Some Early Lines
Neath and Brecon Railway
The Neath and Brecon Railway linked the Vale of Neath Railway at Neath with the Brecon and Merthyr Railway at Brecon and also via a connection from Colbren Junction, it linked to the Swansea Vale Railway at Ynysygeinon Junction (sometimes spelt Ynisygeinon).
The southern section from Onllwyn to Neath is still open to goods traffic, although passenger services ceased from October 1962 and the northern section lifted under the Beeching Axe as the coal industry wound down.
View westward, towards Neath; ex-GWR Neath & Brecon section. A scene just six months before the whole station and all lines were closed on 31/12/62. © Copyright Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
The railway was authorised by an Act of Parliament on 29 July 1862 as the Dulais Valley Mineral Railway to transport coal from the Dulais Valley to Neath. It was promoted and constructed by the contractor John Dickson. After being authorised to extend the railway to Brecon, it changed its name to the Neath and Brecon Railway. The railway linked itself to the Swansea Vale Railway by promoting the Swansea Vale and Neath and Brecon Junction Railway. This line had a long gestation period due to Dickson’s bankruptcy but eventually when it was opened it gave the Neath and Brecon access to Swansea via running rights. In return, the Neath and Brecon gave full running rights over its system to the Swansea Vale Railway. The Neath and Brecon started operating a passenger service between Brecon and Swansea using these running rights.
An early and unsuccessful purchaser of the new Fairlie locomotive, when in 1863 the railway reached Crynant, coal mining quickly expanded. At Crynant several new mines were opened including the Crynant colliery, Brynteg colliery in 1904, Llwynon colliery in 1905, Dillwyn colliery, and Cefn Coed colliery 1930. These mines led to the expansion of the village.
Viewed from the east end of Brecon station, an ex-L&Y 0-6-0, far from its origins ‘Up North’ but now employed on the ex-Midland trains from Hereford, is prominent, while on the left a stopping train leaves for Hereford (hauled by an ex-Midland 0-6-0). However, Brecon station was in the ex-GWR ambit, being the terminus from this (eastward) direction of the ex-Brecon & Merthyr trains from Newport via Torpantau Summit and of the ex-Cambrian Rly Mid-Wales Line trains from Moat Lane Junction, as well as the Hereford trains. Westwards from Brecon ran the ex-Neath & Brecon trains down to Neath. All these lines were closed in 1962 and on 31/12/62 this local metropolis had lost all railway facilities. © Copyright Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
When the railway reached Brecon in 1867, it provided access to the Brecon and Merthyr, the Mid Wales, and the Hereford, Hay and Brecon Railways which were all completed about this time. The initial B&M station at Brecon was at the Watton and the Mid Wales Railway had a station at Mount Street. The Hereford, Hay and Brecon, after belonging to the empire of Savin (originally a draper from Oswestry who became a railway contractor, promoter and operator), was leased and then taken over by the Midland Railway who, by using running powers over the Mid Wales from Three Cocks Junction, gained access to Brecon.
The Midland then leased the Swansea Vale Company’s line from around 1874 and in so doing obtained the use of the SVR’s running powers over the N&B. This enabled them start running trains from Brecon to Swansea. At around the same time the N&B abandoned its Brecon – Swansea service and decided to lease its main line north of Colbren to the Midland in return for an annual fee. This situation remained in force until around 1930 when the LMS (the 1923 successor to the Midland) decided to abandon its through Swansea Brecon services when the N&B line (then part of the Great Western Railway) was taken back by its owners and rather than being a through route, reverted to being something of a backwater.
The three companies providing services to Brecon consolidated their stations at a newly rebuilt Free Street Joint Station from 1871.
In the years before closure, just one daily train departed from Neath Riverside to Brecon. The South Wales main line passes over the bridge top right. The signalbox remains to this day, controlling freight trains from Onllwyn in the Dulais valley. © Copyright Flying Stag and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
Gradual winding down
In October 1962, all passenger services were withdrawn from Neath to Brecon, leaving only freight services. The line north of Craig y Nos/Penwyllt station closed to Brecon on closure of Brecon station, and remained open south until 1977 to serve the adjacent quarry. The line remains open to Onllwyn, with Celtic Energy using the coal washing plant there through partnership with English, Welsh and Scottish Railway. Some of the old Celtic Energy wagons are now housed at the Foxfield Light Railway.
Taken from the window of the 4.10pm Neath Riverside to Brecon headed by 0-6-0 pannier tank No. 3768, this photograph shows Cradoc station on 20th August 1962. By its appearance, Cradoc was then an unstaffed halt and sadly neglected at that, with paintwork peeling and a grass-grown platform. However, Great Western cast iron letters are still solidly screwed onto the station nameboard. Once part of the Neath and Brecon Railway, Cradoc passed into Great Western ownership at the 1923 grouping of railways, when one considerable point of interest was its method of working. In Neath and Brecon days, arrangements had been made from the 1880s for the Midland Railway (who controlled the nearby Swansea Valley Railway) to work all services and this was continued by its successor the LMS until the end of 1930. In the good or bad old Victorian days, access to the black diamonds of the Welsh Valleys was eagerly sought and the Midland, via Hereford and Brecon, held on tight. It is reasonable to assume that after 1930 the LMS thought twice for, like its near neighbour the Abergavenny Myrthyr line of the erstwhile LNWR, the Neath and Brecon’s passenger services outlived their freight, closing as from 15th October 1962 (Peter W.Gray.