The Mid Wales Railway

The Mid Wales Railway (and related lines)

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The Mid Wales Railway (MWR) formed an end-on junction with the Llanidloes and Newtown Railway at the former, was authorised on 1st August 1859 from Llanidloes to Newbridge on Wye and from thence to a triangular junction at Talyllyn four miles east of Brecon with the then recently authorised Brecon and Merthyr Railway (B&MR) on 3rd July 1860.

The MWR was opened throughout in September 1864. For some twenty years the company maintained complete independence but the Cambrian Railways took over the working of the line from 1st January 1888, with amalgamation following on 1st July 1901. Running powers were exercised over the B&MR to bring MWR trains into Brecon.

Single track, steep gradients and sharp curves characterised the MWR but there were few outstanding engineering works. At Llanidloes, the train left the upper valley of the Severn, which it had followed for several miles on fairly easy gradients and climbed through a much narrower valley past Penpontbren, where the derelict embankment existed for the unfortunate Manchester and Milford Railway enterprise. The line then entered wilder country, with steep heather-clad slopes contrasted with woodlands. An almost unbroken ruling gradient of 1:60 for almost seven miles until the summit of the line at 947 ft above sea-level was reached at Pantydwr.

There then followed a corresponding seven mile descent with gradients as steep as 1:70 taking the train through another stretch of wild and sparsely populated countryside into the upper valley of the Wye. Beyond St Harmons was a short tunnel followed by rock cuttings through an afforested area and drivers warned not to emit sparks. Approaching Rhayader, the Wye was crossed for the first time and beyond, another short tunnel continuing to run beside the river, crossing it twice more between Doldowlod and Newbridge on Wye.

At the north end of Builth Road the MWR passed under the Central Wales line of the LNWR and a physical connection was provided by a north to west spur which avoided both companies' stations. Builth Wells, 1¼ miles further, was the locomotive shops of the MWR. On the 14 miles to Three Cocks Junction delightful views were obtained of wooded slopes and steep bare hillsides whilst the ruling gradient remained at 1:75. The Wye was crossed for the last time at Boughrood (pronounced Bockrood).

Taking its name from a nearby inn, Three Cocks Junction (known in railway colloquialism as "Lucky Man Junction) was rather isolated and separate platforms were provided for The MWR and Hereford trains with the actual junction to the west side of the station. Here the line left the Wye and ran south-westerly for eight miles to join the B&MR at Talyllyn Junction. Distant views of the Brecon beacons and Black Mountains contrasting sharply with the fertile farm lands through which the railway had run thus far. Skirting Llangorse lake, the train reached Talyllyn junction 48 miles from Llanidloes. A further run of four miles through Talyllyn tunnel (reputed to be the oldest railway tunnel in the world dating from 1816) finally brought the train to Brecon.

For the opening in 1864 Messrs Kitsons supplied six 0-4-2s and four 0-6-0s for passenger and goods traffic respectively. Two more 0-6-0s were provided in 1865 two of each class were subsequently sold and a further two 0-6-0s, this time from Sharp Stewart were added in 1873. By the early years of the 20th century the Cambrian had scrapped all the Kitson products, the two Sharp Stewart machines, similar to the Cambrian's own "Queen" Class, survived until after the grouping.

Throughout its existence, severe weight restrictions applied on the route limiting the suitable classes of locomotives. In its final days, Ivatt 2-6-0s monopolised the traffic. Locomotive diagramming was such that Cambrian based locomotives could occasionally be seen at Newport having worked to Brecon on the Mid Wales and then over the B&M. This provided the only opportunity to witness Ivatts in South Wales.

In its heyday, the only significant passenger working was the summer only Cardiff to Aberystwyth through service via Merthyr, Talyllyn and Moat lane which brought Cambrian engines as far south as Merthyr.

Although comprised of two separate railway companies, services usually worked through from Moat Lane to Brecon. However the sharp curves and steep gradients precluded any fast running and the 60 mile journey took 2½ hours.


MWR Map

Map taken from The Railway Magazine



Selected Reading