Vale of Neath Railway

Last updated
Vale of Neath Railway
Locale Wales
Dates of operation 18511865
Successor Great Western Railway
Track gauge 7 ft (2,134 mm)
Length 44 miles (71 km)
Headquarters Aberdare

The Vale of Neath Railway was a broad gauge railway company, that built a line from Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare to Neath, in Wales, chiefly to transport the products of the Merthyr iron industries to ports on Swansea Bay.

Merthyr Tydfil town in Wales, with a population of about 30,000

Merthyr Tydfil is a large town in Wales, with a population of about 63,546, situated approximately 23 miles (37 km) north of Cardiff. At one time the largest town in Wales, Merthyr Tydfil is today its fifth largest urban area by population. Situated in the historic county of Glamorgan, it is the main town in Merthyr Tydfil County Borough and is administered by Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council. Both the town and the county borough are often referred to as simply 'Merthyr'.

Contents

The railway focused on transporting coal from the rapidly developing rich colliery area around Aberdare. When the narrow (standard) gauge Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Railway made moves to link to the area, with its Taff Vale Extension line, the Vale of Neath Railway saw that there was potential in connecting up; it laid a third rail to make mixed gauge. The link was made in 1864 and coal was conveyed to London and the north-west of England by that route. By that time the VoNR and the NA&HR had been absorbed into the Great Western Railway system.

Connections to the docks at Swansea had not been fruitful in the early days, and the Swansea and Neath Railway, soon taken over by the VoNR, made some improvement, but the docks area remained congested and difficult.

The main line of the VoNR was always busy in GWR days, mineral traffic being intensive and difficult because of steep gradients and inadequate infrastructure. The decline of the coal industry after 1945 brought decline of the VoNR route as well and in 1964 passenger operation ceased, followed by much of the mineral activity. The Merthyr station is in use today (by trains approaching on the former Taff Vale route), "rationalised" and slightly relocated, and the Aberdare station has been similarly treated when its passenger service was reinstated in 1988.

Before the railway

The Vale of Neath Railway network in 1854 Vonr 1854.png
The Vale of Neath Railway network in 1854

The Vale of Neath is a river valley descending from Pontneddfechan and Glyn Neath to the town of Neath, close to Baglan Bay, itself part of Swansea Bay. By the eighteenth century, Merthyr Tydfil was the centre of a huge iron smelting industry; excellent coal was beginning to be mined at Aberdare, and these two industries became dominant in their respective localities. The town of Neath itself became a centre of engineering industry. [1]

The Vale of Neath, one of the South Wales Valleys, encompasses the upper reaches of the River Neath in southwest Wales. In addition to the River Neath, it is traversed by the Neath Canal and the A465 dual carriageway.

Pontneddfechan hamlet in the county of Powys, Wales

Pontneddfechan, spelled Pontneathvaughan in English is the southernmost village in the county of Brecknockshire, Wales, within the Vale of Neath. It is also the southernmost village in the unitary authority of Powys.

Glynneath small town lying in the county borough of Neath Port Talbot, Wales

Glynneath, also spelt Glyn Neath, is a small town, community and electoral ward lying on the River Neath in the county borough of Neath Port Talbot, Wales. It was formerly in the historic county of Glamorgan. Glynneath ward covers only part of the community, with some 840 electors included in the neighbouring ward of Blaengwrach.

Down to the eighteenth century, the difficulty was transporting the heavy products of the mineral industries to market, overseas and domestically. The roads were extremely poor, and the river was unnavigable. Yet the demand for satisfactory transport was powerful, and eventually the Neath Canal was opened fully in 1795, running down from Glyn Neath to Neath itself. Even then the canal did not immediately serve the originating point of mineral products, and some short tramways were built to effect the connection. Indeed coal from Aberdare was hauled uphill by horse power in the Cynon Valley to cross to Glyn Neath for the canal. [2]

Cynon Valley

Cynon Valley is one of many former coal mining valleys within the South Wales Valleys of Wales. Cynon Valley lies between Rhondda and the Merthyr Valley and takes its name from the River Cynon. Cynon Valley has two main towns; Aberdare located in the North of the Valley and Mountain Ash located in the South of the Valley.

The Aberdare Canal was opened in 1812 leading instead down the valley to Abercynon, where it connected with the Glamorganshire Canal. [1] [3]

Aberdare Canal canal in Wales

The Aberdare Canal was a canal in Glamorgan, Wales which ran from Aberdare to a junction with the Glamorganshire Canal at Abercynon. It opened in 1812, and served the iron and coal industries for nearly 65 years. The arrival of railways in the area did not immediately affect its traffic, but the failure of the iron industry in 1875 and increasing subsidence due to coal mining led to it becoming uneconomic. The Marquess of Bute failed to halt its decline when he took it over in 1885, and in 1900 it was closed on safety grounds. The company continued to operate a tramway until 1944. Most of the route was buried by the construction of the A4059 road in 1923, although a short section at the head of the canal remains in water and is now a nature reserve. The company was wound up in 1955.

Glamorganshire Canal

The Glamorganshire Canal was a valley-side canal, in South Wales, UK, running from Merthyr Tydfil to Cardiff.

First railways

In the 1830s it had become clear that the way forward for heavy transport was railways of a modern pattern, with steam locomotives. Although the early technology was very primitive, progress was being made following the example of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, opened from 1825.

Stockton and Darlington Railway

The Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR) was a railway company that operated in north-east England from 1825 to 1863. The world's first public railway to use steam locomotives, its first line connected collieries near Shildon with Stockton-on-Tees and Darlington, and was officially opened on 27 September 1825. The movement of coal to ships rapidly became a lucrative business, and the line was soon extended to a new port and town at Middlesbrough. While coal waggons were hauled by steam locomotives from the start, passengers were carried in coaches drawn by horses until carriages hauled by steam locomotives were introduced in 1833.

