A glimpse into the past

Keen-eyed students may have noticed that one of the car parks on our Treforest campus ends in a tunnel. The ongoing construction work has enabled one member of staff to glimpse inside this disused railway tunnel.


The Glamlife Team have used this as a starting point for writing a feature about the railway lines and transport routes that used to pass through our campuses.

Graig Tunnel - photo by Dr Andrew Scott

Graig Tunnel

Dr Andrew Scott, a Research Fellow, took the above photo of the tunnel a few weeks ago and told Glamlife at the time “Some parts of the roof are starting to collapse, so they are going to build two concrete retaining walls inside and then let the middle collapse of its own accord. Currently there is a robotic device spraying the walls with concrete.”

Kris Carter, another member of staff, has written an extensive blog post about the Graig Tunnel last year.

Pontypridd and Treforest transport connections: a brief history

Once upon a time, there were three companies operating railway lines in this area, and both sides of the valley featured railway tracks. It was a very busy network, used primarily by freight trains. At one point, Pontypridd was the busiest railway hub in the UK. Trains would leave Pontypridd every few minutes – some sources on the internet claim that, at peak times, there were trains moving through Pontypridd twice a minute. For comparison: at Heathrow airport today, an aircraft lands or takes off every 45 seconds, so (if Wikipedia is correct) Pontypridd’s railway network at its busiest would have been busier than Heathrow airport is today, in terms of traffic movements. No wonder Pontypridd and Treforest both had three railway stations / stops each. Even if the two-per-minute figure is a Wiki-fiction, there were certainly known to be several hundred trains a day passing through Pontypridd.

Taff Vale Railway Line (TVR)

  • The first and most successful railway line started by connecting Merthyr Tydfil with Cardiff
  • Today’s railway line follows the TVR route
  • Used “Newbridge / Pontypridd Central” and “Treforest Low Level” stations (which are the stations still in use today)
  • Opened in 1841
  • Later, the line also had a branch connecting Treforest with Llantrisant. That branch crossed the Barry Railway Line near Tonteg.
  • See Taff Vale Railway on trackbed.com and Taff Vale Railway on Wikipedia

Barry Railway Line (BRL)

  • Opened in 1889
  • Connected Trehafod, Pontypridd and Treforest with Barry Docks, via St Fagans
  • Also offered an alternative route from Pontypridd and Treforest into Cardiff
  • Used “Pontypridd Graig” and “Treforest High Level” stations
  • The Graig Tunnel was part of this line, and goes straight from our campus to Pontypridd.
  • Passenger traffic in Treforest High Level and Pontypridd Graig stopped in 1930. The line was closed entirely in 1962.
  • See Barry Railway Line on trackbed.com and Barry Railway Line on Wikipedia

Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport Railway (PCNR)

Trams

The Tramsheds building on our Glyntaff campus was part of the Pontypridd Urban District Council Tramways – a tram system (formerly called Pontypridd and Rhondda Valley Tramway) which operated trams between Pontypridd town centre and Treforest railway station until 1931.

Glamorganshire Canal

  • The Glamorganshire Canal was the oldest major industrial transport artery in the area
  • It connected Merthyr Tydfil to Cardiff
  • Built at the behest of Richard Crawshay, whose descendants built and lived in Cyfartha Castle in Merthyr Tydfil and Forest House in Treforest (the latter is now called Ty Crawshay and home to our Law School and Postgraduate Centre!)
  • The canal opened in 1794
  • Hugely successful until the Taff Vale Railway was built to compete with it
  • The section between Pontypridd and Cardiff was still open in 1913, when the School of Mines was founded.
  • It has disappeared almost entirely from view today, as the A470 covers most of where it used to be
  • There are short segments left in Pontypridd, and a restoration project by volunteers is under way. Another preserved segment is in Whitchurch, Cardiff.
  • The last parts of the canal closed officially to traffic in 1944 – but the canal had been out of use since 1942.
  • See Glamorganshire Canal on Wikipedia

Maps

The following image is and excerpt of a 1912-1914 map that is available on the Wikimedia Commons. (If you click on the excerpt, it takes you to the full map on Wikipedia)

1912-1914 map of train network south of Pontypridd

The map shows what the rail connections were like at the time when the South Wales and Monmouthshire School of Mines – the precursor to the University of Glamorgan – was founded in 1913.

Using satellite imagery from Google Maps, one overly enthusiastic member of the Glamlife Team has tried to trace the railway routes, claiming that it is “exciting detective work” and that “Indiana Jones would start his research on Google Maps Satellite images if he were around today” and that “it does not make me a train spotter!” … Oh dear.

You can find the results below, without any guarantee of accuracy. The traces are not complete – they go as far as things appeared to be discernible on satellite photos. As with all Google Maps, you can toggle between satellite view and map view, zoom in and out, move the map along.


View Treforest Heritage Map in a larger map

If you enjoy a little bit of detective work, you might enjoy starting with a blank Google Map and trying to follow the traces of the old railway lines yourself. This will become somewhat harder the next time Google updates its satellite photos, as the Church Village bypass has erased many of the traces!

If you want definite accuracy, there are historic maps on the web, on old-maps.co.uk. It’s a very slow website and the maps take a while to load – but the map of Treforest in 1900 in 1:2500 scale is rather interesting, showing Forest House (now called Ty Crawshay), standing in isolation among fields, and the railway tracks and sidings that took up the space now used as a student car park. Much of the area taken up by student houses today (on the other side of Brook Street) was used for allotment gardens.

Web sites of interest

If this whets your appetite for a little research of your own, here are some links that could be useful:

  • Tonteg Junction, South Wales Tonteg Junction was for some time subject to a huge amount of traffic mainly due to it being the main passing point for the coal from the Rhondda Valleys to Barry Dock via the Barry Railway.
  • The Graig Tunnel a blog post by Kris Carter
  • Rhondda Cynon Taf Library Service: Treforest’s Past
  • Rhondda Cynon Taff’s past
  • RCT Digital Archive
  • Pontypridd Canal Conservation Group
  • Here’s a old photo of Treforest. Open the larger version: the distinctive building in the bottom right area of the image is Treforest High Level’s Station House. You can see the Treforest Low Level station and the Taff Vale Railway line in the background. Ty Crawshay is also just about visible, as is one of the stone circles that were in the field which is now our campus (roughly where B Block is now located). There is another old photo of Treforest, panned just a little to the right. This time, the Station House is in the bottom left. Both pictures where taken around 1950, long after the Barry Railway Line had stopped carrying passengers in this area.
  • Meanwhile, this 1927 map of Cardiff shows the final sections of the Glamorganshire canal. How often have you used the underpass to cross underneath Kingsway without realising it used to belong to a historical canal? Also, have a look at this 1940s photo of Mill Lane – the street that today is known as the cafe quarter by Cardiff Library and the Marriott Hotel. Let’s just say there have been some changes!
  • Finally, if you take the train or the A470 between Treforest and Cardiff, have you ever wondered what that odd pillar with the inscription about the Jubilee is? It used to carry a railway viaduct – the Walnut Tree Viaduct, part of a branch line connecting the Barry Railway Line with the Rhymney Railway Line…

And, of course, you could browse through the fascinating resource that is Wikipedia