The Sirhowy Tramroad was incorporated on 26 June 1802 to run from the Tredegar Iron and Coal Company's ironworks to Nine Mile Point where it joined the Monmouthshire Canal Company's tramroad to Newport. The Sirhowy was the third public tramway to receive Parliamentary approval for its line, the others being the Carmarthenshire Railway of 3 June 1802 and the Oystermouth Railway of 29 June 1804. A 4 ft 2 in (1,270 mm) plateway was laid to carry coal and iron to and from the ironworks. The first passenger service, which was known locally as The Caravan, was started in 1822 and ran twice a week from the Tredegar Arms in Newport to Tredegar. All traffic was horse-drawn until 17 December 1829 when a steam locomotive named Britannia was introduced on a trial basis. The locomotive was a success and made daily journeys of 28 miles (45 km) hauling loads of 50 and 60 tons, while reducing the cost of horse power by 35%.
A transitional period followed during which the tramroad was converted from a plateway to a railway for the use of the flanged wheel. After difficulties were experienced at Tredegar Junction, Nine Mile Point and other places, a solution was found using a combined wrought iron plate and the Great Western Railway's 'bridge' pattern heavy rail which provided a wide inner tread for unflanged wheels of 4ft 2in gauge and a raised external part for ordinary standard gauge flanged wheels.
Although the improvised solution proved effective, it was decided to proceed with full conversion of the line and Parliamentary approval was obtained by an Act of 25 May 1860 which changed the name of the company to the Sirhowy Railway Company. The Act also authorised a northward extension of the line to Nantybwch on the Merthyr, Tredegar and Abergavenny Railway which had received Parliamentary approval in 1859. The decision to convert the line arguably came too late, as it left the fledging railway with limited resources to fight off the incursions into its territory by more established and larger companies. The Monmouthshire Canal's tramroad from Nine Mile Point was converted to standard gauge in 1855 and the Sirhowy Railway was granted running powers over the section, which allowed it to commence passenger services between Sirhowy and Newport Dock Street on 19 June 1865. Trains were made up of three 4-wheel coaches offering a choice of 1st, 2nd and 3rd class travel, and hauled by a 2-4-0 tank engine. Trains called at Tredegar, Blackwood, Tredegar Junction and Risca with a journey time of 1 hour and 20 minutes. The Nantybwch extension opened on 2 November 1868.
By 1864, it was rumoured that the Great Western Railway and the London and North Western Railway (L&NWR) were each seeking to lease the Sirhowy. This prompted a warning to the Monmouthshire Railway in an editorial published by the Star of Gwent, pointing out to shareholders that they were on the verge of committing a strategic error similar to that of 1861 when the company's failure to buy the Rumney Railway allowed the Brecon and Merthyr to path traffic away from Newport Docks and the Monmouthshire and inflict a significant revenue loss. According to the editorial, it would be "suicidal" not to take up the offer to buy the lease at £23,000 which would represent £1,600 per mile. The same warning appeared in Herepath's Railway Journal.
The Monmouthshire failed to act in time and so it was the L&NWR which, in May 1875, broke the news of the conclusion of a joint agreement allowing it to lease the Sirhowy and the Brecon and Merthyr with running powers granted to the GWR. Not long afterwards the Monmouthshire realised that it had lost control of railway development in the area and, with effect from 1 August 1875, granted the GWR a lease of its lines.
L&NWR services on the Sirhowy began in July 1875 with little change of traffic or rolling stock. The timetable was modified with the withdrawal of the two Sunday services. From March 1880, Sirhowy services ceased using Newport Dock Street and ran into the rebuilt Newport High Street. As Nine Mile Point was part of the GWR, this led to iron and coal services being diverted on the Vale of Neath Railway and pathed via Hengoed to Aber Sidings then to Alexandra Docks and Newport as a means of avoiding the GWR.
Rundown and closure
The L&NWR became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway at the Grouping before becoming part of British Railways upon nationalisation. Competition from bus services led to falling passenger receipts despite dieselisation of the line and the passenger service was withdrawn from 13 June 1960, with the last train having run on Saturday 11 June. Very few services ran after passenger closure: Nantybwch to Sirhowy closed to both goods and passengers on 13 June 1960, next was Sirhowy to Tredegar on 4 November 1963 followed by Tredegar to Pontllanfraith on 30 April 1969, and finally Tredegar to Risca on 4 May 1970.
Little remains of the Sirhowy Railway; in terms of station infrastructure, only the station at Tredegar and the station master's house at Hollybush have survived. National Cycle Network route 467 follows much of the trackbed from Blackwood to Hollybush and on to Tredegar.
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