Great Little Trains of Wales
Railways started out with a range of gauges, the gauge being the gap between the inside edge of the two lines. Later it became standardised for most railways, and today at least 60% of all railways in the world use what is known as standard gauge, or Stephenson Gauge after its inventor George Stephenson. Standard Gauge is 1.435m or 4ft 8 1/2 inches. Wagnonways in mines had been 4'8" for a long time before and Stephenson started out with this before adding an extra half inch of free movement to ease binding on curves. Brunel, on the Great Western started out with a far wider gauge of 7ft 1/4 inch, for extra stability and others chose other sizes. In 1846 Parliament passed the Gauges Act, which said that all new railways had to be standard gauge. Only Great Western continued with the wider gauge and they switched to standard gauge in 1892. Ireland uses a gauge of 5ft 3 inches.
All larger than standard gauge are now lumped together as broad gauge and all narrower as narrow gauge.
Welsh Narrow Gauge Railways
Some railways in Wales were connected with the mining industry and in particular slate mining, many of these predated steam and were originally developed for horse drawn tramways. While in England many of the mines used a gauge of 4ft 8 inches, coming about through the gap being sufficient for a cart or shire horse to walk, in Wales a number of smaller gauges developed. This in part was because it was cheaper to construct, partly because a smaller gauge allows tighter corners and therefore easier routing around steep hills and partly because they used gravity feed to deliver the train and a horse to pull it back up empty. As the horse needed to ride back down in the rear carriage they chose not to use such large horses, so did not need the same gap. There are other narrow gauge tracks in use in Britain but many of these are not railways but tramways.
Great Little Trains of Wales
A group of these Welsh Narrow Gauge Railways work together and are marketed under the title of the Great Little Trains of Wales, most are in or around Snowdonia. The only one in South Wales is the Brecon Beacons Railway. The Brecon railway was created as a tourist attraction using part of an old track bed from the Brecon and Merthyr Railway.
The common features of these lines is that they all employ narrow gauge lines although the gauge differs, and they are all pleasant scenic tourist lines now.
You can obtain a discount card for £10 that allows you to get a 20% discount on return tickets on each of the 9 railways that are marketed this way. See Great little trains of Wales. This however may not work out to be the best buy as there are also group tickets allowing you to ride on a number of the railways. You can't do a direct comparison as different tickets are offered.
The Great Little Trains of Wales are:-
Llanberis Lake Railway, Llanberis, Gwynedd
Welsh Highland Railway, Caernarfon
Ffestiniog Railway, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd
Bala Lake Railway, Llanuwchllyn, Gwynedd
Welshpool & Llanfair Railway, Powys
Vale of Rheidol Railway, Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire
Brecon Mountain Railway, Glamorganshire
Welsh Highland Railway, Porthmadog, Gwynedd
Talyllyn Railway, Tywyn, Gwynedd
All of which we have location guides for.