Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company

Introduction

The MR&CC was a rather special organisation, possibly even unique, in having developed from a canal company with associated tramroads, into a railway company passing through a stage of having some combined edge and plateway sections. Now that is a challenge for the modelling fraternity! The story of the tramway developments and conversion to railways is fascinating from both business and technical viewpoints. Although the Eastern and Western valleys lines met at Newport, they could be considered in many ways as two separate and distinct systems. The Eastern valley lines were, essentially, built as railways whereas in the Western valleys the lines evolved from tramways and there were no through passenger trains between the two southern termini. At their workshops in Newport the company built locomotives, coaches and wagons - in Wales, only the TVR in Cardiff did the same.

As with many of the railways in south Wales the MR&CC came into being in the form it was as a result of the geology, geography and industrialisation of the area. Many of the valley lines originated at the edge of the coal field where coal, iron ore and limestone out-cropped but the MR&CC also ran along the eastern edge of the area. As a consequence it was an early victim of the squeeze between the major railway companies and was taken over by the GWR soon after that company converted its South Wales main line from broad to standard gauge.

Incorporated in 1792 as the Monmouthshire Canal Co., to construct canals from Newport to Crumlin and Pontnewynyed, and associated the "Rail Ways" (tramroads). The later were soon found to be a more efficient means of transportation of goods and later, passengers. Further acts authorised more tramroads, the use of locomotives, a change of name to the MR&CC, and later to convert tramroads into railways.
The costs of the latter, coupled with a decline in trade and increasing competition from other railways, finally resulted in amalgamation (in truth, a takeover) with the Great Western Railway, which became effective in 1880. Paradoxically, the later Victorian period, and the years leading up to the Great War, was a period of modest prosperity for these lines, with Welsh steam coal and tinplate in demand.
Later years saw both demand and stagnation. Gradually the industries which were the lifeblood of these lines began to run down. Alongside this, increasing 'bus competition had its affect on passenger numbers, although peak period travel in the Western Valleys held its own, especially after the introduction of DMUs in the later 1950's. This was not enough to stave off closure to passengers in 1962.
Eventually coal production ceased, with final closure of lines in the Eastern Valleys, leaving Ebbw Vale Steelworks in the Western Valleys as a sole source of traffic there. Ebbw Vale works finally closed (as a tinplate works) in 2002. By then, however, plans were in hand to restore a passenger service to Ebbw Vale. This started in 2008, after extensive refurbishment of the line and provision of six new stations.

Important Dates

1792 Formation of the "Company of the Proprietors of the Monmouthshire Canal Navigation"
1796 Canal opened from Newport to Pontnewynydd with associated tramways
1822 Passenger service with horse-drawn carriages on the Western valleys tramroads
1829 Steam locomotive use recorded
1845 Authorisation for the construction of the Newport to Pontypool railway and conversion of Western Valley tramroads to railways
1849 Name change to Monmouthshire Railway & Canal Company
1852 Section to Ebbw Vale, Newport Dock St. and Newport (Marshes Gate) to Pontypool opened
1854 N.A.& H.R opened from Coed-y-Gric Junction with through running to Newport; Pontypool to Blaenavon opened.
1864 New station opened at Newport Mill St.; Brecon & Abergavenny canal purchased.
1875 MR&CC leased to GWR
1879 Line from Pontypool to LNWR at Abersychan & Talywain opened
1880 MR&CC amalgamated with GWR, passenger trains moved to Newport High St.
1941 Passenger services between Pontypool and Brynmawr stopped
1962 Remaining passenger services terminated
1963 Newport Mill St to Cwmbran closed
1980 Cwmbran to Abersychan & Talywain closed

Selected Reading

• Byles, Aubrey; The History of the Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company; Village Publishing, Cwmbran, 1962; ISBN 0946043000
• Cooke, R. A.; Track Layout Diagrams of the G.W.R. and BR W.R. 
• Section 38 Newport; R. A. Cooke, Harwell, 1980
• Section 39 Pontypool Road and Eastern Valleys; R. A. Cooke, Harwell, 1979
• Section 40 Western Valleys; R.A. Cooke, Harwell, 1984
• Mitchell, Vic & Smith, Keith; Monmouthshire Eastern Valleys; Middleton Press, Midhurst, 2006; ISBN 1904474713
• Mitchell, Vic & Smith, Keith; Abertillery & Ebbw Vale; Middleton Press, Midhurst, 2006; ISBN 1904474845
• Pritchard, A.; The Railways of S. E. Monmouthshire; Oakwood Press, Lingfield, 1962
• Rattenbury, Gordon; Tramroads of the Brecknock & Abergavenny Canal; Railway & Canal Historical Society, Oakham, 1980; ISBN 0901461245