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The Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport Railway connected the collieries of the Aberdare and Rhondda valleys directly with the new Alexandra Docks at Newport.
Using the Taff Vale Railway lines above Pontypridd, it ran on its own metals to Penrhos where it connected with Caerphilly station of the Rhymney Railway. It then ran on the Brecon and Merthyr Railway through Machen to Bassaleg junction for connection to either the Alexandra Docks, or Newport High Street station for passengers connecting to the South Wales Railway or the London and North Western Railway.
The line closed to passengers in 1962, and was shut to freight from 1965.
The need for the PC&NR was brought about by the stranglehold of the Taff Vale Railway on railway traffic to both the Aberdare and Rhondda valleys.
From 1870 onwards, the demand for Rhondda steam coal was expanding quicker than the infrastructure of the Taff Vale Railway and Cardiff docks could provide. In 1874 the total coal and coke exported from Cardiff and Penarth was 2,886,000 tons, which had risen to 7,774,828 tons by 1882.
By 1880 a train typically took 23 hours to travel from the Ocean Colliery to Bute Dock, and 27 hours for the empty wagons to return. This slowed production, as no additional railway capacity had been built, and only the Roath Basin provided additional dock capacity.
Two attempts were made to break the monopoly of the Marquess of Bute. The Barry Railway and Docks built at a cost of £2 million a new dock at Barry Island with a railway connecting with Rhondda above the narrow Tongwynlais gorge. The first coal was shipped on 18 July 1889, with a second dock opened in 1898, and a third in 1914.
On 16 March 1896 the main line between Porth and Barry was opened for passenger traffic, to connect with the paddle steamers of P. and A. Campbell. The second was the provision of the Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway company to provide access to Swansea docks, but due to the incline through the Rhondda Tunnel this was only a commercial proposition for the collieries furthest up the Rhondda Fawr.
The other driver behind the building of the PC&NR was to provide a direct route to the Alexandra Dock, thereby reducing both the time and cost of shipping coal directly to the new facility. Lord Tredegar and Sir George Elliot of Powell Duffryn collieries agreed that the only way to secure the future income of the Alexandra docks was the provision of a direct railway route.
Although formed by the same directors of the Alexandra Docks & Railway Company, the PC&NR was formed as a separate company to the Alexandra Docks & Railway Company for various investment, tax, political and operational reasons.
Incorporated by an Act of Parliament on 8 August 1878, the line was engineered by Sir James W. Szlumper, and double tracked from Pontypridd to Rhymney, where it joined the metals of the Rhymney Railway at Penrhos junction to access Caerphilly station.
Local passenger trains terminated at Caerphilly, but through passenger and freight services continued over the Brecon and Merthyr Railway's Caerphilly branch to Bassaleg, where at West Mendelgief junction the PC&NR trains joined the metals of the Alexandra Docks Railway; through passenger services terminated at Newport station for connection to either the Great Western Railway, the London and North Western Railway or the South Wales Railway,
The single track from Caerphilly to Bassaleg provided both too little capacity for the freight traffic, as well as a challenging 1:39 climb out of Caerphilly station for loaded trains. The Machen Loop Act of 1887 gave the PC&NR the right to double track the route, with a diverged route from Gwaun-y-Bara junction to Machen providing a 1:200 slope for loaded trains. The new double track came into operation on 14 September 1891, and was immediately transferred to the Brecon and Merthyr Railway; which in return paid 50% of the annual net earnings from the Caerphilly branch to the PC&NR.
Trains were operated by initially under agreement with the Taff Vale Railway, who hauled private owner wagons using their own engines over the PC&NR. In doing so the Taff Vale Railway hoped to incorporate the PC&NR quickly in to its system. The first train of coal left Pontypridd on 7 July 1884; picking up the Brecon and Merthyr pilot engine at Caerphilly. However, on reaching Bassaleg, the GWR refused the train access to Alexandra Docks. After some negotiation, the GWR relented and trains began operating from the 25 July, but neither the PC&NR or the Alexandra Dock were amalgamated with the TVR or GWR as quickly as the larger companies would have liked. Although bitter rivals (the TVR was also more profitable than the Great Western) the two companies were united in their desire to avoid allowing additional competition to spring up.
This situation continued until halted at the TVR's request, when the PC&NR purchased ten locomotives from the newly electrified Mersey Railway, and started its own freight operations from the 30 April 1906. They also purchased some elderly locomotives and stock from the GWR, which were ironically returned to the Great Western in 1923 - although they were some 20 years older, the Great Western kindly allowed them to regain their former numbers.
Passenger services were run in two forms:
This operational situation continued until the Railways Act 1921, when the PC&NR was grouped under the Great Western Railway.
The line survived well, fuelling the growth of Newport docks due to its downward incline for loaded trains. Passenger traffic was ceased form 17 September 1956; while under the Beeching Axe it was shut to freight from 1965.