Taff Vale Railway

Taff Vale Railway
21 June 1836 Act of Incorporation
9 October 1840 Opened Cardiff to Navigation House (Abercynon)
12 April 1841 Opened Navigation House to Merthyr Tydfil
1865 Penarth Dock opened, TVR takes out a 999 year lease
1888 Competition from Barry Railway
1900 Strike leads to Taff Vale case
1922 Became constituent company of the GWR
Railways Worked/Leased
1847 Aberdare Railway
1862 Penarth Harbour & Dock Railway
1863 Llantrisant & TV Railway
1889 Cowbridge & Aberthaw Railway
Successor organisation
1923 Great Western Railway
Key locations
Headquarters Queen Street, Cardiff
Workshops West Yard, Butetown
Major stations Cardiff Bute Road
Cardiff Queen St
Route mileage[1]
1921 124 miles (200 km)

The Taff Vale Railway (TVR) was a railway in Glamorgan, South Wales, and is one of the oldest in Wales. It operated as an independent company from 1836 until 1922, when it became a constituent company of the Great Western Railway. Much of the TVR is still used for freight and passenger services.


Coal mining and iron smelting had been carried out on a small scale in South Wales for some centuries before the arrival of railways. Both industries grew significantly during the industrial revolution, particularly as coal-derived coke could replace charcoal in the smelting process. The availability of coal, iron ore and limestone at the heads of the South Wales valleys led to a number of ironworks being founded there between 1750 and 1800, including the Cyfarthfa, Plymouth and Dowlais works in the Merthyr Tydfil area.[2]

Canals were built along several of the valleys, to bring the iron down to the coast for shipping elsewhere. The Glamorganshire Canal, authorised in 1790, ran from Merthyr Tydfil to Cardiff, a distance of 25 miles. The canal company were authorised to build tramroads from the canal to connect with nearby industries, and various foundries and quarries operated their own tramroads.

On 10 February 1804, a young engineer, Richard Trevithick, built a steam locomotive at Penydarren Ironworks near Merthyr Tydfil and drove the world's first steam hauled train along the Merthyr Tramroad from the ironworks to the canal basin at Abercynon. Ten tons of iron and 70 persons were transported nine miles.[3] The cast iron plateway track, built to carry iron in horse-drawn trams or wagons from Penydarren and Dowlais to Abercynon, proved too weak to carry his heavy locomotive, and it was converted to a stationary engine instead.

Disputes between the Glamorganshire Canal Company and ironmasters led to proposals for a 'dram road' to Cardiff as early as 1798.[4] Congestion on the canal increased as traffic boomed, and the appeal of a quicker railway route remained. In 1835 Anthony Hill, owner of the Plymouth Iron Works, asked his friend Isambard Kingdom Brunel, to estimate the cost of building a railway from Merthyr to Cardiff and to Bute Docks. Brunel's estimate was £190,649. Local industrialists held a meeting, chaired by John Josiah Guest, at the Castle Inn in Merthyr, to discuss the issue, and decided to request Parliamentary permission to form a company to build the railway.

Act of Parliament

Map of the Railway-Terminals in Penarth (1896)

On 21 June 1836, Royal Assent was given to The Taff Vale Railway Company's Act, allowing for the creation of the Taff Vale Railway Company. The founding capital of the Company was fixed at £300,000, in £100 share units. The directors were Josiah Guest (who became its first chairman), Walter Coffin, Edward Lee, Thomas Guest, Thomas Guppy, Thomas Powell, Christopher James, Thomas Carlisle, Henry Rudhall, William Wait, William Watson, and Peter Maze.

The act authorised a railway from Merthyr to the Bute West Dock at Cardiff, with a branch to Cogan Pill, as well as connections to the tramroads of Penydarren, Dowlais, and Plymouth. Company profits were capped at 7% originally, increasable to 9% subject to a reduction in the rates and tolls charged for use of the line. The Act also capped the speed of the trains on the line to 12 mph (19 km/h), with stiff penalties for any speeding. These two clauses were later repealed. The branch to Cogan Pill, however, was abandoned in exchange for a long lease on Bute West Dock in Cardiff.[5]

Main Line: Cardiff – Merthyr Tydfil

Cardiff to Merthyr Tydfil

to Cyfarthfa Ironworks
24-28 Merthyr Plymouth St

Merthyr High St
Brecon & Merthyr Rly
to Brecon
Dowlais Incline
to Dowlais Ironworks

