Tag Archives: railway

The Penrhyn Quarry Railway – Part 1

A short history of the line is followed by some information about the locomotives used on the line. This first article then focusses primarily on the horse-powered tramroad which preceded the later Penrhyn Quarry Railway.

Penrhyn is the Welsh word for ‘promontory’.

“The history of Port Penrhyn can be traced back as early as 1713 when it was recorded that 14 shipments totalling 415,000 slates had been sent to Dublin. In 1720, another 8 shipments totalling 155,000 slates were sent to Dublin, two to Drogheda (20,000) and one to Belfast (35,000). Two years later, a shipment of 80,000 slates were sent to Dunkirk. After these few shipments only coastal traffic left from Aber-Cegin (Port Penrhyn) until Richard Pennant took over the ownership of Penrhyn Estates and appointed Benjamin Wyatt in 1786 as agent.” [23]

Porth Penrhyn in the mid- to late- 19th century. [23]

The Penrhyn Railway opened as a tramroad in 1801 which ran from quarries a few miles inland from Bangor in North Wales to the coast at Port Penrhyn. The gauge of the tramroad was 2ft 0.5in. It was constructed by Lord Penrhyn at a cost of around £175,000. [1][2] The alignment was as shown on the map immediately below.

The Penrhyn Railway 1801 to 1878: rendered with Maperitive, text and integration: Pechristener Wales in United Kingdom.svg: TUBS United Kingdom location map.svg: NordNordWest • CC BY 3.0. [1]

It was thought that there was an earlier line which ran between Port Penrhyn and Llandegai. That tramway, if it existed, was constructed in 1798. Its route paralleled that of the northern end of Lord Penrhyn’s tramroad. One theory is that this earlier tramway was operational until 1831. [1] There appear to have been two inclines on the Llandegai Tramway, one close to the port and the other directly adjacent to Llandegai Penlan Mill at Llandegai at the Southern end of that line. Both are shown on the image below.

The Llandegai Tramway: rendered with Maperitive, text and integration: Pechristener Wales in United Kingdom.svg: TUBS United Kingdom location map.svg: NordNordWest • CC BY 3.0. [1]

Research in 2021 suggests that the earlier tramway did not exist. [2]. If it did, it is likely that it was subsumed into the tramroad built by Lord Penrhyn. There is also research, undertaken in 2019, which suggests that a tramway was probably constructed in 1798 in connection with the Penrhyn Mills on the lower Ogwen. [35] My thanks to David Elis-Williams for providing a link to this research by Barrie Lill.

Lill comments that the Penrhyn Mills at Llandegai had a part in the development of the tramway/tramroad which eventually served the Penhryn Quarry: “The mill had what David Gwyn believes to be part of the first iron-railed overland edge railway of any length in the world, and the first iron edge railway built for the mass movement of stone. However, whereas James Boyd conjectures that originally the Penlan railway only extended from Port Penrhyn to the mill at Llandegai, pre-dated the Penrhyn Quarry Railway by three years, and was only later extended to the Quarry, [36] Gwyn does not agree. Instead he believes that the Penlan line merely was an off-shoot from the Quarry Railway. [37] At present there is no available evidence to confirm either theory, although there is a belief that prior to publishing his book on the Penrhyn Quarry Railways, Boyd had obtained supporting documents which no longer are publicly available. Irrespective of the above it seems unlikely that the mill would have opened without an adequate transportation system such as some simple form of tramway being in place, and in this scenario it is likely that the problems encountered with the working of this system are what prompted Wyatt to adapt the system and introduce the iron-railed edge railway to which David Gwyn refers.” [35]

Lord Penrhyn was persuaded by William Jessop to build the tramroad. “Jessop and his partner Benjamin Outram were then constructing the Little Eaton Gangway in Derbyshire. Samuel Wyatt was also involved in the construction of the gangway, and his brother Benjamin was the Penrhyn estate manager.” [1][2]

“Benjamin Wyatt was put in charge of building the tramway. Construction started on 2 September 1800, with the first slate train travelling on 25 June 1801. … The track used oval rails designed by Benjamin Wyatt, and their quoted gauge of 2 ft 1⁄2 in (622 mm) was measured between the centres of the rails. The railroad was operated by horse power along with gravity and three balanced inclines – “Port” (sometimes called “Marchogion”), “Dinas” north east of Tregarth and “Cilgeraint” a short distance north of Coed-y-Parc workshops in Bethesda. The longest was 220 yards (200 m).” [1]

Before the tramroad was constructed, slate was transported to the port by horses along mountain paths. After the tramroad was brought into service the local costs of transport fell from 4 shillings/ton to 1 shilling/ton. [1][4: p42-43]

