Pontypool & Blaenavon Railway
(Rheilffordd Pont-y-pŵl a Blaenafon)
19th August 2015
© copyright photographs by Colin Duff
|The Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway is a small and short (approximately two miles long) heritage railway high above the town of Blaenavon on the remnants of Brynmawr and Blaenavon Railway formerly run by the London and North Western Railway. This railway was built to transport coal to the Midlands by the Heads of the Valley Railway (Merthyr, Tredegar and Abergavenny Railway) via Brynmawr. The railway also joined up at its southern end with the Great Western Railway at Abersychan and Talywain. Passenger service was withdrawn in 1941 and the goods service was withdrawn in 1954. The line then remained solely for colliery trains until the Big Pit closed in 1980.|
(above) A P&BR Day Rover ticket. The concession stamp indicates I am now a "senior". I do not like thinking I am nor admitting this status, but on the other hand doing so usefully saves me a pound or so at most attractions!
This heritage railway's USPs are that it is the highest standard gauge preserved railway in the UK and also has the only standard gauge rail over rail bridge in use on a UK preserved railway.
The current heritage line is best considered as an upside down "Y" shape. The railway's base - its main station with two platforms and works - is at Furnace Sidings (not pictured) north of the branching point.
On the day we were there the train propelled us a short distance north, past the Garn Lakes to Whistle Inn Halt, where there is a single grass surfaced platform for access to the adjacent eponymous pub.
We were then hauled south, stopping again at Furnace Sidings, to the shorter branch of the inverted "Y" to Big Pit, for access to the Big Pit National Mining Museum and the Rhymney Brewery Visitor Centre.
At the time, note this is mid August, it was bitterly cold and there were heavy sweeping curtains of rain that could soak you to the skin in under a minute. So leaving the train for exploration and taking photographs was not a good idea.
The train was then propelled back north to Furnace Sidings, where it stopped again.
|The train was then pulled south, down a slope - but not into the valley floor - to Blaenavon High Level Station, for access to the town's Railway Museum, World Heritage Centre, Ironworks and model railway shop. The "High Level" suffix was to denote it from the town's once "Low Level" station. It is also situated somewhat high over the town.|
|At Blaenavon High Level the engine runs around. Our train's engine was an "industrial" - an Andrew Barclay Sons & Co 0-4-0T, manufacturer's plate 1385, built in the Caledonia Works Kilmarnock in 1914. Its current appearance is as number 1 "Rosyth". The rain eased enough to get out of the train to take photographs, but I still got thoroughly soaked and spent the journey back to Furnace Sidings drying off the camera!|
Our train consisted of two BR Mk1 coaches, a BSK in maroon and a TSO (modified with a brake valve and vacuum gauge, to allow the train brake to be applied in a controlled manner) in crimson and cream. A buffet car normally also runs but not on the day we were there, I suspect due to shortage of volunteers to staff it. In reality the round trip is so short there is barely time to eat or drink anything unless you started doing so soon after it left Furnace Sidings for the first time.
The Pontypool & Blaenavon publish a "timetable", but whilst it tells you what days a service will be running, and the sort of service (for instance August 19th was down as a "Steam Mk1 Day"), it does not actually tell you the times of the trains. In reality it is short enough a round trip to be considered as "turn up and go".
On our final return to Furnace Sidings, a view over the valley of the Afon Lwyd to Blaenavon. It is still raining heavily.
Considerable credit is due to volunteers for establishing this operation and keeping it running in a comparatively remote location.
However my concern about the Pontypool & Blaenavon Railway is that the South Wales Valleys once had an extensive and busy railway network, transporting coal and iron away, hauling materials and equipment in for industry, taking workmen to their workplaces and transporting families on outings away from the valleys, etc. This was all part of everyday life then, and given the terrain some of these operations were extreme, but now it seems amazing. Unfortunately the Pontypool & Blaenavon Railway seems to do little, other than running on original trackbeds, about representing this wonderful heritage. Running an assortment of unrelated rolling stock on a short journey was good enough in the early days of railway preservation in private hands, but 50 years later a more coherent attraction and/or representation is the expectation. I got no sense of the life and times even of the likes of Ivor the Engine! (Just to add that I grew up with the tales of Ivor the Engine, and way back then they would have been recent history, and I am still a fan!)