Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway

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Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway
Taff Vale Railway
to Pontypridd
Treherbert Junction
Taff Vale Railway
to Rhondda Fawr Collieries
Rhondda Tunnel
3443 yd
3148 m
Gelli Tunnel
174 yd
159 m
Croeserw Viaduct
Llynvi and Ogmore Railway
to Abergwynfi
Sth Wales Mineral Rly
to Glyncorrwg
Cymmer Afan
Llynvi and Ogmore Railway
to Maesteg
Sth Wales Mineral Rly
to Tonmawr
Duffryn Rhondda Halt
Cynonville Halt
Port Talbot Railway
to Tonmawr
Port Talbot Railway
to Bryn
Aberavon Town
East Junction
South Wales Railway
to Swansea
South Wales Railway
to Cardiff
Port Talbot Railway
to Port Talbot Old Dock
Port Talbot New Dock
Aberavon (Seaside)
Baglan Sands
South Wales Railway
to Port Talbot
Briton Ferry Dock
Briton Ferry East
Briton Ferry
Sth Wales Mineral Rly
to Tonmawr
Court Sart
South Wales Railway
to Neath
Court Sart Junction
Neath Canalside
Neath Harbour Junction
Swing Bridge
over River Neath
Vale of Neath Railway
to Neath Abbey
Swansea District Line
to Llandarcy
Jersey Marine South Jn
Cardonnel Junction
Great Western Railway
to Briton Ferry Road
Cape Platform
Jersey Marine
Baldwins Halt
Danygraig Halt
Landore High Level
Great Western Railway
to Swansea East Dock
Swansea East Docks
Swansea Riverside
Swansea Harbour Trust

The Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway connected the coal mines of the Rhondda Valley to the Swansea Bay ports.

Connecting with the Taff Vale Railway at Treherbert, it had branches to Aberavon and Port Talbot docks. It was later extended to Swansea and a branch to Neath was added, bringing the total length to 31 miles. Commercially a poor route, it was operated by the Great Western Railway from 1907, and fully incorporated from 1922.

Under the Beeching Axe, as a loss making concern the railway was an early closure opportunity, being closed from 1962 and completely shut in 1970. Its Neath industrial branch survived until 1983.


From 1870 onwards, the demand for Rhondda steam coal was expanding more quickly than the infrastructure of the Taff Vale Railway and Bute Docks could support. In 1874 the total coal and coke exported from Cardiff and Penarth was 2,886,000 tons, which had risen to 7,774,828 tons by 1882. By 1880 a train typically took 23 hours to travel from the Ocean Colliery to Bute Dock, and 27 hours for the empty wagons to return. This slowed production, as no additional railway capacity had been built, and only the Roath Basin provided additional dock capacity.[1]

Two attempts were made to break the monopoly of the Marquess of Bute. The Barry Railway and Docks built at a cost of £2 million a new dock at Barry Island with a railway connecting with Rhondda above the narrow Tongwynlais gorge. The first coal was shipped on 18 July 1889, with a second dock opened in 1898, and a third in 1914. On 16 March 1896 the main line between Porth and Barry was opened for passenger traffic, to connect with the paddle steamers of P and A Campbell.


The merchants of Swansea had wanted to tap into the coal fields of the Rhondda Fawr for some time, but proposals brought to them until that point had all required massive construction in the Afan Valley, and steep gradients into Treherbert restricting train loads.

Eventually a proposal was made to cut a tunnel from Blaengwynfi to Treherbert, which would allow easier access to Rhondda Fawr.[2]


Incorporated on 10 August 1882,[3] the line connected the coalfields of the Rhondda Valley to the Swansea Bay ports. It connected with the Taff Valley Railway at Treherbert and had branches to Aberavon and Porth Talbot docks. It was later extended to Swansea and a branch to Neath was added, bringing the total length to 31 miles (50 km). By the time the R&SBR arrived in the Afan Valley, the GWR had built the Abergwynfi branch in the easier route. The construction of the R&SBR necessitated the construction of the 160-metre (525 ft) long Gelli tunnel.[4]

On 2 July 1890 the Rhondda Tunnel, a distance of 3,443 yards (3,148 m) (the second longest railway tunnel in Wales, and the seventeenth longest in the United Kingdom,[5] was completed. The single-line tunnel split into double track on emerging from Rhondda reaching Blaenrhondda, the RSBR's only station in the Rhondda. From there, the line continued to the Taff Vale Railway at Treherbert. After the completion of the Briton Ferry to Swansea link on 14 December 1894 Treherbert was connected to Swansea docks.

Non-commercial route[edit]

However, the combination of the length of the line and the tortuous route taken meant that there was an up gradient through the Rhondda tunnel from Treherbert, meaning that the weight of full trains was restricted. Resultantly, traffic on opening was effectively commercially restricted to serve only those collieries at the top of the Rhondda Fawr, furthest away from the down slope lines of the opposing companies serving the docks at Cardiff, Newport and Barry Island. Resultantly, these railway companies and docks expanded at a far greater rate than the R&SBR.[1]

However, the opening of the line brought strain on Swansea's docks, so necessitated the opening of the larger capacity Prince of Wales Dock.[6] Cymmer in the Afan Valley at one time boasted three railway stations - Cymmer Afan - Rhondda & Swansea Bay Railway (opened as Cymmer in November 1885 and closed June 1970), Cymmer Corrwg - South Wales Mineral Railway (opened as Cymmer in March 1918 and closed September 1930) and Cymmer General - Great Western Railway (opened as Cymmer in July 1880 and amalgamated with Cymmer Afan in January 1950).

