North Wales Steam Railways Tour Journey Notes 6 - Barmouth to Shrewsbury.
08.52 Leave Barmouth station; we call at Morfa Mawddach 08.56 (on request), Fairbourne 09.00, Llwyngwril 09.06 (on request) and Tonfanau 09.13 (on request).
Camping coaches were a feature on the Cambrian Lines in the 1950s and 1960s; they were old carriages converted to form eight-berth self-catering holiday ‘cottages’ with one or more stabled in sidings at smaller coastal stations and were available to hire - part of the deal would be that you travelled there by train. Locations included Morfa Mawddach, Fairbourne, Llwyngwril and Aberdyfi - also further up the coast at Dyffryn Ardudwy.
At the end of the 50s, the Talyllyn was open up to Abergynolwyn and was running three daily trains Monday to Friday in the peak summer season with two on Saturdays and one on Sunday.
09.20 Arrive Tywyn and leave the train.
15.26 Depart Tywyn. We call at Aberdyfi/Aberdovey at 15.32, Penhelig (on request) at 15.35 and Dovey Junction (Cyff Dyfi) at 15.46. Arrival at Machynlleth is at 15.54; the 15.30 from Aberystwyth will couple up behind us.
All trains are serviced at Machynlleth; those terminating at Aberystwyth return to here and then go back in the morning. As a result, this small station is open for nearly 20 hours a day; the first train leaves at 04.53 and the last train arrives at 00.09!
In the days of steam, one of the functions of the depot was to provide banking engines for freight trains for the steep haul (1 in 52) up to Talerddig - or pilot engines for heavier passenger trains, especially on summer Saturdays. Machynlleth had four weekday trains (five on Saturdays) that called at all stations to/from Welshpool; these trains continued to or originated from either Shrewsbury or Oswestry/Whitchurch. There was also a local that ran only as far as Newtown; this and the return trip was a school train.
The event of the day at Machynlleth station would have been the arrival (15.20 Monday to Friday; later on Saturdays) of the down Cambrian Coast Express; here the train was divided, the Aberystwyth part leaving 5 minutes later and the coaches for Pwllheli after another 15 minutes. The train had a Restaurant Car from Paddington to Aberystwyth - rather more impressive than today’s refreshment trolley! In 1957/8, a full breakfast was available for 18p, table d’hote luncheon @ 48p and afternoon tea for 15p. There was even an overnight service to London in the timetables. Leaving Machynlleth at 18.55 and travelling to Shrewsbury, one could then get on a Sleeping Car train here at 23.10 which arrived at Paddington at 05.10; passengers didn’t have to leave the train until 07.30. Sundays saw just the one down train in the morning and one for Whitchurch in the evening. Today there are eight or nine Sunday trains to/from Shrewsbury.
Freight on the Cambrian Line at the end of the 50s included four daily trains from Oswestry (two to Machynlleth, one to Aberystwyth and one to Moat Lane Junction), two from Shrewsbury to Welshpool and one from Welshpool to Machynlleth. The conveyance of livestock was once an important function of the railways with many stations being equipped with cattle pens. At this time, an Oswestry bound freight waited at Welshpool to load stock sold at the market on Mondays.
Coal deliveries lasted until the 80s and Shell BP’s depot at Aberystwyth was supplied by rail until 1993. A number of freight trains did run in 2005 when a five week trial took place transporting timber from Aberystwyth to the Kronospan wood chip factory near Chirk on the Shrewsbury to Wrexham line. Although the results of the trial were apparently successful, nothing more came of this.
16.08 Leave Machynlleth; we are scheduled to meet with the 15.30 from Shrewsbury at the Talerddig passing loop. Back in the days of unfitted freight trains, there was a Stop Board here for down trains with wagons having the brakes pinned down prior to descending Talerddig Bank. The signal box here was open in the late 50s from 03.40 for the first down freight until clearance of the last up freight at around 21.15.
We call at Caersws 16.31. A mile out of Caersws was Moat Lane Junction. In the years prior to closure, two trains a day ran on this 60 mile route to Brecon; stopping at every station and halt on the way (all 24 of them), the journey took 2 hours and 45 minutes. Two other trains ran to/from Builth Wells and there were also some local services to/from Llanidloes connecting with trains at the Junction. A daily freight ran from Moat Lane Junction to Brecon. Freight continued just to Llanidloes after closure to passengers until 1966 bringing in cement and other materials for use in conjunction with the construction of the Clywedog Dam just to the west of the town.
Passenger usage on the Cambrian Line has increased considerably over the last decade with Caersws, Newtown and Welshpool stations accounting for over 100,000 additional journeys; Caersws up 84% to around 46,000, Newtown up 35% to 124,000 and Welshpool an increase of 72% to over 122,000.
We call at Newtown 16.42 and Welshpool 16.56.
Transporting mail was another important function of the railways. The down mail train at the end of 1950s was the 03.15 from Whitchurch and Oswestry which met at Welshpool with the 03.48 from Shrewsbury; this then served all the postal towns along the line to Aberystwyth. At Moat Lane Junction, mail for Llanidloes was transferred to a Builth Wells train, at Machynlleth for Barmouth and at Aberystwyth for the Carmarthen line as far south as Pencader. The up mail left Aberystwyth at 18.00 picking up mail at Dovey Junction from Barmouth and at Moat Lane Junction from Brecon. At Welshpool, mail was then conveyed to both Oswestry and Whitchurch or to Shrewsbury. In those days mail was still collected on a Sunday and an up mail left Aberystwyth at 18.20.
There were six daily passenger trains each way from Welshpool to Oswestry via Buttington Junction prior to closure of this line and five local trains from Welshpool to Shrewsbury calling at all stations and a daily pick-up freight. Before the Minsterley branch closed for passengers in 1951, Hanwood also had four weekday services each way off this line with all trains running from/to Shrewsbury; there was also a late evening train from Shrewsbury on the branch on Saturdays. A daily branch freight continued after cessation of passenger trains.
17.20 Arrive Shrewsbury station.