History of the Brecon Mountain Railway

Background of the Brecon Mountain Railway

The Brecon Mountain Railway was conceived over 40 years ago when a search started to find a suitable site to build and  operate a steam railway using locomotives collected from around the world. 


Merthyr Tydfil seemed ideally located at the southern edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park with its beautiful mountain, lake and forest scenery. At one time Merthyr Tydfil was the greatest iron making town in the world, most of the very early railways used rails rolled in Merthyr Mills. Merthyr witnessed, in 1804, the trial run of the worlds first steam railway locomotive built by Cornishman Richard Trevithick. 

Brecon & Merthyr Railway

The section of line chosen for the Brecon Mountain Railway was part of the abandoned Brecon and Merthyr Railway,

originally built in 1859 it finally closed in 1964. This Railway fought its way through the Brecon Beacons using steep gradients to the summit at Torpantau 1313-ft above sea level.  


The 5 mile section between Pant and Torpantau was chosen although difficulties were soon found, scrap merchants had not only removed the track but also the bridge girders. The stone track ballast had been taken for road building material and the only remains were the shell of the signal box and the station house at Pontsticill, the latter being used as a sheep shelter. At Pant the original station was not available so adjoining land was purchased for a deviation route to a new station

and car park site. The remaining track bed had been sold off to 12 different land owners.


Construction

After some 6 years by 1978 all the planning consents and Light Railway Order had been obtained and construction started. Track laying between Pant and Pontsticill commenced in 1979 and was completed in 1980. At Pontsticill the station house was renovated, the old waiting room was converted into a small workshop and a storage shed was built. 7 bridges were repaired or replaced. The railway opened to passengers in June 1980 using 'Sybil' and one carriage. 


Between 1982 and 1996 a large station/workshop was built and subsequently extended. This provides passenger facilities including toilets, cafe, shop and booking office as well as the extensive workshop used to build and maintain the railway locomotives, carriages and wagons.


The railway was extended from Pontsticill a further 1 1/2 miles to DolyGaer which opened in 1995. The railway has recently been extended to Torpantau high in the Brecon Beacons and passenger services commenced on 1st April 2014.


In the 1980's the main work was to build additional carriages as passenger numbers increased as well as restoring more powerful steam locomotives to haul them. With only one steam locomotive powerful enough to haul heavy trains up the steep gradient to Torpantau a second powerful locomotive is needed as back up. Work is well in hand on this locomotive,the main item remaining being construction of the boiler which has been commenced, completion of the Locomotive is expected in 2017.


Pant

The car park is built on the site of the former Brecon and Merthyr branch line into Dowlais and 80 feet below is the old L & NWR tunnel, which closed in 1958, its 3 ventilation shafts (pepper pots) can be seen lined along the back of the car park. Across the road are the abandoned Morlais Quarries, which supplied limestone to the iron works, again by rail. In fact there were railways everywhere, all built to secure the intense activity generated by the iron works and mines in the area.


All of the operation and maintenance on the railway is carried out by the railways own staff. In addition to the routine servicing and repairs, complete locomotive rebuilds are carried out using some machinery dating back over 100 years, yet still performing a useful task. For example, the wheel lathe and hydraulic press were built in the 1890's and came from the Southend Pier Tramway. New boilers are manufactured and even complete locomotives built from scratch. All the carriages and wagons in use were built here.


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