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Blowing the whistle on blowing the whistle at the top of Snowdon

left- right MAD sound and lighting staff: Kevin O'Brien, Dafydd Thomas, Arwel Hughes, Martin Smith with Chris West, Computer Science student and Elinor Churchill of GOWales- flanked by two staff from SMR.left- right MAD sound and lighting staff: Kevin O'Brien, Dafydd Thomas, Arwel Hughes, Martin Smith with Chris West, Computer Science student and Elinor Churchill of GOWales- flanked by two staff from SMR.

Before Hafod Eryri, the exciting new visitor centre, opened at the top of Wales’ highest peak, the Stationmaster would announce the departure of the train by blowing his whistle. This did not quite seem in keeping with the new 21century development so Snowdon Mountain Railway (SMR) turned to Bangor University for assistance.

The result has been the installation of a brand-new fully-automated announcement system for Hafod Eryri, which is now fully operational and has quickly become an essential for the day to day running of the summit terminus. 

The announcement system ensures that people booked on particular trains are alerted when the train is about to depart. The system has pre-recorded announcements which can be set at the touch of a button at the beginning of each day, depending on which timetable the trains are running to. 

The changeable weather conditions in the mountains often mean that trains are delayed or even cancelled so a manual override system was also added to the system to take this into account.

This project began life as part of ‘Software Hut’, a second year Computer Science module which gives students experience of working as part of a team to deliver a project for a client. The School of Computer Science matches 2nd year undergraduate students with local companies who need software to enhance their business. This project was given to students, Chris West and Steven Postlethwaite. 

The Software Hut project was so well received that Snowdon Mountain Railway wanted to continue its development beyond the module.  Through “GO Wales”, a scheme to engage students with employers, Chris took on a 10 week paid work placement over the summer.  By the end of the placement, the final product had been installed, training given to staff and the system tested. The hardware and wiring was installed by MAD Sound and Lighting who had to work closely with Chris. Arwel Hughes from MAD sound and lighting explained: “Having worked in the area for many years and travelled up Snowdon many times it was a big honour for us to install the equipment at Hafod Eryri. Being such a beautiful building we worked hard to hide as much of the equipment as possible, and ensuring the best quality for longevity and minimal maintenance. Working closely with Chris and the team, we were able to install the system with minimal disruption to the daily running of Hafod Eryri during peak season.”

Chris West explained: “Working on a professional project like this has been the best experience in programming that I have ever had.  Being able to adapt your academic skills to an industrial environment is something all students should do during their studies, it was an amazing feeling to actually be able to deliver exactly what the client needed and I am very proud to have been part of this project.”

“We’re delighted with our new announcement system and the way that the School of Computer Science and GO Wales have worked with us to deliver this project.  The expertise of the Computer Science students is impressive, Chris not only handled the programming part of the project well he was also able to explain the system to the users in a way that was easy for us to understand.” said Doug Blair, Senior Engineering Manger for Snowdon Mountain Railway.  “We have also used Chris’s skills to put into action some other ideas which help the smooth operation and running of Hafod Eryri.”

Chris West spent time in the Army with the 7th Royal Horse Artillery and travelled all over the world he then worked for Allied Carpets for 7 years before deciding to change his career entirely and come to Bangor to study Computer Science. 

Elinor Churchill, GO Wales explained: “Through the GO Wales placement scheme Chris has been able to bring in a fresh approach and new skills to put innovative ideas into practice. Chris’s achievements highlight the valuable input of students and graduates in the workplace, as well as the benefits to businesses of working together.”


Go Wales Contact Details:
Tel:  01248 383586 /

Publication date: 2 November 2010