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The Last Outpost of British Railways Steam Operation

The 11¾ mile narrow gauge (1’ 11¾”/603mm) Vale of Rheidol Railway (Rheilffordd Cwm Rheidol) climbs at gradients steeper than 1 in 50 as it winds its way eastwards from the Welsh coastal town of Aberystwyth along the Afon (River) Rheidol valley to Devil’s Bridge, 680 feet (207.3m) above sea level.

Brief History

Although The Vale of Rheidol Railway was envisaged from the outset to be a passenger carrying railway, lead ore and timber were considered equally important to the economic success of the line.

The line was built to a gauge of 1' 11½” (597mm), the tight curves and steep gradients on the route would make a standard gauge line impossible. Starting at 14 ft (4.3m) above sea level at Aberystwyth, the line climbs 666 ft (203m) to the Summit at Devil’s Bridge 680 ft (207.3m) above sea level.

Motive power was provided by two 2-6-2T tank locomotives built by Davies & Metcalfe of Romney near Stockport (numbered 1 & 2) together with a Bagnall 2-4-0T built in 1896. The latter was pre-owned when purchased for use in the construction of the VoR and named Rheidol. After completion, the little engine was retained for hauling lighter trains on the line.

The Vale of Rheidol Railway Ltd is now a registered charity supported by the Phyllis Rampton Narrow Gauge Railway Trust, also a registered charity. Unlike most other preserved railways, the VoR is manned entirely by paid staff with no volunteers.

Since privatisation, the track has been completely relaid, the passing loops have been reinstated and the timber viaduct over the Afon Rheidol has been renewed. The locomotives* and stock have been extensively overhauled and fitted with air brakes. [* Nos. 8 & 9 have been rebuilt and no. 7 has been dismantled ready for rebuilding]

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Attractions and Facilities

Any of the stations and halts beyond Glanyrafon are suitable starting points for country walks along hillside lanes and paths.

Operation

Service

Trains run from the beginning of April to the end of October, a daily service is provided throughout June July and August. On most operating days, there are two trains in each direction and at peak times four trains in each direction.

The journey from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge takes about an hour each way and the train waits at Devil’s Bridge for an hour before returning, so the round trip takes about three hours.  Refer to the Vale of Rheidol Railway website for timetable (see link below).

Locomotives

The current 2-6-2T steam locomotives were built by the Great Western Railway at Swindon Works in 1923, they were given the names which they carry today in 1956.

Diesel locomotives:

Stock

Locomotives and rolling stock are maintained in immaculate condition.

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Aberystwyth
Llanbadarn
(Halt)
Nantyronen
(Halt)
Aberffrwd
Devil’s
Bridge

Map

The map below shows the location of all the stations and halts on the Vale of Rhedol Railway, click on any of the markers to see the station name and postcode (where known). Use the zoom and pan tools to explore the map.

Getting there

By train - It couldn’t be easier, The Vale of Rhedol railway operates from the ex Manchester and Milford Railway bay platform at Aberystwyth main line station, the terminus of the Cambrian Coast line. Arriva Wales Trains serving Machynlleth and Birmingham operate from the adjacent platforms.

By car - Aberystwyth can be accessed by the A487 from the north and south and the A44 from the east. To find the Vale of Rheidol Railway, follow the signs to the railway station and then follow the brown tourist signs for the railway’s free car park which is in Park Avenue. A surfaced footpath provides access to the station from the car park.

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Links

Headquarters Address:





Telephone:

email:

Vale of Rheidol Railway,
Park Avenue,
Aberystwyth,
Ceredigion,
SY23 1PG

01970 625819

vor@rheidolrailway.co.uk

Map | Getting there | Attractions & Facilities | Operation | Brief History | Review | Links

Vale of Rheidol Railway at a Glance

Type: Preserved Railway

Gauge: Narrow, 1’ 11¾” (603mm)

Length: 11¾ miles

Stations: 4 + 5 halts

First opened: 1902

Nationalised (BR) 1948

Privatised: 1989

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Review

I first visited the Vale of Rheidol Railway in the late 1980s, around the time of privatisation after years of minimal maintenance. Unfortunately there were no trains running that day but I did get to see the run down state of the track.

It was twenty years later that I returned and I was very pleasantly surprised by what I saw. After parking in the VoR’s surfaced car park in Park Avenue, Aberystwyth, we walked along the footpath to the ticket office.

With tickets in hand we traipsed along the platform where an immaculate train was waiting for us. The locomotive, no. 9 Prince of Wales and the coaches looked as good as the day they first left Swindon Works. From the ground level platform the perfectly painted underframes are particularly noticeable, only the letters ‘GWR’ on the axle box castings giving away their age.

Once on board, it is apparent that the British Rail heritage has been maintained in the form of the No smoking, Do not lean out of the window and Emergency chain notices. The weather was a tad chilly, nevertheless, the semi open coach at the front of the train was well populated. We went for the sensible less draughty enclosed option.

Leaving Aberystwyth, the train passes Llanbadarn Halt and a level crossing on the A4120 before crossing the Afon Rheidol on a seven arch timber viaduct, the largest structure on the line.

After what seems like quite a speedy ride for a narrow gauge train along the first 4½ miles or so of mild gradients climbing only 61ft to Capel Bangor, the locomotive has to start working harder as gradients of 1 in 50 or steeper are encountered. From here the terrain becomes more rugged and the track is laid on a shelf cut into the hillside.

Although Nantyronen is a halt, all trains stop there on the way up to take on water. Increasingly marvellous views of the valley are seen as the line rises to the principle passing loop at Aberffrwd, 280 ft above sea level, where trains pass on days when there are two in operation.

From Aberffrwd, after a short stretch of level track, the line climbs continuously for four miles at 1 in 50 to Devil’s Bridge. The most spectacular views of the Cwm Rheidol Reservoir and Rheidol Falls are seen along this final stretch to the upper terminus 680 ft above sea level.

When the train arrives at Devil’s Bridge, there’s time to relax with a whole hour to take a walk or have a snack in the café before the return trip and another look at those magnificent views.

The immaculately maintained historic locomotives and rolling stock combined with the unexpectedly stunning views make a trip on the Vale of Rheidol Railway an unforgettable day out. Without doubt this is among the best of the Welsh narrow gauge lines.

Vale of Rheidol Railway
Glanyrafon
(Halt)
Capel
Bangor
Rhedol Falls
(Halt)
Rhiwfron
(Halt)