Burry Port and Gwendraeth Valley Railway
|Burry Port & Gwendraeth Railway|
The Burry Port and Gwendraeth Valley Railway (properly the Burry Port and Gwendreath Railway owing to a spelling mistake in the Act of Parliament creating the railway) was a 21-mile (34 km) long railway progressively opened between 1859 and 1891 as a coal carrier.
The railway ran largely on the route of an earlier canal built by Thomas Kymer to bring coal down the valley. It also operated dock facilities at Burry Port, Wales. The railway was poorly managed in the nineteenth century and often bankrupt. Increasing traffic at the turn of the century and intelligent management transformed it as a business and Colonel Stephens was employed as a consultant in 1908 to reconstruct it to legalise its unofficial carrying of passengers. The necessary legislation was obtained in two Light Railway Orders in 1909 and 1911. Stephens supervised re-construction and re-equipment over the years up to 1913 after which he had no further connection.
The railway ran from Burry Port harbour, with a separate passenger station adjacent to the GWR's Pembrey & Burry Port station on the main line. A later branch ran eastwards roughly parallel to the South Wales main lin to join the Llanelli and Mynydd Mawr Railway The BPGVR's main line ran along the bed of the former Llanelly & Kidwelly Canal with stations at Burry Port, Pembrey, before turning up the valley and calling at Craiglon halt, Pinged, Trimsaran Road, Pont Newydd, Pontyates, Ponthenry and Pontyberem as well as the mine at Cwm Mawr. A separate branch ran from Kidwelly where the Gwendraeth Valley railway met the south Wales main line through Ty Coch, where it became the Burry Port and Gwendraeth Railway. There were plans originally to extend the railway up through the valley beyond Cwm Mawr to join the now defunct link between Carmarthen and Llandeilo at Llanarthney.
This table lists BPGVR locomotives:
|Class code||Builder||Build date||Wheels||BPGV nos.||GWR nos.||Last loco
|BPGV1||HC||1909-1919||0-6-0T||2, 9, 11-15||2162-2168||1956|||
|BPGV5||AE||1903-1905||0-6-0ST||4, 5||2194, 2195||1953|||
The railway was absorbed by the Great Western Railway in 1922 and in turn by British Railways in 1948. Throughout its lifetime the railway kept an unusual style. The fact that part of it was built down the old canal route meant that the line was not only prone to flooding but had low bridges and sharp curves. This always posed a problem to the railway operators as very little rolling stock could traverse the line safely. The original passenger stock was primarily second hand, including ex Metropolitan Railway stock and four-wheelers. The Great Western condemned almost all of the existing coaches on takeover and replaced them with four-wheel GWR S11, S17, T32 and T59 coaches from the 1890s. Only in 1939 did the railway acquire new GWR coaches, specially built to diagram D129 and C80, slightly narrower than the standard suburban bogie coaches and 18 inches lower.
Despite the problems passenger traffic lasted until 1953. The freight service continued far longer and coal traffic continued until 1996 when the Cwm Mawr loading point closed down. In later years the restrictions on the line meant that British Rail maintained several specially height reduced shunters to pull the coal trains down the line as well as brake vans with the stove chimney cut down to clear the bridges. For a long time two or even three Class 03 shunting locomotives would make the slow trek down the valley with thirty coal wagons in tow, often down a line that was several inches under water. The class 03 locomotives were chosen as the alternative Class 08 locomotives had electric transmission and there were concerns that they would be damaged by floodwaters. In 1983 British Rail reopened an alternative route to bypass the flood prone parts of the route which were then closed (Railway Magazine Jan 1984 p31). Once the alternative route was opened the cabs of some Class 08 locomotives were cut down (to fulfil the same role as the Class 03s) because the line was still incapable of supporting normal freight locomotives or even un-modified shunters.
Closure and preservation
Most of the track was lifted by 2005 with the track between Burry Port and Trimsaran Road lifted much earlier (as the freight trains used the Kidwelly route). There has been some discussion of preserving the railway however the tight clearances and light construction of the line would be a problem. The costs however of preserving the entire line were, at that time, prohibitive. Parts of the route can be walked as part of the Pontiets (formerly Pont Yates) mining heritage trail and the section between Burry Port and Craiglon Bridge Halt is now a footpath/cycleway. Preservation of the railway at Pontyates has now begun. Much of the group's railway stock is in storage at the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway.
Only one Burry Port and Gwendraeth Valley Railway locomotive still exists this day into preservation. Built in 1900, the last surviving B.P.& G.V.R No.2 0-6-0ST "Pontyberem", is in need of overhaul and being restored to working order. The engine was sold off by the Great Western Society and is now in private hands, currently residing at the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway.
- 29&30 Vict, chap. V
- Colonel Stephens and the Burry Port and Gwendreath Valley Railway
- Colonel Holman Fred Stephens webpage on railway
- The Gwendraeth Railway Project
- Photo of Redundant level crossing, Pontyates
- Photo of disused line, Kidwelly
- North Wales Coast Railway website on the modified diesel shunters in operation
- BBC website on Gwendraeth Valley Railway restoration