History of Dolgarrog
As there was the possibility of generating cheap electricity, using water flowing from a reservoir high above the village of Dolgarrog, plans for an aluminium works there were drawn up in 1907. Production started at Dolgarrog in 1908. However, a serious fall in the price of aluminium quickly forced the company into liquidation but a second company was formed in 1909.
Early railway proposals
Transport to and from the works was a problem from the beginning as the Llandudno Junction to Blaenau Ffestiniog railway ran along the opposite side of the valley, and hence the far side of the River Conwy, and local roads were in poor condition. The Aluminium Corporation made plans in May 1907 to build its own standard gauge railway connection, but at the time this proposal came to nothing. Instead, the company invested in a five ton Foden steam wagon and an electric car used for staff transport. These did not however satisfactorily solve the transport problem and plans were made for a two foot gauge line powered by electricity, but the liquidation of the company meant there was no further progress.
Local people, in 1911 proposed a standard gauge line, leaving the Chester - Holyhead main line at Conwy and running through Dolgarrog and Trefriw to terminate at Llanrwst. Rather than wait for the outcome of this scheme the company decided to use the River Conwy as a transport route from Conwy harbour. An old Russian whaling ship, the "Anna Olga" was purchased for use as a floating warehouse in Conwy harbour and a forty ton steam boat, the "Pioneer" was used for the river traffic, later joined by other vessels. Because there was no rail access, the use of Conwy Harbour involved double handling. Therefore agreement was soon reached with the LNWR to use their Ynys Quay siding at Llandudno Junction.
A two foot gauge tramway was then built at Dolgarrog, to connect the works to the river. The wagons on this were hauled by an electrically powered winch. In 1914 a canal leading from the river to the works was opened, although the tramway continued to be used for some traffic.
A main line connection is built
In 1916 the Company finally opened a short standard gauge line, leaving the LNWR Llandudno Junction to Blaenau Ffestiniog railway at a point just over ½ mile south east of the works. Interchange sidings were provided here, connected to a loop on the LNWR line. From this point the works line turned through 90 degrees on a sharp curve which climbed steeply to an impressive girder bridge over the River Conwy. Leaving the bridge the curve continued as the line descended to the level of the surrounding land. Having gone through an almost 180 degree turn the railway then ran in an absolutely straight line to the Works. Outside the works entrance was a run round loop and a branch along Clark Street to the foot of the incline and a coal yard.
The system seems to have been operated on an as required basis, with one engine in steam and the other as spare. Ten 12 ton wagons were acquired at the time the line opened for business but it is not known if these operated over the main line.
Shortly after opening for goods traffic, the company decided to operate a passenger service for the benefit of its employees. A basic platform constructed of timber was provided by the LNWR from where passengers had to walk across a level crossing to join the Company train at its own low platform. There was a further platform just outside the works entrance.
This must have been a haphazard operation, as only the ‘blue collar’ workers were conveyed by train, this connecting with the early morning Conwy Valley train; the office staff had to walk!
To operate the service the Company acquired two second hand coaches, a bogie coach and a four wheeler. Little appears to be known about the bogie vehicle but the four wheeler came from the North London Railway and the builders plate survives today in the Conwy Valley Railway Museum. The passenger service was withdrawn about 1932 but the coaches found further use as changing rooms for the works swimming pool and sports facilities.
Goods traffic continued and reached a peak during the war years but declined in the 1950s, and by 1960 the line saw little use, and the system finally closed. It was eventually lifted a few years later.
Only one section of track is visible today, embedded in Station Road, near the works, although the position of the trackbed can still be located, now somewhat overgrown by trees. The trackbed can be followed, from the works, alongside Station Road, to the bridge over the river Conwy, which is now a footpath bridge, and which is also used as a pipe bridge, to carry water mains. The site of the Exchange Sidings at Dolgarrog Station can be explored to reveal the position of the main line connection, but this is best done in summer, due to the water underfoot during winter.
Locomotives which worked the line
The identity of the motive power for the opening of the line in 1916 does not appear to have been recorded. However, two 0-6-0 saddle tanks handled traffic from the early days.
The first of these to be recorded was an inside cylindered machine built by the Hunslet Engine Company of Leeds in 1902 (works number 761). It was named "Uxbridge" having previously worked on the Harrow and Uxbridge Railway and carried this name throughout its time at Dolgarrog. The loco was bought by the Aluminium Corporation in 1917 but had previously been at Dolgarrog whilst working on the Llyn Eigiau reservoir railway between 1907 and 1911. For this contract "Uxbridge" was brought by rail to Llanrwst station and then taken to Dolgarrog on a trailer pulled by a steam traction engine. It was then hauled up the steep incline to reach the reservoir railway. After the reservoir was completed the loco was sold for service on other contracts before returning to work on the Dolgarrog siding where it remained until scrapped in 1952.
Working alongside "Uxbridge" was a Manning Wardle locomotive built in 1901 (works no. 1507). This engine may have worked the siding from 1916 although there is no record of it until 1928 when spares were ordered. One of MW's class K locos, it is recorded as having been built for the Isle of Axholme Light Railway and originally named "Haxey". It came to Dolgarrog via a Wolverhampton contractor and was named "Dolgarrog". Eventually it was sold to Cudworth and Johnson of Wrexham who had previously carried out repairs to the loco, the date of sale not being known but could have been at the time that the Corporation acquired its last loco in 1943. After a period working at Birkenhead docks it was broken up in 1950.
The only locomotive to be bought new by the Aluminium Corporation was "Dolgarrog No. 1", an outside cylindered 0-6-0 saddle tank built by Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns Limited (works no. 7074 of 1943). This loco apparently worked all traffic after "Uxbridge" was scrapped. The possibility of replacing "Dolgarrog No. 1" with a diesel shunter was considered but in the event nothing was done and the steam loco was cut up at the works about 1962, after the closure of the line.
An even longer two foot gauge railway, complete with a rope worked incline, turntable and engine shed above Dolgarrog, existed until 1984. This line was built to serve the dams and leats above Dolgarrog.
We have the opportunity now to rebuild the majority of the Aluminium Company’s Railway. As a result the Society needs your help to bring to North Wales something which is sorely missed - the sights and sounds of small industrial steam locos at work, amongst the sylvan surroundings of the Conwy Valley.