Wye Valley Railway

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Wye Valley Railway
Monmouth viaduct.jpg
The disused viaduct outside Monmouth, used by the WVR and Coleford Railway but first opened for the CMU&PR in 1861, is a prominent feature of the local landscape.
Locale GloucestershireMonmouthshire
Dates of operation 1876–1964 (southern section remained open to c. 1990)
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Length 15 miles (24 km)
Headquarters Chepstow

The Wye Valley Railway (abbreviated WVR) was a 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge railway that ran for nearly 15 miles (24 km) between Chepstow and Monmouth along the lower part of the scenic Wye Valley in Monmouthshire, Wales, and Gloucestershire, England. It followed the route of the River Wye for most of its length. The line opened on 1 November 1876 as an independent company but was financially unsuccessful and amalgamated with the Great Western Railway in 1905. The GWR ran the line until the Transport Act 1947, which nationalised the railways of Britain. From then, it was operated by British Rail until its closure to goods traffic in 1964; passenger traffic was withdrawn before that date on 5 January 1959. The southern section of the railway between Tintern Quarry and Wye Valley Junction remained open until 1981, when operation was then cut back to Dayhouse Quarry, (near Tidenham Station). This remained used for quarry traffic until the early 1990s.[1]

History[edit]

The route of the line near Tintern
Wye Valley Railway
Coleford, Monmouth, Usk & Pontypool Railway
Monmouth Troy
Ross and Monmouth Railway
River Wye
Wyesham Halt
Wyesham Junction forColeford Railway
Monmouthshire, Wales
Gloucestershire, England
Redbrook on Wye
Penallt Viaduct
over River Wye
 
Gloucestershire
Monmouthshire
Penallt Halt
Whitebrook Halt
St Briavels
Llandogo Halt
Brockweir Halt
Tintern
River Wye 
Monmouthshire
Gloucestershire
Tintern tunnel
182 yd 
166 m 
Tintern Wireworks Branch
Tintern Quarry
Tidenham tunnel
1190 yd 
1088 m 
Netherhope Halt
Tidenham
Gloucester to Newport Line
Wye Valley Junction
Tutshill for Beachley Halt
Chepstow East
Chepstow Railway Bridge
over River Wye
 
Gloucestershire
Monmouthshire
Chepstow
Gloucester to Newport Line

The line was inaugurated by an Act of Parliament in 1866, although construction was delayed until 1874 because of national economic circumstances.[2][3] These events were caused by the collapse of the well known firm Overend and Gurney in 1866 due to many railway companies taking out loans and not paying them back. The business was in a debt of 11 million pounds when it collapsed (equivalent to £828 million in 2003).[4]

The southern part of the line, between Chepstow and Tintern, was particularly complex in engineering terms, requiring a long tunnel of 1188 yards at Tidenham, a stretch along a steep hillside above the River Wye, and a second short tunnel and bridge at Tintern. Evangelical services were organised during the construction of the line at Woodcroft and Tidenham, partly in an attempt to combat drunkenness among the labourers building the railway.[5] North of Tintern the line followed the valley bottom, with a bridge over the river at Penallt. Outside Monmouth, the line used an existing viaduct across the river which had been built in 1861 by engineer Joseph Firbank to carry the Coleford, Monmouth, Usk and Pontypool Railway.[2] On 18 November 1875, during the construction of the line, a landslide occurred near Redbrook, the event was reported in one of the columns in the next days Times, this event led to serious doubts about the railway's future.[6]

The railway was opened on 1 November 1876, from Wye Valley Junction near Chepstow, on the main line between Gloucester and Newport, to Monmouth Troy which was then one of Monmouth's two stations. Here passengers could change for Pontypool (along the Coleford, Monmouth, Usk and Pontypool Railway), Ross-on-Wye (along the Ross and Monmouth Railway) and Coleford (along the Coleford Railway). Trains stopped at the intervening stations on the line, Tidenham, Tintern, Bigsweir (later renamed St Briavels), and Redbrook as well as Chepstow, Tutshill Halt for Beachley and Monmouth Troy which were constructed by different companies. Tintern Station was the largest station after Monmouth Troy Station; it had an island platform in the centre of the station.

