Merthyr, Tredegar and Abergavenny Railway
The Merthyr, Tredegar and Abergavenny Railway was a railway company operating between 1860 and 1958 between the towns of Merthyr Tydfil, Tredegar and Abergavenny through the counties of Glamorganshire, Brecknockshire and Monmouthshire in south east Wales.
- Rassa Railroad: a tramway built in 1794 to connect the Sirhowy Ironworks to the Beaufort Ironworks, and connected them to several limestone quarries at Trevil.
- Llanhiledd Tramroad: from Crumlin (low level) north to Ebbw Vale.
- Monmouthshire Canal Tramway: from Newport to Crumlin (low level).
- Sirhowy Tramroad: From Holy Bush to Nine Mile point, which then connected to the Monmouthshire Canal Tramway.
By 1805, a total 24 miles (39 km) stretch of tramline had been laid to transport coal and iron ore to Newport Docks, laid jointly by Tredegar Iron Company and Monmouthshire Canal. Pulled by teams of horses, in 1829 Chief Engineer Thomas Ellis was authorised to purchase a steam locomotive from the Stephenson Company. Built at Tredegar Works, it made its maiden trip on 17 December 1829.
The need to improve infrastructure and connect with other systems brought about the need to incorporate the railway as a separate entity. The project was driven forward by Crawshay Bailey the major local ironmaster, mineowner and industrialist who was elected as the company's first Chairman.
Incorporated under an Act of Parliament ratified in August 1859, it was originally envisioned that the railway would be built and commence operations within five years. Finance was provided through the sales of shares, providing initial working capital of £150,000, with 7,500 shares of £20.00 per share.
The project, under Chief Engineer John Gardner, consisted of three parts:
- The formal railway engineering of the existing sections, up from tramway to full Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate standards
- The drive north from Trevil to Abergavenny
- The drive south from Nantybwch to Merthyr, which would prove to be the biggest civil engineering and hence cost challenge to the company
The official start of construction started in June 1860, at what was to become Abergavenny Brecon Road station, when Crawshay Bailey's wife dug the first turf. A year later Chief Engineer John Gardner was put forward to provide expectant investors with the first annual report in the summer of 1861. He gave a typically optimistic and upbeat report detailing how the road and railway bridges along the track route were under construction and nearing completion in the lower Abergavenny section, how cuttings were being excavated and embankments established between Abergavenny and Brynmawr. Rail had been laid where possible and an engine mounted on the tracks to further facilitate the speedy transport of construction materials to the section being laid, with work at this point focusing on the embankment between the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, the River Usk and the trackbed at Gilwern.
However the Engineer's report kept the focus off the balance sheet, for the company's account went into overdraft in late 1861 and the London and North Western Railway Company came in to take over the whole project. Under their management and resources the line was duly completed and operational between Abergavenny and Brynmawr by September 1862. This achievement had necessitated a brand new iron bridge over the River Usk, with a further seven bridges and two tunnels each of a quarter of a mile long. This section alone was amongst the steepest stretches of railway in Great Britain, climbing over 1,000 feet from the valley floor to Brynmawr station. The gradient was surveyed and recorded as 1 : 34 (2.94%) over the steepest section of track, a three-mile stretch. The early sceptics and doubters had voiced their concerns and seen some of the most difficult terrain conquered by inspiring Victorian engineering, skilled labour and vision and leadership.
In 1869, after seven more years, the railway was completed to Merthyr Tydfil station, in 1869. Only at this late stage that the railway was able to approach running at optimum operational effectiveness and traffic, both freight and passenger, was sufficient to enable the company to envisage dualling the line to maximise traffic both ways.
Chief Engineer, John Gardner was called upon to oversee the widening of all the railway viaducts, the boring of two brand new rail tunnels, the laying of all the additional track and to carry out all necessary strengthening and support works.
Once this work was completed the railway operated at a level unforeseen at its inception. However, due to its steep and almost constant inclines, it was an expensive railway to run, costing much more per mile than many local, level tracks.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (March 2012)|
In 1957 British Rail, the post-war nationalised conglomerate, with an eye on these costs and the possible costs associated with continued maintenance and repairs of the aging trackbed and engineering works after a century of use, announced that it would be closing the line. The saving would be £60,000 per annum.
The last public service ran on Saturday January 4, 1958, the very last train running was the 08.30 a.m. Abergavenny Junction to Merthyr station, hauled by an GWR pannier tank locomotive, with the down train being the 08.30 a.m. Merthyr to Abergavenny, also drawn by pannier.
On Sunday 5 January 1958 a special was laid on that summer evening, after dark, steaming uphill from Abergavenny to Merthyr to commemorate the closing of the line. The train driver was Mr. G.E. Lewis, his fireman Mr. D. Hinton and the train's guard was Mr. Hubert James, of Abergavenny. Crowds had gathered at viewpoints at the trackside along the entire route, with large crowds at Brynmawr station. The train then completed the journey to Merthyr and turned around for the return leg complete with whistle-up's at every station on the very last run, householders along the route turning their kitchen and bedroom lights on and off to signal the trains passing and the passing of an era for this particular stretch of line.
Today most of the old trackbed is a cycleway and waymarked walk through the valley of the River Usk north west of Abergavenny, passing through the villages of Llanfoist, Govilon, Gilwern, gradually rising up the Clydach Gorge in Clydach to the outskirts of Brynmawr.
- "Rassa Railroad". RailBrit.co.uk. Retrieved 23 September 2011.
- "Ebbw Vale history". bioeddie.co.uk. Retrieved 23 September 2011.
- "Beaufort Ironworks Tramway". RailBrit.co.uk. Retrieved 23 September 2011.
- "Monmouthshire Canal Tramway". RailBrit.co.uk. Retrieved 23 September 2011.
- "Sirhowy Tramroad". RailBrit.co.uk. Retrieved 23 September 2011.