Vale of Neath Rly
to Hirwaun
Quakers Yard & Merthyr Rly
23-03 Pentre-bach
21-68 Troed-y-rhiw
19-77 Merthyr Vale
Quakers Yard & Merthyr Rly
Newport, Abergavenny & Hereford Rly
to Aberdare
17-73 Quakers Yard

Newport, Abergavenny & Hereford Rly
to Nelson & Pontypool
Incline Top
Aberdare Branch
to Aberdare
16-28 Abercynon
Llancaiach Branch
to Nelson
Ynysybwl Branch
to Ynysybwl
Llancaiach Branch
to Nelson via Cilfynydd
Rhondda Branch
to Treherbert & Maerdy
12-74 Pontypridd
Pontypridd, Caerphilly & Newport Rly
to Caerphilly
12-01 Treforest
Cardiff Rly
to Coryton
Barry Railway
to Barry Docks
Llantrisant Branch
to Llantrisant
7-24 Taff's Well

5-31 Radyr

Rhymney Railway
to Caerphilly

1-08 Cardiff Queen Street

South Wales Railway
to Gloucester and London Paddington

(Great Western)

South Wales Railway
to Swansea
Bute West Dock
0-00 Cardiff Bay

Construction was started in 1836, and the stretch from Cardiff to Navigation House (later named Abercynon) was opened in a formal ceremony on 9 October 1840, with public services starting the next day. The stretch from Abercynon to Merthyr was opened on 12 April 1841. The railway was Single track for its entire length, with passing only possible at the six intermediate stations: Llandaff, Pentyrch (renamed Radyr), Taff's Well, Newbridge (renamed Pontypridd), Navigation House (now Abercynon), and Troedyrhiw. Brunel, the chief engineer, had chosen a narrower gauge (4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)) rather than the 7 ft (2,134 mm) gauge he would use for his Great Western Railway in order to fit the railway into the narrow, curvy space allowed to him by the River Taff valley.

The engineering of the 24 miles (39 km) main line was relatively straightforward. The line mostly followed the course of the Taff valley, with largely gentle gradients, except for a short portion between Navigation House and Quaker's Yard. This half-mile stretch, at a gradient of between 1 in 19 and 1 in 22, was worked by winding engines: trains were timed to meet at the incline, and locomotives would exchange their trains of carriages instead of traversing the incline. Two stone viaducts were built by Brunel on the route. The first, at Pontypridd, crosses the River Rhondda, and the second bridges the Taff valley between Goetre Coed and Quaker's Yard.

A station was opened at Maesmawr near Tonteg in April 1845, but was unsuccessful and closed three months later. Its contemporary station in nearby Trefforest remains in use to this day. Incline Top station (later Top of Incline) opened in 1846. In the same year, Navigation House (Abercynon) station was rebuilt to accommodate the new branch line to Aberdare, and renamed Aberdare Junction.

An act passed in 1857 gave the railway authority for a number of improvements over the coming years. The line was doubled throughout from 1858 to 1862, and later quadrupled between Pontypridd and Cardiff to accommodate the growth in traffic. New viaducts were built alongside the existing structures at Pontypridd and Quaker's Yard to carry the second line. In 1864 work started on bypassing the incline with a gentler bank (1 in 40). This required significant earthworks, and inclement weather meant that it was not completed until August 1867. Top of Incline station had already closed in 1858, replaced with a new station at Quaker's Yard. Pontypridd station saw platforms added and extended during the 1860s, as it became the busiest station on the Taff Vale network. Freight relief lines were built there in the 1890s, and from 1907 to 1914 the station was rebuilt as a single island platform with numerous bays. This work included raising the level of the entire station by nearly 5 feet (1.5 m).

The TVR's original station in Merthyr at Plymouth Street was opened on 12 April 1841, and was a short distance south of the town. This was joined in 1853 by the Vale of Neath's High Street station. A short joint line (TVR and GWR) was built to connect the TVR line to the new station in 1877. A year later, in August 1878, the Taff Vale transferred all of its passenger services to the High Street station, and used Plymouth Street as a goods depot instead. High Street station was thus the only passenger station in Merthyr, and was used by a total of six separate companies prior to the 1923 grouping. The TVR also opened stations at Merthyr Vale in 1883 and Pentrebach in 1886. The GWR later opened a station at Treforest Industrial Estate in 1942.