In South Wales, the Taff Vale Railway was authorised by Parliament in 1836. This was a purely local railway, connecting the iron-producing town to Cardiff docks; it was constructed on the standard gauge; it opened in stages from 1840. In 1845 the South Wales Railway was authorised, to build from near Gloucester to Milford Haven Waterway. This was to be a trunk line, in fact connecting with the Great Western Railway and the English railway network. Engineered by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, it was to be built on the broad gauge. [1]

The Taff Vale Railway (TVR) was a standard gauge railway in South Wales, built to serve the iron and coal industries around Merthyr Tydfil, and to connect them with docks in Cardiff. It was opened in stages in 1840 and 1841.

The South Wales Railway was an early main line railway which connected the Great Western Railway near Gloucester with South Wales. It was constructed on the broad gauge, and was opened in stages from 1850.

Gloucester City and Non-metropolitan district in England

Gloucester is a city and district in Gloucestershire, in the South West of England, of which it is the county town. Gloucester lies close to the Welsh border, on the River Severn, between the Cotswolds to the east and the Forest of Dean to the southwest.

The Vale of Neath Railway promoted

The authorisation of the South Wales Railway brought fresh energy to the possibility of new railway lines in South Wales, but it was to skirt the southern margin of the valleys. Industrial locations in the valleys themselves would need their own railways to link to the South Wales Railway, or to harbours for onward conveyance of their production.

H S Coke was the Town Clerk of Neath, and a solicitor by profession. He was the driving force in promoting the idea of a railway following the River Neath, and connecting Merthyr with Neath; at Neath there would be the alternatives of onward railway transport on the South Wales Railway, or transfer to ships at the staithes on the river. On 21 May 1845 he put his ideas to the provisional directors of the South Wales Railway, although they had not yet secured their own authorising Act. They were supportive, providing that Coke's railway was also on the broad gauge system.

His intended route was from Neath up the relatively gentle valley as far as Glyn Neath; from there the line was to climb much more steeply and penetrate the mountain at the watershed, then descending the Cynon Valley to Cwmbach (near Aberdare) and turning north-east pass through another mountain by a long tunnel to reach Merthyr. There would be a branch to Aberdare itself. [1]

The Bill for the line went to the 1846 session of Parliament; Brunel as engineer gave evidence to the committees. He was questioned in detail about the gradients on the line, as the steep and lengthy gradients were not considered suitable for mineral lines. Brunel's persuasive evidence carried the matter through, and the Vale of Neath Railway was authorised by Act of Parliament of 3 August 1846. Share capital was to be £550,000. [1] [4] [3]

Construction

The company's Act merely authorised the £550,000 of share capital; securing commitment from subscribers proved more difficult, especially as the money market had suddenly become depressed, and by September it seemed apparent that about £127,000 of shares were going to be unissued. The South Wales Railway, by now under construction and seeing the value to them of a broad gauge connection to Merthyr, agreed to take the unallocated shares; the arrangement was ratified in an Act of Parliament in 1847. [1] [4]

By July 1847 the first construction contract was let, but the Merthyr Tunnel contract was held over for the time being. It was started the following year, but exceptional difficulties in the tunnelling led to two successive contractors failing, and the company decided to make Aberdare the interim objective, recognising now that Merthyr would not be reached for some time.

The authorising Act of the Vale of Neath Railway had specified that the Aberdare terminus was to be close to the Taff Vale Railway station (actually the station of the Aberdare Railway, sponsored by the Taff Vale). In the meantime it had become plain that a colliery at Gadlys was expanding considerably, but access to that required the VoNR line to cross the Aberdare Railway route on the level. Approaches to the Taff Vale interest met with a rebuff, and in the end the VoNR located its station across the River Cynon from the TVR/AR station. (The colliery itself built the connection in 1853, and it became an important interchange point between the VoNR and the TVR.)

The construction took much longer than expected, and this led to friction in Board Meetings in 1850, and this was followed by site difficulties during the following winter. Brunel now predicted a June 1851 opening, and it was time to order rolling stock. Six locomotives were ordered from Robert Stephenson, and 25 coaches and 72 wagons were ordered. The majority of the wagons for coal were flat wagons, on which coal was to be conveyed in bottom-opening iron boxes, a form of containerisation. A further earthslip took place in May, frustrating the desire to open the line.

A third class coach built for the opening of the line (although the roof was added later) How our forefathers travelled in the forties.jpg
A third class coach built for the opening of the line (although the roof was added later)

Finally on 23 September 1851 a ceremonial opening train for directors and their friends ran from Neath to Aberdare. There were stations at Neath, jointly with the South Wales Railway, Aberdulais, Resolven, Glyn Neath, Hirwain, Merthyr Road, and Aberdare. Merthyr Road was the station for reaching Merthyr by a road connection; [4] it was located where the present-day A465 road crosses the route.

The ordinary public service started on 24 September 1851, with three trains each way daily, two on Sundays. The journey time was 70 minutes.

Passenger traffic was immediately buoyant, but at first wharves at Briton Ferry were not ready to receive coal trains; the company had been relying on these. Moreover, there was a problem with silting at Swansea, so it was not until April 1852 that coal traffic was started. Ordinary goods traffic had started in December 1851. [4] [3]

Construction of the tunnel to Merthyr had been resumed in February 1851, and on 2 November 1853 the Merthyr section was opened, [4] and Merthyr Road station could be closed. Passengers for Aberdare now required to change trains at Hirwain to continue their journey.

The line from Neath to Gelli Tarw Junction (where the Aberdare and Merthyr lines separated) was double track. The Merthyr line was planned to be double track, and the southern end of the long tunnel to Merthyr was constructed accordingly, but that objective was given up and the majority of the tunnel was built to single track dimensions only.