The line was intended to serve both tourist traffic and freight, such as those visiting Tintern Abbey, and also the limestone quarries, paper mills and metal works in the Wye Valley. Although constructed by the Wye Valley Railway Company, the line was operated from the outset by the Great Western Railway. It was not financially successful, and in 1905 the Wye Valley Railway Company was bought by the GWR. The Wye Valley Railway had been bankrupt more than once during its short life as an independent company and GWR's purchase of the line may well have been inevitable. The GWR added several halts along the line, at Netherhope Halt (1932), Brockweir Halt (1929), Llandogo (1927), Whitebrook Halt (1927), Penallt Halt (1931), and Wyesham (1931).[2][3] Penallt Halt and Redbrook Station became the closest stations on the line with only a viaduct over the River Wye separating them.

In the inter-war period, there were about five trains in each direction each day, and popular excursion trains were also run to Tintern, particularly to see the harvest moon through the abbey windows. Redbrook Station became nationally noted for its floral displays.[2] However, after a long decline in revenue associated with the growth of motor traffic, the line closed to passengers in 1959, four years before the national Beeching cuts. The last ever passenger train was a special service run by the Stephenson Locomotive Society. It was hauled by two GWR Pannier Tanks, class 6400. They were numbers 6439 and 6412 (see Today's Remnants). The train ran all the way along the branch from Chepstow to Monmouth, from there it ran along the Ross and Monmouth Railway (which was also closed at the same time), to Ross-on-Wye. The special service was the only known train to make the route in one single journey. The railway closed to general goods traffic between Monmouth and Tintern Quarry on 6 January 1964. Several railtours ran by enthusiasts were held through Tidenham tunnel in the 1970s, one of the last of these in 1978, the Tintern Totter was hauled by a Class 20: D8098. The engine has survived into preservation and is owned by the Type One Locomotive Company.[7] The section to Tintern Quarry closed in 1981, there were three special services to the site of Tidenham Station in the 1980s, then the rest of the line was abandoned when Tidenham Quarry closed in the 1990s.

Route and Stations[edit]

Wye Valley Junction where the railway meets the Gloucester to Newport Line.

The branch started at Chepstow station on the west side of the River Wye. It followed the route of the South Wales Railway (now Gloucester to Newport Line) over the River Wye on the Chepstow Railway Bridge to Tutshill Halt a small request stop serving the village of Tutshill. The WVR left the main line at the Wye Valley Junction and headed up on an embankment to Tidenham, the first station on the line. It was also the first station on the line to be closed, temporarily to release staff during World War I; it was then re-opened in 1918. Tidenham station remained open until the closure of the line to passenger services in 1959, by which time it had been demoted to a halt.

Just outside the south portal of Tidenham tunnel was Netherhope Halt this was the last halt to be constructed on the line before it was closed to passenger services in 1959. The line then headed into Tidenham tunnel (1190 yards) - the twenty-first longest tunnel on the Great Western Railway at its time.[2] The line ran along the east side of the Wye, passing Tintern Quarry. It then went through the smaller Tintern tunnel, (182 yards) and crossed back to the west bank of the River Wye before coming to Tintern Station.

Tintern was the largest station on the line. This was because the Wye Valley Railway Company hoped to generate much income via the tourists visiting the famous Tintern Abbey. The line came to Brockweir Halt, followed by Llandogo Halt which was the smallest stop on the whole railway. The railway followed the course of the west bank of the River Wye to St Briavels Station which was named Bigsweir station upon opening and renamed St Briavels & Llandogo in 1909 and then simply St Briavels from 1927 in anticipation of the opening of Llandogo Halt.[2]

The viaduct carrying the WVR over the Wye can clearly be seen in the foreground, the central part of the bridge has now been removed.

Journeying along the line the train would come to Whitebrook Halt, then Penallt Halt. Penallt Viaduct carried the railway over the River Wye again and onto the east side of the river before reaching Redbrook on Wye Station. This station won numerous prizes for its flower displays and became renown throughout the valley.[2] Wyesham Halt was the last stop before Monmouth Troy. The section between Wyesham and Monmouth involved crossing the Wye one last time by a large viaduct that was built by the Coleford, Monmouth, Usk and Pontypool Railway in 1857 as part of their plans to expand into the Forest of Dean and to Coleford. Monmouth Troy Station was also constructed by the Coleford, Monmouth, Usk and Pontypool Railway.

Monmouth Troy was on the west bank of the river and consisted of two platforms, a typical GWR footbridge, station building, separate cafe building and a large goods yard. It was here that the Wye Valley Railway met the Ross and Monmouth Railway and Coleford, Monmouth, Usk and Pontypool Railway

All of the original stations on the line, Tidenham, Tintern, St Briavels and Redbrook had some kind of loop for trains to pass each other. Tintern, St Briavels and Redbrook stations were the only stations apart from Monmouth Troy and Chepstow to have facilities for unloading freight trains.

