The Vale of Rheidol Light Railway
|Tue, 22 Jan 2008 21:36
| Company Insignia Rolling stock axle box cover
Strictly, not a ‘preserved’ railway as the line never closed (apart from a few years during the 2nd World War). It runs from the main line station at Aberystwyth for almost 12 miles up the Rheidol Valley to Devil’s Bridge, climbing over 600’ in the process.
The Vale of Rheidol Light Railway Company was incorporated in 1897, primarily to transport timber and silver-lead ore from the upper Rheidol Valley down to the main line railway exchange sidings and also to the harbour at Aberystwyth. Built to a 2’ gauge for the sake of economy and in deference to the terrain, construction was completed on 21st December 1902 and the first passenger train ran the following day.
By the time that the line opened, the silver-lead mines in the Rheidol Valley were in decline and tourism became the major source of revenue from the earliest days. It was the last steam operated line owned by British Rail but was sold to the private Brecon Mountain Railway in 1989. More detail of its history can be found here: Vale of Rheidol Railway history
In this gallery, I aim to show how the railway now looks, along its length from urban Aberystwyth to rural Devil’s Bridge. If there are any comments or suggestions, please add them to the discussion topic: Discussion
|Tue, 22 Jan 2008 21:39
|We start in SN5881 – The heart of Aberystwyth and a square in which the Railway has seen much change in the 100 years or so since it was opened, including 3 different termini and the rise and fall of the harbour branch.
The Harbour Branch
Opened in 1902, the half-mile branch ran alongside the Rheidol to transport timber and silver lead-ore to the quay and was wholly contained in what is now SN5881. Traffic never came up to early expectations and the branch finally petered out towards the end of the 1920’s. In its last years, a horse was used to draw a wagon along to the quay once a year to maintain the right of way. Very little remains to show that the branch ever existed.
The following photos illustrate how the route appears now, working from the harbour quay back to the junction with the ‘main’ V of R line:
|Fri, 25 Jan 2008 15:15
|The Original Terminus and the Riverside Route through Aberystwyth (Both entirely within SN5881 ).
When the railway opened in 1902, the terminus was situated on a site to the south west of Park Avenue (then Smithfield Street). The actual end of the line was at approximately SN58568134. Various sidings, the railway offices and the locomotive workshops were located here.
The running line left the terminus in a south westerly direction and immediately curved to the south east to run alongside the Rheidol. It then ran under the old Manchester & Milford Railway line to Carmarthen, at SN58548112, which crossed the Rheidol by bridge at this point. At approximately SN58988109, at the very east of the square, the V of R line gained an alignment adjacent to the main-line Cambrian Railway route and exchange sidings were located there.
The original terminus was closed in 1925 but the site remained in use for rolling stock and locomotive servicing until 1968. The line still ran through here until re-routed in 1968 and this part of the route was then abandoned. Much of it is now occupied by a car park and an extension of the Crosville( now Arriva) bus garage. The riverside route now forms a footpath and cycle track.
The original terminus site:
The riverside route:
|Sun, 27 Jan 2008 11:28
|The Second Terminus (1925 – 1968)
In 1925, under the auspices of the Great Western Railway, the terminus was relocated to a site adjacent to the main line station to centralise the rail passenger facilities in the town and, hopefully, to boost Vale of Rheidol passenger receipts. This entailed extending the running line across Park Avenue by means of a level crossing and then curving it around sharply to the north west to align with the standard gauge station. The level crossing was located at SN58578137 and the new end of line at SN58548150 .
This terminus was closed in 1968 when the line was substantially re-routed to run directly from the main line station. The second terminus site now forms part of a small retail park and car park. It is probably fortuitous that the Park Avenue level crossing was taken out of use as shunting and train movements would cause considerable traffic congestion in what has now become a very busy road, particularly in the summer months.
This concludes the discussion on the abandoned sections of the railway. The next posting will start to examine the operational line.
|Sun, 27 Jan 2008 13:23
|The Current Terminus at Aberystwyth (1968)
Grid Reference: SN5855381520
Height above sea level: 14 feet (Height source = Memory Map Explorer sheet 213)
By 1967, considerable rationalisation of the standard gauge lines had taken place at Aberystwyth. The Carmarthen line had closed in 1963 and the steam locomotive shed had become redundant in 1965, coincident with the end of regular steam haulage on the Cambrian lines. Main line locomotive servicing had then been centralised at Machynlleth. Even the V of R locomotives were theoretically allocated to Machynlleth.
