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Friday, 18 April 2014

Brecon Mountain Railway

In a nutshell

Gauge:      1' 11¾"

Length:      5 miles

Opened:     1980


View Narrow Gauge Railways in a larger map


Date of visit:     10 April 2014


Key Facts

  • The route follows part of the abandoned Brecon and Merthyr Railway which closed in 1964.
  • The summit of the railway is at Torpantau which is 1313ft above sea level.
  • Beyond Torpantau is the highest railway tunnel in the British Isles.
  • Construction of the railway commenced in 1979 and the railway opened for service between Pant and Pontsticill in 1980.
  • In 1995, the railway was extended by 1½ miles from Pontsticill to DolyGaer.
  • In 2014, the railway was further extended to Torpantau, its present terminus.
  • The railway passes the lower and upper Taf Fechan reservoirs on its route up the valley.
  • The railway has rive steam locomotives - a 2-6-2 Baldwin (No. 1 - Santa Teresa), a 4-6-2 Baldwin (No. 2), a 2-6-2 Baldwin (No. 3 under construction), a 2-4-4 Forney (No. 4 under construction) and an 0-6-2 Arn Jung (Graf Schwerin - Lowitz)
  • The line also possesses three small steam locomotives which are exhibited in the steam museum at Pontsticill: Sybil, an 0-4-0 quarry Hunslet; Pendyffryn, a De Winton vertical boilered locomotive and Redstone, a 2ft gauge replica of a 3ft gauge vertical boilered locomotive built in 1897
  • The railway also has several diesel locomotives used for shunting (and emergency passenger duties - see below)




My Impressions

The station building at Pant was quite prominent as we drove into the car park, as were the ventilation shafts of the former standard gauge railway which runs in a tunnel beneath the site.

We had reserved our tickets online previously and so picked them up at the booking office before climbing the ramp to the platform.

Before long, the train arrived, hauled by the railway's 0-6-0 diesel hydraulic locomotive - the usual Baldwin steam loco was undergoing repairs, having her brick arch replaced.

Before boarding, there was an opportunity to admire the locomotive which was built in the railway workshops and is reminiscent of Accucraft's 16mm scale model of a Baguley Drewery.

After running around the train and coupling up, ..........

...... we took our seats in the leading carriage.

Before long, the train departed winding its way along the hillside ......

.... towards the reservoirs at Pontsticill.

After passing the extensive storage sheds we passed through Pontsticill station without stopping ......

...... and made our way alongside the reservoir.

After passing the remnants of Dolygaer station which was the terminus for the line until this year, the railway started its climb up the side of the valley........

........ towards its new terminus, called Torpantau.

 The facilities at the station are presently minimal as the station has only recently been opened, however the views are quite spectacular and certainly helps justify the title for the railway. There was an opportunity to explore the locality while the loco ran round its train.

Ten minutes later we departed for the descent down the valley.

After passing Dolygae, which is now a Scout Camp .......

........ we arrived once more at Pontsticill, where we had a twenty minute break for a cup of tea and a Welsh Cake in the cafe.

There is also a small steam museum and a playground for the children. After re-boarding, we set off once more for our final destination. After passing the remains of the quarries, we followed the curve of the valley and pulled slowly back into Pant station, passing the workshop facilities .........

 ........ where much of the maintenance and construction of stock takes place.

After disembarking, there was an opportunity to admire some of the line's rolling stock .......

....... and view the workshops, where the line's steam locos were undergoing repair and construction.

There is a range of facilities at Pant Station, including a cafe and souvenir shop. After enquiring, I discovered that a guide to the railway is presently being prepared and will be available sometime during the coming year - in the meantime there is a fair amount of information and some archive photos of the railway and its standard gauge predecessor on the Railway's website.

Being located in the Brecon Beacons National Park, the railway is certainly very picturesque, even in early Spring. The recent extension to Torpantau adds a new dimension to the journey, providing a contrast to the waterside stage of the route lower down the valley. The railway is unique in the UK in amassing a collection of USA built locomotives and when they are all in service they should present an impressive spectacle as they power up newly opened steeper section of the railway. I hope to return when I will have a better opportunity to see them in action.

In the meantime, we were able to take a slight detour on our return journey and caught a fleeting glimpse of the railway's operational Baldwin as it departed Torpantau. A foretaste, maybe?


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