The Swansea and Mumbles Railway
The Swansea and Mumbles Railway was the world’s first passenger railway service, located in Swansea, Wales.
Originally built in 1804 to move limestone from the quarries of Mumbles to Swansea and to the markets beyond, it carried the world’s first fare-paying railroad passengers on the day the British Parliament abolished the transportation of slaves from AfricaIt later moved from horse power to steam locomotion, and finally converting to electric trams, before closing in January 1960, in favour of motor buses.At the time of the railway’s decommissioning, it had been the world’s longest serving railway and it still holds the record for the highest number of forms of traction of any railway in the world – horse-drawn, sail power, steam power, electric power, diesel and petrol.
In 1804 the British Parliament approved the laying of a railway line between Swansea and Oystermouth in South Wales, for transportation of mined materials to Swansea docks. and in the autumn of that year the first tracks were laid. At this stage, the railway was known as the Oystermouth Railway. It later became the Swansea and Mumbles Railway, but its popular name was the Mumbles Train.
There was no road link between Swansea and Oystermouth and the original purpose of the railway was to transport coal, iron-ore and limestone. Operations began in 1806 with horse-drawn four wheeled dandy, from the Brewery Bank adjacent to the Swansea Canal in Swansea, around the wide sweep of Swansea Bay to its destination at Castle Hill (near the present-day Clements Quarry) at the tiny isolated fishing village of Oystermouth.
In 1807 approval was given to carry passengers along the line, with company director Benjamin French paying the company the sum of twenty pounds for the right to do so. On March 25 1807, the first regular service carrying passengers between Swansea and Mumbles began, thus giving the railway the claim of being the first passenger railway in the world.
Steam power replaced the horses in 1877, and in 1893 the railway was extended to nearby Southend. In 1898 the line was further extended to the Mumbles Pier.
The line was electrified using overhead cables – so this line has seen three forms of locomotive power over the years – and on March 2 1929 the first electrical cars were used. These double-deck cars were the largest built for use in Britain, and each could seat 106 passengers.
During the late 1950s, The South Wales Transport Company (which operated a large motor bus fleet in the area) managed to purchase the railway and despite vociferous local opposition proceeded to close the line down. At 11.52 on January 5, 1960, the last train left Swansea for Mumbles driven by Frank Duncan, who had driven the train since 1907. Within a very short time of the train returning to its Rutland Street base, work began on dismantling the track.
The Mumbles Railway Preservation Society was formed in the 1970s to formally archive material and to maintain the hope that one day the line would re-open.
Railway or tramway?
After the electrification the Swansea and Mumbles Railway became more tram-like, because of the type of vehicles and operation style (the signalling was used only on the loops). The British book states that Swansea and Mumbles Railway was usually considered to be a tramway. It should also be noted however that definitions change. In the nineteenth century a tramway was a line for mineral wagons (trams), the term railway being used when edge rails replaced plates.
From Swansea, the stations to Mumbles were:
• Rutland Street
• Argyle Street
• St Helens (The Slip)
• St Gabriel (Only a passing loop)
• Ashleigh Road
• West Cross
• Norton Road
• Pier (adjacent to Mumbles Head)