From SWWIAS Newsletter no.70, November 1997)

THE OPENING OF THE FIRST SECTION OF RHONDDA & SWANSEA BAY RAILWAY

[The first section of the Rhondda & Swansea Bay Railway was opened to passenger traffic on 25 June 1885. It followed the line of the old Cwmavon Tramway from Aberavon to Pontrhydyfen. A reporter from the Swansea weekly newspaper, The Cambrian, was one of a party who explored the new line on the first day it was open. He took a keen interest in all that he saw and produced this long, interesting, and sometimes florid report for the following day's paper.]

The formal opening to passenger traffic of the first section of the Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway took place yesterday. As we stated a couple of weeks ago, the Board of Trade Inspector has been over the line and examined it most carefully. The result of his report was that certain trifling alterations had to be made in the working arrangements, and they were completed at once. The directors of the company and the officials made their first formal trip on Wednesday, but that visit was regarded as private. Yesterday, however, the line was thrown open to the public.

A special party left Swansea by the Great Western Railway express at 11.5 for Aberavon, to explore the new regions which have been opened up by the Rhondda Company. There was a tedious delay at Aberavon, because the first up train on the new line had left at 8 o'clock, and the second was not due to leave until 1.50. The interval was occupied by the strangers in inspecting the ancient borough of Aberavon, and in admiring the progress which it has made in the last few years. The Old Walnut-Tree Hotel, the well-known chief hostelry of the place, has been metamorphosed. It is now a fine brand new hotel, which has the special advantage of being within a stone's throw of the Rhondda Railway Station, and its destinies are genially presided over by Miss Jones, who made her visitors welcome and comfortable yesterday. The Glamorganshire Banking Company's new building is a handsome structure, and some of the visitors could not refrain from peeping in upon the respected manager, Mr. Maddan, whose removal from Swansea was regretted by his many friends. The church, and the other architectural features of the town were visited, and it was admitted on all hands that the ancient borough is making substantial headway lately. The opening of the new line means the same advantages to Aberavon that the Vale of Neath line meant to Neath. There is room for progress and we heartily wish that the borough may flourish. On a point of sentiment, we cannot help sympathising with Aberavon in the matter of its old and euphonious nomenclature. Port Talbot is not a satisfactory substitute, and many hope that the change which it is now attempted to bring about will not be accepted.

At 1.50 there was quite a crowd of sight-seers and excursionists at the new station. It is most conveniently situated, in the very centre of the town - not half a mile away, like the Great Western Railway station, and though neither large nor imposing, it is well designed and most substantially built and completely fitted. The platforms are long and well-made; the waiting rooms, ticket room and other offices are well erected of native stone, with substantial woodwork. The canopy over the platform is supported by handsome iron brackets in which are worked the monogram of the Company, "R.& S.B.R.". The ornamental wooden fringe is of a new and tasteful pattern. The signal-box and arrangements are all of the most modern and perfect kind, and altogether the station is a piece of work upon which the designer and builder are to be congratulated.

The new line, whose present passenger terminus is this station, thence crosses the Queen's highway on the level between two gates, and passes down to the docks of Port Talbot, along the newly relaid line of the old Cwmavon Tramway. This extension to the port will be used at present for mineral traffic only, but, it is said, passengers may be conveyed that way hereafter, should the necessity arise.

While waiting for the train at the Aberavon terminus, the party had time to admire the high and peculiarly rounded hills of the Carboniferous Formation which look down upon the town like a company of giant sentinels. Their rotund tops and sides are clothed in a fresh verdure of bracken, here and there enpurpled with a patch of heather. Up these steep hill-sides many little white-washed farm houses and cottages have crept, and here and there little patches of potatoe [sic] garden nestle in the hollows, and seem to flourish in the fresh air of their elevated seclusion. Down through this valley comes tumbling and rushing the Stream which gives it its name - not common avon, like so many other rivers, but the Avan - half river half streamlet, which was the favoured haunt of trout and grayling, until the poisonous effluences of the waters above made it a hazardous habitat. But still, we were told, there are good fish and good sport, despite the continued deterrents of poison and poaching.

