The Vale of Rheidol Railway (VoR, Welsh: Rheilffordd Dyffryn Rheidol ) is a narrow-gauge 1 ft 113⁄4 in (603 mm) gauge heritage railway that runs for 11¾ miles between Aberystwyth and Devil's Bridge in Wales, UK. It was the last steam line to be operated as part of the nationalised British Railways network.
The originally-planned primary purpose of the line was to serve the mines in the Rheidol valley, carrying ore, especially lead, and timber (for pit props etc) to the sea and the main line railway at Aberystwyth. But by the time that the railway was built, lead mining in Ceredigion was in steep decline.
Construction was begun in 1901 following an Act of Parliament in 1897. Rock was hand-hewn instead of being blasted in order to save money. The railway was unusual in that it developed its tourist potential by carrying passengers from its opening: the line opened for mineral traffic in August 1902 and for passengers on 22 December 1902.
On 1 July 1913, the line was absorbed by Cambrian Railways. It was subsequently grouped into the Great Western Railway (GWR) network in 1923 and incorporated into the nationalised network in 1948. The line was finally privatised in 1989 and still operates as a tourist railway offering an hour-long journey through spectacular mountain scenery, much of it at a gradient of 1 in 50. The headquarters of the railway are at Aberystwyth, where it shares a terminus with the standard gauge main line, trains leaving from a bay platform.
The railway's locomotives may broadly be divided into four groups:
No. 1, & No. 2 (later 1212 & 1213)
The VoR commenced operations with two 2-6-2T locomotives constructed by Davies & Metcalfe of Manchester, Nos.1 and 2. These locomotives were given Nos.1212 and 1213 by the GWR when it took over the line on grouping. They were Davies and Metcalfe's first locomotives and a Great Central Railway Boilersmith, Thomas Kay, provided expertise in their construction. The contract was given to a company previously inexperienced in locomotive building (although previously they were involved in the repair of locomotives and made injectors) because Mr. Metcalfe was an Aberystwyth man.
At times in the first 30 years of the railway when there was a need for extra motive power the railway hired in Lord Palmerston, an 0-4-0 from the Ffestiniog Railway.
No. 3 (later 1198)
No. 3 was a small 2-4-0T locomotive, originally built by Bagnall of Stafford for a Brazilian cane plantation in 1896 but never delivered after the order was cancelled. Bagnall regauging the locomotive from 750 mm (2 ft 51⁄2 in) to 2 ft 3 in (686 mm) when it was sold to the Plynlimon and Hafan Tramway and named Talybont. In 1903, after the failure of the Plynlimon and Hafan, it was purchased by the VoR, regauged it to 1 ft 113⁄4 in (603 mm) and renamed Rheidol. The GWR numbered it 1198 in 1923, but it was withdrawn and scrapped the following year.
No 7, No 8, & No 9 (& re-use of '1213')
Shortly after taking control of the line, the GWR overhauled No.1212 and under the pretence of a 'heavy rebuild' actually built an entirely new 1213, the original presumably being scrapped. At the same time, two new locomotives (numbered 7 and 8) were built to the same design as the new No.1213 at the GWR's Swindon works. In 1946, the GWR undertook a renumbering of the remaining locomotives inherited from pre-Grouping companies, and this saw 1213 being renumbered 9. No.1212 was withdrawn at the same time having only been rarely used over the past 23 years when another was out of service. Many people still believe that No.9 is one of the original Davies & Metcalfe Locomotives, as historians and many books are incorrect on the subject, successfully hoodwinked by Swindon works. The works were very effective in their coverup, entitling the parts that made up the new No.1213 as 'spares' in the accounts book, as the GWR Board had only given them leave to build two new locomotives. A simple test to prove that No.9 is actually of the same vintage as Nos. 7 and 8 is to compare the working drawings between it and a Davies and Metcalfe locomotive- nothing of the original locomotive could possibly have fitted the new one.
Along with other ex-GWR locomotives, 7-9 retained their numbers under BR ownership. These three locos were the only steam engines to survive in BR's ownership after the end of mainline steam traction in August 1968, excluding steam powered cranes which remained in service until surprisingly recently. Under the TOPS numbering arrangements introduced at this time they were allocated Class 98 and were nominally numbered 98007-98009, but these numbers were never actually carried on the locomotives. All three locomotives carried standard British Rail rail blue livery. The rail blue livery has now gone, but these three locomotives remain in use on the VoR today, now back in private hands.
No 10 (& ancillary motive power)
The steam locomotive fleet is today supplemented by a single diesel locomotive, number 10, built by the Brecon Mountain Railway during the time when the VoR was owned by the same company.
Additionally, there is a permanent way gang powered trolley, which replaced a Wickham trolley from the 1950's.
Diagram by Dan Crow. Reproduced under the GNU Free Documentation License v1.2
There are seven intermediate stations, all request stops.
- Capel Bangor
- Rheidol Falls
- Devil's Bridge
When the lead mines were being worked there was an aerial cableway linking them with Rhiwfron.