The SMR’s cutting vanishes!

Its often billed in Snowdon Mountain Railway literature the line has just one major cutting, that near Halfway station. This information is somewhat misleading. The cutting at Halfway was never the only major cutting on the entire railway but was one of TWO major cuttings.

The declaration Halfway is the “S.M.R.’s only major cutting” as shewn in P.R. Wallis book on the SMR.

When the line was first built up to the summit of Snowdon there were in fact two substantial cuttings, Halfway and a considerably deeper one of more substantial length at Bryn Penllyn, above Clogwyn.

Whilst the Halfway Cutting still survives the Clogwyn one, which was sited at the foot of Cryn Las, was gradually removed over a period of approximately seventy years. By the 1980’s it had vanished completely.

As people walk (or ride the train) up the Clogwyn Saddle to its upper end both railway and Llanberis path separate ways. This is the point where the erstwhile Clogwyn cutting began. The only reminder this ever existed is a long, wide piece of almost perfectly flat terrain, very unusual for a mountain environment and clearly one that is man made.

How do we know there was a major cutting on the railway above Clogwyn? The very first pictures taken of the railway on its opening day – the accident scenes in fact – show us there clearly was a major cutting above Clogwyn.

All the picture sources are from contemporary postcards, with the exception of the PR Wallis book plus one by an unknown photographer.

Easter Monday 1896. These opening day accident pictures show the cutting above Clogwyn.

A view looking down towards Clogwyn, possibly 1897, clearly showing the cutting.

Tust a few years later the publicity shots surrounding the Letts Oldsmobile that ascended Snowdon on 14th May 1904 shows the cutting remained as it was first dug.

The Oldsmobile en route up the railway’s tracks in 1904. The Clogwyn cutting can be seen clearly.

By the 1920’s it is evident work was being undertaken to reduce the size of the cutting. A substantial section still remained during the 1930s as shown below. However by the 1940s at least half of the cutting appears to have been removed.

View of a train crossing the Bryn Penllyn ridge (the ‘Saddle’) approaching the cutting during the 1930s.

At one point I assumed that the plane crash which occured above Clogwyn on 11th August 1952 had a part to play in the cutting’s much reduced size, however investigation shows the plane crashed onto the railway track further up at grid reference SH609557.

News about the plane crash 1952.

A fair bit remained as shown in photos from 1955 onwards and part remained throughout the 1960s, whilst a photo from 1978 shows just a small rump remaining. By at least 1985 all traces had been removed, and over the past few decades this piece of land has been levelled out completely.

Looking down on the remnant of the cutting above Clogwyn during the 1960s.

Photographer unknown however this shows a bit of the cutting’s sides remained in the late 60s

The cutting section in early 1970s much reduced. Pic shows it basically consisted of loose rocky ground.

By 1985 just the outline remained, clearly showing it was much larger than the one at Halfway.

Today’s scene shows flattened grassy terrain where the cutting once stood.

It is not known why the cutting at Clogwyn was removed, however perhaps the easiest assumption is that it was not very stable, being of rocks and moraine rather than solid rock.

Clearly the cutting was not of any major problem to the operation of the line – except perhaps when the upper section was at risk of snow. The very rare occasion with which this would need to be cleared should be compared with the herculean efforts needed to remove the cutting completely which took around 70 years to complete!

Who removed the cutting? Without a doubt the SMR itself since they were the only ones to benefit directly from any changes made to the lineside at this point.

© Gwychder y Wyddfa/Snowdon Splendour/Snowdon Wales 2015

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