Extensive underground coal mining in the Quaker's Yard area led to troubles with subsidence, particularly on the Quaker's Yard viaduct. This was first noted in 1900, and the masonry was reinforced with steel girders in 1902. but subsidence continued. The successor GWR reinforced the viaduct throughout with timber from 1924 onwards, and a 1931 Chief Engineer's report noted surface subsidence of at least 1 foot 6 inches (0.46 m), and compensation was sought from the nearby collieries. Further work had to be done by the end of the decade. Despite the end of mining in the area, the bridge is actively monitored for subsidence to this day.

Closures in the mid 20th century left the Taff Vale as the only railway route to Merthyr Tydfil. Plymouth Street goods station was closed in 1968. The line from Black Lion signal box (Merthyr Vale) to Merthyr Tydfil was singled in February 1971. The quadrupled line south of Pontypridd became surplus to requirement, and two of the lines were lifted in 1980, leaving a double line in service.

Rhondda Branches

Rhondda Valley

Blaenrhondda Branch
R&SB Railway
to Swansea
Blaencwm Branch
23m 50ch Treherbert
Maerdy Colliery
22m 46ch Maerdy
22m 02ch Treorchy
20m 75ch Ystrad Rhondda
20m 60ch Ferndale
19m 07ch Llwynypia
Pwllyrhebog Br Jn
to Clydach Vale
18m 03ch Tonypandy
17m 40ch Dinas
17m 11ch Ynyshir
Rhondda Fach Jn
16m 10ch Porth
Aerw Branch Jn
to Cymer Colliery
14m 74ch Trehafod
Hafod Jn
Barry Railway
from Barry
12m 74ch Pontypridd
Cardiff to Merthyr

The original 1836 act authorised a branch 'to communicate with the Tramroad leading to the Collieries called Dinas'. The opening of this branch in 1841 led to further coal mining in the area, the conveyance of which was to be very profitable for the TVR. In 1849 the TVR offered a £500 reward for proving the presence of deep-seam coal in the Treherbert area of the Rhondda Fawr valley, and opened an extension from Porth to Ynyshir in the Rhondda Fach. The Rhondda Fach branch was extended to Ferndale in 1856, and later to Maerdy, which was the highest station on the Taff Vale network, and 900 feet (270 m) above sea level. The Rhondda Fawr line was also extended from Dinas to Treherbert in 1856. These were all initially mineral lines; passenger services to Treherbert started in 1863, to Ferndale in 1876, and on to Maerdy in 1889.

The Rhondda Valley and Hirwain Junction Railway was authorised in 1867 to extend the line from Treherbert toward Hirwaun in the Cynon Valley, but only built a short stretch to Blaenrhondda Colliery with a spur to Blaencwm Coliery. These were leased to the TVR in 1878 shortly after opening, and were absorbed into the TVR in 1889. Other TVR branches in the Rhondda included the Aerw Branch near Trehafod, opened in 1854, and the Pwllyrhebog branch serving Pwllyrhebog and Clydach Collieries. The latter was built by the TVR as far as Pwllyrhebog in 1863, and was worked by special engines aided by cable on the 1 in 13 gradient. The Clydach extension, built privately in 1889, was acquired in 1896.

The Rhondda Valley was a breadbasket for the TVR until the Barry Railway, financed by colliery owners unhappy with the TVR's charges, was authorised to build its own railway line connecting with the TVR south of Trehafod in 1883, opening for traffic in 1889. This line, running direct to the new port at Barry, stole much traffic from the TVR, as well as the Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway which tunnelled through to Treherbert in 1890. The continuing growth in coal traffic meant that other than a brief hiatus the Rhondda remained profitable for the TVR.

The Pwllyrhebog branch was closed to in 1951, with coal traffic redirected along the GWR's nearby Penygraig branch toward Llantrisant. 1966 saw the closure of the Blaenrhondda branches, and the Aerw branch in turn closed with the last of the branch's collieries, in 1977. Passenger services on the Rhondda Fach branch were withdrawn in June 1964, with the line singled later that year. It remained open for freight traffic until the track was lifted in 1987, and the trackbed now forms a cycle path.

The Rhondda Fawr branch to Treherbert remains open, and forms the Rhondda Line of the Valley Lines railway network, with the addition of new stations at Ton Pentre and Ynyswen in the 1980s.


The TVR proved its worth immediately. At its peak, two trains a minute passed through the busiest station, Pontypridd. By 1850, the TVR was carrying 600,000 long tons (610,000 t; 670,000 short tons) of coal per annum, and was paying a 6% dividend.

