Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, and home of the only rack railway in Britain is about to get some new motive power. Although steam is popular on many of the world’s rack railways, diesel power has gradually been adopted over the past few decades, and now as diesel’s reputation as a pollutant has soarded, hybrids are coming to the rescue.
In its 123+ year history, the 800mm gauge railway to the summit of Snowdon, this line has operated with 8 steam locomotives, all built by SLM in Switzerland, 5 diesel locomotives and 3 diesel railcars. All of the railcars have been scrapped, along with the diesel-mechanical loco bought secondhand in 1949 have been scrapped.
Two of the steam locomotives – Nos. 7 & 8. built in 1922 and 1923 have been withdrawn and dismantled, with one of the remaining locos – No. 4 “Snowdon”, currently being overhauled. The remaining steam locomotives remain operational, and all bar one are more than 100 years old.
Of the remaining 4 diesel-hydraulic locos, two (Nos 9 & 10) were delivered in 1986, with Nos. 11 and 12, delivered in 1991 and 1992. These are the newest locomotives – now approaching 30 years of age – in service on the line.
The Snowdon Mountain Railway (SMR) began looking into replacement locomotives five years ago, and this year named Clayton Equipment Limited of Burton-upon-Trent has been chosen as the preferred supplier.
Clayton are a specialist supplier of locomotive for mining, tunnelling, shunting and many other specialist rail applications. This specialism includes bespoke battery hybrid battery-diesel designs, and the SMR’s two new locomotives will be commissioned and ready for service for the start of the railway’s 2020 season in spring next year.
Clayton have been involved as a manufacturer in the railway industry since the 1930s, and through various changes of structure and ownership, and now once again as an independent company.
The new locomotives will be driven by High Torque, maintenance free electric motors, powered by traction battery and diesel generator. The diesel generator will be switched off whilst the locomotive is descending, as service braking recharges the battery ready for the next ascent. It is anticpated that this new design will save costs on both maintenance and fuel, and as lower powered units, complying fully with Euro Stage V emissions requirements, less environmental impact too.
The train configurations with the new locos will also allow an extra 12 passengers to be carried on each trip.
New technology for the 21st Century on the UK’s only Abt rack railway, and hopefully too, continued success for both the SMR and Clayton Equipment. We look forward to 2020 with interest.