The Llangollen Railway's History

Project X: Deeside Halt

As is usually the way with railway preservation projects, the success of the Berwyn extension prompted calls for onward progress towards Corwen. One of many false starts came in 1987 with an abortive MSC scheme. Meanwhile Goods Junction signalbox was commissioned in 1989, enabling two train running to be tried out for the first time on Bank Holiday Monday 29th May 1989. Departures every 45 minutes to Berwyn, with the two trains passing at Goods Junction, made for a busy timetable.

1989 saw 'Project X' finally get off the ground, after thoughts of employing contractors were abandoned as unrealistically expensive. A team of volunteers banded together and got down to the serious business of rebuilding a railway. Contractors arrived in June to drain and level the trackbed, then the tracklaying could begin. As the road access was at the Llangollen end of Berwyn tunnel, tracklaying started from the far end and built back to join up with the existing railhead. This allowed free movement of vehicles through the single-bore Berwyn Tunnel, which at 683 yards is one of the longest tunnels in preservation.

'Project X' mess van

Above: The 'Project X' mess van. (John Rutter)

'Project X (Goin' West)' was at times 40 strong. To support this team with somewhere to have a brew and something to eat, particularly during inclement weather, a NAV full-brake vehicle was parked at the railhead. Repainted in 'Stowell Green' and lettered 'MESS VAN', the accommodation was improved over the Deeside and Glyndyfrdwy extensions until the kitchen and dining area could serve 40 hot dinners in two servings.

The photo shows the mess van, newly painted, parked at the railhead. It had been brought up the line by the resident class 08 shunter. In the lower left-hand corner of the photo can be seen part of the ramp up to the Railway from the adjacent lane. Materials for the extension were transported up this ramp on road vehicles, onto the trackbed and through the tunnel to the work site.

Above, right: Deeside in early September. The trackbed is prepared for tracklaying from the points at the East end of the loop, Eastwards over the bridge, towards the tunnel. To the left centre is the trusty tractor used to carry out a multitude of tasks, but in particular to drag matched pairs of rails from the stockpile to the railhead. The rails were marked River(side) and Road(side) to identify their locations, and then they would be moved to the outsides of the trackbed. Concrete sleepers were then loaded onto the Scania lorry at the stockpile, and positioned with its attached 'Hiab' arm over the cab and onto centres marked with tape on a set of drain rods. Once a 60' length of sleepers had been positioned, the rails were levered into the chairs (or clips) by eight volunteers with crowbars. (John Rutter)

The golden fishplate

Above: The golden fishplate. (John Rutter)

When the track had been built through the tunnel, both sets of rails were joined, and the Railway suddenly doubled in length. This was an event which required a significant mark, and since the golden spike idea had already been used, the final joint was made with a 'Golden fishplate'. Here the late John Stowell, universally known as ‘Grumpy’, then head of the signal & telegraph department and driving force behind 'Project X', uses a powered spanner to tighten the bolts in that golden fishplate on 9th December 1989.

Into the darkness ...  Neptune in the Tunnel  The Neptune at Deeside Loop

Above: (left) The tunnel is seen with Neptune's lights for the first time; (middle) clearing a way through the tunnel; (right) 'Neptune' reaches Deeside Halt for the first time. Note the ceremonial tape! (John Rutter)

Following the 'Golden Fishplate' ceremony, the 'Project X' team climbed onto 'Neptune' (a retired BR track monitoring vehicle) and took a trip up the extension. This was the first rail vehicle (no-one could claim that it was a train) on this section of line since closure in 1964. The tunnel was entered 30 yards from the golden fishplate, and its interior was inspected with the aid of Neptune's lights. Equipment had to be moved to one side to make a way past. Once past the tunnel, the line follows the River Dee once more to Deeside Loop.

Because the whole length of the extension was immediately available, the atmosphere on this first trip was euphoric as shown in the photograph. An impromptu 'tape' was broken on that return trip from the far end of the new line. The first train over the new section ran on 23rd December, when the works train cautiously made its way to Deeside Loop where the volunteers ate an early Christmas Dinner!

Slewing track  Brickwork  Tanner's Leap

Above: (left) Slewing the track into alignment in the tunnel; (middle) Sorting out the brickwork on the tunnel portal; (right) a little time was found for entertainment! (John Rutter)

Of course, building a railway isn't just about track; another major problem at the time was fencing, and in particular that somebody was tearing it down just about as fast as it was put up. Ballasting was carried out in January 1990, using material recovered from Rainfords of Mold Junction, near Chester. Trees were cut back to a safe distance from the line, a two-coach platform was built at Deeside, and a Great Western 'Pagoda' recovered by members from the old Ffestiniog station was rebuilt on it as a waiting room. Meanwhile various civil engineering works had to be attended to, such as repairing the brickwork and capping stones at the tunnel portals, and a ground frame was installed at the Berwyn end of the loop.

The first passenger train to Deeside Halt

Above: The first passenger train to reach Deeside Halt in 1990. (Bill Shakespeare)

Friday 2nd March 1990 saw Major Olver of the Railway Inspectorate come to inspect the new extension, which was duly approved, apart from Deeside platform having to be lowered by two inches. This meant that passenger trains could begin once a few jobs had been completed. A special train, hauled by Odney Manor, ran on Saturday 16th June, with a large number of guests. These included our President, His Grace the Duke of Westminster, who performed the opening ceremony, driving Odney Manor through a ceremonial white ribbon.

Updated 13th September 2011 by John Rutter - email

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Above, left: During August, tracklaying progressed rapidly from the crossover at the West end of Deeside Loop to the points at the East end. Here the track gang of 'Project X' set up the East end points after initial laying. From these points, the track becomes a single line to the connection point with the operational line. (John Rutter)

Above: (left) Onwards towards the tunnel. The trusty Scania with its Hiab does its stuff, positioning sleepers. (right) In the tunnel, the lorry's crane couldn't be used due to its height. To the rescue came an all-terrain fork lift truck. (John Rutter)

Tracklaying continued for the rest of the year, through the darkness of Berwyn tunnel.

And, finally, the commemorative picture of the completion of the track of ‘Project X’ Above is a large portion of those volunteers who gave up a very significant proportion of their free time to effectively double the length of the railway. Completion of the track was, of course, not the end of the construction period, but, for those on the gang, it was a very satisfying moment.