There was a tunnel at Pencaedrain, near the summit above Glyn Neath; it was 526 yards in length. Gradients were stiff; from Neath to the summit at Hirwain was a steep climb, with 5½ miles of continuous 1 in 47 – 51. [4] [1] [3]

Early results and extensions

The Vale of Neath Railway network in 1864 Vonr 1864.png
The Vale of Neath Railway network in 1864

The passenger business was gratifyingly busy, and colliery interest in mineral transport was also high. A 1½ per cent dividend was distributed at the end of 1852, and at the same time a decision was taken to extend the line at Aberdare to reach the head of the Aberdare Canal, which was half a mile below the town. For the time being tramways were used to close the gap, and the coal containers were craned at the transfer points. The extension was brought into use in June 1853. [4]

In addition short extensions at Aberdare to the Dare and Aman Valleys were to be built. Plainly now the coal resources at Aberdare outweighed the iron production output at Merthyr, and the emphasis was on developing the former. Three more locomotives were ordered as well as a few carriages, but two second class carriages were disposed of, for lack of use.

Profits and dividends continued to increase, and although the Dare and Aman valley extensions were delayed, a further extension from Aberdare to Middle Duffryn was authorised by the Aberdare Valley Railway Act of 1855. Middle Duffryn was a focus of coal mining activity, in time controlled by the Powell Duffryn group. The Aberdare Valley Railway being sponsored by the VoNR, which itself increased its share capital by the Vale of Neath Railway (Capital) Act of 1855. The Aberdare Valley Railway was leased to the VoNR from the outset, and acquired by it on 1 January 1864; Aberdare Valley shareholders got a guaranteed 7½ per cent on their capital. [4] [3]

The Dare branch to Nantmelyn Colliery was opened on 7 November 1854. The colliery was on the mountain side west of Aberdare, but the line reached it from Gelli Tarw Junction, and reversing at Dare Junction. A short extension to the Bwllfa Colliery (part of the Merthyr Dare group) at the end of the branch was reached by June 1857.

The Cwmaman colliery branch was opened in November 1856 [note 1] This was reached by continuing on from Dare Junction and curving round the east side of Rhos-Gwawr. Both these branches were laid in Barlow rail. [1] [3]

Iron started to be imported from early 1857. Running uphill it was expensive to carry. Nevertheless the dividend in the first half of 1857 was declared at 4¾ per cent.

After that time the profit and the dividend declined continuously, due to high costs of infrastructure upgrades, and also to congestion at Swansea docks. [1]

The Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Railway

The Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Railway had opened in 1852, and soon formed part of a chain of narrow (standard) gauge railways running from the River Severn to the River Mersey. The London and North Western Railway hoped to acquire it to gain access to Newport Docks, but in the end the NA&HR formed part of the West Midland Railway in 1860, and that in turn was absorbed by the Great Western Railway in 1863.

Long before that, in 1847, the NA&HR had obtained Parliamentary powers for the Taff Vale Extension Railway, which was to run westward from Pontypool to Quakers Yard, where it would join the Taff Vale Railway. This line had the potential to connect with numerous of the south-to-north lines in the valleys, thereby conveying mineral products from collieries and ironworks on their network to the industrial north of England. The Taff Vale Extension Railway opened progressively from 1855, and many of the junctions with valley lines were only effected in later years.

The NA&HR had as its original purpose a connection between Hereford and Newport Docks, but it was now obvious that the connection to Valley railways was more lucrative. The rise of Aberdare as a source of high quality coal was an obvious attraction, and the NA&HR started to talk to the Vale of Neath Railway about linking up.

In fact in 1857 the NA&HR obtained Parliamentary authorisation to extend to Aberdare, and it approached the VoNR concerning a mutual arrangement giving the NA&HR access to Aberdare from Middle Duffryn alongside the Aberdare Valley Railway, effectively part of the VoNR, in exchange for a similar arrangement from Middle Duffryn to Navigation Colliery.

The VoNR turned this proposal down, but in 1860 the idea was revived; it was to include laying a narrow gauge rail as far as Aberdare station and NA&HR use of the station. Although the South Wales Railway nominated directors on the VoNR board were hostile to the idea, the VoNR were concerned that a rebuff might result in the NA&HR (now merged with others to form the West Midland Railway) building its own line to the Swansea Vale Railway and reaching Swansea by-passing the VoNR. [1]

Financial results

In the first years of the Vale of Neath Railway, business grew steadily and profitability as good. From 1857 this situation began to change. A coal strike, general depression of trade, and heavy costs of maintaining the permanent way, all reduced profit. No dividend was declared in August 1857. [4]

The Swansea and Neath Railway

The VoNR decided on an unsatisfactory compromise; they would convert most of their network to mixed gauge, and they would assist in the promotion of a Swansea and Neath Railway, a mixed gauge line. It received the Royal Assent on 6 April 1861 and was opened on 15 July 1863. Passenger operation commenced from a new station in Neath to a temporary platform at Wind Street in Swansea, on 1 August 1863. There were intermediate stations at Neath Abbey and Briton Ferry Road. The Swansea and Neath Railway was absorbed by the VoNR under the terms of the Vale of Neath Railway Act, 1863. [1] [4]

The West Midland Railway

The West Midland Railway had been formed in 1860 from the amalgamation of the NA&HR with other lines. It still harboured a desire to reach Aberdare, but in frustration it now considered joining the Taff Vale Railway at Mountain Ash to do so, although this would have deprived it of the possibility of reaching above Aberdare.

For the second time the VoNR reacted defensively and at its own expense laid the third, narrow gauge, rail on their system, starting the work early in 1863. When completed this offered the West Midland Railway a narrow (standard) gauge link over the VoNR from Middle Duffryn to Swansea. This alarmed the Great Western Railway because the West Midland Railway might fall into an alliance with the London and North Western Railway, which could then get access to Swansea. This the GWR could not risk, and they negotiated quickly, absorbing the West Midland Railway in August 1863.