Blaengwynfi Station in 1962


Due to its lack of commercial provision of its route, and its late entry into the Rhondda Valley, the company struggled to survive and operations were taken over by the Great Western Railway, less than 15 years after opening, in 1907, the peak of coal exports from Rhondda Fawr. Worked independently, the railway was fully incorporated into the GWR under the terms of the Railways Act 1921, and absorbed on 1 January 1922.[7]


The line closed from 1962 onwards, starting with the withdrawal of Aberavon to Treherbert passenger services. The western section from Aberavon followed suit in late 1963. The northern section of the line from Duffryn Rhondda to Cymmer Afan remained in use until 1970, access being via a crossover installed in 1960 by British Railways between the previously unconnected R&SB and L&O lines at Cymmer Afan. A second connection between these lines at Gelli Junction, nearer Rhondda tunnel and also installed by British Railways in 1960, permitted traffic to run for the first time between Treherbert and Bridgend (latterly running to/from Maesteg Castle Street). This passenger service ceased in 1970, although traffic through the Rhondda tunnel had ceased due to subsidence problems two years earlier - a replacement bus service running beyond Cymmer Afan until final closure.

The Rhondda Tunnel Society[edit]

The Rhondda Tunnel Society was formed in September 2014. The short-term goal of the society is to replace the tunnel's original cover stone above the entrance of the tunnel at Blaencwm. The Blaengwynfi stone is housed at the Afan Forest Park visitor centre. The society eventually hopes to raise enough money to reopen the tunnel as a cycle path. They are currently waiting for a verdict on the tunnel's condition before the plans can go ahead.

The section along the Afan Valley is now the route of the Afan Valley Cycleway,[8] while the former Cymmer station is now a public house, known locally as "The Refresh".[9]

Two original Rhondda and Swansea Bay coaches have survived into the present day. Coaches No.18 and No.72 now stand in private residence as holiday homes.[10]

The Rhondda Tunnel Society has a Facebook Page[11] which now has 3,168 members from all over the world. It also has its own website.[12]

The Society holds monthly meeting which alternate between the Tunnel Hotel, Blaengwynfi[13] and the White Dragon Inn, Treorchy,[14] though the Rhondda Headquarters of the Society is the Hendrewen Hotel, Blaencwm.[15]

At its September 2015 meeting, held at the White Dragon public house in Treorchy the Society launched its 1st pin badge to celebrate the Society's first anniversary. These badges are intended for full members only. There was also mention that in the very near future a wide range of merchandise will be available


The chronology for the line is as follows:[16]

Date Activity
10 August 1882 Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway incorporated
2 November 1885 Aberavon opened[17]
2 July 1890 On opening of the Rhondda Tunnel, the railway commences operations from Treherbert to Aberavon
27 June 1892 Act of Parliament approved for extension to Swansea's Prince of Wales Dock
30 December 1893 Line extended to Briton Ferry Dock
14 December 1894 Line extended from Briton Ferry Dock over the Neath Swing Bridge to Swansea.[18] Opened freight services to Swansea docks
14 March 1895 Passengers services to Swansea Riverside station. Neath branch from Court Sart opened to a new Canal Side station. Aberavon Seaside opened
1896 Works and engine shed opened a mile east of Danygraig
7 May 1899 R&SBR ceases to use the Swansea Harbour Trustees Railway between Danygraig and Swansea Riverside
1907 Great Western Railway takes over operations, and is operated independently
1 January 1922 As a result of the Railways Act 1921, the R&BSR is fully incorporated into the GWR[7]
11 September 1933 All passenger trains now terminate at Swansea East Dock. Swansea Riverside closed
1935 Passenger traffic from Aberavon to Court Sart, and Jersey Marine South to Swansea closed. All passenger traffic diverted onto the South Wales Railway lines
16 September 1935 Neath Canal Side closed to passengers
20 September 1935 All passenger trains now terminate at Swansea High Street, terminus of the South Wales Railway
December 1962 All remaining passenger services between Aberavon and Swansea transferred to the South Wales Railway lines, except Neath Canal Side. Rhondda Tunnel closes to freight, terminating all freight services north of Blaenrhondda
December 1964 Works and engine shed at Danygraig closed
6 September 1965 Neath Canal Side branch closed to passengers, and all freight except for private sidings
December 1967 Jersey Marine to Danygraig (excluded) closed.
24 February 1969 Carriage shed at Danygraig becomes the Swansea Freightliner Terminal
15 July 1970 Passenger and freight services from Maesteg to Treherbert via Cymmer Afan closed to passengers, tracks subsequently lifted[7]


From East to West:[16]


  • Through the tunnel from Treherbert : memories of the Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway - by Bernard Lazarus, published by Steam Days 60, 1994[19]

External links[edit]