Narrow Gauge Pleasure

The Vale of Rheidol Railway

The Railway Today

High in the hills of Mid Wales lie The Devils bridge, Jacobs Ladder, The Mynach Falls and The Devils Punchbowl. All these attractions are within a brisk walk of the Vale of Rheidol Railway's inland terminus and the railway itself offers views of the spectacular and remote valley of the Rheidol river.

Prince of Wales is prepared
for another trip up the valley

The railway's headquarters is at Aberystwyth station, which it shares with Central Trains, after leaving the station, located in this major tourist centre, the railway sets off up the flat broad valley. Initially running through the outskirts of the town, the railway soon begins to cross open fields until, by the time the train gets to Aberffrwyd, the character of the valley has changed, becoming steeper and narrower. From Aberffrwyd on the journey becomes unforgettably spectacular with the train hauling itself up a constant 1 in 50 gradient as it runs through severe horse shoe curves built on a ledge cut into the valley wall. The traveller could be forgiven for becoming disorientated as the train repeatedly doubles back on itself as it follows the contours of the land.

Once the long climb gains access to Devils Bridge station, which is surprisingly level and spacious, the traveller can disembark for a walk to the many scenic attractions of the area, take refreshments in the cafe or watch as the train is made ready for the (much less arduous) journey back. The locomotives and rolling stock on this railway are built to a large loading gauge with the result that the passenger accommodation is roomy and comfortable (although I can remember a rough ride on this railway on one occasion) and the engines are powerful and heavy. These locomotives are more modern than many that we see on Britains narrow gauge railways and this is reflected in their solid and purposeful appearance.


History and Origins

Construction of the Vale of Rheidol Railway was started in 1901, following an act of parliament passed in 1897. This was one of the last of the Welsh Narrow Gauge Railways not originally built as a tourist railway or volunteer project. Some tourist traffic was envisaged but the primary purpose of the railway was to haul minerals (lead, copper, zinc and iron ores) from the Devils Bridge area to the sea and the railway in Aberystwyth. The railway was inspected for safety twice in 1902 before being granted permission to start carrying passengers.

The locomotives were built by Davies and Metcalfe of Cheshire who produced a pair of large, purposeful 2-6-2 two foot gauge engines one of which (Prince of Wales) still graces the line today. Two later locomotives, built in the Great Western works at Swindon, very much follow the style of the two originals.

The line has been through a large number of owners following the original company, the next operator was Cambrian Railways who took over the line in 1913. In the grouping of 1923 the line passed into the hands of the Great Western Railway who moved the Aberystwyth terminus to its current location alongside the standard gauge trains. The railway was closed during the war and, in 1948, only three years after re-opening, Railway Nationalisation meant transfer to British Rail, where, as steam passed away elsewhere, it became the last steam operated BR railway. When closure looked imminent the Brecon Mountain Railway (who operate a 2' gauge tourist line in South Wales) took over the Vale of Rheidol in time for the 1989 summer season thus ensuring its future although it has since regained it's independance under the current management.

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