West Wales Lines - History


The railway to west Wales was first projected in 1844, and the proposal was for a line to run from the Great Western Railway near Gloucester to Fishguard, with a branch from Whitland to Pembroke. The railway was called the South Wales Railway, and although it was in theory independent of the G.W.R, in practice it was very closely linked. This was shown by the fact that Isambard Kingdom Brunel was the engineer, and the line was laid to the 7 ft 0 1⁄4 in (2,140 mm) broad gauge.

Construction began in 1847, but the company ran into financial difficulties. In addition, the Irish potato famine reduced the prospective revenue from Anglo-Irish traffic. As a result, instead of completing the line to the proposed port at Fishguard, the Haverfordwest branch was extended to Neyland, where a harbour could be provided more cheaply.

The line from Swansea opened as far as Carmarthen on 11 October 1852; then to Haverfordwest on 2 January 1854; and finally to its terminus at Neyland on 15 April 1856. At first, the railway was leased to the G.W.R., but in 1863 the two companies were amalgamated.

The original powers for the branch to Pembroke lapsed, and so in 1859 the Pembroke and Tenby Company was authorised to build a 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm), standard gauge, line from Pembroke Dock to Tenby. The line opened from Tenby to Pembroke on 30 July 1863, and to Pembroke Dock on 8 August 1864. The extension from Tenby to the G.W.R. line at Whitland opened on 4 September 1866. There were two adjoining stations at Whitland with no physical connection between the two lines because they operated on different gauges.

The line was engineered by Sir James Szlumper. It had its own police force until 1897, due to the high-security of the Naval Dockyard at Pembroke Dock, and the munitions transported.

The Pembroke & Tenby Company obtained powers in 1866 to extend their standard-gauge line from Whitland to Carmarthen. This would have enabled the Pembroke & Tenby to link up with the standard-gauge network through the Llanelly Railway, the Vale of Towy Railway and the Central Wales line. Through a series of inter-company working agreements, this would have had the effect of giving the London & North Western Railway unrestricted access to west Wales. Within the Act for the extension to Carmarthen was a Schedule which allowed either party (the Pembroke & Tenby or the Great Western) to request the Great Western for running powers to the Pembroke company. In doing this the cost of adding a rail to mix the gauge and installing the necessary junctions at Whitland and Carmarthen was £20,000 to be paid to the Great Western within 18 months of the request. The request was made by the Pembroke company and consequently the Great Western converted the up line to standard gauge leaving the down line purely as broad. This was not what the Pembroke company was wanting but had to live with it. The Great Western maintained a crossing loop at St Clears for the broad gauge and this caused some hindrance to the Pembroke company. The conversion is noted as the first pure broad to standard gauge for the Great Western.

The Pembroke & Tenby ran the first goods trains to Carmarthen on 1 June 1868, and passenger services in August 1869.

The Pembroke & Tenby was leased by the G.W.R on 1 July 1896 and finally 'amalgamated' with it a year later.

In 1895, the Rosebush line was opened from Clynderwen to Letterston along the old Maenclochog line, and construction started on extending it to Goodwick and the proposed new harbour at Fishguard. A Bill was approved by Parliament for the railway to extend eastwards to Carmarthen, although this was stopped when the line was bought out by the Great Western Railway in 1898.

In 1906, the railway was extended from Letterston to Fishguard & Goodwick, followed in 1909 with Fishguard Harbour.

The Rosebush line was stopped during World War I, and in 1917, the line is removed to provide rails for the army in France. The line was relaid in 1923, but passenger services stopped in 1937, and the line closed in 1949.

The first freight line to the Oil Refineries was built in 1960 when Esso opened their first refinery in Milford Haven. Passenger services stopped on The Whitland and Cardigan branch in 1962, followed by freight in 1963. The line to Neyland followed in 1964. Most disused lines were torn up in the 1990s.

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