Connecting the Taff Vale Extension Line

The Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Railway and its successor the West Midland Railway had opened the Taff Vale Extension Railway as far as Quakers Yard in 1858. [3]

It appears that the West Midland Railway had already made the connection with the Taff Vale Railway at Mountain Ash; at any rate the Great Western Railway (having amalgamated with the West Midland Railway in 1863) was now remarkably dilatory in completing the Taff Vale Extension Railway through to Middle Duffryn. This may have been because the LNWR had running powers over the former NA&HR line to that point, and the GWR did not wish to encourage a rival.

Nevertheless, on 28 December 1863 the VoNR ran a demonstration narrow gauge engine and brake van from Swansea to Middle Duffryn, and soon after a narrow gauge coal train was run from Gadlys Colliery near Aberdare to Swansea. Hired LNWR engines were used at first.

Still the link at Middle Duffryn was uncompleted, until a temporary connection was made on 19 March 1864. The line was more properly opened on 18 April 1864, when two goods trains a day used the connection. Little traffic was carried and the LNWR seem to have been the chief beneficiary. The line opened to passenger traffic on 5 October 1864. [1] [3] [4]

Hitherto passenger trains had run through from Neath to Merthyr, and Aberdare passengers had to change at Hirwain. This was now reversed, with Aberdare becoming the primary route, and Merthyr passengers needing to change at Hirwain. [1]

Absorbed by the Great Western Railway

Hirwaun station on the Vale of Neath Railway. Hirwaun station site geograph-3895801-by-Ben-Brooksbank.jpg
Hirwaun station on the Vale of Neath Railway.

The South Wales Railway had long since (in August 1863) been absorbed into the Great Western Railway, and in the same year the GWR had acquired the West Midland Railway, securing narrow gauge access for it northwards to the industrial areas of England, and westwards from Pontypool to intersect with many of the valley lines.

The Vale of Neath Railway was now on the shopping list; the advantages of its acquisition to the GWR were numerous. The VoNR directors negotiated skilfully, being aware that considerable capital expenditure on their own line would be necessary in the near future, depressing dividend distributions, and playing on GWR fears of LNWR incursion.

Terms were agreed, and the absorption took place from 1 February 1865; it was retrospectively authorised by Parliament, by Act of 1866. [note 2] [4]

The Great Western Railway saw the Vale of Neath line and the Taff Vale Extension line as a continuous route, connecting Aberdare and Swansea with the West Midland line to Pontypool and the north. It was a busy and very congested—in fact overloaded—route. The mineral traffic overwhelmed the facilities available for handling it, and the GWR commissioned J Armstrong to review the problem and its solution. He published a number of proposals. There included enhanced siding accommodation where mineral trains had to be formed, avoiding doing so on the running line; new engine shed arrangements, and the prioritising of long-distance trains over local pick-ups.

In 1871 the Dare Valley section was converted to narrow (standard) gauge and in 1872 the entire main line from Swansea to Middle Duffryn was similarly converted; in 1873 the Merthyr branch received the same treatment. The line from Gelli Tarw Junction to Middle Duffryn was made double track in 1872. These changes were part of a wider initiative by the Great Western Railway in which all main line broad gauge operation in South Wales was converted in May 1872.

The Sirhowy Railway, the property of the London and North Western Railway, was used to divert mineral trains for the eastern and southern parts of the GWR away from Pontypool. This depended on good relations with the LNWR, which were not always co-operative, but in time (from 1877) this became the primary route (via Nine Mile Point and Newport). There was a loading restriction on the Crumlin Viaduct and as locomotives in use became heavier, the Sirhowy route also alleviated that problem. [1]

Neath and Swansea stations

The South Wales Railway station at Neath was located some distance south of the connection to its line from the Vale of Neath Railway. The VoNR used that station, and there was some friction over the management of the station. When the Swansea and Neath Railway opened in 1863, a new Low Level station was built on that line immediately south of the bridge where it passed under the SWR main line.

In 1865 the GWR, having taken over the VoNR, decided to relocate the main line station close to the Low Level station so as to enable easy interchange. It was called Neath High Level. This proved unpopular with Neath passengers as it was inconveniently located for the town, and in 1877 a new main line station, called Neath General, was opened near the earlier location but a little closer to the town.

Neath Low Level was renamed Bridge Street in 1924, and again renamed as Neath Riverside in 1926.

The Swansea and Neath Railway station in Swansea was at Wind Street, on a viaduct; the booking office and waiting rooms were located in arches. Trains reached the station by crossing a drawbridge over the lock entrance to the North Dock. On 29 November 1865 a coal train ran over the location of the drawbridge when it was open for shipping, and there was a serious accident; the two men on the footplate perished. [5]

Passenger traffic was switched away from Wind Street in 1873, running over the South Wales Main Line from Neath to Swansea High Street, the GWR main station, and from that time passenger trains did not run on the VoNR (former S&NR) line between Neath and Swansea. [note 3]

Local services resumed on the Swansea and Neath line on 1 October 1881 but used East Dock station as the Swansea terminus, avoiding crossing the site of the accident; the location was remarkably inconvenient for the town. In 1936 this service was again ended; Neath Riverside became a terminus for short-journey trains on the VoNR and for some terminating trains on the Neath and Brecon Railway. During the period when VoNR trains were running to Swansea High Street over the SWR main line, they reversed at Neath General station. [1]

North Dock accident, 1865

Illustrated London News image of the result of the accident Swansea-plunge-1865.png
Illustrated London News image of the result of the accident

The accident referred to above took place on 29 November 1865 when an engine and 30 wagons of a coal train fell into the lock chamber of the North Dock at Swansea, running over a drawbridge that should have been closed for the train.

There were four signal stations in close succession, and each was required to give "line clear" having ascertained that the drawbridges and other hazards were in the correct position. The men had been working 16 or 17 hour shifts consistently, and one of them gave line clear even though the drawbridge was open. A red warning light was exhibited automatically by the bridge being open, but the train driver was struggling to get his engine working on slippery rails; it was a tank engine running bunker first and the driver consequently had his back to the direction of travel. In addition there was smoke haze from copper smelting works, limiting visibility. He and his fireman lost their lives by drowning in the accident.

