Vale of Rheidol Railway

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Vale of Rheidol Railway
Rheilffordd Cwm Rheidol
Vale of Rheidol Railway - - 460576.jpg
Locomotive No. 8 Llywelyn on the climb
to Devil's Bridge
Locale Ceredigion, Wales
Terminus Aberystwyth
Devil's Bridge
Coordinates 52°24′40″N 4°04′45″W / 52.41114°N 4.07909°W / 52.41114; -4.07909Coordinates: 52°24′40″N 4°04′45″W / 52.41114°N 4.07909°W / 52.41114; -4.07909
Commercial operations
Name Vale of Rheidol Light Railway
Built by Engineer: James Szlumper
Original gauge 1 ft 11 12 in (597 mm)
Preserved operations
Owned by Phyllis Rampton Narrow Gauge Railway Trust
Operated by Vale of Rheidol Railway Limited
Stations 4 stations 5 halts
Length 11 34 miles (18.91 km)
Preserved gauge 1 ft 11 34 in (603 mm)
Commercial history
Opened August 1902 (freight only)
22 December 1902 (passenger)
1913 Taken over by Cambrian Railways
1923 Great Western Railway Grouping
1948 Became part of British Railways
1968 Became the last steam on British Rail
Preservation history
1989 Privatised
Headquarters Aberystwyth

The Vale of Rheidol Railway (Welsh: Rheilffordd Cwm Rheidol) is a 1 ft 11 34 in (603 mm) narrow gauge heritage railway that runs for 11 34 miles (18.9 km) between Aberystwyth and Devil's Bridge in the county of Ceredigion, Wales.[1]

Until privatisation, it was the sole steam-operated line on the nationalised British Rail network, steam traction having ceased in 1968 on all other parts of the system.

Unlike some other preserved railways in the United Kingdom, the Vale of Rheidol Railway has never closed, with the exception of wartime and has operated a service for tourists through its life. The railway celebrated its centenary in 2002.


A narrow gauge railway in the area of Aberystwyth was first proposed after the initial route planned for the Manchester and Milford Railway, from Llanidloes to Aberystwyth via Devil's Bridge, was altered, and then abandoned, before construction started.[2]

The original primary purpose of the line was to carry timber (for pit props in the South Wales valleys) and ore from the Rheidol Valley to the sea and the main line railway at Aberystwyth. Many lead mines in the valley were producing ore at the end of the 19th century. Following an Act of Parliament in 1897, it was not possible to raise finance as quickly as expected, and construction started in 1901. Rock was hand-hewn instead of being blasted, in order to save money. The chief engineer was Sir James Szlumper. He used the locomotive Talybont, renamed Rheidol, from the Plynlimon and Hafan Tramway.

By the time the railway was ready to open in 1902, lead mining in Ceredigion was in steep decline. However a significant growth in tourism was under way, and the carriage of passengers soon became the principal traffic of the railway. It opened for mineral traffic in August 1902 and for passengers on 22 December 1902, using two 2-6-2T locomotives built by Davies a Metcalfe and a 2-4-0T locomotive built by Bagnall.[3] The original stations were Aberystwyth, Llanbadarn, Capel Bangor, Nantyronen and Pontarfynach.

As a branch of the Cambrian Railways[edit]

In 1912 the use of electric power from the river was considered, but the line lost its independence when it was absorbed by the Cambrian Railways on 1 July 1913,[4] however the onset of war in 1914 closed the lead mine and passenger services were reduced. The war also prevented major improvements being carried out.[5] Passenger services were cut back however and the need for timber for the war effort meant that freight became the principal revenue source for a short while.[5]

Under Great Western Railway control[edit]

On 1 January 1922, it was grouped into the Great Western Railway (GWR).[5] A new station was opened next door to the town's main Great Western station.[3] The GWR turned it into a service solely for tourists; the line to the harbour was closed; and freight services were withdrawn, and from 1931 trains only operated during the summer months. The entire line was closed for the duration of World War II, though maintenance continued. The railway re-opened in 1945.


Prince of Wales with British Rail logo in 1981

The Great Western Railway became part of the Western Region of British Railways on 1 January 1948 and the line continued to operate a tourist service.[6]

In 1968, the line was rerouted in Aberystwyth to run adjacent to the BR line into the former standard gauge Carmarthen line platforms of the main station which had been abandoned in 1964. The former standard gauge locomotive shed was also refurbished and adapted into use for this railway.[7] The former station site is now occupied by a supermarket and the former route of this alignment has been sold for redevelopment.


The line was privatised in 1989, being sold to Peter Rampton and Tony Hills (now owner and General Manager of the Brecon Mountain Railway).[8] In 1996, Rampton and Hills split their partnership, with Hills retaining control of the Brecon, and the Rheidol being sold to a trust formed by Rampton, the Phyllis Rampton Narrow Gauge Railway Trust.[9]

The railway today[edit]

The railway continues to operate as a tourist railway, generally operating between Easter and the end of October with extra services during February Half Term and Santa Specials at Christmas.

There are various developments planned to enhance the facilities and visitor experience. In 2010 work started at Aberystwyth on construction of a new locomotive and carriage works.