In 1832, “Wyatt’s oval rails were replaced with more conventional … rails. The gauge of this new track was 1ft 10.3⁄4in (578 mm), measured between the inner edges of the rails – the conventional way of measuring track gauge.” [1][3]

In 1876 the tramroad was “rebuilt on a new course with steel rails laid on wooden sleepers. Steam locomotives were introduced, supplied by De Winton & Co. Engineers of Caernarvon.” [5]

Thomas Middlemass tells us that De Winton supplied ten locomotives to the line. “Seven were to be used at the quarries, three were to work the ‘main line’ to the coast, and all* were vertical-boilered 0-4-0 tanks.” [6: p16] They had two cylinders secured below the running plate with direct drive to one axle. The total weight varied between 4 and 5 tons. [7]

* … It appears that Middlemass has overlooked the fact that 3 of the 10 locomotives were fitted with horizontal boilers and were 0-4-0ST locos. They were named ‘Edward Sholto’, ‘Hilda’ and ‘Violet’, and were supplied in 1876, 1878 and 1879 respectively. [34]

Between 1882 and 1909 the Hunslet Engine Company of Leeds supplied sixteen four-wheeled locomotives for use in the quarry and on the line to Port Penrhyn.” [5]

One surviving Penrhyn locomotive is 0-4-0 vertical-boiler tank engine “George Henry,” which was built in 1877 and still looks good 140 years later at the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum in Tywyn, Wales.

‘George Henry’: a vertical-boilered 0-4-0 locomotive now on display in the Narrow Gauge Museum at Tywyn, Wales once played it’s trade in the Penrhyn Quarries. Both pictures © rlkitterman. [7]

The new route to suit steam-power obviated the need for the inclined planes, maintaining the easiest possible gradients. “Between coast and quarry it rose 550 feet, and, allowing for a stretch of 1/4 mile at 1 in 37 and 3 miles at 1 in 40, the average gradient emerged as 1 in 91. Flat bottomed rails were laid at first, but these were replaced in 1894 by the 50 lb bullhead variety.” [6: p15-16]

The new route of the Penrhyn Railway which opened in 1879: rendered with Maperitive, text and integration: Pechristener Wales in United Kingdom.svg: TUBS United Kingdom location map.svg: NordNordWest • CC BY 3.0. [1]

“The first locomotives used on the new railway were three De Winton’s. … Although successful, these locomotives were not powerful enough for the substantial traffic that passed down the line.” [1]

In 1882 the railway ordered ‘Charles’, a large 0-4-0ST from Hunslet. Charles proved very successful and was followed by ‘Blanche’ and ‘Linda’ in 1893 to the same basic design. These locomotives were the mainstay of the railway for the rest of its life.

In 1882 Penrhyn switched to more conventional locomotion, ordering “‘Charles’, a large 0-4-0ST from Hunslet. Charles proved very successful and was followed by ‘Blanche’ and ‘Linda’ in 1893 to the same basic design. These locomotives were the mainstay of the railway for the rest of its life.” [1]

“Between then and 1909 a positive spate of tank locos flowed, new, from Hunslet Engine Co. All were 0-4-0 saddle tanks, with weight and power variations introduced to meet specific Penrhyn requirements. Three were designed to work the ‘main line’, three were employed shunting at Port Penrhyn. Four of the smallest were confined to quarry work, and these were supplemented a few years later when six larger tanks arrived. As it happened, the latter were the last new purchases by Penrhyn.” [6: p16]

Among the Hunslet locomotives were the Penrhyn Port Class of three locomotives “built for the Penrhyn Quarry Railway (PQR). These locomotives were built by the Hunslet Engine Company between 1883 and 1885 and supplied specifically to work at Port Penrhyn near Bangor, North Wales. They were a variant of the standard Dinorwic Alice Class design.” [8]

Quarry Hunslet Lilian (No. 317, 1883) at the Launceston Steam Railway (June 2010) ©FritzG This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license – CC BY-SA 3.0.

“The Penrhyn Main Line class was a class of three narrow gauge steam locomotives built for the Penrhyn Quarry Railway (PQR). These locomotives were built by the Hunslet Engine Company between 1882 and 1893 and supplied specifically to work the railway that connected the Penrhyn Quarry near Bethesda in north Wales to Port Penrhyn on the Menai Strait.” [9]

“All three locomotives were preserved after the closure of the PQR. Charles was donated to the Penrhyn Castle Railway Museum. Linda was loaned to the nearby Ffestiniog Railway in July 1962. For the 1963 season the locomotive was re-gauged to the Ffestiniog’s 1 ft 11.5 in (597 mm) and purchased, along with Blanche at the end of the year. Both have since received extensive modifications including tenders, pony trucks and superheating.” [9]

Ex-Penrhyn Ffestinog Railway 0-4-0 saddle-tank Linda at Blaenau Ffestiniog railway station (2004) ©Thryduulf This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license – CC BY-SA 4.0.