Incidentally, by the Act of Parliament authorising the line, "the company is compelled to open the drawbridges [to shipping] and keep them open for 2½ hours before high water and 1½ hours after high water, for each tide. The passenger and coal traffic usually ceases about half past 8 o'clock p.m. and is resumed about 4 a.m." [5]

Timber viaducts

There were a number of timber viaducts on the line from the beginning. The River Neath viaduct at the southern end of the line was 810 feet in length; it was replaced in 1875 partly by embankment. There were three other crossings of the River Neath using timber viaduct construction. Pencaedrain Viaduct between Glyn Neath and Hirwaun had eight spans on a 30 chain radius curve.

On the Merthyr arm of the line there were three viaducts, one at Abernant and two at Merthyr. Merthyr Viaduct had 27 spans totalling 990 feet in length. All these bridges and viaducts were replaced in the 1870s except two river bridges at Resolven, replaced in 1894 and 1896.

The Dare branch from Gelli Tarw Junction had two viaducts, Gamlyn Viaduct (13 spans) and Dare Viaduct (11 spans). The Dare branch closed in 1939 but the viaducts remained in place until 1947; accordingly they were the very last Brunel timber viaducts to survive. [6]

The Dare Viaduct was subject to the problems of thermal expansion in June 1857; Brunel reported that

The traffic upon the Dare Branch was interrupted for a short time by the singular effects of the rails upon the Dare Viaduct from the excessive heat at the end of June. The line being here upon a sharp curve, the expansion of the Rails forced the Viaduct sideways a few inches and disturbed the Line, so as to render it impassable. The Rails and the Viaduct were soon restored to their correct position, and any recurrence of the same thing, however improbable, guarded against upon this and other Viaducts under similar circumstances by the introduction of expanding joints on the rails. [7]

Engine power

The dominant theme of the Vale of Neath Railway was the transport of large quantities of Aberdare coal to London, and towards Southampton and Liverpool (for bunkering ships). At the closing years of the nineteenth century this was largely handled by 0-6-0 saddle tank locomotives, which ran through from Aberdare to Swindon; with a water capacity of 1,060 gallons this was a prodigious feat, albeit with frequent stops for water columns.

From 1896 the GWR built more powerful tender engines for the traffic, but the first 4-6-0s were unsuccessful, and it was not until the "Aberdare" 2-6-0s were introduced that the trains had reliably better locomotives. Seventeen of the class were based at Aberdare in 1903. Even so these were considered capable of improvement, and the 2800 class 2-8-0s were felt to be much better. They were allocated to Aberdare from 1906, although the Aberdare class maintained near dominance there at least until 1923. The 4200 class of 2-8-0T followed, and were especially successful where high power on relatively short runs was required. Some of the 4200 class were converted to 2-8-2T with a much larger bunker, and were useful in handling longer distance runs.

In the 1920s ROD 2-8-0 engines were in use, and after 1945 the later design of Austerity 2-8-0 appeared, as well as Stanier 2-8-0s of the 8F type. [1]

Halts

The count of stations on the original line of the VoNR was rather limited. In the twentieth century a number of halts were opened; Melyncourt Halt was a small wooden platform; Clyne Halt opened in 1905 to serve the Resolven Tinplate Works. Cwmrhyd-y-Gau Halt operated from 1935 to 1945 to serve the Abernant Brick and Tile Works; British Rhondda Halt was opened for miners at an adjacent colliery of the same name. It had a platform on the down line only; terminating up trains reached it by reversing back over a crossover. It opened in 1906 but in 1911 it was replaced by a two-platform halt called Pontwalby, a short distance to the north.

Rhigos Halt was opened in 1911, and Hirwaun Pond Halt was opened in 1941 for the use of workers at a nearby armaments factory.

Trecynon Halt was a mile west of Aberdare, and there were two halts east of that point, Cwmbach and Duffryn Crossing; these were served by a rail motor service from Swansea East Dock to Mountain Ash.

Cwmaman Colliery also had a railmotor service; there were halts at Black Lion Crossing, from 1903. The service was for workmen only at first, but in 1906 three more halts were opened and the service became public. It did not make a direct connection with the rest of the passenger network. [1]

From 1923

The Railways Act 1921 dictated that most of the railways of Great Britain should be "grouped" into four large companies. In fact the Great Western Railway continued in name and in fact; certain other large South Wales railway companies including the Taff Vale Railway were constituents of the new company. The changes took effect immediately prior to the beginning of 1923.

During World War II a considerable number of munitions and other war materials factories were in operation along the line and a number of workmen's passenger services were operated in order that workers could reach new workplaces. The Royal Ordnance Factory at Hirwaun was a particular centre of this activity, thirteen trains each way being operated, mostly reversing at Rhigos carriage sidings. [1]

Closures

The line depended for its business on coal mining, and as that industry declined, so the railway came into question. The Merthyr line passenger service was ended on 31 December 1962, and the main line lost its passenger service from 15 June 1964, and Glyn Neath to Hirwaun closed completely on 2 October 1967.

On 29 November 1971 Aberdare (High Level: the VoNR station) to Middle Duffryn was closed completely. [3]

Aberdare reopening

Aberdare was an important community that had lost its passenger train service in 1964, although a basic freight service continued. In 1973 the passenger service was restored, connecting from Abercynon over the former Taff Vale line as far as Abercwmboi. The reinstated route then crossed the Cynon to the north side by a new bridge (though very close to the alignment of a much earlier TVR connection to Werfa Colliery) then following the VoNR route to Aberdare station, at the site of the former High Level.

