The Llangollen Railway's History

Construction of the Ruabon to Barmouth line


Above: Map of North Wales.

The map shows the remaining lines open to traffic in this part of North Wales (in black), these constituting only a fraction of a once extensive rail network. Our restored section of line and its stations are shown in green, and the remainder of our line and stations in blue, although Ruabon and Barmouth are still open on the national network. A few other closed lines in the vicinity are shown in red.

For more details on the railway history of North Wales, locate a copy of A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain, volume 11: North and Mid Wales by Peter E. Baughan. ISBN 0-946537-59-3.

Ruabon to Llangollen

Llangollen was a popular place for tourists by the 1840s, and from 1848, visitors could travel by train to the nearest station, Llangollen Road which was on the Shrewsbury to Chester line. From there they could reach Llangollen and other places along the road to Holyhead by coach. Local goods traffic included slate, coal produced at Acrefair and lime at Trevor.

A number of schemes were proposed to connect Llangollen to the rail network in the late 1840s and early 1850s, including one by the LNWR to turn the Llangollen canal into a railway. These were all rejected.  

It was the Vale of Llangollen Railway, engineered by Henry Robertson, whose bill received Royal Assent on 1st August 1859.

The 5¼ mile railway line left the Shrewsbury to Chester main line just over ½ mile South of Ruabon. It  was initially built as a single track line but on a trackbed wide enough for double track. There were intermediate stations at Acrefair (where it crossed the Pontcysyllte Tramway) and at Trevor.

The line opened to freight on 1st December 1861 and to passengers on 2nd June 1862.

Llangollen to Corwen

By the time the first section opened to Llangollen, plans were already underway for a line from Llangollen to Corwen, a small market town some ten miles further on.

The Llangollen and Corwen Railway was incorporated on 6th August 1860, and by October 1863 construction of Berwyn Tunnel, a 689-yard single bore tunnel through an outcrop of the Berwyns, was underway. Two other major engineering features were the bridge over the River Dee, consisting of three wrought-iron girder spans on stone piers, and a viaduct at Berwyn, consisting of six stone-and-brick arches. On 8th May 1865 the line was opened from Llangollen to Corwen, where trains had already been arriving from Denbigh at a temporary terminus since Autumn 1864. The original station at Llangollen, on the Eastern outskirts of the town, was replaced by the current one.

Corwen to Barmouth

As with previous sections of the line, numerous schemes and counter-schemes were proposed in a struggle for supremacy between the railway companies in the area, notably the GWR and the LNWR. Eventually the Corwen & Bala received Royal Assent on 30th June 1862, as did the Bala & Dolgelly, followed by the 'Aberystwith and Welch Coast Railway' (sic) receiving authorisation for the Barmouth - Dolgellau link on 29th July 1862.

The first section of line West from Corwen was opened to Llandrillo on 16th July 1866, and the remainder to Bala, 12½ miles West of Corwen, on 1st April 1868. Shortly afterwards the next 17¼ miles to Dolgelley (renamed Dolgellau in 1960) opened on 4th August. The final section, to Barmouth, opened the following year  Of these railway companies, the Bala & Dolgellau was absorbed by the GWR in 1877, but the Vale of Llangollen, Llangollen & Corwen, and 'Aberystwith & Welch Coast' survived until 1896 before being absorbed.


Throughout its life, numerous improvements were made to the line. A passing loop and second platform were installed at Glyndyfrdwy in 1877, and in 1884 Bala Junction station was installed to replace the original Bala station. The line was doubled from Ruabon Junction to Llangollen Goods Junction, ½ mile West of Llangollen, in September 1900. Acrefair, Trevor and Llangollen stations were remodelled, and an extra station at Garth & Sun Bank Halt (Sun Bank Halt from 1906) opened in 1905. By the start of World War 1, a loop had been installed at Deeside, now the site of Deeside Halt on the reopened section of line. Several more halts were opened in the first part of the 20th century, including Bonwm; most remained until the end of passenger service, although Sun Bank closed in June 1950.


Already by the mid-1870s it was possible to travel from London Paddington to Barmouth, with a change at Ruabon, in around nine hours. The Ruabon to Barmouth line itself had two 'down' and three 'up' workings each weekday, plus several others along parts of the line. Corwen itself had a small shed and assorted sidings to the West of the station. Until the Grouping, Cambrian locomotives took over from the GWR at Corwen. By 1900, the journey time from Paddington to Barmouth had been reduced to eight hours.

Between the wars, the service was at its most intensive, and times had improved further; Paddington to Barmouth could be done in a little over six hours in through coaches. The advent of World War 2 saw a much reduced service, with no trains on Sundays, and these were never reinstated. Once the Corwen - Denbigh and Bala - Ffestiniog services were withdrawn, the Ruabon - Barmouth timetable was simplified.

 Page Inserted 2nd Sept 2007 by John Rutter - email

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