to operate with as few employees as possible and the story appears to have been an early precursor of the controversial Fordist philosophy espoused half a century later.
In real life, bills were deposited for a railway that terminated about where Bwlch Glas is, leaving passengers to hot-foot the last few hundred yards to the summit. Objections from local people and land owners ended these early possible ventures. It was only when the North Wales narrow gauge railway built its line from Dinas to ‘Snowdon’ (actually Rhyd Ddu) that objections were withdrawn and plans for a modified route based on the 1870’s proposals and extended to a new terminus somewhat near to the summit itself. The designs were drawn up in the winter of 1894, and works officially began on December 15th of that year. The route as built was altered to accomdate some objections and the gradients adjusted above Bwlch Glas to enable the line to terminate just below the summit itself.
The railway’s newly laid track at Tryfan bridge (from www.oldukphotos.com )
The viaducts were the major problem, and caused a delay of almost a year to the construction of the railway but once this had been overcome the line from the upper viaduct right to the summit was built in just over two months and being completed on 6th January 1896. Horses were used in the construction of the railway hauling materials up the mountain to build embankments and cuttings, prior to the laying of the tracks. Two of the horses were called Daylight and Strawberry. Around 8,500 steel sleepers were laid between Llanberis and the summit. The first train from Llanberis to the summit departed at 11am on 9th January, whilst a further test train with company employees and workmen was operated to the summit the next day.
One of the few pictures of LADAS was this one taken on the viaducts in 1896
Before the official opening of the line, a number of specials were run including a Board of Trade inspection on 27th March. Locals were given the chance to sample the new line on 4th April 1896 when a special service was run for them. A minor mishap occured on that day when one of the carriages left the track. Despite that slight hiccup, it was agreed that the official opening day would be Easter Monday 1896, the date being 6th April. The first train of the day was clearly operated by locomotice no.1 LADAS, this being an inspection train that gave the all clear to commence regular services later that day.
The first official train out of Llanberis was operated by Enid, followed by that opereated by LADAS. Both services reached the summit without problems. LADAS’s train was the first back down and as events clearly record, this was a disaster in the making when LADAS jumped the tracks above Clogwyn and hurtled down the line at speed into the depths of the Llanberis Pass. LADAS’ crew managed to jump off the locomotive shortly before it picked up great speed. The carriages were saved due to their emergency handbrakes being turned immediately the minute there was something amiss. Just one passenger panicked and leapt from the carriages when the disaster occurred. He later died of his injuries. Locomotive no.2 Enid followed down from the summit in thick fog on the mistaken assumption that LADAS had cleared the line to Clogwyn, this was in fact due to the signal cables at Clogwyn being cut by LADAS as it derailed. She collided with the carriages on the entry into Clogwyn and derailed these. No futher injuries occured however.
Above and below: The remains of LADAS in the cwm below Clogwyn
Derailed carriages at Clogwyn
Viewing the accident scene at Clogwyn
It was thought the 1896 accident occured because the Gods of Eryri were offended
An inquiry was held and it was thought that the tracks had settled due to the vagaries of the weather on the mountain. Roman Abt (inventor of the Abt rack system) was brought over from Switzerland to inspect the line and his findings were that transitions between the different gradients were not gradual enough thus giving potential problems such as the rack and cogwheels disengaging from each other. Following the accident it was decided to install gripper rails to prevent trains jumping the tracks and much of 1896 was spent installing these. Many sources tell us that services did not begin again till the following year. This is not quite true for services did indeed re-commence during September 1896. These operated as far as Waterfall station.
Waterfall halt, the terminus of a limited service operated during September 1896
Easter Monday 1897 saw the second offical opening take place and this time everything went smoothly and the railway was able to operate a full year, carrying around 12,000 passengers in total.
The gripper rail – old and new versions meet each other at the public viewpoint by the waterfall
The 1896 accident is well documented. As already explained, one result of this was the introduction of gripper rails despite concerns from the SLM works at Winterthur that gripper rails would not prevent future derailments. The SMR is unusual in being the only ABT system in the world to use these gripper rails, however these do not operate on the same principle as that on the Pilatusbahn in Switzerland. The SMR’s gripper rails are used on the entire line except at stations and the sections between Llanberis/ Rhes Fictoria and Waterfall Halt/Ceunant Bach bridge.
Arrangement showing how the gripper rail and rack rail are held together
New York Times article (7th April 1896) about the first day’s accident