Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil Junction Railway

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Brecon and Merthyr Railway
Neath and Brecon Railway
to Neath
Brecon (Watton)
Brecon (Free Street)
Taff Vale Railway
to Cardiff Central
Talyllyn Tunnel
674 yd 
616 m 
Merthyr High Street
Talyllyn Junction
Maerdy Junction
Hereford, Hay & Brecon Rly
to Hereford
Brandy Junction
Mid Wales Rly
to Builth Wells
Ynysfach Junction
Y'ch Ironworks
Rhydycar Junction
Pentir Rhiw
Cyfarthfa Junction
Cwm Colliery
Great Western Railway/
Taff Vale Railway
Llwyngelyn Junction
Quakers Yard and
Merthyr Railway
Heolgerrig Halt
Great Western Railway
to Aberdare
Cyfarthfa Steelworks
Cefn Viaduct
Cefn Coed Y Cymmer
Torpantau Tunnel
666 yd 
609 m 
Pontsarn Viaduct
Morlais Junction
Dowlais Central
Brecon Mountain Railway
Morlais Tunnel
1040 yd 
951 m 
Pontsticill Junction
Pantysgallog Halt
(High Level)
Pant Junction
Dowlais (High Street)
Dowlais Top
Merthyr, Tredegar
& Abergavenny Rly
Dowlais Top Junction
Merthyr, Tredegar &
Abergavenny Rly (LNWR)
Rhymney Railway
to Dowlais Cae Harris
to Abergavenny
Fochriw Junction
Fochriw Colliery
Ogilvie Halt
Rhymney Railway
to Rhymney
Ogilvie Colliery
Rhymney & Pontlottyn
Darran and Deri
Groes-Faen Colliery
Cwmtysswg Colliery
Croes-Faen Halt
New Tredegar & Tirphil
Bargoed North Junction
Cwmsyfiog & Brithdir
Bargoed South Junction
Aberbargoed Junction
Rhymney Railway
to Caerphilly
Aber Bargoed
Newport, Abergavenny
Fleur de Lis platform
and Hereford Railway
to Aberdare
Maesycwmmer Junction
Newport, Abergavenny
and Hereford Railway
to Pontypool
Rhymney Railway
to Caerphilly
Gwernydomen Halt
Barry Railway
to Barry Junction
Fountain Bridge Halt
Waterloo Halt
White Hart Halt
Machen Quarry
Church Road
Pontypridd, Caerphilly
and Newport Railway
to Alexandra Docks

The Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil Junction Railway (B&M) was a railway in Wales running from Brecon, Brecknockshire to east of Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorgan. It was one of several railways that served the industrial areas of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire along with the Taff Vale Railway (TVR) and Great Western Railway (GWR).

The line opened in stages in the 1860s, including the Beacon Tunnel at Torpantau (Official Railway name Torpantau tunnel), 1313 feet above mean sea level, the highest railway tunnel in Britain, and a 7-mile north to south approach to the tunnel on a 1:38 rising gradient. Though it survived through to nationalisation in 1948, it was never profitable and consequently passenger services were withdrawn in 1962 with a complete closure to freight services to Brecon in 1964. A section of the line is now occupied by the Brecon Mountain Railway.


See also: Rumney Railway

In 1836, Sir John Josiah Guest, of the Dowlais iron Works, had written of his proposal to construct a railway linking Dowlais to the valley of the River Usk, and possibly also running into Brecon. The line would have pretty nearly covered the same route as was eventually adopted by the B&M. A similar proposal suggested a line running up the Taf Fawr valley over the Brecon Beacons via Storey Arms and thence to Brecon.

The company was established by a Bill of 1859, financially supported by several prominent Brecon citizens, and the complete route from Brecon to Merthyr Tydfil was authorised the following year. The first section to open was a 6.75 miles (10.86 km) section between Brecon and Talybont-on-Usk in 1863, which reused a section of a horse-drawn tram line. The Beacons tunnel (also known as Torpantau tunnel) opened in 1868.[1] The complicated series of amalgamations (including its originator the Hay Railway,a tram-road worked by horses opened in 1816) can best be appreciated here to explain how the B&M came about. In fact the B&M used the Hay Railway as the basis for its route between Talyllyn and Brecon. This included the tramroad tunnel (see below) at Talyllyn which required widening and deepening to allow the passage of standard gauge trains.

A 1905 Railway Clearing House map of railways in the vicinity of Merthyr Tydfil

The system eventually came to comprise two sections of lines:

Initially, the only connection to Merthyr Tydfil was by means of a horse-drawn bus from Pant, but, by 1868, a connection with Merthyr had been established by sharing lines with Vale of Neath, London and North Western and Taff Vale railways. This involved the building of nearly seven miles of line from Pontsticill to Merthyr, with an almost continuous descent of 1 in 45-50, two complete reversals of direction and the construction of two viaducts to carry the line over the Taf Fechan at Pontsarn, and the Taf Fawr at Cefn Coed. The Pontsarn viaduct is 455 feet (139 m) long and 92 feet (28 m) height, whilst the Cefn Coed (or Pontycapel) viaduct is 770 feet (230 m) long with a height of 115 feet (35 m).