From there the line continued on the VoNR route to Tower Collery, near Hirwaun. [3]

Present day use

Accordingly at present (2017) a short length at Merthyr, and a slightly longer section at Aberdare, are in passenger use. At Aberdare mineral traffic from Tower Colliery runs from Hirwaun and continues towards Abercynon.

The Swansea and Neath Railway route between Swansea Eastern Dock and Cardonnel Junction near Briton Ferry is still in use, although it was hugely developed in the early twentieth century and then "rationalised" in the later part of the century, so that the earlier route is not exactly followed.

Location list

Vale of Neath Railway
BSicon exCONTg.svgBSicon CONTg.svg
TVR extension
to Pontypridd
BSicon exABZg+l.svgBSicon exSTRq.svgBSicon eABZgr.svg
Quakers Yard Branch Jn
Quakers Yard
High Level
BSicon exBHF.svgBSicon BHF.svg
Quakers Yard
Low Level
BSicon exABZg2.svg
BSicon exSTRc3.svg
BSicon STRc2.svg
BSicon STR3.svg
BSicon STRc2.svg
BSicon exSTR+c1.svg
BSicon xKRXo.svg
BSicon STRc4.svg
BSicon exSTRc3.svg
Quakers Yard
No. 2 Viaduct
Quakers Yard Viaduct
BSicon STRc2.svgBSicon xKRZ3+1o.svg
BSicon exSTRc1.svg
BSicon STRc4.svg
BSicon exSTR+4.svg
BSicon LSTR+1.svgBSicon xSTR+c4.svgBSicon exCONTf.svg
Merthyr High Street
BSicon KBHFa.svgBSicon exTUNNEL1.svgBSicon exSTR.svg
Quakers Yard
Tunnel
(
703 yd
643 m
)
Cyfarthfa Junction
BSicon ABZl+xl.svgBSicon xABZgr+xr.svgBSicon exSTR.svgBSicon STRc2.svgBSicon CONT3.svg
BSicon exCONTf.svgBSicon exSTR.svgBSicon exSTR.svgBSicon STR+1.svgBSicon STRc4.svg
Penrhiwceiber
High Level
BSicon extSTRa.svgBSicon exHST.svgBSicon HST.svg
Penrhiwceiber
Low Level
Mountain Ash
Cardiff Road
BSicon extSTR.svgBSicon exHST.svgBSicon HST.svg
Mountain Ash
Duffryn Crossing Halt
BSicon extSTR.svgBSicon exHST.svgBSicon HST.svg
Fernhill
Cwmaman Colliery
BSicon extSTR.svgBSicon exBST.svgBSicon eHST.svg
Abercwmboi Halt
BSicon extSTR.svg
BSicon STRc2.svg
BSicon exSTR.svg
BSicon xABZg3.svgBSicon exKBSTa.svg
Middle Duffryn Colliery
Merthyr
Tunnel
(
2497 yd
2283 m
)
BSicon extSTRe.svgBSicon xABZg+1.svgBSicon xSTR+c4.svgBSicon exHST.svg
Cwmaman Crossing
BSicon exSTR.svgBSicon STR.svgBSicon exHST.svgBSicon exSTR.svg
Cwmneol Halt
Treaman
(renamed Aberaman)
BSicon exSTR.svgBSicon STR.svgBSicon exHST.svgBSicon exHST.svg
Aberaman
Cwmbach
BSicon exSTR.svgBSicon HST.svgBSicon exSTR.svgBSicon exHST.svg
Ton Llwyd
Dare Valley Junction
BSicon exSTR.svgBSicon eABZg+l.svgBSicon exKRZu.svgBSicon exABZgr.svg
Abernant
BSicon exHST.svgBSicon STR.svgBSicon exSTR.svgBSicon exHST.svg
Black Lion Crossing
Aberdare High Level
BSicon exSTR.svgBSicon BHF.svgBSicon exBHF.svgBSicon exSTR.svg
Aberdare Low Level
BSicon exSTR.svgBSicon STR.svgBSicon exHST.svgBSicon exSTR.svg
Commercial Street Platform
1904–
1912
Llwydcoed
BSicon exHST.svgBSicon STR.svgBSicon exHST.svgBSicon exSTR.svg
Mill Street
Gadlys Junction
BSicon exSTR.svgBSicon eKRWg+l.svgBSicon exKRWgr.svgBSicon exSTR.svg
Trecynon Halt
BSicon exSTR.svgBSicon eHST.svgBSicon exKBSTe.svgBSicon exSTR.svg
Bwllfa Dare Colliery
BSicon exSTR2.svgBSicon eSTR+c3.svgBSicon exKBSTaq.svgBSicon exABZgr.svg
Bwllfa Colliery
Gelli Tarw Junction
BSicon exSTRc1.svg
BSicon eABZg+l.svg
BSicon eABZg+4.svg
BSicon exBRUCKEq.svgBSicon exSTRr.svg
BSicon eHST.svg
Merthyr Road
BSicon eHST.svg
Hirwaun
BSicon xABZgl.svgBSicon KBSTeq.svg
Tower Colliery
BSicon exHST.svg
Hirwaun Pond Halt
BSicon exHST.svg
Rhigos Halt
Pencaedrain
Tunnel
(
526 yd
481 m
)
BSicon exTUNNEL1.svg
BSicon exHST.svg
Pontwalby Halt
Pontwalby Viaduct
BSicon exBRUCKE.svg
BSicon exHST.svg
British Rhondda Halt
BSicon exHST.svg
Cwmrhyd-y-Gau Halt
1935–
1945
BSicon exHST.svg
Glyn Neath
BSicon xABZg+l.svgBSicon KBSTeq.svg
Aberpergwm Colliery
BSicon eHST.svg
Resolven
BSicon eHST.svg
Melyncourt Halt
BSicon eHST.svg
Clyne Halt
BSicon CONT2.svg
BSicon STRc3.svg
BSicon eABZg2.svg
BSicon exSTRc3.svg
Neath & Brecon Jn
BSicon STRc1.svg
BSicon exSTRc1.svg
BSicon ABZg+4.svg
BSicon exHST+4.svg
Aberdylais
BSicon CONTgq.svgBSicon KRZu.svgBSicon xABZgxr+r.svg
Neath Riverside
BSicon eHST.svgBSicon BHF2.svgBSicon STRc3.svg
Neath General
Neath Abbey
BSicon eHST.svgBSicon STRc1.svgBSicon CONT4.svg
BSicon eHST.svg
Cardonnel Road
BSicon CONTgq.svgBSicon dSTRq.svg
BSicon kSTRc2.svg
BSicon KRZu+r.svg
BSicon kABZq3.svgBSicon dCONTfq.svg
Rhondda & Swansea Bay Rly
to Court Sart Junction
Jersey Marine
South junction
BSicon POINTER1.svgBSicon kABZg+1.svg
BSicon eHST.svg
Briton Ferry Road
Swansea East Dock
BSicon exKBHFaq.svgBSicon eABZgr.svg
BSicon eHST.svg
Danygraig Halt
BSicon xABZgl.svgBSicon KDSTeq.svg
Kings Dock
Old Swansea Bridge
over River Tawe
BSicon exbWBRUCKE.svg
BSicon exHST.svg
Swansea Wind Street
BSicon exBHF.svg
Swansea Victoria
BSicon exCONTff.svg