A scheme was mooted to re-route the line to run from the abandoned Carmarthen line bay in the main line station, to run it past the old main line steam shed and to rejoin the original Vale of Rheidol alignment at a point at the very east of SN5881. In addition, the main line steam shed would be used for storage and maintenance of V of R locomotives and rolling stock. The estimated cost was £5000. Additional benefits were said to be the release of redundant land for sale and the closure of the troublesome Park Avenue level crossing.
The scheme was rejected out of hand by the London Midland Region management at Euston (the line had been transferred from the Western Region in 1966) and they ordered that the V of R be sold or closed as it was making an annual loss of £1200. However, local managers, who were very ‘pro’ V of R, took the opportunity to promote the idea to Barbara Castle, then Minister of Transport, who was attending a Labour Party conference in Aberystwyth. She was very sympathetic and the new scheme was finally approved and closure/sale threats were removed for the time being. The first passenger train left the new terminus on 20th May 1968 and it has been in use ever since.
The current terminus:
|Mon, 28 Jan 2008 11:43
|The Locomotive Shed
Front entrance Grid Reference: SN5870381333
Having been closed at the end of steam on the Cambrian lines in 1965, the main line steam locomotive shed was taken over for Vale of Rheidol locomotive and rolling stock maintenance and storage. It was converted for this purpose by laying narrow gauge tracks to it and through it in 1967/68.
Traditionally the 3 steam locomotives in use since the GWR era were sent to major works for overhaul. For example, in the early sixties, under the Western Region regime, each of the 3, nos. 7, 8 and 9, received a heavy general overhaul at Swindon works in successive years, transported there on a low loader railway wagon. When the line was sold, the locomotives were sent in turn to Brecon Mountain Railway headquarters at Merthyr for overhaul. I recall seeing one of them being transported in pieces through Capel Bangor on a low loader road vehicle in 1989, immediately after purchase of the line, on its way to Merthyr for a full overhaul and rebuild.
Since those days, an increasing amount of overhaul work has been carried out at Aberystwyth, the service stock and locomotives always looking resplendent.
The locomotive depot and yard:
|Fri, 1 Feb 2008 11:08
|Aberystwyth to Llanbadarn (0.95 Route Miles - running through squares: SN5881, SN5981, SN5980 )
At the west of SN5981, when built, the line entered an area of estuarial meadow, apart from the gas works at SN594809. All changed in the 1990’s when the Boulevard St Brieuc link road was built, connecting Park Avenue with the A4120, just south of Llanbadarn Fawr. Inevitably the land adjacent to this road has been used for urban infill and this section of the Vale of Rheidol route now forms the northern boundary of an area mostly comprised of car parking, housing, retail outlets and development land. New Welsh Assembly offices are being built at SN590810, right beside the route of the railway.
Llanbadarn Station SN5983380668 (25 feet above sea level)
When originally opened, Llanbadarn station had a waiting shelter and booking office. In practice, the booking office was never used; ad-hoc ticket sales never justified it being manned. Interestingly, there were several first class season ticket holders who commuted the short distance from Llanbadarn to Aberystwyth in those early days. There was a siding just to the west of Llanbadarn station but this was taken out of use when all Vale of Rheidol goods services were abandoned in 1927. The station at Llanbadarn now consists of just a grassed area and a name board.
|Mon, 11 Feb 2008 10:10
|Llanbadarn to Glanyrafon (1.18 Route miles – running through squares SN5980, SN6080, SN6180 )
This is another section of the railway which has seen major changes in lineside habitation since it was built. Mostly beside the Rheidol, and indeed crossing it on the major civil engineering structure on the line, when opened it passed through lowland meadow. There is still some open countryside upon leaving Llanbadarn and some pleasant walking can be had here, but soon after crossing the Rheidol river bridge it now passes by the Aberystwyth waste water treatment plant, and then on to skirt the 1970’s Glanyrafon industrial estate.
There are two level crossings in this section, at SN5989880618 , across the A4120 at Llabadarn Fawr, and at SN6100880415 , across the Glanyrafon industrial estate entrance road. The Rheidol Bridge, the only point where the railway actually crosses the river, is at SN6015080410 .
Glanyrafon Station SN6152380455 – 2.15 route miles from Aberystwyth and 26 feet above sea level.