The post-First World War years brought such economic instability that second-hand locos were not hard to find. Penrhyn bought 15 such from 1922 onwards. [5]

In 1923, three ex-US Army Baldwin 2-6-2Ts were also imported for ‘main line’ use, but, as happened elsewhere in Britain, they were never popular, and their working life was short.

The railway was private, providing no public service for either goods or passengers. Quarrymen’s trains were run, paid for by the quarrymen themselves.” [5]

“Today Porth Penrhyn in Bangor still serves the Penrhyn Quarry at Bethesda. Although today slate production and exports are not at 19th century levels it continues to be a key part of the business of slate. Exports of crushed slate (aggregate) by Penrhyn Quarry, through Porth Penrhyn  currently to Rotterdam, or ports along the south coast of England, have grown to become a significant proportion of Welsh Slate sales in addition to several containers  of roofing slates being shipped every month to Australia alone (taking approximately 45 days).” [23]

“Welsh slate is now covering the roofs of buildings as prestigious as the New South Wales Supreme Court and historic as Unwin’s Stores, both in Sydney Australia, as well as the Arts Centre in earthquake-hit Christchurch, New Zealand 2012. Europe also is a prime destination for Welsh slate with shipments of slate and decorative aggregate within Europe continuing to grow and evolve in particular.” [23]

All rail connections to the quarry disappeared in the mid-20th century under competition from road transport

The Post-1879 Route of the Railway

We start at the North end of the old railway at Porth Penrhyn. Porth Penrhyn) is a harbour located just east of Bangor in north Wales at the confluence of the River Cegin with the Menai Strait.

We follow the route on the Ordnance Survey 6″ Maps from around the turn of the 20th century as supplied by the National Library of Scotland (NLS). [10]

