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Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway


Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway

Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway

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 quicker than the infrastructure of the Taff Vale Railway and Bute Docks could provide. 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 in 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 longest railway tunnel in Wales, and the seventh longest in the United Kingdom), 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

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.[5] Cymmer in the Afan Valley at one time boasted three railway stations - Cymmer General (amalgamated with Cymmer Afan), Cymmer Corrwyg (closed 1930).


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 the 1 January 1922.[6]


The line closed from 1962 onwards with the closure of Rhondda Tunnel. Passenger services on the western section from Aberavon ceased in late 1963, and on the northern section from 1970.

The section along the Afan Valley is now the route of the Afan Valley Cycleway,[7] while the former Cymmer station is now a public house, known locally as "The Refresh".[8]

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. [9]


The chronology for the line is as follows:[10]

Date Activity
10 August 1882 Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway incorporated
2 November 1885 Aberavon opened[11]
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.[12] 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[6]
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, 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 Aberavon to Blaenrhondda closed to passengers, tracks subsequently lifted[6]


From East to West[10]:


  • "Through the tunnel from Treherbert : memories of the Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway" - by Bernard Lazarus, published by Steam Days 60, 1994[13]

External links

  • History of railway development in the Rhondda
  • Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway from RailScot


  • Cycleway
  • Blaencwm
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