|Snowdon Mountain Railway|
its home on the mountain which is the very
spiritual heart of Wales, the Snowdon Mountain Railway is really a foreigner-- a Swiss to
be precise. The SMR was the brainchild of Sir Richard Moon, a wealthy executive with
the London & North Western Railway, and Mr. George Assheton-Smith, a prominent local
slate mine owner and landholder. After his L&NWR penetrated into the Llanberis
valley in 1869, Sir Richard dreamed up the idea of an excursion railway to Snowdon
summit-- a crowd-pleasing attraction which would boost tourist traffic on his connecting
standard-gauge line. After considerable early reluctance, Mr. Assheton-Smith joined
the scheme when he realized that the tourists' pounds and shillings might replace the
declining revenues from his slate mines.
Together Moon, Assheton-Smith and their backers imported from Switzerland a fully-working 800mm-gauge mountain cog railway based on the patented rack-and-pinion technology of Dr. Roman Abt. From various railway works around Switzerland came track and specialwork; from the firm of SLM Winterthur came steam engines of the 0-4-2 rack design. Construction took only a little over a year, and in April of 1896 the line was ready for its public debut.
Tragedy marred the opening day, however, when a series of unaccountable errors led to a fatal accident. Heading back down from the first trip to the summit, Engine #1, Ladas, suddenly ran away with her two carriages, derailed, and plummeted down a chilling slope. The engine crew both jumped from the careening locomotive and survived, and an alert guard arrested the carriages using their independent brakes. However, in the panic one patron lept from one of the still-moving carriages and fell beneath the wheels, sustaining an injury which later proved fatal. Just as the tumult was subsiding, the stalled cars were then struck from behind by the only other train on the line! Traumatized and discouraged, the patrons of both trains hiked back down to the foot of the mountain, carrying the injured man with them. A Board of Trade investigation discovered several flaws in operating practices, though it did not conclusively establish why Ladas had left the rails. After a year's closure for re-engineering, the line reopened, and has been safely conveying passengers ever since.