The railway layout at Porth Penrhyn on the 6″ OS Maps from around the turn of the 20th century. [11]
Approximately the same area as shown on the OS Map above, this time on the ESRI satellite imagery provided by the NLS [11]
This photograph was taken from a point Northeast of University College (shown on the 6″OS map extract above. [21]
Linda departing with a train of empties from Porth Penrhyn in September 1961. The standard-gauge line is on the right, © Jim Fraser. [16]
A little further North, this picture shows a Standard Class 2MT (41200) on the standard-gauge and two narrow-gauge locomotives. The one almost hidden by the 2MT is a Ruston Diesel locomotive
(ex-works May 1953, no. 383820). It is a 40HP, Ruston 0-4-0 with 3VRH diesel engine. The narrow-gauge steam locomotive is ‘Blanche’, © Eric Foulkes. [17]
The view looking South from the port area at Porth Penrhyn along the line of the old railway which is now the Sustrans Cycle Route No. 82. [Google Streetview, 2015]
The view looking South from the road bridge at Porth Penrhyn along the line of the old railway which is now the Sustrans Cycle Route No. 82. [Google Streetview, 2022]
The view looking South along the line of the old railway from about 100metres South of the road bridge, © Ian S and licenced for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence (CC BY-SA 2.0) [12]
The railway layout Southeast of Cegin Pool on the 6″ OS Maps from around the turn of the 20th century. [15]
The same area as shown on the OS 6″ Map above. The alignment of the old tramroad is illustrated by the red line. The newer railway is shown light-blue. Parallel and immediately adjacent to the East of the Penrhyn Quarry Railway was the standard-gauge LNWR line. The two lines began to separate to the Southwest of the A5 road. [15]
The Old Railway Bridge close to Cegin Pool: Originally carried the Standard-Gauge Branch and Penrhyn Quarry lines to Port Penrhyn. Now a footpath/cycle path. In the foreground is part of the earlier bridge carrying the horse tramway from Penrhyn Quarry, © Copyright Chris Andrews and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) [13]
Cegin viaduct: A view from the cycle track of the viaduct crossing the Afon Cegin just on the Southeast side of Cegin Pool, on the original line of the Penrhyn Quarry Railway. This view is taken from the Southern end of the viaduct. The re-engineered line took a more gently inclined route that avoided the rope-hauled incline just to the south. The abutments of the more recent bridge are much wider than the modern path because it carried the parallel tracks of both narrow gauge and standard gauge lines to Port Penrhyn, © Copyright Jonathan Wilkins and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) [14]
My sketch of the Tramroad route and its two bridges over the Afon Cegin based on a drawing in James Boyd’s book. The old main road crossed the Cegin at the same location as the tramroad. [36]
The old Tramroad Arch Bridge over the Afon Cegin to the South of the bridges above. The picture is taken from the later bridge which carried the two railways. Just to the right of this image was the bottom of the tramroad incline, © Ian S and licenced for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence (CC BY-SA 2.0) [20]
Looking Southwest towards the modern Llandudno Road (A5) bridge spanning the cycleway which follows the route of the old Railway. At this point the old Railway alignment is also part of the Coastal Path, © Copyright Ian S and licenced for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence (CC BY-SA 2.0) [16]
The same location on the A5 London to Holyhead road as it appeared prior to the construction of the modern bridge, when both the standard-gauge line and the quarry railway were still in place. The photograph comes from the Railway Magazine of October 1961, © J.M. Dunn.
This picture was taken in late 1963. The Penrhyn Quarry Railway bridge looking North, also at Maesgierchen. The standard-gauge line is out of sight to the right above the line, the Afon Cegin to the left below the line. A year later the rails had gone to the Ffestiniog Railway and the whole embankment was destroyed and rebuilt as part of a road-widening scheme, © M. Costello (courtesy of the Ffestioniog Railway Archives (where it is mislabelled as a photograph of the Welsh Highland Railway trackbed). [18]
The routes of three railways can be seen on this extract from the 6″ OS Maps from around the turn of the 20th century. It shows the area South of the A5 road bridge referred to above. On the right of the image, running South from the Incline Cottage at the top of the extract, field boundaries define the alignment of the old Tramroad.  To the West of the A5, which runs down the centre of the extract, are two lines which were in use when the survey was undertaken. Running closest to the A5 is the be LNWR standard-gauge branch. The narrow-gauge Penrhyn Quarry Railway is to the West of the standard-gauge line and follows the East bank of the Afon Cegin. [19]
The same area as shown on the OS 6″ Map above. The alignment of the old tramroad is illustrated by the red line. The newer narrow-gauge railway is shown light-blue. Parallel and immediately adjacent to the East of the Penrhyn Quarry Railway was the standard-gauge LNWR line. The two lines began to separate to the Southwest of the A5 road. The approximate alignment of the standard-gauge line is shown in purple. The A5 runs down the centre of the image. [19]
The approximate location where the old tramroad crossed the line of the modern A5.  The A5 is, here, viewed from the South looking toward Bangor. [Google Streetview, 2022]

Before the future A5 was developed as a turnpike in 1820, the tramroad ran within the width of the old highway from this point for a few hundred yards. When the turnpike was created, the road level was lifted and the tramroad crossed beneath the renewed highway and ran along the Southwestern side. The sketch below shows this.

The old tramroad which was operational until 1879 was diverted to accommodate the construction of the turnpike. We start following the route of that old Tramroad. This sketch is based on a drawing in James Boyd’s book. [36: p11] He refers to the diversion in the text of the book as well.[36:p22]
In this extract from the 6″ Ordnance Survey from around the turn of the 20th century, the short standard-gauge branch meets the mainline. The route of the old tramroad has now crossed the A5. The Penrhyn Quarry Railway only appears fleetingly in the top left corner if the map extract.  [24]
The same area as shown in the 6″ OS map above, as recorded on the ESRI satellite imagery provided by the NLS. The colour coding remains the same as in previous satellite images. [24]

A. The old tramroad

Beyond this point, we first follow the line of the old Tramroad to Penrhyn Quarries. …..

