Brecon Mountain Railway
(Rheilfford Mynydd Brycheiniog)

19th August 2015
© copyright photographs by Colin Duff

Pant Station 1134 feet above sea level sign

The current Brecon Mountain Railway is a 1ft 11¾in (603mm) gauge railway running approximately 5 miles mostly along the track bed of the former standard gauge Brecon and Merthyr Railway. Its base is at Pant, just north of Merthyr Tydfil, and the line climbs from there up the valley alongside the lower Taf Fechan reservoir to its current terminus at Torpantau, the highest point on the original line at 1313 feet above sea level.

 

The station at Pant is an intriguing building of four staggered levels. Within, on the ground floor is the booking office, lavatories and cafe, then up a shallow gradient tiled corridor - which has a strong North American influence - to the works and rolling stock shed at an intermediate level at the rear.

Baldwin locomotive number 2 ronding the curve into Pant

Then up another shallow gradient tiled corridor to the first floor where at the front there is a large North American style waiting room and a large gift shop. (The second floor, in the roof, is offices.) The waiting room leads to the platform.

 

The rolling stock has strong European and North American narrow gauge influences.

Here Baldwin Pacific Number 2 is approaching Pant Station round the curve in the side of the hill (cue "she'll be coming round the mountain when she comes!") which is part of the diversion taking the train away from the alignment of the original Brecon and Merthyr Railway onto land acquired by the Brecon Mountain Railway for their base.

From the front coach's veranda, the train climbing into the Brecons

Baldwin number 2 hauling our train - the last round trip of the day - up the Valley into the Brecon Beacons National Park. This locomotive is the only one on the railway powerful enough to take the heaviest trains to Torpantau.

There is one passing loop and one intermediate station, Pontsticill, on the line before the current terminus at Torpantau. Pontsticill, adjacent to the reservoir, was the original terminus of the Brecon Mountain Railway so has visitor facilities such as a museum, play area, picnic area, cafe and toilets. The extension to Torpantau was only opened on 1st April 2014.

The rear of Baldwin locomotive number 2 from the veranda

This is a very pretty ride which is best enjoyed in any weather from the end veranda of one of the passenger cars. An even better experience for steam fans is to ride on the veranda on the leading car next to the locomotive. Wonderful sounds, smells and vibrations! Also on such a cold and wet day - despite it being mid August - it kept us warm and dry, if somewhat coated with fine soot.

This locomotive was built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia in 1930 for the Eastern Province Cement Company of Port Elizabeth, South Africa. There it was used to haul limestone trains. In 1973 it was wrecked in an accident and was written off by its insurers. It was bought by the BMR as scrap and shipped to Liverpool as deck cargo. It was rebuilt at the railway between 1993 and 1997.

The coupling between the locomotive and passenger car The North American style coupling between the locomotive's tender and the leading passenger car.
The train at Torpantau

Baldwin Pacific number 2 at Torpantau prior to running round. There are no passenger facilities at Torpantau (other than the platform) but it is a good place from which to go walking into the Brecon Beacons. Consider the Brecon Mountain Railway as Park & Ride for the National Park. In fact the National Park Authority would like you to do so.

A round trip takes 90 minutes, of which ten minutes is at Torpantau for the locomotive to run round, and on the return journey twenty minutes at Pontsticill to enjoy the facilities. You do not need to return on the train on which you travelled out, you can break your journey, but just make sure you can catch the last train back!

Interior of a passenger car Interior of one of the North American style passenger cars.
Baldwn locomotive number 2 running round at Torpantau

The magnificent Pacific locomotive pulls forward to run round its passenger cars at Torpantau. Any extension north of here would take the railway through the 666 yard long Torpantau Tunnel.

Narrow gauge railways, whether steam, diesel or electric, are not of great interest to me and I had little expectation of this railway. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon there despite the appalling weather. This is a rare gem, worth visiting, and worth going back. Admittedly the North American influences swing things for me, but on top of this it has good facilities, interesting rolling stock, good operation, and a very pretty ride of decent length. I reckon the concept of "serendipity" definitely applies to my visit.

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