BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rebuilding the Welsh Highland Railway: Britain’s Longest Heritage Line’

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BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Rebuilding the Welsh Highland Railway: Britain’s Longest Heritage Line

Author: Peter Johnson

Total Number of Pages: 288

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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On this volume’s dustjacket it is opined that ‘The revival and restoration of the Welsh Highland railway is one of the greatest heritage railway achievements, yet its success followed more than one hundred years of failure’. It is an accurate precis of the content of a well-written and very readable book.

A Sources section placed immediately behind the Contents page lists the many and varied resources used during the volume’s creation., providing, where necessary, additional information concerning both their condition and the reasons for their inclusion.  This is in turn followed by an Acknowledgements section. In it the author details the individuals, publications and organisations which contributed to the creation of the volume. A short section titled Welsh Place Names follows. This clarifies the use of that language within the book. An Introduction follows. This summarises the information contained within the two Parts and nine Chapters which form the main part of this work. The parts titles (Setting the Scene and Rebuilding the Welsh Highland Railway are self-explanatory and cover the history of the line until 2012. The narrative is then updated by a Postscript placed as a subsection of Chapter Nine (The final push), which relates events which occurred in the 2012-2017 period. Eight Appendices follow the Postscript. These are in Table format and present, in visual form, a variety of subjects important to the larger narrative. A single-page Bibliography follows, with a two-page Index completing the volume. The book contains numerous monochrome and colour images. In addition to photographs, these include plans, posters, diagrams and ephemera relative to the narrative. These are informatively captioned and,  where necessary, their sources are noted. There is not mention of the existence of these items on either the Contents page or within the Index. A Map of the railway in its entity appears inside the covers at each end of the volume. Where relevant to the narrative, other maps are  placed within the relevant chapters. Curiously, there is no General Outline Map of Great Britain to place the railway in context. This could prove problematical for potential visitors (especially if they live outside Wales or off shore) as if they don’t know where the railway is, how can it be visited? As with the images etc., the Maps are given no mention in either the Contents page or within the Index. Where quotes appear within the volume, their sources are not given.

For this reviewer this volume is badly let down by its Index. Although in the course of random searching he found many examples where items appearing within the volume did not appear in the Index, one example will suffice; that of Dinas. The Index lists six entries for that location, these being on pages 9,10,21,26, 27, 38.  It contains no entries for pages 113, 114, 116, 118, or 120 where Dinas is also mentioned.  As noted, these latter being found during random searching, there is no way to know what other references to Dinas are also unrecorded. There were numerous similar examples, with the omission of references to both Beyer-Garratts and South Africa (Page 108) being especially noticeable; this on a railway which is unique in Great Britain for its operation of such locomotives. As it cannot be known what else may be missing from the Index, the authority and veracity of that section is inevitably compromised. The lack of an outline Map has already been noted. The volume contains no plans or diagrams of locomotives, rolling stock or infrastructure,

In precis this volume is of the ‘Company history’ genre. This reviewer found it to be well-researched, well-written, eminently readable and interesting. While not ‘perfect’ it is an excellent introduction to the Welsh Highland. When combined with Pen and Sword’s recently-published works on the Festiniog Railway (the Welsh Highland Railway’s parent / owner) it forms a valuable resource on a unique narrow gauge railway system.

Unsurprisingly, this volume will inevitably appeal to the ‘Welsh Highland enthusiast’ members of the railway fraternity. Readers with a specific interest in Welsh narrow Gauge Railways are also likely to find it worthy of their attention. However, it is also likely to have a wider appeal, especially amongst holiday-makers seeking a souvenir of their visit to the railway. Railway historians and railway enthusiasts of a more ‘generalist’ nature may also find it of interest. The volume’s photographs could also be useful to railway modellers interested in the Welsh Highland specifically, and Welsh narrow gauge railways in general.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rebuilding the Welsh Highland Railway: Britain’s Longest Heritage Line’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Festiniog Railway: From Slate Railway to Heritage Operation 1921-2014’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Festiniog Railway: From Slate Railway to Heritage Operation 1921-2014

