Station Name: ABERFAN

[Source: Nick Catford]

Date opened: 1.4.1886
Location: South of Railway Hill
Company on opening: GWR and Rhymney Joint Railway
Date closed to passengers: 12.2.1951
Date closed completely: 1.11.1954
Company on closing: British Railways (Western Region)
Present state: Demolished - nothing remains
County: Glamorganshire
OS Grid Ref: ST071999
Date of visit: 1973

Notes: Aberfan station was renamed Aberfan for Merthyr Vale c1902. Initially a second running in board with the 'For Merthyr Vale' was mounted below the original board. These were eventually replaced by new single boards. The station had slightly staggered platforms on the south side of a hairpin bend in Station Hill. The main station building, which incorporated the stationmaster's house, was at the north end of the down platform. The two-storey building was of rock-faced stone, coupled arched windows with pale surrounds contrasting with dark stone. The roof had half-hipped gables and three prominent chimneystacks. Entrance was from the road into the upper floor with an arched exit onto the platform on the ground floor.

A wide ramp down from the road gave access to the up platform. A stone built waiting room with a pitched roof stood towards the south end of the platform. The station was gas lit with the local gasworks standing on the east side of Nixonville, immediately south of Merthyr Vale Colliery.

A signal box stood at the south end of the up platform opposite the entrance to the goods yard which, as built, comprised a loop with one side running through a goods shed. There was a short head shunt at the south end of this side of the loop. From the loop, a long siding, probably used for coal, ran diagonally across the yard behind the down platform terminating at the north extremity of the yard beyond the station building. From this siding a reversal led to another siding running to the east of the goods shed under a short canopy. Somewhere in the yard there was a 1 ton 10cwt capacity yard crane but it isn't known where it was sited. The yard handled general goods and parcels but not livestock. Road access to the yard was along a steep track from Aberfan Crescent with a weighbridge and office being provided on the south side of the goods shed.

By 1916 the yard had been re-laid with the long siding being rerouted at the back of the down platform and finishing before the station building. The short head shunt on the loop had been removed and the reversal siding now ran from the loop, behind the goods shed and along the east perimeter of the yard; it no longer joined the main siding.

In 1932 the station reverted to its original name of Aberfan with new running in boards being fitted. The station closed to passenger traffic on 12 February 1951 following mining subsidence that threatened the viaduct at Edwardsville. The line remained open as a long siding from Merthyr. Aberfan remained open to goods traffic until 1 November 1954. Track lifting at Aberfan began in 1955.

After lying empty and roofless during the 1960s when it was used as a playground for local children and home for a homeless person for a while, the station building was demolished c1968 leaving just its back wall and a clear indication of the entrance from Station Hill. The two platforms remained becoming more overgrown and degraded as time passed.

The station site remained undeveloped through the latter half of the 20th century. This may have been because the trackbed was, for many years, used to remove spoil from the collapsed No 7 colliery spoil pit following its collapse onto the Pantglas Junior School on 21 October 1966. Lorries transported the spoil along the track bed to Aberfan station where they went across the former goods yard to reach the road at Aberfan Crescent. The site was finally cleared for new housing in the summer of 2016; before this started the bridge was removed and filled in. A year later houses in the new Railway Close were occupied. The original ramp down to the up platform was re-laid as a new road. During the development, Railway Hill bridge was filled in with a wide grassed incline down to track level on the north side. This will eventually be developed as a community space.

About one-third of mile north of Aberfan station are the Pantglas schools. During October 1966 the area had seen heavy rain and shortly after the children had arrived at school on Friday 21 October, No. 7 Colliery Spoil Tip, situated on the hill above Aberfan and above an area of springs, slipped. The avalanche of spoil engulfed a row of houses and Pantglas Junior School. The death toll was 144 of which 116 were children. The National Coal Board was found to be at fault and in particular nine of its employees. When the railway through Aberfan was in operation, No. 7 Tip did not exist, it not being created until 1958. The railway passed between the schools and the spoil tip, resulting in a section of the abandoned railway also being engulfed. Today the hillside above the site of the schools is green and tranquil. There is a memorial garden on Moy Road which ought to be visited when in the locality. Click here to see the spoil tips in 1964 before collape.

The Rhymney Railway was founded to transport minerals and materials to and from collieries and ironworks in the Rhymney Valley of South Wales, and to docks in Cardiff. It opened a main line in 1858, and a limited passenger service was operated in addition.

The first line was dependent on the cooperation of the parallel Taff Vale Railway (TVR) for part of the transit, and this relationship was uneasy; the Rhymney Railway built an independent line to Cardiff in 1871. Better relations were created with the London and North Western Railway (LNWR), and later the Great Western Railway (GWR), and two important joint lines with the GWR were built: the Taff Bargoed line (1876) and the Quakers Yard and Merthyr Joint line in 1882.

