The Llangollen Railway's History

1964 to 1968: Decline and Closure

The Ruabon to Bala and Barmouth line closed to passenger traffic on Monday 18th January 1965. The Trevor to Monsanto Chemical Works 'Pontcysyllte branch' and the Ruabon to Llangollen Goods Junction section of the route remained open to goods traffic, but only until 1st April 1968. Although originally earmarked for dieselisation by the Western Region of British Railways in the early 1960s, the Ruabon to Bala / Barmouth line was eventually included in the infamous Beeching Report in 1963. From that time, the line was gradually run down, with the long distance holiday trains and through freight traffic being diverted to the Cambrian main line through Welshpool and other facilities rationalised.

Goods traffic from Bala Junction to Morfa Mawddach ceased running from 4th May 1964 except for the 3.20am Chester General to Barmouth (Class 4 Freight) which continued running to 12th December 1964 for the conveyance of G.P.O. Mails etc under contract. Goods services from Bala to Llangollen Goods Junction ceased as from 2nd November 1964 and the Pontcysyllte branch was closed as from 1st January 1968.

TUCC Hearing

There were protests and the usual TUCC for Wales and Monmouthshire hearing where the railways defended themselves and the general public were unable to obtain meaningful answers to the points they raised. The estimated earnings from the line were £47,000, with expenditure of £152,000 and estimated track renewals for the next five years costed at £93,001 should the line stay open (amazing how it was costed to 001!). Permission was given by the Ministry of Transport to withdraw passenger services in September 1964, and the London Midland Region of British Rail wished to close the services as from 2nd November, the day when local freight trains west of Llangollen ceased running. Although several railway books have stated that the line closed at the beginning of November 1964 and actually re-opened two weeks later, this was not true; it remained open throughout this time.

November 1964 closure plans

The Barmouth line was to have been closed to passenger traffic as from 23rd November 1964 with the 'Farewell Last Train' organised by the Midland Area of the Stephenson Locomotive Society running on Sunday 22nd November. This was diagrammed for a 'Manor' class locomotive, and the special was also due to cover the Welshpool to Whitchurch line which was also to close on the same day. Alternative transport took longer to arrange than expected, so the Ruabon to Bala / Barmouth and Welshpool to Whitchurch closure had to be postponed until firstly 4th January and then 18th January 1965. The then Labour Government had promised in opposition that no major routes would be closed for passenger use. Hopes were high that the closure decision would be reversed when Labour took over the government of the country in October 1964, but this was not to be. This caused much embarrassment to Labour Party officials in Wales, particularly in areas served by the railway.

Steam Working

The Ruabon to Bala / Barmouth railway was steam worked to the end. As far as is known, all ordinary passenger and freight trains on the 'Barmouth Road' (as the line was known to enginemen), up to the January 1965 passenger closure were steam worked. The only commercial diesel workings were railcar excursions in the late 1950s and early 1960s which ran from the Manchester and Stoke areas to the Cambrian Coast resorts. Some of these excursions made a circular tour by returning to Chester via Machynlleth and Oswestry. Possibly the very first diesel working over the line was that of an ex-GWR railcar set, which ran a Talyllyn Railway AGM special train from Birmingham to Towyn in September 1954.

December 12th 1964

Saturday 12th December 1964 was a bad day for the line as a result of several days of heavy rainfall which led to severe flooding. There was flooding at many points along the route with Dolgellau, Llandderfel to Llandrillo, Glyndyfrdwy and Llangollen being affected. Train services were suspended in the late morning between Bontnewydd and Morfa Mawddach because of floods at Dolgellau station. The floods severed several lines in Wales on the same weekend which unfortunately meant that, because of their impending closure, they did not re-open to passenger traffic again. Slight damage was caused to the track between Dolgellau and Bala Junction on Sunday 13th December. Several publications have stated over the years that services between Ruabon to Bala / Barmouth ceased on 13th December. This was a Sunday and, as there were no scheduled Sunday trains, the enforced closure of the Llangollen Goods Junction to Bala Junction section was from Monday 14th December 1964, Monday being the day of the week when most railway closures took place.

As a result of the flooding, a bus service had to be provided to cover the Ruabon to Barmouth train service. Fortunately, passenger trains were quickly restored from Barmouth to Dolgellau on Monday 14th December, after their suspension on Saturday. However, because of track damage, buses were used from Ruabon to Dolgellau with train connections to Barmouth from Monday 14th to Wednesday 16th December. From Thursday 17th December, the train service was restored from Ruabon to Llangollen, with the bus service provided from Llangollen to Bala, where passengers joined a special service from Barmouth which reversed at Bala Junction - this may have been the 'first' regular train service between Bala and Barmouth, apart from special workings. The Ruabon to Trevor section was available for freight traffic on all days, with the Ruabon to Llangollen goods service resuming on Tuesday 15th December.

Track damage at Llanderfel was so extensive that the cost of replacement could not be justified considering the closure a few weeks later. The track on this section was laid on new concrete sleepers. What a shame it was that when closure came, parts of the line were in better condition than they had been for many years. The Stephenson Locomotive Society (Midlands Area) had planned a farewell railtour from Ruabon to Barmouth on Sunday 17th January, but this was cancelled, and a farewell tour of the Whitchurch to Llanfyllin / Welshpool route was arranged instead, hauled by 7802 Bradley Manor, now preserved.

