Mid Wales & the Brecon Beacons - Heritage Railways
The Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway
In 1901 work started on this narrow gauge railway (the unusual gauge of 2ft 6ins was chosen to reduce costs) from Welshpool main line station to Llanfair Caereinion. The Cambrian Railways worked the line and on 4 April 1903 the first passenger train ran, in pouring rain - an ill omen. An unusual feature of the line was the Welshpool Town section where the line crossed the town to connect with the standard gauge railway at Welshpool Station.
The little railway didn't carry heavy traffic; although the 1914 - 18 War brought a surge of business, it fell away again in the 1920s. In 1922 the Cambrian Railways was merged into the Great Western Railway and they absorbed the Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway Company in 1923. It made little difference to traffic; indeed a competing bus service (owned by the GWR) reduced passengers to a mere trickle and the passenger service was discontinued in 1931.
Goods traffic enjoyed a revival during World War II and the railway was still operating at nationalisation in 1948. All the goods traffic on the narrow gauge railway had to be transhipped at Welshpool and the whole operation was becoming slow and uneconomic in the face of mounting competition on improving roads from larger and faster lorries. So it was that the last train under British Railways' auspices ran on the 3 November 1956, but moves were already afoot to preserve this unique rural railway.
Today the line runs from the headquarters of The Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway at Llanfair Caereinion through the beautiful Mid Wales countryside to a new terminus at Raven Square, Welshpool.
All trains are steam hauled, either by one of the Railways unique original locomotives (The Earl and The Countess) or one from abroad. The carriages are also special with those in regular use being from Hungary and Austria with access to the enclosed seating area via an open balcony.
The Rhiw Valley Light Railway
The Rhiw Valley Light Railway is situated on the B4390 between the villages of Berriew and Manafon, south-west of Welshpool. Founded in 1970 by the late Jack Woodroffe, the railway was built to a 15” gauge and runs for approximately 0.75 mile round Lower House Farm alongside the River Rhiw.
The Railway is currently home to three engines - a tank engine, a tender engine and a diesel shunter. The Railway is run on a strictly “not for profit” basis with all donations and entrance fees being spent on developing and maintaining the railways infrastructure and rolling stock.
The Railway is not open to the public on a daily basis but does open for Open Days.
Brecon Mountain Railway
The Railway line runs from Pant, near Merthyr Tydfil. Visitors can travel in one of the all-weather Observation Carriages, behind a vintage steam locomotive, into the Brecon Beacons National Park to see stunning views of the peaks of the Beacons across the Taf Fechan reservoir.
1st April 2014 saw the opening another one and a half miles of track with steam hauled passenger trains returning to Torpantau after an absence of 50 years. At 1313 feet above sea level, Torpantau was the summit of the Brecon & Merthyr Railway. In a remote location at the southern end of a 667 yard long tunnel (the highest on a standard gauge railway in the UK), it had a station with a passing loop for north and south bound trains. It saw few passengers although during a visit here in the early sixties the shelter on the south bound platform was full - although the occupants were sheep! The extension to Torpantau increases the length of the Brecon Mountain Railway from 3.5 to 5 miles; the whole trip now takes 90 minutes including a 20 minute stop at Pontsticill where travellers can walk or visit the Railway’s lakeside cafe and the children’s play area.
The Brecon Mountain Railway was conceived over 30 years ago when a search started to find a site to operate a steam tourist railway using various locomotives and equipment collected from Europe and further afield. Merthyr Tydfil seemed ideal - located on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park with its beautiful mountain, lake and forest scenery. At one time it was the greatest iron making town in the world and most of the earlier railways used iron rolled by its mills. It also witnessed in 1804 the trial run of the Trevithick locomotive - the first steam railway engine.
The site chosen was on the old abandoned Brecon and Merthyr Railway opened originally in 1859 and finally closed in 1964. The 5.5 miles stretch between Pant and Torpantau seemed suitable but difficulties were soon found. The scrap merchants had not only removed the track but also all the bridge girders and even the manhole covers.
The land had been sold off and it took between 5 and 20 years to obtain the rest from 12 different landowners. At Pant the old station was not available so adjoining land was purchased for a deviation. By 1978 the various planning and other consents had been obtained and construction started with the re-building of the Station House and conversion of the adjoining waiting room into a small workshop.
Track laying was commenced in 1979, the first carriage had been built at Pontsticill and "Sybil" - a small slate quarry engine from North Wales had been prepared to haul the train. Track laying was completed late one summer evening in June 1980 and the railway opened to traffic the next day.
The Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway
Set in the heart of the Blaenavon World Heritage Site on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway currently operates trains over two miles of track from Blaenavon High Level up to Whistle Halt (the highest point on the line, 1307 feet above sea level) as well as the branch from Furnace Sidings to Big Pit Halt which is adjacent to the Mining Museum.
The Railway is centred on Furnace Sidings (west of Blaenavon) with a car park, tea room and shop; it is also the location for the storage, restoration and maintenance of their locomotives and rolling stock.
The line was closed to passengers in 1941 and to goods in 1964, although the section from Blaenavon to Pontypool was in use for coal from Big Pit and other local mines until 1980.