Heart of Wales Line
|Heart of Wales Line
(Central Wales Line)
The Heart of Wales line south of Sugar Loaf
|Locale||South West Wales
|Operator(s)||Arriva Trains Wales|
|Number of tracks||Mainly single track|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
|Heart of Wales Line|
The Heart of Wales Line (Welsh: Rheilffordd Calon Cymru) is a railway line running from Craven Arms in Shropshire to Llanelli in southwest Wales. It runs, as the name suggests, through some of the heartlands of Wales. It serves a number of rural centres en route, including several once-fashionable spa towns, including Llandrindod Wells. At Builth Road, two miles (3.3 km) from the town of Builth Wells, the line formerly crossed the route of the earlier Mid Wales Railway, which closed in the 1960s.
Historically, the line was known as the Central Wales Line (Welsh: Rheilffordd Canol Cymru)[nb 1] and also included routes through Gowerton, where the railway crossed the West Wales Line and ran through Dunvant and Killay then down through the Clyne Valley to Blackpill, and then along the sea wall to Swansea Bay station, (near the former slip bridge) before finally reaching Swansea Victoria. This section, originally built by the Llanelly Railway and Dock Company to compete with the Great Western Railway and break the monopoly they held on Swansea Dock, closed in 1964. Nationalisation of the railways had removed the need for competing routes, and the running down and closure of Swansea North Dock ended the need for freight services on this section. Trains now use the original LR main line to reach the West Wales Line at Llandeilo Junction and thence Llanelli and (after a reversal) Swansea.
North of Llandovery, the route was opened in stages between 1861 and 1868 by a number of different companies (all backed by the LNWR) – the Knighton Railway, the Central Wales Railway and Central Wales Extension Railway.
The 1963 Beeching Report proposed the remainder of the Heart of Wales line for closure. As a rural branch line, it survived the Beeching Axe since it carried freight traffic, serving the steelworks at Bynea and industrial areas such as Ammanford and Pontarddulais, linking them with the docks at Llanelli. It also passed through six marginal constituencies. During engineering work, the line is still occasionally used as a diversionary freight route. The basic service over the line since the seventies has remained more or less constant, with four or five trains per day in each direction on weekdays and two or three on Sundays (although the latter ran in summer only until quite recently).
The line is single track throughout (except for a few miles at the southern end shared with the Swansea District Line) and has been operated under a Light Railway Order since 1972. There are five passing loops, at Llandeilo, Llandovery, Llanwrtyd, Llandrindod and Knighton. Unless "Out of Course" working occurs the Llanwrtyd passing loop is in used on two of the Monday – Saturday services and the Llandrindod passing loop is in use on the other two and also on the Sunday services. The signalling was modernised in 1986, when a system known as No Signalman Token Remote working was introduced. This is overseen by the signaller at Pantyffynnon, with the token instruments at the aforementioned five passing loops being operated by the train crew (the surviving signal boxes at each station having been closed as part of the modernisation scheme and the points converted to automatic operation).
For more than two years only two of the loops (Llandrindod and Llanwrtyd) were operational as Network Rail were unable to source spare parts for the points mechanisms used at all five: the design used is now obsolete. Parts had to be taken from the three decommissioned loops to keep the other two operational. In 2009 NR stated their intention to install new conventional electric point machines at all five loops and restore the three out-of-service ones to full working order (after being heavily criticised by the chairman of the South Wales branch of Railfuture at the organisation's recent Annual General Meeting) but were unable to give a timescale for this to be carried out as design work on the new equipment was still ongoing. NR began the replacement works for the points after first installing the system on the line to Pembroke Dock, at the Tenby loop, on 7 December 2009 and then making minor alterations in Feb 2010. Llandeilo was the first on the line to be modernised, the rest followed. The £5 million project was completed in October 2010.
In 2014 Network Rail added exit indicators at the trailing end of each loop to aid in the reversing of services: a decision taken so that all moves have an active indication of the status of the motor points.
In 1987 tragedy struck the line near Llandeilo when the Glanrhyd Bridge collapsed following heavy flooding, and an early morning northbound train plunged into the swollen River Towy, killing four people. For a while the future of the line was in doubt (the equally rural Carmarthen – Aberystwyth line had been closed in 1965 following serious flood damage as the cost of repairs was deemed unacceptable) but political forces of all sides rallied to ensure the line's survival.
For many years there were four trains per day in each direction on weekdays and two on Sundays. From May 2015 an additional Monday to Friday train pair in each direction was introduced north of Llandrindod and south of Llandovery, ostensibly to improve commuting possibilities, although the consequential changes to existing services substantially lengthened the working day for those travelling to Shrewsbury. Trains are one or two carriages each, with a small team of staff. A buffet trolley service runs occasionally. The Heart of Wales line proper runs between Llanelli and Craven Arms, however train services normally terminate at Shrewsbury and Swansea. Two northbound weekday trains travel onwards from Shrewsbury to Crewe and there are a pair that start from Crewe southbound. Most stations are request stops.
Passenger services are operated by Arriva Trains Wales using Class 150 or Class 153 diesel multiple units, although Class 175s have been used on rare occasions. The continued use of Class 153 DMUs has received criticism, notably from Kirsty Williams AM, who says:
|“||The 153 units have a poor reliability record, can carry few bicycles, little bulky luggage, and offer poor visibility, and this on a line that is supposedly promoted as scenic||”|
The line has also been used for exceptional train movements, including:
- Manchester to Carmarthen trains diverted during engineering works between Briton Ferry and Bridgend
- Builth Road has special trains from Cardiff for the Royal Welsh Show which operate via the Swansea District Line between Briton Ferry and Pontarddulais
- Charter trains taking in the scenic beauty of the route, such as The Welshman's charter on Saturday 30 April 2011
Although no regular scheduled Freight Services use this line, the route is maintained to W5 standard to accommodate the occasional EWS diversions for Margam and Llanwern traffic when the south Wales route is closed.
- Railways of Shropshire
- History of Wales
- Map of places on 'Heart of Wales Line' compiled from this article
- Royal Welsh Show
- Central Wales Railway Light Railway (Amendment) Order 1990 www.opsi.gov.uk; Retrieved 2003-03-02
- NSTR Signalling www.railsigns.co.uk; retrieved 2009-02-27
- News Article in RAIL Magazine, Issue 614, p.15
- Heart of Wales Line In Danger Wales Online; Retrieved 2009-03-28
- News Article in RAIL Magazine, Issue 656, p.19
- , Developing the Heart of Wales Line
- "ACORP Summary map" (PDF). Association of Community Rail Partnerships. 28 July 2014. Retrieved 28 October 2015.
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