The section to the north of Pant was primarily a passenger service, serving isolated farms and villages. South of Pant, it was mainly a mineral line and carried coal from the mines down to the Newport Docks.

East end of Brecon Free Street in 1949
Brecon Free Street station. View westward, towards Neath in 1962
Torpantau Station in 1957


To develop routes into and through the South Wales landscape, it was forced to construct two tunnels:

  • The Torpantau tunnel through the Beacons was 666 yards (609 m) long, and reached by a three-mile (5 km) ascent from the Merthyr side. At an elevation of 1,313 feet (400 m), it was the highest railway tunnel above sea level, anywhere in Britain.[1] Exiting from south-east portal of the tunnel, the line descended for 7 miles along a 1:38 gradient by the side of Glyn Collwyn. The sharp gradient of the approach regularly taxed the capacity of steam engines running along it.[1]
  • A second tunnel was situated at Talyllyn located about 5 miles (8.0 km) to the east of Brecon, just after Talyllyn Junction, (with the Cambrian railway). This tunnel is 674 yards (616 m) long, and was originally built in 1816 for the Hay Railway (see above). Like Torpantau tunnel, it survived long enough to become the oldest in regular use on Britain's railways, although the line had become a freight-only route at its demise.

Its west portal is now recorded as being blocked by landfill but its east portal is bricked up and an inspection door access is provided.

Later history[edit]

The line was used in World War I by intensive coal trains, dubbed 'Jellicoe Specials', from the South Wales Coalfield travelling north towards Scapa Flow via the Mid-Wales Railway for use by warships of the Royal Navy.[2]

Prior to the two sections of line[specify] being linked, the train services had been somewhat unpunctual, with unconnected timetables, and the company acquired the unenviable reputation of operating "slow trains". They became the butt of music-hall jokes.[citation needed]

By 1958, the line was running three services each way on weekdays, increasing to four on Saturdays, taking around 2½ hours to run from Brecon to Newport.[1] The service had run at a substantial loss for most of its lifetime, and was an obvious target for closure in the Beeching Report. Passenger services were closed from Pontsticill Junction to Merthyr Tydfil in November 1961, with the remainder of services stopping at the end of the 1962.[3] The line was closed completely after the withdrawal of goods services in 1964.[1]

Rolling stock[edit]

  • Locomotives: 35 Several of those were still running post-WWII
  • Coaching stock: 69
  • Goods vehicles (mainly coal): 629. Collieries also provided some, including Powell Dyffryn. By 1913, the line carried nearly 3.5 million tons a year of coal and 227,000 tons of other minerals.


Locomotive Superintendents[edit]


The end of the Brecon and Merthyr[edit]

The line was amalgamated with the Great Western Railway following the Grouping. The ex-B&M system survived nationalisation into British Railways, but most were eventually closed during the 1960s, with all passenger services ending in December 1962. By 1980 only one short section of 10.5 miles (16.9 km) survived, serving coal traffic to Bedwas Navigation Colliery. With the demise of the coal industry in Britain the section between Bedwas and Machen was closed in 1985. The section between Machen and Bassaleg Junction (with the GWR Ebbw Valley line) remains to serve Hanson's limestone quarry.

The line today[edit]

Partial resurrection of the Brecon and Merthyr[edit]

Towards the end of the 1970s, a private company, the Brecon Mountain Railway, began to build a narrow-gauge steam-hauled tourist line on the existing 5.5-mile (8.9 km) trackbed from Pant through Pontsticill to Dol-y-gaer. The initial section of 1.75 miles (2.82 km) from Pant to Pontsticill first opened in June 1980.

After more than 30 years of hard work and extra-funding, Passenger services finally extended to Torpantau in April 2014.[4][5] Thus-bringing the BMR to a total of approximately 5 miles in length.

Only one B&MR coach has survived into the present day; coach No.111 stands in a private residence.[6] Only one goods wagon is known to still exist today; privately owned No.197 is currently at the Severn Valley Railway.[7]

No locomotives are known to be preserved to the present day.

National Cycle Network[edit]

Some sections of the route have become part of the National Cycle Network. These routes are NCN 4 (Celtic Trail) between Machen and Trethomas, NCN 469 between Bargoed and Fochriw and NCN 8 (Taff Trail) between Torpantau and Talybont Reservoir. The section between Bedwas and Maesycwmmer is being considered to become part of NCN 468.




Further reading'

  • The Brecon and Merthyr Railway, by D S M Barrie. Oakwood Press, 1957–1980
  • A Brief History of Merthyr Tydfil, by Joseph Gross. Starling Press, 1980
  • The Early History of the Old South Wales Iron Works, John Lloyd, 1906

External links[edit]