Branches[edit]

Tintern Wireworks Branch[edit]

Tintern Wireworks Branch was a short lived line built across the River Wye to the wireworks at the village of Tintern. It was opened in 1874 although it was officially opened in 1876 due to the fact that the branch was completed before the Wye Valley Line which it branched off from. The short line became known as the Wireworks Branch even though by the time the branch had opened the wireworks it was meant to serve had gone out of business. It struggled on until 1935 when the rails buckled in the heat of summer.[2] The tracks remained mostly dormant until 1941 when they were sent for use on the railways of the Western Front of World War II, but were sunk in transit across the English Channel.[3][8][9]

Coleford Railway[edit]

Main article: Coleford Railway

The Coleford Railway was a branch line which ran between Coleford and Monmouth. It was opened in 1883 and became the fourth and final line to reach the town of Monmouth.[10] The railway closed on New Year's Day 1917, partly due to wartime economy measures and partly because it was losing money - it never reached the hopes of its constructors. It joined the Wye Valley Line at Wyesham Junction and both railways ran along the same line for a short stretch until they both arrived at their joint terminus, Monmouth Troy. The tracks was ripped up between Wyesham Junction and Whitecliff Quarry soon after closure, however the short stretch between Whitecliff Quarry and Coleford remained open until 1976 for freight traffic. The operation of this section was passed to the Severn and Wye Railway. The goods shed was converted into a museum (the Coleford Great Western Railway Museum) on the railways of the Forest of Dean and the Great Western Railway.[11]

Today's Remnants[edit]

The picnic site and former signal box at Tintern Station in 2008

Many things remain of the WVR. The rails between Wye Valley Junction and the north portal of Tidenham tunnel are largely intact,[3] but the rails have been lifted for the remainder of track. Three former railway bridges across the River Wye are still standing, Penallt Viaduct, which now carries a footpath between Redbrook and Penallt, the Wireworks Branch bridge, also a footpath and the impressive 21 - arch viaduct at Monmouth, which carried the railway over the river, is still in place though the central metal section has been removed and it is inaccessible to pedestrians. The station building and goods shed at St Briavels Station are still mainly intact.

Tintern Station has been renamed 'The Old Station Tintern' and is now a popular picnic site and base for short walks with a permanent exhibition of the history of the line. The Wye Valley Walk passes through the site and paved footpaths extend to nearby Tintern and Brockweir.[12] It won the Green Flag Award in 2009. In 2010, the old carriages were replaced with new refurbished ones, which now hold the 'Destination Wye Valley' exhibition as part of the £2.8m Heritage Lottery funded 'Overlooking the Wye Scheme' which is conserving various sites within the lower Wye Valley.[13]

Monmouth Troy Station was removed from Monmouth and re-built brick by brick along the restored Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway and is now known as Winchcombe railway station.[14]

Pannier Tank 6412, the engine that pulled the last passenger service along the line on 4 January 1959, was preserved on the West Somerset Railway between 1976–2009 and was purchased by the South Devon Railway in January 2009.[2][15][16] It has also starred in the children's TV series The Flockton Flyer.

Proposed Uses and Cycle Path[edit]

Sustrans, which owns the track bed between Chepstow and Tintern, has announced plans to turn the route into a cycleway, reopening the tunnels at Tidenham and Tintern and constructing a bridge over the River Wye near Tintern Station. Public consultations on the proposals took place during 2009, with a view to Sustrans re-submitting proposals for "a traffic-free path for walkers, cyclists, people with disabilities and horse riders" for planning approval later in the year. A consultation report was subsequently published by Sustrans.[17] The proposal is to create a path between Brockweir and Sedbury, mostly using the abandoned railway track bed. Almost all the entire length of the old line is within the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.[18] The campaign has been met with mixed reactions from the local community. A large number of locals support the plans,[19] and this is reflected in the public comments on the Forest of Dean planning website,[20] but there is also a committee of locals who strongly oppose the path proposal.[21] The Forest of Dean District Council approved the plans on 9 November 2010.[22] The route would form part of National Cycle Route 42.[19]

In the 1970s an association was formed to collect materials for re-opening the line as a heritage railway, the whereabouts of this group is unknown.[3]

A group also exists to promote the reopening of the line as a modern railway with electric services, they have a website with information about the line's history and evaluations about re-opening the line fully to Monmouth Troy.[3]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]