Rheidol Explorer[edit]

In 2011 the railway developed the Rheidol Explorer (Welsh: Darganfod Y Rheidol "Discovering the Rheidol") audio tour which uses GPS handsets to provide passengers with a commentary during the journey in a choice of five languages.

The route[edit]

Vale of
Rheidol Railway
 not to scale 
End of line
various sheds[11]
UK road A4120.PNG [12]
River Rheidol
level crossing
level crossing
Capel Bangor[14]
level crossing
level crossing
Rheidol Falls[16]
Devil's Bridge[18]

There are nine stations. Whilst all trains generally stop at block stations, for operational reasons, the other intermediate stations are treated as request stops. The journey takes one hour in each direction and much of it at a gradient of 1 in 50 (2%).

Image Name Notes
Aberystwyth Railway Station - - 606005.jpg Aberystwyth The headquarters of the railway are at Aberystwyth where it shares a terminus with the standard gauge main line, trains leaving from the former Carmarthen bay platform. A large shed houses the locomotives and carriages and contains workshop facilities. A new workshop is currently being built.
Llanbadarn(1).jpg Llanbadarn Llanbadarn is a request stop serving the village of Llanbadarn Fawr. There are no surfaced platforms or buildings.
Glanyrafon Station - - 769086.jpg Glanyrafon Glanyrafon Halt is a request stop serving the nearby industrial estate. There are no surfaced platforms or buildings.
Capel Bangor Station view.jpeg Capel Bangor Capel Bangor station is close to the village of Capel Bangor. New platforms and a station building (a replica of the original) were built in 2012.
Nantyronen railway station platform.jpeg Nantyronen Nantyronen is a request stop. Up trains pause briefly here to allow the locomotive to take on water. A new platform and station building were completed in 2013.
Aberffrwd railway station water tower.jpg Aberffrwd Aberffrwd station is close to the hamlet of Aberffrwd. A new platform and station building were completed in 2013.
Rheidol Falls railway station VOR.jpeg Rheidol Falls Rheidol Falls is a request stop. A new platform and station building were completed in 2013.
Rhiwfron railway station VOR.jpeg Rhiwfron Rhiwfron is a request stop. A new platform and station building were completed in 2013.
Devils Bridge Station.JPG Devil's Bridge Devil's Bridge station is the railway's eastern terminus. It is a short walk from the Mynach Waterfalls
Map of the Vale of Rheidol Light Railway in 2006

When the lead mines were being worked there was an aerial cableway linking them with Rhiwfron.

The railway had a branch line which ran to Aberystwyth Harbour, principally for freight services. The Harbour Branch became redundant with the predominance of tourist passenger operations and was closed and lifted. Little evidence of it remains today.[19]


The line has three steam locomotives for passenger trains and one diesel locomotive. The railway also owns 16 carriages and a 4-wheeled brake van.

The railway is single track with passing loops at Capel Bangor and Aberffrwd which are operated by the train crew. The line is worked by tokens, which authorise the driver to enter a single line section. Tokens are provided for:-

The Duty Officer regulates train running, giving permission for trains to enter the single line sections, recording train movements on the Train Graph and ensuring trains are formed of an appropriate number of carriages.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Johnson 1999, page 15
  2. ^ Johnson 2011, page 52
  3. ^ a b [1]
  4. ^ Green 1986, page 26
  5. ^ a b c Green 1986, page 28
  6. ^ Green 1986, page 29
  7. ^ Johnson 2011, page 88
  8. ^ "The Great British Rail Sale is Over" The Railway Magazine issue 1152 April 1997 pages 24/25
  9. ^ Boyd-Hope, Gary (January 2009). "Rheidol revival: 20 years of private enterprise". Steam Railway 358: 91–5. 
  10. ^ 52°24′40″N 4°04′45″W / 52.41114°N 4.07909°W / 52.41114; -4.07909| map Aberystwyth station
  11. ^ 52°24′41″N 4°04′43″W / 52.411523°N 4.078558°W / 52.411523; -4.078558| map shed location
  12. ^ 52°24′20″N 4°03′40″W / 52.405652°N 4.061069°W / 52.405652; -4.061069| map Llanbadarn station and level crossing at A4120
  13. ^ 52°24′16″N 4°02′13″W / 52.404509°N 4.037029°W / 52.404509; -4.037029| Glanrafon station
  14. ^ 52°23′58″N 3°59′21″W / 52.399358°N 3.989093°W / 52.399358; -3.989093| Capel Bangor station
  15. ^ 52°23′26″N 3°55′51″W / 52.390650°N 3.930943°W / 52.390650; -3.930943| Aberffrwd station
  16. ^ 52°23′30″N 3°54′01″W / 52.391711°N 3.900365°W / 52.391711; -3.900365| Rheidol Falls station
  17. ^ 52°23′00″N 3°52′05″W / 52.383447°N 3.868157°W / 52.383447; -3.868157| Rhiwfron station
  18. ^ 52°22′34″N 3°51′17″W / 52.376099°N 3.854789°W / 52.376099; -3.854789| Devil's Bridge station
  19. ^ Parts of the route may be traced via the Geograph Project as here, for example.


External links[edit]