Taff Valley Railway
In 1804, a young engineer, Richard Trevithick, drove the world’s first ever steam locomotive along a track at the Penydarren ironworks, near Merthyr Tydfil. The track, which was built as a tramway to carry iron ore in horse-drawn carriages from Penydarren and Dowlais to the Glamorganshire Canal basin at Abercynon, proved too weak to carry his heavy loco, but this isolated experiment would foreshadow the creation of the Taff Vale Railway 32 years later.
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. 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
On 21st June, 1836, Royal Assent was given to a 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, Walter Coffin, Edward Lee, Thomas Guest, Thomas Guppy, Thomas Powell, Christopher James, Thomas Carlisle, Henry Rudhall, William Wait, William Watson, and Peter Maze. Company profits were capped at 7% originally, with a clause allowing for an increase 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, with stiff penalties for any speeding.
Construction of the railway was started in 1836, and the stretch from Cardiff to Navigation House (later named Abercynon) was opened in a formal ceremony on October 9 1840, with public services starting the next day. The stretch from Abercynon to Merthyr was opened on April 12 1841. The railway was single-line for its entire length, with passing only possible at or near the stations. It was not until 1857 that it became a double line. Brunel, the chief engineer, had chosen a narrower gague (4 foot 8.5 inch) than the 7 foot gauge he would later choose for his Great Western Railway in order to fit the railway into the narrow, curvy space allowed to him by the River Taff valley.
Construction of the main line was relatively straightforward. The line mostly followed the course of the valley, and therefore needed few bridges and no tunnels. Brunel designed an impressive skew stone arch viaduct at Pontypridd, which spanned 110 feet over the River Rhondda; the viaduct is still in use today, although it has been supplanted by a second, parallel viaduct. A similar viaduct exists at Quakers' Yard.
The main line of the TVR was 24 miles long. However, no fewer than 23 branch lines took the full length of track to 124 miles and 42 chains. Many of those branch lines were smaller lines taken over by the TVR. (see below)
In 1841, two branch lines were opened. The TVR entered the Rhondda with a 4 mile 38 chain route from Pontypridd to Dinas, and the 3 mile 29 chain Llancaiach branch was opened from Stormstown Junction (north of Pontypridd) to Llancaiach colliery.
In 1849, the Rhondda branch was extended into Rhondda Fach, with a short line from Porth to Ynyshir. This was extended to Ferndale in 1856, and finally to Maerdy. The Rhondda Fawr line was extended from Dinas to Treherbert, also in 1856.
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 tons of coal per annum, and was paying a 6% dividend.
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 January 7 1863; to Ferndale in 1863; and to Maerdy in 1889.
Summary of the TVR system
The main stations on the TVR main line were:
- Cardiff Dock (later Bute Road), opened 8th October 1840
- Cardiff Queen’s Street, opened 8th October 1840
- Llandaff, opened 8th October 1840
- Pentyrch (now Radyr)
- Taff’s Well
- Treforest, opened 1847
- Pontypridd, opened 8th October 1840. At a third of mile long, Pontypridd had at one time the longest platform of any railway station in the country. It was known as Newbridge Station from 1840 to 1891.
- Navigation House (later Abercynon), opened 1st December 1896
- Quakers Yard (opened 1858)
- Merthyr Vale (opened June 1 1883)
- Pentrebach (opened August 1 1886)
- Merthyr Tydfil Plymouth Street Station
Some branch lines include:
- The Rhondda branch line from Pontypridd to Pandy was opened in June 1841. The line was extended to Treherbert in 1856
- The Rhondda Fach line from Porth to Ynyshir was opened in 1849. It was extended to Ferndale in 1856.
- The Roath line was opened in 1887. It closed in 1968
Railways amalgamated with TVR
- August 26th 1889
- Cowbridge Railway, (Aberthaw - Llantrisant) opened 1865
- Dare Valley Railway opened 1866
- Llantrisant and Taff Vale Junction Railway opened 1863
- Rhondda Valley and Hirwain Junction Railway opened 1878
- Treferig Valley Railway opened 1883
- Cardiff, Penarth and Barry Junction Railway opened 1887
- January 1st 1895
July 1st 1902
- Cowbridge and Aberthaw Railway opened 1892
- Aberdare Railway opened 1846
- TVR leased two railways:
- Penarth Harbour, Dock and Railway opened 1865
- Penarth Extension Railway opened 1878
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)