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Vale of Neath Railway

Vale of Neath Railway
Locale Wales
Dates of operation 1851–1865
Successor Great Western Railway
Track gauge 7 ft (2,134 mm)
Length 44 miles (71 km)
Headquarters Aberdare

The Vale of Neath Railway was a 7 ft (2,134 mm) Wales, and also operated the Swansea and Neath Railway which gave it access to the docks at Swansea. It was opened on 24 September 1851 and amalgamated with the Great Western Railway on 1 February 1865.


  • Chronology 1
  • History 2
    • Swansea and Neath Railway 2.1
    • Mainline 2.2
    • Dare Valley branch 2.3
    • Aberdare Valley railway 2.4
  • Gauge conversion 3
  • Stations 4
  • Locomotives 5
  • Hirwaun and Glynneath embankment 6
  • The Viaducts at Edwardsville 7
  • Cefn Glas Tunnel (Quakers Yard Tunnel) 8
  • Extension to Hirwaun 9
  • Vale of Neath Railway today 10
  • See also 11
  • External links 12
  • References 13


  • 1846 Vale of Neath Railway authorised by Act of Parliament
  • 1851 Opened from Neath to Aberdare
  • 1853 Main line completed to Merthyr Tydfil
  • 1854 Dare Valley branch
  • 1857 Aberdare Valley Railway opened
  • 1862 Acquired the railways of the Swansea Harbour Trustees
  • 1863 Swansea and Neath Railway opened
  • 1865 Amalgamated with Great Western Railway


The railway was authorised by Act of Parliament on 3 August 1846. The first section to be opened was the main line from Neath to Gelli Tarw Junction, and the branch from there to Aberdare, on 24 September 1851. The line from Gelli Tarw to Merthyr Tydfil was opened on 2 November 1853.

In 1854 to 1857 further branches were opened from Gelli Tarw into the Dare and Amman valleys. These were only used for goods traffic, but included the Dare Viaduct, one of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's famous timber viaducts.

The Vale of Neath Railway leased the new Aberdare Valley Railway, which opened in 1857 from Aberdare to Middle Duffryn colliery.

Swansea and Neath Railway

Since 1852, the Vale of Neath Railway had shipped coal from a wharf at Briton Ferry, but this entailed moving trains over the South Wales Railway. The alternative was for the South Wales Railway to haul coal trains up the steep incline to Swansea. In 1861 an Act of Parliament was passed for a new Swansea and Neath Railway which, by the time it opened on 15 June 1863, was owned by the Vale of Neath company. The railway contractor John Dickson claimed to have been largely instrumental in promoting this extension but his real role remains unclear.

The Vale of Neath had also been working its own coal trains over the South Wales Railway since 1861, and had taken over responsibility for working the railways of the Swansea Harbour Trustees too.


Having reached Hirwaun by 1851 with the opening of the railway from Neath to Aberdare, by 1853 the company had negotiated and built Merthyr Tydfil station to allow the opening of the main line to Merthyr via Gelli Tarw Junction, just north of Hirwaun. This would now allow the opening of two extension branches to the main line.

Dare Valley branch

The inaccessible Dare Valley had started to be explored for minerals, but access to the steep valley would be difficult. After the opening of the Bwllfa Colliery in 1853, the VoNR extended Gelli Tarw Junction to the Dare Valley branch. Trains would access the branch line and run to Dare Junction, and then be forced to reverse up to the colliery sidings of both the Bwllfa and Nantmelyn Colliery. In 1856, the Dare Branch extended from Dare Junction to Cwmaman Colliery in the Aman Valley. In 1857 the line was extended from Nantmelyn Colliery to Bwllfa Dare Colliery, which was now served by the Aberdare Railway.[1]

Aberdare Valley railway

In 1857, the VoNR extended the Aberdare branch to junction with the GWR line to Pontypool at Quakers Yard High Level, thereby creating the Aberdare Valley Railway.[1]

Gauge conversion

Almost the whole of the Vale of Neath system had a third rail added to its tracks in 1863. This mixed gauge allowed the Great Western Railway to run standard gauge trains from Hereford through to Swansea over a connection at Middle Duffryn.

The broad gauge rail was removed after the South Wales Railway was converted to standard gauge on 11 May 1872, although by this time the Vale of Neath Railway had been amalgamated with the Great Western Railway, this happening on 1 February 1865.


Hirwaun station on the Vale of Neath Railway.


The Vale of Neath Railway owned 19 broad gauge and 6 standard gauge locomotives:

Hirwaun and Glynneath embankment

Although only a relatively small station serving an industrial community, Hirwaun was an important junction station for the VoNR. At Gelli Tarw Junction just north of the station, it merged three lines: Mainline from Neath to Merthyr; Branch to Aberdare; terminus for the Aberdare Railway. Within the Hirwaun signal box control area, as well as the station there were various commercial complexes, including: Hirwaun Ironworks; Tower Colliery; Penderyn quarry tramway; Tir Herbert brickworks.