Author: Peter Johnson

Total Number of Printed Pages: 352

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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In his Introduction, the author notes that ‘The Ffestiniog Railway [sic]… set the scene for the use of narrow gauge railways around the world’. However, competition (primarily in the form of the internal combustion engine and the motor vehicle), resulted in a decline and ‘…The effects of the First World War seriously weakened the company’. He also states that  ‘The events of the 1920s and 1930s started the railway on the road that led to the position in which it finds itself today, making the transition from being a common carrier [railway], to become a leading Welsh tourist attraction of international renown’. This is the story of that ‘Transition’. It complements the author’s previous volume (Festiniog Railway The Spooner Era and After 1830 – 1920), which narrates the railway’s creation and early years

An Acknowledgements ad Sources section is placed immediately behind the Contents page. In it the author details the individuals and publications which contributed to the creation of the volume. An Introduction follows. This summarises the information contained within the 14 Chapters which form the main part of this work. Although ostensibly the volume covers the period 1921-2014, a Postscript placed after Chapter 14 brings the reader up to date with events that occurred in the 2015-2016 period. Eight Appendices follow the Postscript. Of these Appendices 1-7 are in Table format and cover the commercial activities of the Festiniog Railway Company for the period 1921-2014. Appendix 8 consists of Deposited plans for 1923, 1968 and 1975 Light Railway Orders. A single-page Bibliography follows, with a 10–page Index completing the volume. In format the Index is confusing, and ‘muddled; in its arrangement. Within it, this reviewer looked in vain for references to South Africa and Beyer-Garratt’s, finding only an entry for Garratt K1, and that under the entry Locomotives, Steam. That he found even that was surprising as those subheadings themselves appear under the even broader heading Festiniog Railway. Regrettably, there is no similar entry for the Welsh Festiniog’s associated Highland Railway, despite the fact that the Garratt type of locomotive is mentioned several times in connection with that railway and is also the subject of several photographs within the volume. The volume contains numerous monochrome and colour images.  Although with one exception (that of the locomotive on page 290), these are well and informatively captioned, with the majority being from the author’s own collection, a fact noted within the Acknowledgements ad Sources section. Where they are from other sources, these are acknowledged. Where relevant, a Table format is used throughout the volume to present details relating to ticket sales etc. Although numerous local maps and plans appear within this volume, no general reference maps of either Great Britain or Wales are provided. While not problematic for those who are ’Festiniog familiar’, for ‘non-railway enthusiast’ readers living either ‘off shore’ (or even within the British Isles), this lack is regrettable, since if one does not know where the Festiniog  is located within Great Britain, how can one visit it?  For international visitors unfamiliar with even the country itself, this could be especially difficult.  The reasons for the omissions are not known.   There is no reference to images, plans or maps on either the Contents page or within the Index. No reference notes or citations are provided for the quotes appearing within the volume. There are no diagrams of Company locomotives, rolling stock or infrastructure.

In precis this volume is of the ‘Company history’ genre. This reviewer found it to be well-researched, well-written, eminently readable and interesting. While not ‘perfect’ it is an excellent introduction to the Festiniog.  When combined with its previously-mentioned sister volume, it forms a valuable resource on its subject.

Unsurprisingly, this volume will inevitably appeal to the ‘Festiniog enthusiast’ members of the railway fraternity. However, it is also likely to have a wider appeal, especially amongst holiday-makers seeking a souvenir of their visit to the railway. Railway historians and railway enthusiasts of a more ‘generalist’ nature may find it of interest. The volume’s photographs could also be useful to railway modellers interested in the Festiniog specifically, and Welsh narrow gauge railways in general.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Festiniog Railway: From Slate Railway to Heritage Operation 1921-2014’