This next extract from the 6″ Ordnance Survey shows the route of the old tramway flanked by walls and passing in front of the Grand Lodge of Penrhyn Castle at Llandegai. [25]
The same area now shown on the ESRI satellite imagery provided by the NLS. The lodge can be made out just to the Northeast of the red line which shows the approximate route of the old tramway crossing the roundabout on the A5 at Llandegai. [25]
The approximate route of the old tramway is marked on this picture, as before, with a red line. The photograph is taken from the roundabout on the A5 at the entrance to Llandegai Industrial Estate which is in the top left of the satellite image above. The line ran just a few metres to the Southwest of what is now the A5. [Google Streetview]
The approximate line of the old tramway runs across the next roundabout on the A5 before curving round to the South. [Google Streetview]
Looking along the line of the old Tramroad from the modern roundabout, with the A5 heading South on the right. [Google Streetview]
This is a repeat of the sketch shown earlier which is based on a drawing from James Boyd’s book. [36: p11] After being diverted from its original route, the tramroad ran on the Southern side of the highway before turning away to the South. The Smithy shown in the sketch appears on the 6″ map extract below. Just to the North of the Smithy there was a branch from the old tramroad which served the bottom of the Llandegai Incline which connected the Upper Penrhyn Mill to the tramroad. There were two level crossings at this location, one of which became an over ridge when the turnpike was built in 1820.
The route of the old tramway continues on this next extract from the 6″ Ordnance Survey. At the top of the extract it is just to the left (West) of the Smithy. It crosses the standard-gauge line which is in tunnel at this point the Llandegai Tunnel). Further the south the formation, at the time of the survey was being used as an accommodation road to access ‘Bryn’ and then even further South, it was being used as a footpath. [26]
This is an extract from ‘RailMapOnline’ which shows the route of the old railway plotted on modern satellite imagery. The purple line close to the top of the image is the line of the Llandegai Tunnel on the standard-gauge mainline. [27]
Just to the South of the underground route of the standard-gauge mainline (Llandegai Tunnel), the old tramroad alignment crosses the access road to the A5 and runs South along the accommodation road visible to the left of the road in this image. [Google Streetview]
The old tramroad route followed this lane South. [Google Streetview]
At the end of the lane, a footpath can be seen running South. The hedge ahead in this image partially blocks the route but allows pedestrian access. [Google Streetview]
The route of the old tramroad and the later footpath remain on the same alignment as far as the top corner of the woods shown in this map extract. From that point southwards the Tramroad route crossed the fields in a Southeasterly direction. [28]
The same area as shown on the 6″ Ordnance Survey extract above. The North Wales Expressway is the notable modern addition to the image [27]
The obvious features on this next extract from the 6″ Ordnance Survey which mark the line of the tramroad are the walls to the rear (West) of the cottages at Tyddyn-Iolyn. South of these properties the tramroad ran alongside the road for a very short distance. After which it curved away to the Southwest before curving back towards the Southeast to a point to the South of Llan-isaf Cottage. [29]
The route described in the notes to the 6″ map extract immediately above are illustrated on this satellite image. [27]
Facing South along the lane to the South of Tyddyn-Iolyn, showing the approximate line of the old tramroad in red. [Google Streetview]
Looking back to the North along the lane to Tyddyn-Iolyn showing the point at which the old tramroad crossed the line of the lane. To the East of this point the Tramroad turned to the South and then to the West. [Google Streetview]
The walled route of the Tramroad can still easily be picked out on the 6″ Ordnance Survey. After a short distance travelling in an West to East direction and before reaching the banks of the Afon Ogwen at a point to the North of Tyddyn-Dicwn it turned once again towards the South. [30]
On the modern satellite imagery from RailMapOnline, the tramroad route appears to be within the width of the modern A5. There are signs that the actual formation of the old tramroad runs through the woodland to the South of the A5. Boyd shows this diversion on his map of the route. [36: p11] Its route can be picked out some metres to the South of the A5 but then rather than following a curving hedge line to the North and the East of Tyddyn-Dicwn at the bottom right of this satellite image. It continued towards the road junction, crossing the Southbound road just to the South of the junction. [27]
The probable route of the old tramroad at the point where it crossed the road South towards Tregarth. From this point it travelled South between the road and the Afon Ogwen for a few hundred yards. [Google Streetview]
The route of the old tramroad can again be picked out easily on the West Bank of the Ogwen passing an old quarry and then running immediately adjacent to Pen-isa’r-allt and on to meet Lon Ddinas. [31]
RailMapOnline shows the tramroad crossing fields to the South of Lon Ddinas to join the route of the later Penrhyn Quarry Railway. This extract shows that route. Looking at the gradients involved and the 6″Ordnance Survey, it seems possible that this was the case only if an incline was used. There is no evidence of this on the ground. It seems more likely that Lon Ddinas runs along the line of the old Tramroad and may well, in times past have shared the same formation. The gradient along Lon Ddinas would have been much more suitable. However, records indicate that there was an incline at this location – known as the Ddinas Incline. [27]
The lane which can easily be confused with the route of the old tramway is clearer on the 6″ Ordnance Survey. However, the Ddinas Incline followed the present field boundaries from close to Ddinas Farm up the relatively steep escarpment to meet the later Penrhyn Quarry Railway route. [32]

The Ddinas Incline was one of three gravity-worked inclines on the original line of the Penrhyn Railway, built 1800-1801 to transport slate from the Penrhyn quarries to Port Penrhyn. … About half-way up the incline was an overbridge carrying a minor road, now widened and straightened at this point. To the north a cutting can still be seen, but the lower part of the incline has been destroyed by construction of a sewage works. To the south the line is visible as a terrace in the field. A ruined wall constructed of large roughly squared stone blocks near the top of the incline may be a surviving fragment of the winding house.” [33]
W J Crompton, RCAHMW, 5 November 2009.