Glanyrafon station has always been somewhat of a backwater, even by Vale of Rheidol standards! An early OS county series map shows a waiting shelter here but there is no other evidence that one was actually built. The current station consists of just a grassed area and a name board. There is also a radio signalling mast but this is for the nearby standard gauge line, not the Vale of Rheidol Railway, and was built before the V of R was privatised. At the west end of the station area there is a public right of way crossing over the railway.
|Sat, 16 Feb 2008 11:28
|Glanyrafon to Capel Bangor (2.26 Route miles – running through squares SN6180, SN6280, SN6380, SN6480 and SN6479 )
After departing from Glanyrafon, the railway enters Dyffryn Rheidol (the true Vale of Rheidol) and now retains its rural surroundings all the way to Devil’s Bridge. The section to Capel Bangor runs through an area of prime mixed farming. A disadvantage of this is that public access to the line along this stretch is very limited. Apart from the stations, only one location can be accessed – a bridleway at Pwll-cenawon Farm - SN6390880333 .
In 1910, a Territorial Army camp was established at Lovesgrove, on the north side of the Rheidol and summer camps were held there until 1914. In connection with this, a temporary station with passing loop was constructed at SN62958068. The station and loop were removed after the last TA camp and no trace now remains.
Capel Bangor Station SN6477379785 - 4.41 miles from Aberystwyth and 67 feet above sea level.
In the early days, Capel Bangor was an important station on the railway, serving a large village and an active farming community. There was a passing loop here and it also boasted a station master, a booking office and waiting shelter. A 1905 photograph shows a sweetmeats vending machine in the waiting shelter! The passing loop and shelter were removed during the 1960’s ‘rationalisation’ of the line. A replacement stone shelter was built in the 1980’s, complete with picnic area, but they have been removed within the last few years.
A carriage shed was constructed at the west of the station area by the original company and this survived until 1962 when it was sold for materials to a local farmer. The current owners have reinstated the passing loop and have built a new carriage shed.
|Tue, 19 Feb 2008 19:26
|Capel Bangor to Nantyronen – (2.14 Miles running through squares SN6479, SN6579, SN6578, SN6678, SN6778 )
This is the most accessible country section of the line as a bridleway runs almost the whole way from Capel Bangor to Nantyronen, much of it in close proximity to the railway. In addition to two locations where the bridleway crosses the line, unguarded public road level crossings are located at SN6488879748 , immediately to the east of Capel Bangor station and at SN6749578158 , just to the west of Nantyronen station.
The character of the line begins to change soon after leaving Capel Bangor. Initially stillthrough farmland beside Rhiwarthen-uchaf, it is not long before it approaches the woodland that predominates for much of the rest of the journey to Devil’s Bridge. In these lower stretches, broad leaf trees are more common but Sitka spruce is also present. Also noticeable is that the railway begins to climb in the vicinity of Tan-yr-allt - SN6573378883 , where a gradient of 1 in 50 is encountered. It then levels before steepening to 1 in 40 prior to entering Nantyronen station.
Along the section, the line passes the first mine workings as it progresses up the valley. One shaft is shown on the current map, in the woods of Coed Tŷ-llwyd at SN6706378085 . However, even on the 1906 6” map this is shown as an old shaft, so it seems likely that this particular working was closed prior to the construction of the railway.
One story worth telling relates to the formal closure of the line that had to be undertaken prior to its sale in 1989. A single mother lived beside the railway. She had no car and so, together with baby and pram, was often given a lift to Aberystwyth and return by the accommodating British Rail crews. The train was stopped beside her house, part way between Capel Bangor and Nantyronen so that she could board or alight. The formal closure notice sought objections to the closure and she was cited as a passenger who would be seriously inconvenienced if the line were to be closed. This despite the fact that, to my certain knowledge, she had never ever paid a single penny in fares!
Nantyronen Station SN6750578155 – 6.56 miles from Aberystwyth and 217 feet above sea level.
One of the original stations on the line, it had a station master when opened in 1902 but unfortunately, passenger traffic never came up to expectations and he had been withdrawn by 1904. Local farmers found the railway useful and a goods siding was provided in the yard. The siding was removed in 1930 after all goods services on the line had ceased. Two permanent way huts were constructed by British Rail and these survive – very rare pre-privatisation buildings on the line.
Intermediate locomotive watering was always carried out at Aberffrwd but in 1982 it was decreed that all locomotive water must be sourced from a mains supply. That at Aberffrwd was not acceptable as the source there was from ground water, so a tank was installed at Nantyronen and ascending locomotives have been watered there ever since. Before being used at Nantyronen, the tank was to be found at Bold Colliery to replenish the historic locomotives in the Rainhill 150 celebrations.