As the first steam railway in the area, the TVR was the obvious main target for nearly all of the companies that followed. For example, a monopoly on traffic from the Rhondda meant the TVR was able to charge more than in valleys where it faced competition. This led to Rhondda mine owners creating the Barry Railway.

Passenger services

The line was conceived as a goods line, carrying iron and coal. However, it also ran passenger services from the beginning. There were two passenger trains each way daily, including Sundays. This was extended to three weekday services in 1844. Single fares from Cardiff to Merthyr were 5 shillings for first class, 4s for second class, and 3s for third, and were each reduced by a shilling in 1845.

Passenger services to Treherbert began on 7 January 1863; to Ferndale in 1863; and to Maerdy in 1889.


Summary of the TVR system

Main line

The main stations on the TVR main line were:

Branch lines

Some branch lines include:

Railways amalgamated with TVR

26 August 1889

1 January 1895

1 July 1902

TVR leased two railways:

It also had "running powers" over several other companies' lines, including the Barry Railway, Great Western Railway and the Rhymney Railway.

Information in this section from The Railway Year Book for 1912 (Railway Publishing Co Ltd).


Taff Vale steam railmotor

Prior to 1873, Taff Vale’s locomotives were designed and built by outside contractors. The TVR’s Locomotive Superintendents were:

Tom Hurry Riches was President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers from 1907–1908 and was the father of C. T. Hurry Riches who was Locomotive Superintendent of the Rhymney Railway from January 1906.


See: Taff Vale Case

In 1901 the Taff Vale Railway Company successfully sued the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, a trades union, for damages due to losses accrued during a strike by their members (who were seeking to compel the company to recognise the union). The Company was awarded £23,000 in a landmark decision, shattering the belief that unions were immune to damages due to the actions of their members. It led, following the election of the Liberal Party in the general election of 1906, to the Trade Disputes Act 1906, guaranteeing union immunity from damages.

Later history

Following the Railways Act 1921, the TVR became a part of Great Western Railway on 1 January 1922,[8] and part of British Railways following the nationalisation of the UK railways in 1948.

The sections still in use for passenger traffic – to Treherbert, Aberdare, Merthyr Tydfil and Cardiff Bay – are currently run by Arriva Trains Wales, formerly (under a previous franchise) Valley Lines.

A selection of original Taff vale coaches have survived into the present day. Taff Vale Railway Coaches No.220, 153, 145, 52 and 31 are all preserved at the Gwili Railway in west Wales and are in the care of the Gwili Vintage Carriage group.[9] TVR coach No.73 has also been restored to service on The Swindon and Cricklade Railway.[10]

Coaches No.277, 210 and 112 stand in a private residence. No.203, 48 and 51 are now owned by the National Museums & Galleries of Wales. Only one mineral wagon is known to still exist today, at the Didcot Railway Centre.[11]

Two locomotives still exist this day into preservation. One is TVR 'O2' class 0-6-2T No.85, built in 1899 at Neilson, Reid & Co., Glasgow. Currently undergoing overhaul on Keighley and Worth Valley Railway.

The other engine is TVR 'O1' class No.28, built in 1897 at West Yard Works, Cardiff, making it the last sole-surviving Welsh standard-gauge locomotive. It is owned by the National Railway Museum, under the custodianship of the National Museum of Wales and requires a major overhaul. As of 2013, the cosmetic restoration of TVR 'O1' No. 28, is set to go ahead thanks to a unique three-way partnership between the National Railway Museum, the Llangollen Railway where it is currently on loan to, and the Gwili Railway. The aim is to return the loco to showroom condition and display it with Taff Vale Railway Brake Third No. 220.[12]

See also


  1. Barrie 1980
  2. Barrie 1980, p.26-27
  3. Davies 1815, p. 398
  4. Barrie 1980, p.31
  5. Barrie 1980, p.116-117
  6. Trevena, Arthur (1980). Trains in Trouble: Vol. 1. Redruth: Atlantic Books. p. 15. ISBN 0-906899-01-X.
  7. 1 2 Ransome-Wallis (1966) p.189
  8. Casserley, H.C.; S.W. Johnston (1966). Locomotives at the Grouping 4: Great Western Railway. Shepperton, Middlesex: Ian Allan Limited. p. 76.
  9. http://www.gvcg.co.uk
  10. http://www.swindon-cricklade-railway.org/vintagetaff.php
  11. http://www.ws.vintagecarriagestrust.org/ws/WagonInfo.asp?Ref=6837
  12. http://llanblogger.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/llan-railway-works-on-historic-loco.html


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