From this point on, the old Tramroad and Penrhyn Quarry Railway followed approximately the same route. The second article about these lines will follow the Penrhyn Quarry Railway to this point at Tregarth.


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  2. Dan Quine; The development of Port Penrhyn, Part One: 1760-1879; Archive. No. 110. Lightmoor Press, June 2021.
  3. James I.C. Boyd; Narrow Gauge Railways in North Caernarvonshire, Volume 2 The Penrhyn Quarry Railways; The Oakwood Press, Usk, 1985. (The British Narrow Gauge Railway No. 5.)
  4. Susan Turner; The Padarn and Penrhyn Railways; David & Charles; Newton Abbot, 1975.
  5. https://narrowgaugerailwaymuseum.org.uk/collections/industrial-railways/penrhyn-quarries, accessed on 27th December 2022.
  6. Thomas Middlemass; Encyclopaedia of Narrow Gauge Railways of Great Britain and Ireland; Patrick Stephens Ltd., Sparkford, Yeovil, 1991.
  7. Both these photographs can be found on the DeviantArt website: https://www.deviantart.com/rlkitterman, accessed on 27th December 2022.
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  35. Barrie K Lill; Richard Pennant, Samuel Worthington and the mill at Penlan: a history of the Penrhyn Mills on the Lower Ogwen; Bangor University, 2019, accessed via https://research.bangor.ac.uk/portal/files/22801787/2019_Lill_B_PhD.pdf, accessed on 5th January 2023.
  36. J.I.C. Boyd; Narrow Gauge Railways in North Caernarvonshire, Vol.II, The Penrhyn Quarry Railways; The Oakwood Press, Usk, 1985.
  37. Personal correspondence dated 20th November 2017 alluded to by Barrie Lill in reference [35]
  38. Permission sought to share some further photographs of Porth Penrhyn (https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/293353217633?mkcid=16&mkevt=1&mkrid=711-127632-2357-0&ssspo=vFhrxofnRnO&sssrc=2349624&ssuid=afQhrar7TGK&var=592202447151&widget_ver=artemis&media=CO)

2018-2022: Railway News from Kenya

This post includes a selection of news items about Kenya Railways in the period from 2018 to the Autumn of 2022. The items included are by no means exhaustive but they might be of interest! ……..

The Birth of a Nation: preserving records on the Kenya-Uganda railway line (EAP1143)

In 2018 the British Library funded a small pilot project undertaken in Nairobi Railway Museum’s archive. This was a low cost 6 month pilot which identified the condition of the archived documents and photographs and improved storage and access to them.

The photographs which were digitised all seem to predate the construction of the railway and document the life and times of people who lived on its route. [1]

The Standard-Gauge Line

In 2018, NPR reported that the “Standard Gauge Railway station in Nairobi is easily the most impressive public building in Kenya.” [8] The station is “adventurous. It’s all gray and modern. Geometric shapes form an abstract locomotive, and red neon announces the “Nairobi Terminus.”” [8]

The Standard-gauge Railway Station at Nairobi. [8]

NPR continues: “The train runs 293 miles from Kenya’s capital city to the port of Mombasa and back twice a day and represents the biggest infrastructure project since Kenya’s independence 54 years ago. The Chinese financed it; a Chinese company built it; and the Chinese will operate it for many years to come. … The project, which launched in the summer of 2017, has not only come to signify Kenya’s ambitions, but also China’s ambitions on the African continent. In the past decade, China has become the biggest lender to governments in Africa. The money has helped build ports, roads, bridges, airports and trains. But critics warn the loans are full of traps that could leave African countries in the lurch. Kenya alone owes $5.3 billion to China.” [8]

On 16th October 2019, VOA News reported that Kenya opened the second phase of the Standard Gauge Railway Project: “Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta officially opened on Wednesday the second phase of his flagship infrastructure project: a Chinese-funded and built railway that will eventually link the port of Mombasa to Uganda. … The latest stretch of track cost $1.5 billion and runs from Nairobi to the Rift Valley town of Naivasha.” [9]