Aberdare to Swansea

  • Middle Duffryn Junction; end on junction with Taff Vale Extension line;
  • Cwmbach Halt; opened 12 July 1914; closed 15 June 1964; reopened as Cwmbach 3 October 1988; still open;
  • Aberdare Canal Wharf;
  • Aberdare; opened 24 September 1851; renamed Aberdare High Level 1924; closed 15 June 1964; reopened as Aberdare 3 October 1988; still open;
  • Trecynon Halt; opened 1 May 1911; closed 15 June 1964;
  • Gelli Tarw Junction; convergence of Merthyr Line and Dare Valley lines;
  • Merthyr Road; opened 24 September 1851; closed 2 November 1853;
  • Hirwain; opened 24 September 1851; renamed Hirwaun 1928; closed 15 June 1964;
  • Hirwaun Pond Halt; opened 23 July 1941; closed after 1945 but possibly reopened for trading estate; closed 15 June 1964;
  • Rhigos Halt; opened 1 May 1911; closed 15 June 1964;
  • Pencaedrain Tunnel; 526 yards;
  • Pontwalby Halt; opened 1 May 1911; closed 15 June 1964;
  • British Rhondda Halt; opened 27 August 1906; closed 1 May 1911;
  • Cwmrhyd-y-Gau Halt; opened 14 January 1935 for miners only; closed by October 1945;
  • Glyn Neath; opened 24 September 1851; closed 15 June 1964;
  • Resolven; opened 24 September 1851; closed 15 June 1964;
  • Melyncourt Halt; opened 1 June 1905; closed 15 June 1964;
  • Clyne Halt; opened 1 June 1905; closed 15 June 1964;
  • Aberdylais; opened 24 September 1851; Aberdylais Halt from 1954; closed 15 June 1964; possibly known as Aberdulais and also Aberdulass in early days;
  • Neath Junction;
  • Neath; South Wales Railway station).

Merthyr line

  • Merthyr; opened 2 November 1853; sometimes known as Merthyr High Street; renamed Merthyr Tydfil 1980; still open;
  • Merthyr Tunnel; 2,497 yards;
  • Abernant; opened June 1854; closed 31 December 1962;
  • Llwydcoed; opened 2 November 1853; closed 31 December 1962;
  • Gelli Tarw Junction; above.

Swansea and Neath Railway

  • N&B Junction; convergence of Neath and Brecon Railway;
  • Neath (Low Level); opened 1 August 1863; closed 1 August 1878; reopened 1 October 1880; renamed Neath Bridge Street 1924; renamed Neath Riverside 1926; closed except for school trains 15 October 1962; closed completely 15 June 1964;
  • Neath Abbey; opened 1 August 1863; closed 1 March 1873; reopened 1 October 1880; closed 28 September 1936;
  • Cardonnel Halt; opened 1 June 1905; closed 28 September 1936;
  • Briton Ferry Road; opened 1 August 1863; closed 1 March 1873; reopened 1 October 1880; closed 28 September 1936;
  • Swansea East Dock; opened 1 October 1880; closed 28 September 1936;
  • Drawbridge;
  • Wind Street Junction;
  • Swansea Wind Street; opened 1 August 1863; closed 1 March 1873;
  • South Dock.

Dare Valley branch

Mineral branch line; a passenger service was opened 1 January 1906; restricted to miners 1918; fully reopened 7 July 1919; restricted to miners 22 September 1924; fully closed to passengers about 1932.

  • Cwmaman Colliery;
  • Cwmaman Colliery Halt;
  • Cwmaman Crossing Halt;
  • Cwmneol Halt;
  • Godreaman Halt;
  • Ton Llwyd Halt;
  • Black Lion Crossing Halt;
  • Dare Junction; divergence of mineral line to Bwllfa Colliery;
  • Gelli Tarw Junction; above. [8] [9] [10]

Early locomotives

The Vale of Neath Railway owned 19 broad gauge and 6 standard gauge locomotives:

Notes

  1. Baughan and Barrie; Jones and Dunstone say 1858.
  2. A Bill for the purpose in the 1865 session was withdrawn when running powers were to be granted over the line to the Brecon and Merthyr Railway, but this was not pressed in 1866.
  3. Jones and Dunstone imply cause and effect from the accident and the diversion; but eight years seems a long time lag. Page 103: "Reluctance thereafter to run passenger trains over this harbour bridge and congestion with coal traffic caused the GWR to switch passenger trains..."