At last the time and the train arrive, and the party get into the new carriages, so handsome a lot of railway conveyances as are to be seen on the best appointed lines in the kingdom. They are of the three classes, 1st, 2nd and 3rd, and are fitted up in first-rate style. The outside is handsome, the groundwork being lake red, a tinge darker than the Midland coaches, and picked out with yellow and gold. The interiors are very fine - if anything, perhaps, too good for the kind of traffic which they are intended to meet. The interior framework is of dark teak, picked out with guilt [sic], and the panels are of English sycamore, which might at first sight be mistaken for maple. The cushions are upholstered in the most easy and fashionable style, in blue cloth, with stamped and embossed leather trimmings. The engine, the "No.1" - one of the four - which was attached to the first public passenger train, is a fine machine, of the heaviest and most modern make, perfectly new, and gay in its coat of new paint and varnish.

The whistle sounds and a start is made, the driver putting on a fine burst of speed, as if to show what his new steed can do. Away we go, alongside the tumbling river, past long rows of workmen's cottages, shops, chapels, and public houses, past dismantled works and slag and cinder tips, past colliery workings and ruins, away to Cwmavon - the historic home of the old Governor and Company of Copper Miners of England, whose works were the largest and the wealthiest in the three kingdoms. There linger memories of the old Company and of their chief local representatives, who occupied in succession the Coed Park mansion. But much of that glory is departed, and many portions of the old works are now dismantled. But one dynasty has given place to another. The Rio Tinto and other powerful Companies have come in and taken the place of the old folk who are departed, and Cwmavon today appears to be thoroughly prosperous, and to have before it a future of even greater success and profit. The transformation of the old tramway into a fully fledged railway opens up a new era for the place and for the people.

Leaving Cwmavon with its handsome little church, and its monster smoke stack perched on the summit of the overlooking hill, we rush along at a rapid pace, after changing carriages and engine, for the next place - Pontrhydyfen. The scenery along this part of the line is varied but rough, with several heavy cuttings, made terraces, and bridges, all of which are well, executed works, and reflect credit on the contractor, Mr. W. Jones. At Pontrhydyfen one passes the very fine old large-arched stone combined aqueduct and viaduct which has figured so prominently in so many pictures of the spot. The village, which is down in the hollow, is a populous and growing place, and the scenery of abrupt but rounded hills and devious river is very picturesque. This is the extent of the line which was yesterday thrown open for passenger traffic - a distance of about four miles from Port Talbot. The Pontrhydyfen Station is also very well built, from much the same design as those of the Aberavon terminus, and all the fittings and appliances are of first-class excellence.

From this point the visiting party were taken in break [sic] vans, drawn by a light contractor's engine another four miles, almost up to Cymmer. The valley along this portion of the route is much finer, the beauty of the scenery, - green hills and wood, and water - being untarnished by ruins or spoil banks. Some of the sudden peeps, and turns, and stretches of the Avan Vale, remind one of the Usk, and even of the Wye, only, of course, on a somewhat smaller scale, and with a lesser wealth of foliage. The air is superbly bracing, and its tonic effects are perceptible at once to those who are used to the laxative atmosphere of the sea level. Cymmer is situated at an altitude of 600ft., and here the South Wales Mineral Railway or Glyncorrwg Railway joins the Llynvi and Ogmore at Maesteg by means of a handsome iron viaduct. on stone piers, 120ft. above the bed of the Avan. The Glyncorrwg is a latteral [sic] valley, almost at right angles with the Avan, and the Llynvi and Ogmore line runs through a mile-long tunnel at right angles on the other side. The new Rhondda line run under the aforesaid junction viaduct and will head upwards for Abergwynfe [sic], while the two-mile tunnel into the Rhondda at Treherbert is already commenced at both ends. It is said to be practicable to operate it for traffic within about three months. What is wanted at Cymmer is a junction between the new Rhondda line and the Great Western Railway from Maesteg. Such a junction, which is very easy as to levels, would connect Glyncorrwg and Maesteg with Port Talbot and Swansea, and save a great deal of distance and delay both to passengers and minerals.

The spot, as we have said, is a pretty as well as phenomenally salubrious one, and we have no doubt that it will become a favourite resort for summer holiday makers and picnickers.

The return journey was made in good time yesterday and a pleasant outing was brought to a close with a luncheon at the Walnut Tree.

All the visitors were able sincerely to congratulate the Company on so satisfactory a completion of the first short instalment of their line. We are informed that it is intended at an early date to convey traffic by the Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway from Cymmer to Aberavon and thence via Great Western Railway to Swansea, favourable terms having been arranged with the latter Company with the view of this traffic being expeditiously forwarded through to Swansea.

[The Cambrian, 26 June 1885]