The Anonymous Widower

The South Wales Mountain Railway

South Wales might not have the reputation of beautiful mountains, of say Snowdonian, the Cairngorms or Switzerland, but some of the Valley Lines that go up to places like Merthyr Tydfil and Ebbw Vale Town stations have spectacular views.

I was looking for a possible station at a village called Nelson and found a single-track railway passing to the North of the village.

I followed the track with my helicopter up the mountain and this is a Google Map of what I found.

Merthyr Tydfil And The Ffos-y-fran Land Reclamation Scheme

Merthyr Tydfil And The Ffos-y-fran Land Reclamation Scheme

The station on the left is Merthyr Tydfil and on the right is the massive Ffos-y-fran Land Reclamation Scheme. This is opening paragraph in the Wikipedia entry.

The Ffos-y-fran Land Reclamation Scheme is a major opencast coaling operation to the north-east of Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales. Miller Argent is owned by Gwent Investments Limited, which is based in South Wales and is a privately owned family business. The scheme development is the last part of the East Merthyr Reclamation scheme, and will extract 10 million tonnes of coal over 15 years, the revenues from which will redevelop the current former industrial workings into residential and recreational use.

It is a controversial scheme and I am usually against using coal for combustion purposes, but some of these Welsh landscapes are dotted with dangerous mine workings and slag heaps, so they certainly need cleaning up.

There is a Transport section in the Wikipedia entry for the scheme. This is said.

Under agreed planning rules, the site is not allowed to transport coal from the site via road. All extract is therefore moved to the rear (East) of the site where the coal is separated and washed at the Cwmbargoed Washery. Built in 1959 on land to the north and east of the railway connection to Fochriw Colliery, the coal washery was refurbished by Celtic Energy in 1992. DB Schenker trains then move the washed coal from site to Aberthaw Power Station, along the former route of the Rhymney Railway. Joining the modern Rhymney Line just south of Ystrad Mynach railway station, the trains then travel onwards via Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan Line to Aberthaw, enabling Ffos-y-fran to supply 40% of the coal to Aberthaw power station.

It must be challenging driving a Class 66 locomotive with a train of full coal wagons down the mountain.

It was this railway I had followed up the mountain.

Before I leave Merthyr Tydfil, look at this Google Map of the town.

Merthyr Tydfil And Rhymney

Merthyr Tydfil And Rhymney

The East Merthyr Reclamation Scheme is in the middle, flanked by Merthyr Tydfil in the West and Rhymney in the East.

So if the Authorities in South Wales are thinking of building a station on this line at Nelson, are they thinking of reopening this line after the scheme has finished extracting coal, as a second rail route to Merthyr Tydfil?

Coming back down the mountain from Merthyr, the first possible station from my list of possible stations is Bedlinog.

This Google Map shows the rail line going through the village.

Bedlinog And The Railway

Bedlinog And The Railway

Note that Bedlinog already has a Railway Inn.

After Bedlinog, the next one on the list is Trelewis. This is the Google Map

Trelewis And The Railway

Trelewis And The Railway

The railway goes between the Primary School and the Kigdom Hall.

And then it’s back to where I started this quest at Nelson, of which this is the Google Map.

Nelson And The Railway

Nelson And The Railway

The railway then goes South-East to join the Rymney Line at Ystrad Mynach station.

Trains For The Route

The task of hauling empty wagons up the mountain is not to much for a Class 66 locomotive, so I suspect that a multiple unit could be designed to handle a route like this, of which there are several in the Cardiff Valley Lines.

Either electric or diesel multiple units could probably manage the climbs, if they were designed for it, but would electreifying these routes be a feasible undertaking, given the difficulties of working on these busy lines.

But train technology is moving on and with the Class 319 Flex, we are getting close to having a true tri-mode train, with diesel, electric and battery power.

The Welsh Government have said they want new trains for these routes and I suspect engineers are working on a product tailored to run these routes efficiently.

So could we see a quad-mode train for the Valleys?

  • Four-car electrical multiple unit.
  • Onboard energy storage.
  • Perhaps even a small diesel generator for the difficult bits.
  • Gravity power, which the lines have in abundance, to use with regenerative braking to charge the batteries on the descent.
  • As modern trains can deploy pantographs automatically, some selective electrification could be added as the project develops.

I would also commit the ultimate heresy and use third-rail electrification on the steep parts at the heads of the valleys.

Consider.

  • Bombardier, Siemens and others make reliable dual-voltage trains.
  • Both electrification systems have their good and bad points.
  • It must be less intrusive and disruptive to install third-rail electrification.
  • Is overhead electrification more prone to weather damage?
  • Network Rail seem to be terribly accident-prone when it comes to overhead electrification.

In the end costs and overall reliability will decide.

But I do think sometimes, that Network Rail always chooses overhead electrification, even if third rail will be more reliable, less intrusive and more affordable.

But I’m sure that all the technology has now been proven to create a very efficient modern electric train to work the Valley Lines, which have been electrified using a great deal of innovation and common sense.

February 19, 2017 - Posted by | Travel | , , , , , ,

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