Related Research Articles

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The Rhymney Railway was a railway company in South Wales, founded to transport minerals and materials to and from collieries and ironworks in the Rhymney Valley of South Wales, and to docks in Cardiff. It opened a main line in 1858, and a limited passenger service was operated in addition.

The Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil Junction Railway (B&MR) was a railway company in Wales. It was originally intended to link the towns in its name. Finding its access to Merthyr difficult at first, it acquired the Rumney Railway, an old plateway, and this gave it access to Newport docks. This changed its emphasis from rural line to mineral artery.

Aberdare railway station

Aberdare railway station is a railway station serving the town of Aberdare in Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales. It is the terminus of the Aberdare branch of the Merthyr Line, 22½ miles (36 km) north of Cardiff Central. Passenger services are provided by Transport for Wales.

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In 1861 the Llynvi Valley Railway was opened in Glamorganshire, Wales, to convey mineral products to the Bristol Channel at Porthcawl. It adopted an earlier tramroad, the Duffryn Llynvi and Porthcawl Railway. The Llynvi and Ogmore Railway was opened in 1865, and the two companies amalgamated to form the Llynvi and Ogmore Railway in 1866. At first Porthcawl harbour was an important destination for onward transport, but this soon declined.

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The Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway was a Welsh railway company formed to connect the upper end of the Rhondda Fawr with Swansea, with the chief objective of transporting coal and other minerals to Swansea docks. It was incorporated in 1882, but at first the connection to Swansea from Briton Ferry was refused.

The Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport Railway was built to bring the coal output of the Aberdare and Rhondda valleys directly to Alexandra Docks at Newport.

South Maitland Railway

The South Maitland Railway was once an extensive network of privately owned colliery and passenger railway lines which served the South Maitland coalfields in the Hunter Region of New South Wales, Australia and were the second last system in Australia to use steam haulage, having used steam locomotives until 1983. Only a single track of the main line remains in use to Bellbird Junction servicing the sole remaining colliery branch line to Pelton. The colliery at Pelton has closed but the surface facilities remain in use servicing the nearby Austar Colliery.

Dare Valley Country Park

Dare Valley Country Park is a public park in Wales. It lies near the village of Cwmdare and the town of Aberdare, Cynon Valley, in Rhondda Cynon Taff, South Wales. It comprises 500 acres (2.0 km2) of woodlands, pasture and moorland mountainside. It is maintained by the local Council, Rhondda Cynon Taf.

The Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Railway was a railway company formed to connect the places in its name. When it sought Parliamentary authorisation, it was denied the southern section, and obliged to use the Monmouthshire Railway between Pontypool and Newport.

The Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company was a canal and railway company that operated a canal and a network of railways in the Western Valley and Eastern Valley of Newport, Monmouthshire. It started as the Monmouthshire Canal Navigation and opened canals from Newport to Pontypool and to Crumlin from 1796. Numerous tramroads connected nearby pits and ironworks with the canal.

The Llantrisant and Taff Vale Junction Railway was a railway company that constructed a standard gauge line in South Wales, connecting Llantrisant and the Taff Vale Railway near Treforest. It ran through thinly populated country, and linked to a number of iron mines, collieries and other mineral sites. It opened in stages in 1863 and 1864. In 1865 through passenger trains from the Cowbridge Railway ran over the line, to Pontypridd, although for some time there were no passenger stations on its own network. At the Llantrisant end, it was reliant on broad gauge railway companies which were not always friendly to it. The company leased its line to the Taff Vale Railway in 1870.

The 'Llancaiach Branch railway line was a mineral branch line in Glamorganshire, South Wales. It was authorised in 1836 as part of the Taff Vale Railway, and its purpose was to connect collieries at Llancaiach and bring their output to Cardiff for onward shipment. It was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and built on the standard gauge. It opened in 1841 from a junction with the Merthyr line immediately south of Abercynon. It was intended to be horse worked, and included a self-acting rope-worked inclined plane near the junction. The collieries were slow to use the line, preferring their customary use of a tramroad and the Glamorganshire Canal, and the value of the line was diminished when the Taff Vale Extension line, an east-west connecting line belonging to the Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Railway, intersected it and cut off the colliery connections, and the line became dormant.

Ely Valley Railway railway in south Wales, United Kingdom

The Ely Valley Railway (EVR) was a broad gauge railway company in South Wales, which opened a mineral line between Llantrisant station on the South Wales Railway main line and pits at Mwyndy and Penrhiwfer in 1860.

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References

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Gwyn Briwnant Jones and Denis Dunstone, The Vale of Neath Line from Neath to Pontypool Road, Gomer Press, Llandysul, 1996, ISBN   1 85902 446 7
  2. Charles Hadfield, The Canals of South Wales and the Border, David and Charles, Newton Abbot, second edition 1967, ISBN   0 7153 4027 1
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 D S M Barrie, revised by Peter E Baughan, A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain: volume 12: South Wales, David St John Thomas, Nairn, second edition 1994, ISBN   0 946537 69 0
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 E T MacDermot, E T MacDermot, History of the Great Western Railway: volume II: 1863 – 1921, published by the Great Western Railway, London, 1931
  5. 1 2 Report by W Yolland, Inspecting Officer, to the Board of Trade, 20 December 1865
  6. Brian Lewis, Brunel's Timber Bridges and Viaducts, Ian Allan Publishing, Hersham, 2007, ISBN   978 0 7110 3218 7
  7. MacDermot, volume II, page 13
  8. R A Cooke, Atlas of the Great Western Railway, 1947, Wild Swan Publications Limited, Didcot, 1997 ISBN   1-874103-38-0
  9. M E Quick, Railway Passenger Stations in England Scotland and Wales—A Chronology, The Railway and Canal Historical Society, 2002
  10. Col M H Cobb, The Railways of Great Britain -- A Historical Atlas, Ian Allan Publishing Limited, Shepperton, 2003, ISBN   07110 3003 0

Further reading