Between Glynneath and Hirwaun, a distance of only 6 miles (9.7 km), additionally there were five collieries, two quarries and one gunpowder/silica factory. Each had their own private sidings, all to be tackled over the steep Glynneath embankment, which required a banking locomotive for northbound trains to be attached at Glynneath. During World War II, the Royal Ordnance Factory ROF Hirwaun added to both the goods and passenger the traffic load of the entire line.

The Viaducts at Edwardsville

There was a viaduct on the Vale of Neath Railway connecting Quaker's Yard High Level with Mountain Ash through the Cefn Glas (Quaker's Yard) Tunnel. Another second viaduct was on the Rhymney Railway/Great Western Joint Line linking Quaker's Yard High Level with Aberfan, Abercanaid and Merthyr. Later on, timber lattice work was included within the arches of both viaducts, but was not by design. It was put in to prevent the viaducts collapsing because of mining subsidence from Deep Navigation workings underneath. Both viaducts were so unsafe they had to be demolished a year after the line had closed. Even today the subsidence is still a problematic issue in Edwardsville.[2]

Cefn Glas Tunnel (Quakers Yard Tunnel)

Cefn-Glas Tunnel,[3] a single bore 703 yard long structure, was opened in 1851 near the Quaker's Yard viaducts to take the extension of the GWR route from Pontypool to Neath through Craig-yr-Efail. The very same mountain between Treharris and Aberdare that was quarried for stone that the viaducts below were built on. Colloquially, it is named after the former Cefn Glas colliery, which once existed just north-west of the tunnel's east portal but official railway records only referred to it as Quaker's Yard tunnel. A canal ran around the curve of Craig-yr-Efail, also just above this portal. It was closed to rail traffic on the 15 June 1964. The east portal is located just west of the A470 dual carriageway, about ¾ mile north of the Abercynon roundabout.[4]

A coal seam has been worked through the south wall of the tunnel, this occurred during the 1984 miners' strike.

The tunnel, comprising a brick roof with masonry walls, often suffered drainage problems during its lifetime, its patchwork nature suggesting that even during operational times, much repair work was needed. Today the tunnel has become very dangerous to explore and there are several collapsed sections of wall lining, which could cause the tunnel to collapse entirely at some stage.[5]

Extension to Hirwaun

Since its termination at Aberdare following the Beeching Axe, there have been various proposals to extend the line northwards towards Hirwaun again. In recent years, these have been driven by the Welsh Assembly Government. In 2006, a study by local transport alliance Sewta appeared to rule out any such extension for the foreseeable future.

In November 2009, WAG sponsored Network Rail in a feasibility study to reopening both the section to Hirwaun, and parts of the former Anglesey Central Railway between Llangefni on Anglesey, and Bangor. Network Rail has already begun work on gathering evidence for its study, beginning with cutting away vegetation on track sections to examine the condition of rails and track bedding. Its report is expected to be published in early 2010, before any business case to reopen the lines can be developed.[6]

Vale of Neath Railway today

Some of the Vale of Neath Railway and the Swansea and Neath Railway branch is still open today with the exception of a section between Resolven and Tower Colliery west of Hirwaun.[7] A portion of the line from Aberdare High Level station to Cwmbach, (1 mile 46 chains or 2.5 kilometres) still serves as part of the Valley Lines network but from Cwmbach to Quaker's Yard and on to Pontypool Road, the mainly double-track line has been lifted and this included the former Crumlin viaduct. A short length (75 chains or 1,500 metres) from Penalltau Junction east of Nelson, survives with alteration to alignment between Nelson and Treharris to accommodate coal traffic to Cwmbargoed via Bedlinog (The Taff Bargoed Branch). The western portion of the line is used to distribute coal from the Onllwyn and Aberpergwm collieries to Swansea Docks and to Aberthaw Power Station.

See also

Cornwall Railway viaducts

External links

  • Exploring Abernant (Merthyr) Tunnel
  • Merthyr Branch as it is today


  1. ^ a b "Chronology for Vale of Neath Railway". RailBrit. Retrieved 21 July 2012. 
  2. ^ "Edwardsville Viaducts". Andrew Quick & Alan George. 2009-03-05. Retrieved 2009-11-06. 
  3. ^ "Cefn Glas Tunnel". Rat Sandwich. 2009-03-05. Retrieved 2009-12-20. 
  4. ^ "Cefn Glas Tunnel / Quaker's Yard Tunnel". Black Mountains. 2009-03-05. Retrieved 2009-12-20. 
  5. ^ "Cefn Glas Tunnel (disused), Quaker's Yard 24/6/14". Aron Stenning. 2014-06-24. 
  6. ^ "Old tracks could see trains again". BBC News. 2009-03-05. Retrieved 2009-12-06. 
  7. ^ Railscot - Vale of Neath Railway
  • Reed, P.J.T. (February 1953). White, D.E., ed. The Locomotives of the Great Western Railway, Part 2: Broad Gauge. Kenilworth: The Railway Correspondence and Travel Society.  
  • MacDermot, E T (1931). History of the Great Western Railway, volume II 1863-1921. London:  
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