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Trevithick 1804 - 2004

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February 21st 2004 was the 200th anniversary of the first steam-hauled train which ran between Merthyr Tydfil and present-day Abercynon. A number of special events were planned throughout 2004, which can be reviewed below.

It is possible to walk the route of the Penydarren Tramroad on one section of which some of the original stone chairs are, surprisingly, still in situ.
Work is underway to create a walking and cycling path along the route.
A description of the route and how to access it follows.

A Visitor Centre at the Trevithick Industrial Estate opened on June 22 and closed on October 29 2004.

Special Events

Walking the route:
Upper Section ... Central Section ... Lower Section

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The iron ore reserves at Dowlais, coupled with a ready supply of limestone and coal, made Merthyr Tydfil a centre of iron smelting during the second half of the eighteenth century which rapidly outgrew the capacity of the pack-horse routes to the Rumney and Peterston Great Wharfs on the Wentloog levels which formed part of the Bristol Channel foreshore to the east of present-day Cardiff. By 1790 work had begun on the Glamorganshire Canal - opened in 1794 - which followed the valley of the Taff to a new harbour at Cardiff, at that time a sleepy fishing village with a population of less than a thousand.
Tramroads, too, were springing up all over the region, most using horses to provide the pulling power for the trams which ran on flanged wooden rails. As loads got heavier, the iron masters began to use the iron from their furnaces to forge the rails, and turned to the evolving steam engines to haul heavier loads.
At first the steam engines were fixed into position and used to turn huge drums on which the hawsers which moved the trams were wound. A wager between two rival Merthyr ironmasters resulted in the Cornish-born engineer Richard Trevithick designing an engine which would not only move the wagons, but also haul itself along the tramway which linked Merthyr with the canal basin at Navigation House - present-day Abercynon.
The Penydarren locomotive - named after the ironworks where Trevithick was employed - completed the task, hauling some seventy passengers and ten tons of pig iron along the nine mile route on February 21 1804, though its weight destroyed many of the flange plates in the process. In spite of this, the loco made the return journey the following day. Having proved the point, there was no concerted effort by Trevithick or his employers to further the cause of steam haulage, so the focus of locomotive development shifted to the north-east of England.

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Special Events

These events were organised by Trevithick 2004, and included:

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Following the train - Walking the route

The Trevithick Memorial at Pontmorlais The inscription onthe plinth of the Trevithick Memorial The southern entrance of the world's first railway tunnel

The Upper Section

From the Trevithick memorial at Pontmorlais (left and centre above) - National Grid Ref: SO 052068 - the former route passes anonymously through back lanes and along the main road on its way to the world's first railway tunnel near Pentrebach. The northern entrance is lost under an embankment, but at the south end, the portal (above right) - National Grid Ref: SO 057046 - has been blocked with a mosaic representation of Trevithick guiding the locomotive on its inaugural run.
For a kilometre or so, the route has been lost under modern highway development, but it can be picked up again at the foot of the mountain near the Co-operative Pioneer supermarket - National Grid Ref: SO 062040.
A concrete-surfaced lane leads on to the foot of the mountain, where the former trackbed can be followed behind the Linde plant and machinery factory and on to the village of Troedyrhiw.
Crossing the A4060, the route cuts through a caravan park, emerging a kilometre down valley and taking to the back lanes at Merthyr Vale to continue to Mount Pleasant, where it was crossed on the level by the Taff Vale Railway from 1841.

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The Central Section
(This section involves crossing the Valley Lines' Track at two points.
Signs at the level crossings warn to Stop Look and Listen. Care should be taken.)

Stone chairs on the Penydarren Tramroad One of the stone chairs showing the impressions of the rail Pontygwaith Bridge A crossing point on the Penydarren Tramroad

Cross the line at the Level Crossing - National Grid Ref: ST 077989. On the other side of the track was the exchange sidings of Merthyr Colliery. Continue down valley, keeping close to the railway, and the former trackbed of the Penydarren Tramroad is soon picked up. What is surprising, is that from here for the next six kilometres, some of the original stone chairs still remain in situ (above left and centre left).
A fence on the right-hand side, partially hidden in the undergrowth where the path diverges away from the railway, is a reminder of the collapse of part of the track caused by erosion from the River Taff which flows at the foot of the embankment. Almost immediately, down valley, the route passes through one of the world's first railway cuttings.
A kilometre beyond, and the route passes under Pontygwaith, the bridge of work (above centre right) - National Grid Ref: ST 080977 - and from here stone chairs make frequent appearances along the route. At some points there is evidence of the passing loops along the track, where the chairs become three then four abreast (above right).
Further along the route are the abutments of now-demolished viaducts which once carried the main line railways across the valley, harking back to the times when the Glamorganshire rail network was far more extensive than it is today.
Soon, in the distance, a steel gate can be seen, and, unless the entire length is to be explored, it is time to look out for a well used path taking off up the bank on the left - National Grid Ref: ST 0085965. Pass through the field at the top of the bank, and the second of the level crossings over the railway leads to Quaker's Yard station.

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The Lower Section

The Penydarren Tramroad passes under Quakers Yard Viaduct The first of the bridges which carried the tramroad over the River Taff The plaque outside Abercynon Fire station which commemorates the event

Once again the rural nature of the route is soon lost, as metalled lanes and roadways and modern-day intrusions become the norm.
Continue to the gate, and proceed through it. After passing a few cottages, the route passes under one of the remaining viaducts on the Valley Lines route between Merthyr Tydfil and Abercynon. This is Quaker's Yard viaduct (above left) - National Grid Ref: ST 085965 - designed by Brunel to carry the Taff Vale railway over the River Taff. There is evidence of it being widened to take double track.
After a short while, the route turns right over the first of two bridges (above centre) taking the tramroad over the River Taff and back again. Soon the outskirts of Quaker's Yard is reached, and the route passes the toll house on the left. More caravans, and the second bridge beyond which the most obvious of the modern intrusions: the first of the motorway bridges passing high above. Trevithick and his pioneers could never have envisaged petrochemicals usurping steam as a means of transport motive power!
The by-pass road is soon seen overhead, and the River Taff on the right is a welcome companion until Abercynon is reached.
Outside the fire station - National Grid Ref: ST 085949 - a plaque (above right)  commemorates Trevithick's achievement, while a short distance to the left is the Navigation House Inn, a reminder of Abercynon's former name. Sadly, the Inn has closed and was sold at auction in August 2011. Its future is undecided.

The town of Abercynon is reached by passing under the railway bridge, then following the road to the left of the Indian takeaway to the town centre. From Abercynon station, trains can be caught back to Merthyr, or to Aberdare and Pontypridd/Cardiff.

For details of connecting bus services, including travel planner and timetables, visit the Traveline Cymru website.

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Copyright 2004/5/6/7/8/9/10/11 /12/13/14  by Deryck Lewis. All rights reserved.
Page created January 14 2004;  Revised May 17 2010,
January 1 and May 27 2013, March 26 and May 18 2014
If you have any suggestions, comments, or glitches to report, please contact the author at WalesRails