Last Day of service

On the last day of service, Saturday 16th January 1965, former Western Region Class 2 'Mickey Mouse' number 46509, driven by John Willoughby and fired by Barry Stanton, both of Chester, hauled the three-coach 9.27am Ruabon to Llangollen train. The connecting bus to Bala was packed. BR Standard tank number 80104 hauled the two-coach connection from Bala to Barmouth. This engine also covered the Barmouth to Dolgellau service on the same day. Right to the end, the line carried holidaymakers, including two London-based social workers, Mary Dobson and Julia Tolley who were taking a break from work to stay at Barmouth. They travelled on the 9.27 train, not realising it was the final day of service. A nurse, Hilda Williams from Llanbedr-Pensarn, was upset the line was to close as she used the trains twice a month to travel to and from work in Liverpool. She said, "A lot of people use it. I don't know why they had to close it."

Yet another former Western Region engine number 46521, now preserved on the Severn Valley Railway, hauled the final 2.55pm Barmouth to (Chester) Bala train (2D95). The train consisted of two coaches, an ex-LMS CK and a BR BSK. At Penmaenpool, a black flag fluttered at half mast, and detonators were set off en route at Dolgellau and Bontnewydd. Ivatt 'Class 2' number 46446, hauling a westbound service, was crossed at Llanuwchllyn. 46521, which did not seem to be in the best of mechanical health that day, propelled its train from Bala Junction to Bala, arriving at 16.21. Passengers then transferred to the coach 'rail replacement' service to Llangollen. Here, BR standard 'class 4' number 75023 of Croes Newydd (6C) depot worked the four-coach connecting train from Llangollen to Ruabon, arriving seven minutes late.

Locomotive number 46509 hauled the final 6.50pm Ruabon to Llangollen train, and the return working of this service was the last scheduled passenger train from Llangollen. The 7.15pm service from Barmouth to Ruabon had a bus connection from Bala all the way to Ruabon. This train, driven by Harry Jones of Penmaenpool, with fireman Myfyr Tanner of Machynlleth and guard Jim Wittey of Dolgellau, was given a rousing send off with 'Last train to San Fernando' written on the smokebox door - possibly 46446 worked this train; confirmation would be welcome. Bala and Penmaenpool sub sheds closed on 18th January. Apart from the 'Cambrian Coast Express' and the goods service, trains on the Cambrian Coast Line went over to diesel units as from Monday 18th January. For the first few weeks at least there were quite a lot of steam substitutions.

1965 to 1969

After the closure, the rail replacement Crosville D94 Wrexham to Barmouth service soon became one of the largest loss making services in Wales (this called at Ruabon station drive to connect with the Birkenhead to Paddington trains). During the Beeching era, researchers found that many former rail users did not use the replacement bus services. They either bought a car, changed their work or did not make the same journeys. The bus route today however is given better publicity with a full colour folder detailing its scenic attractions. Because of a then Government edict, the track of closed routes had to remain in situ for three years in case of possible re-opening. During this period a special road-rail timetable was produced to enable people to travel in Wales in areas served by former railways. Journey times were not as good, as the connecting coach links had to have allowances made in their schedules for traffic delays, particularly on Summer Saturdays.

The International Eisteddfod Committee at Llangollen who wished to see a passenger service to Llangollen during Eisteddfod week, were most disappointed that BR would not run special trains for the event, particularly as the line was open from Ruabon for goods traffic. They were not amused to see the '8F' hauled special 'last' passenger train organised by the Merseyside branch of the RCTS which ran from Wrexham to Llangollen Goods Junction in April 1967. So as not to encourage the hopes of the Eisteddfod Committee, passengers were unable to alight at Llangollen station but only at the Goods Junction!

Goods traffic

Croes Newydd shed closed to steam in the Spring of 1967 when Class 24 diesel locomotives worked the Llangollen goods service until closure on 1st April 1968. During the goods only service, signalman Sidney Williams covered many of the turns from 0800hrs to 1600hrs Monday to Friday. Mr Williams was on duty when the last train ran. Assuming traffic continued to 1st April 1968, then the date of the final train was Friday 29th March 1968. Mr Williams stated that all the remaining wagons in the yard were removed that day. During the following week, the S and T Department dismantled and cleared all the signalling equipment from Llangollen Goods Junction signal box. When the Monsanto branch closed is at present unknown but traffic was very sparse during 1965. On 30th December 1965, BR pannier 1628 worked into the Monsanto yard whilst en route from Llangollen to Wrexham. The guard said that he could not remember the last time a train worked into the works, but it was a while before that.

Demolition

The track demolition commenced in 1968 and was completed by December 1968 to Ruabon South and 2nd April 1969 to Morfa Mawddach. D5045 worked the final demolition train at Morfa Mawddach on 2nd April 1969. The westbound demolition trains in 1968/9 were hauled by class 24 diesel locomotives with diesel shunters being used on eastbound trains. Some of the signals on the Bala to Morfa Mawddach section were dismantled for the Dart Valley line in Devon. Text from an article in Steam at Llangollen no. 91 by Chris Magner.

Transferred 12th October 2007 by John Rutter - email webmaster@llangollen-railway.co.uk

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Above: Floods at Llangollen in 1964. (LR archives)