After the official opening, the president then joined the first ride along the line. … “The train stopped at every station, where a cheering crowd awaited the president. He promised them that the new railway will bring prosperity. … Kenyatta said that if the railway comes here, development also comes here.” [9]

The new track is 120 kilometers (75 miles) long and has 12 stations. Passengers can ride the trains, but the railway is mainly for cargo. The track will eventually lead to an inland container depot, (see below) from where containers will be distributed to Uganda and Rwanda, and to South Sudan. [9]

On 20th August 2021 the Ugandan newspaper, ‘The Independent’ reported that Kenya’s Standard-gauge railway line transported 2.31 million tons of cargo between January and the end of May that year: “an increase of about 45 percent from the similar period in 2020, according to data released on Thursday from the Kenya Railways Corporation.” [10]

“The rise in cargo volumes saw an increase in revenue generated during the months to 6.2 billion shillings (about 57 million U.S. dollars), up from 41.4 million dollars generated from January to May in 2020, it said. … The number of passengers using the train during the first five months of 2021 nearly doubled amid COVID-19 pandemic. … Some 601,201 passengers were ferried between the capital Nairobi and the coastal city of Mombasa during the period, up from 330,232 in 2020 when the country grappled with COVID-19 pandemic, the corporation said. … This generated revenue of 5.9 million dollars, up from 3.3 million dollars generated between January and May in 2020.” [10]

Refurbishment of Nairobi Central Station

Major renovations at Nairobi Central Station began on 27th July 2020. By January 2021, the work was well-advanced. Kenya Railways reported that the work would facilitate the use of the new DMUs due to arrive in the country.

Renovation work at Nairobi Central Station in January 2021. [5]

Kenya Railways stated on 13th January 2021 that, “as the rehabilitation works continue[d], stringent measures [were] put in place to safeguard daily commuters as they access[ed] the station.” [5]

Designated boarding points were set for various trains to facilitate safe movement of passengers within the Nairobi Central Station. For instance, Kikuyu and Ruiru trains, the boarding point was designated on the Western end of the Nairobi Central Station and it was to be accessed from Railways Police station. While passengers boarding Syokimau & SGR Link trains boarded the trains from the Eastern end of the station with the access point being adjacent to Guava restaurant.

Kenya Railways stated that, “The rehabilitation of Nairobi Central Station will not only give it a new face but also show KR is dedicated in making transportation better.” [5]

Plans for the full renewal of Nairobi Central Station were published in May 2022. The project has been sponsored by both the British and Kenyan Governments.

Design office view of the proposed renewed Central Station. [6]

THE British and Kenyan governments unveiled the final design of Nairobi’s new Central Railway Station and surrounding public area, which has been developed as part of the Nairobi Railway City redevelopment programme. [6]

The IRJ reported that, “The design was developed by SNC-Lavalin subsidiary Atkins and submitted to Kenya Railways and the Ministry of Transport. … The station is designed to accommodate up to 30,000 passengers per hour at peak periods, and will have 6000m2 of concourse space. The station will offer a new covered public space for the city with retail outlets and other amenities …. It features separate entrance and exit routes to avoid conflicting flows and ensure passengers can get to and from the platforms efficiently. … Three existing platforms will be joined by six additional passenger platforms, and four dedicated freight lines will be built. Two platform bridges will be built, with one for passengers entering the station and one for passengers exiting.” [6]

A few design office perspective views are shown below:

The SGR to MGR link at Naivasha

In July 2022, President Uhuru Kenyatta officially commissioned the Standard Gauge Railway – Metre Gauge Railway Passenger Rail Link at the Kenya Railways Mai Mahiu Station in Naivasha, Nakuru County. The ceremony took place on Tuesday, 26th July 2022.

The 5km link will enable passengers traveling to Western Kenya by train to switch from the standard-gauge service to that of the metre-gauge and vice versa. Kenya Railways reported that it would as a result be possible to travel exclusively by rail from Mombasa through Kilifi, Kwale, Taita Taveta, Makueni, Machakos, Kijiado and Nairobi onwards to Nakuru, Kisumu, Eldoret, Kitale, Nyahururu, Nanyuki, Malaba and Bungoma. [2]

Naivasha Inland Container Depot

On the same day (26th July 2022) the Naivasha Inland Container Depot (ICD) was officially opened by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The Naivasha ICD facility which incorporates both the Standard Gauge Railway and the Metre Gauge Railway line will handle mainly transit cargo to the Great Lakes Region including Uganda, South Sudan, DR Congo, Northern Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi, which account for around 30% of imports and exports through the Port of Mombasa.

