The Midland Railway in South Wales

The Midland Railway in South Wales (and related lines)

Midland Railway logo
The Midland's entry in South Wales started with their taking over the working of the Hereford, Hay and Brecon (HH&B) Railway in 1869 after the collapse of the Savin Empire. The HH&B was leased from 1874 and absorbed by the Midland in 1886. Access to Hereford was gained by running powers over the Great Western Railway from Stoke Works, just south of Bromsgrove. The Midland's reason for taking over the HH&B was solely as a route to South Wales. By means of running power from Three Cocks over the Mid-Wales Railway (later the Cambrian Railways) and from Talyllyn over the Brecon & Merthyr Railway , the Midland gained access to Brecon.

The Midland's next step was to make overtures to the managements of the Brecon & Merthyr (B&M) and the Swansea Vale Railway (SVR). Their attempted takeover of the B&M reached the stage of an agreement between the two companies but was halted by the owners of the B&M's debentures who were unhappy with the proposed deal. However with the SVR things went more smoothly.

The SVR had previously tried to sell itself to the South Wales Railway in the late 1840s and to the London and North Western Railway in 1864, so they were obviously open to offers. Contact by the Midland was first made in 1869 but nothing tangible could be done until the Swansea Vale and Neath and Brecon Junction Railway was opened between Colbren Junction on the Neath & Brecon (N&B) main line and Ynisygeinon on the SVR. Following the opening of this line, the Midland leased the SVR from 1st July 1874 and absorbed the company in 1876. The Midland reached its new South Wales outpost by yet more running powers over the N&B, which had been granted to the SVR and the Midland inherited by means of its takeover. There was initially some bad feeling from the N&B but they then effectively handed over their main line from Brecon to Colbren and down to Ynisygeinon to the Midland in exchange for a substantial annual rent.

Midland LocoOn takeover, the Midland found that the SVR was very rundown and they had to relay the track, provide better locomotives, rolling stock and signalling. In return they got access to anthracite (used extensively in brewing) and the metal based industries of the Swansea Valley. Swansea had a well developed expertise in smelting non-ferrous metals which were in great demand by the metal bashing industries of Birmingham. Also the Swansea Valley was a major producer of tinplate.

The Midland developed the goods traffic between South Wales and the Midlands to the point where they were running around 6 heavy goods trains each day in both directions. Additionally, they had a large traffic in livestock. The statistics for Hereford show that the Midland had a larger livestock traffic than both the GWR and the LNWR. On the other hand, the passenger traffic between the SVR and Hereford never developed to any great extent. The Midland's route was much slower than the GWR due to the steep gradients and single line track and the population of the area through which it passed was very sparse.

After the formation of the LMS in 1923, the Midland's South Wales operation came under the influence of the former LNWR staff in South Wales. There was an attempt to introduce LNWR locomotives such as Watford Tanks and Webb 2-4-2Ts but these were rejected by the local railway men who complained about their poor brakes. In 1930 the through passenger trains between Brecon and Swansea ceased to run and in 1932 the through freights also ceased and the SVR and HH&B reverted to just being local lines.

The SVR in particular suffered from bus competition and passenger services ceased in 1950. The goods traffic declined throughout the 1950s and 60s and ceased on most of the system in the middle 1960s. The line from Swansea Docks to Morriston was the last section to be used and this closed in 1983. The HH&B closed in 1962. Today nothing remains of the Midland's South Wales railways.

Midland railway Map

WRRC Information Resource files

Selected Reading