I grew up on Rev W Awdry railway stories and so did my children so we were really looking forward to the Snowdon Mountain Railway, it was one of the principle reasons for going to Llanberis to base ourselves.

I was not prepared to pay the full price of the tickets which was an eye-watering £25 for adults and £18 for chidren, because this did not give you the free-reign of the railway for the day it was for one trip only which I’m afraid I found so astonishingly expensive I preferred the normally unheard of step of getting up at 7am to catch the 9am train to receive the “Early Bird discount” which cost a mere (!) £43 for myself and the 2 kids.   To start with when we arrived we had to stand out in the rain getting soaked whilst the coach sat empty at the platform, the children were pretty crestfallen to find it was a diesel and not a steam train – they don’t mention mountain diesels in the railway stories – even I was pretty disappointed, there’s something magical about those Swiss engines that are built on a wonk, the smell, the noise all the things you expect of the trip which we weren’t able to experience which was a real pity.

According to the management most people don’t care what takes them up whether steam or diesel, I’d like to know what they are basing these claims on as I doubt they are surveying many real people, however if they wished to stand by their spurious statistics then why do they not publicise which type of locomotive will be working in advance and people can then make their choices?  I suspect it has more to do with the fact that the fuel costs are vastly different between steam and diesel, I saw something that said according to 1987 costs the diesel round trip cost £3.05 in fuel whilst the steam train was a little over £50. These costs are undoubtedly significant but when you consider that there are at least 40 people in each carriage and if you take £18 as the base rate that’s £720 per trip, which bearing in mind there are trips every half an hour between 9am and 4.30pm is £1440 per hour and therefore well over £10,000 per day.  Now I know fuel is not the only cost and some trains in the off season are not full but when they’re making £10k per day I think they’ve enough surplus, bearing in mind the revenue from the various cafés and gift shops is in addition to that.  I also suspect you’ll find that the Early Bird discount or skinflint bastard trains as they probably see it are deliberately all diesel-hauled.  If it were a weather thing that would be a fair excuse but to see steam engines chugging up with their passengers as we were on the way down does make you feel pretty hard done by.

The carriage itself was basic, in fact the windscreen had a huge crack across the middle of it so photos through that were out of the question, it had hellishly uncomfortable seats, I’ve sat on 3rd Class wooden seats that gave me less arse-ache, and there’s barely anywhere to sit if there are 3 of you, which meant on the way back the children had to sit somewhere completely different to me.  We couldn’t hear any of the commentary at all so we just got a droning noise with no discernable words the whole way up – there is no commentary on the way down, probably by this stage even the SMR have given up the pretence that they are trying to provide a service.  The carriage windows got steamed up so quickly that in the breaks in the cloud no-one could see anything anyway and the train only stopped at the now disused stations.   The stations themselves are all boarded up so it doesn’t feel like a railway more a grudging shuffle of people to the top and down again just to have fleeced them of their money.

You don’t get a certificate for your £43, that costs extra, you don’t even get to send postcards from the Summit with a special stamp unless you pay extra 25p per card, and beware you don’t run out of time before you can write them because that 30mins goes pretty quick, just enough time really to get up to the top, take a few photos, use the loo (one of the only things that was free so you might as well enjoy it.) and get to your train, otherwise you fall foul of the “Friendly notice” which is literally stuck up everywhere telling you that if you miss your train down the railway is not obliged to take you down and it’s a 2 hour walk.  When I say this notice is everywhere you’d struggle to find any area more than 2 ft sq. that didn’t have it at least once and perhaps multiple times.  It doesn’t come across as friendly but then neither does much of the railway.

The trains aren’t to blame, nor are the drivers who are nice fellas but this whole thing is run for profit, not by enthusiasts as most of these sorts of things are, this is what happens when the money men get it and suck all the life out of endeavours.  What I find so sad is that these are feats of engineering built by men of vision and when raped by the bankers to squeeze every last fiscal drop they are robbed of their very soul.  You don’t get clusters of people hanging around the station chatting and taking photos, little boys gawping at the engines whilst their (grand)fathers stand with glazed nostalgic looks in their eyes, no on the SMR you’re practically herded out into the overpriced gift shop, I’m surprised the platform doesn’t recede after 5 minutes, it all leaves a really sour taste in your mouth. I had to explain to the children that we couldn’t go on again to get one of the steam locos because we’d have to pay again and it would be £61 which I couldn’t afford and bloody wouldn’t have wanted to.

Yes I know I had done the maths beforehand, I knew what the price was and the fact that we only got 30 mins at the top, I could have found out they might run diesel or steam, there are always get-out clauses, so one could say I in fact contributed to this situation that allows these bastards to rip more people off each year by knowing these facts and still paying up, but what I find sticks in the craw so much is the way we were so blatantly used, it is the very zenith of using children to prise you from your money, and then the SMR has the temerity to claim that it is Wales’ favourite family attraction, well I’m sorry but that’s just bollocks from many of the reviews I’ve seen and I wish to try to do my bit to redress the balance a little and if I can stop one family parting with their money then I will have put my words to good use.

I offer this advice to anyone considering such a holiday, do go to Llanberis which is a really nice place but take your kids (or your inner train spotter) on the Llanberis Lake Railway which cost us around £12, the ride is nice and the drivers are superb, a far nicer activity and much more worthy of the money. It’s exactly like the Skarloey and Rheneas part of the railway stories and has a load of history of slate mining surrounding it.  Go to the National Slate museum which the railways runs past and is free and wonderfully rich and entertaining, have ice creams at Giorgio’s and fry-ups at Pete’s Eats and Pizza and a pint in the evening for these are all the sorts of things that holidays are made of and not only will your children have happy memories but you won’t be sporting a bank statement with a galling entry for the Snowdon Mountain Railway and all the exploitative capitalistic claptrap that it stands for.  You will feel better for it, trust me, I don’t wish you to have to find out why.

I tried writing a complaint but as yet still no response, and I don’t expect to get one either because they give off the very strong impression that once they’ve taken your cash they really couldn’t give a toss.  On a different note I wrote an email to the Lake railway thanking them for being so pleasant to the children and they wrote back within 24 hours delighted I had taken the time and thanking me for doing so.

Song Of The Day ~ The Doobie Brothers – Long Train Running

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