The SGR/MGR Link referred to above will greatly facilitate the transshipment process. All Transit cargo can now be delivered to the facility straight from the Port of Mombasa as either Through Bill of Lading (TBL) or merchant haulage (Non-TBL), while exports and empty containers can also be consolidated at the Naivasha ICD and railed to the Port of Mombasa for onward shipping.

Kenya Railways reported that, “The depot is linked to the Mombasa Port container terminal by a rail-tainer service on the Mombasa to Suswa Standard Gauge Railway line. It will serve to bring port services closer to customers and reduce congestion at the Port of Mombasa, Nairobi Inland Container Depot and on the roads. It is convenient for East African partner states who will not have to cover an entire 572 kilometres by road between Mombasa and Naivasha. From Naivasha ICD to Malaba Railway Yard, cargo will be transported over 36 hours and it will cost $860.”

Kenya Railways also affirmed that, “The Naivasha ICD includes a one-stop centre for ease of operations and efficient service delivery. The port houses all the Government agencies involved in handling of cargo namely Kenya Railways, Kenya Ports Authority, Kenya Revenue Authority, Kenya Bureau of Standards, Port Health (Public Health) and Revenue Authority officers from partner states of Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania.” [3]

Nakuru Railway Station

President Uhuru Kenyatta officially commissioned the revitalized 217km Nakuru-Kisumu Metre-Gauge Railway (MGR) and the 465km Longonot–Malaba segment as well as the refurbished Nakuru Railway Station.

Kenya Railways reported on 28th July 2022 that the re-commissioning had taken place: “The iconic Nakuru Railway Station is a key transit station for cargo and passenger train services to and from Western Kenya, and is the aggregation hub for farm produce from the agriculturally rich Central Rift region for onward freight to the Coast for export.” [4]

“Nakuru town started as a railway station on Kenyan-Uganda railway line at the turn of 20th century. It was built in 1900 and later expanded in 1957. It sits on the east side of the centre of Nakuru. The town is part of the famous ‘White Highlands settlement’ areas established by the British during the colonial era. The areas surrounding Nakuru town are mainly known for their vast agricultural potential especially cash-crop farming i.e wheat, barley, pyrethrum, sisal, maize and beans. Nakuru Railway Station was built in order to serve the rapidly growing economy of the town.” [4]

Refurbished Nakuru Railway Station [7]

“Later branch lines were built to link the station to farming areas. Among these was the line linking the station to the sisal producing Solai area. Just 6.9 kilometres from Nakuru town lies Nakuru Junction station. This is the point at which the lines to Malaba and Kisumu diverge.” [4]

Suburban Services in Nairobi

Nairobi Commuter Rail Services now run regularly to Ruiru, Embakasi Village, Limuru, Syokimau and Lukenya in Kitengela. There is also a Madaraka Express Commuter Service that operates between Nairobi Terminus and Ngong station and a link service between Nairobi Central Station and the Standard-gauge Station runs at 0630hrs, 1200hrs and 2010hrs each day. [11]


1. https://eap.bl.uk/project/EAP1143, accessed on 9th September 2022.

2. https://krc.co.ke/sgr-mgr-passenger-rail-link-officially-opened, accessed on 12th October 2022.

3. https://krc.co.ke/h-e-president-uhuru-kenyatta-commissions-the-standard-gauge-railway-metre-gauge-railway-lines-passenger-rail-link, accessed on 12th October 2022.

4. https://krc.co.ke/rehabilitated-nakuru-railway-station-officially-open, accessed on 12th October 2022.

5. https://krc.co.ke/nairobi-central-station-gets-a-face-lift, accessed on 11th October 2022.

6. https://www.railjournal.com/passenger/main-line/design-unveiled-for-new-nairobi-central-railway-station, accessed on 11th October 2022.

7. https://www.capitalfm.co.ke/news/2021/09/kenya-railways-to-commence-mgr-passengers-operations-to-kisumu-in-december, accessed on 12th October 2022.

8. https://www.npr.org/2018/10/08/641625157/a-new-chinese-funded-railway-in-kenya-sparks-debt-trap-fears, 12th October 2022.

9. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.voanews.com/amp/africa_kenya-opens-second-phase-massive-railway-project/6177699.html, accessed on 12th October 2022.

10. https://www.independent.co.ug/kenyas-modern-railway-transports-2-31-mln-tons-of-cargo-between-january-and-may, accessed on 12th October 2022.

11. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=pfbid0eJvJuK7FVebaLxcuouXFSBviZhHu5yAE5ySPC4kRDoimGvyx5BG5QtGkVLN87KjQl&id=100064281415632, 12th October 2022.