Quakers Yard was a very busy railway junction. It had three viaducts, the first was a six arch viaduct built by Brunel in 1840. It carried the Taff Valley Railway to Merthyr along the east bank of the River Taff. This viaduct is still in use today. Quakers Yard was also the junction between the Taff Valley Railway and the Taff Vale Extension (TWE) of the Newport, Abergavenny & Hereford Railway. This line passed over a second viaduct before entering a tunnel to reach the Cynon Valley below Aberdare from where it ran on to Neath and Swansea. With the arrival of the Rhymney Railway this diverged from the TWE at Quakers Yard along the west bank of the River Taff. This required the building of a third viaduct, parallel to the second but curving away northwards towards Merthyr from it. 

Quakers Yard viaducts No 2 (foreground) and No 3. From Quakers Yard station a line passed over the second viaduct before entering a tunnel to reach the Cynon Valley below Aberdare from where it ran on to Neath and Swansea. The Rhymney Railway later diverged from the Swansea line at Quakers Yard running along the west bank of the River Taff. This required the building of a third viaduct, parallel to the second but curving away northwards towards Merthyr from it. Both viaducts have now been demolished.
Photo from John Mann collection

Although the Rhymney Railway network was never large, it was remarkably profitable, and paid excellent dividends for most of its life. Dependent on mineral traffic for its own success, it declined in the 1970s, but the main line from Rhymney to Cardiff remains in heavy use as a local passenger line.

Although the GWR already had a presence at Merthyr through the Vale of Neath line, up to that point the Taff Vale Railway had a monopoly of the direct routes from Merthyr to the south and east.

The Quakers Yard and Merthyr line was opened on 1 April 1886 from the Taff Vale Extension line at Quakers Yard, running up the west side of the River Taff to Merthyr, ending at the GWR station there. Colliery and ironstone pit connections were made intermediately, and a branch line spur crossed the Taff to get access to the important Merthyr Vale colliery. The QY&MR Joint Line crossed the river Taff immediately after leaving Quakers Yard station.

There was already a railway running part of the way down the west bank: the private Gethin Railway belonging to the Cyfarthfa Ironworks. This could be latched onto in the vicinity of Abercanaid, and a simple spur provided where it crossed the GWR Hirwain line to bring the joint trains into Merthyr High Street station.
The line opened for passenger traffic on 1 April 1886, trains using the High Street station at Merthyr. The new line crossed over the Taff Vale line and the Glamorganshire Canal shortly after leaving Quakers Yard GWR (later High Level) station. At nearly 2 miles south there was a branch on the east side to the Merthyr Vale group of coal pits, crossing the river on a long steel viaduct. Initially there were only two intermediate stations at Aberfan and Abercanaid, with the service being worked by the Rhymney company. At Cyfarthfa Level Crossing Junction, where the spur to the former Vale of Neath line ran round Glyndyris Pond, the private Gethin Railway ran straight on to the Cyfarthfa Ironworks, with a branch to the east running up to the Ynys Fach works, and. Rhymney goods trains and workmen's trains ran up to Cyfarthfa Furnace Tops.

The Taff Vale Railway introduced what it called "motor cars" (that is, rail motors) in 1905. These were single coaches incorporating a small steam engine integrated with the coach. The intention was to enable station calls at low-cost structures in rural areas. The Rhymney Railway observed the considerable success of the Taff Vale scheme, and in 1907 procured two such vehicles from Hudswell Clarke to its own design; the steam engine part was a small 0-4-0 tank engine with 3 ft 6 in wheels. The carriage part was supplied by Cravens. There were soon complaints of unsteady running, and a trailing axle was added to the locomotive unit, with 2 ft 9 in wheels.

One additional new station at Troed-y-rhiw was opened on the Quakers Yard to Merthyr line on 18 February 1907 to make use make use of these 'cars' (renamed Troedf-y-rhiw Halt in 1924). The 'cars' were not a success; one was rebuilt in 1910, making a separate carriage and engine. The other was used until 1919 on the Penrhiwfelin workmen's train, and then modified in the same way as the other. Another new station, Pontygwaith Halt opened 11 September 1933. There were also a number of private and untimetabled stations for colliery workers. Gethin Pits Platform was in use between 1915 and 1928 and Castle Pit Platform was in use between 1897 and 1915. There was also a Merthyr Vale Miners Platform at the junction with the branch to the collieries.

Over the years, the second and third viaducts over the River Taff were affected by the underground movements of the coal workings of Deep Navigation Pit in Treharris, which travelled in a westerly direction. Even to this day there are still subsidence issues in Edwardsville. Both viaducts had timber reinforcements in their arches to make them safe, but by the early 1950s the third viaduct became unsafe and this brought a premature termination of the passenger operation on the QY&M line in February 1951 with the closure of four stations and halts. The line was singled in 1952 but remained in use operated as a long siding from Merthyr. Aberfan station remained open to goods traffic until 1 November 1954 and track lifting at the southern end of the line began a year later. Coal wagons were stored along the line near Castle Pit into the mid-1950s and Abercanaid remained open for goods traffic until 9 May 1960, although by this date it only handled coal. Although Troed-y-rhiw Halt closed to passengers in 1951 it was retained for use by mine workers until 1 November 1954. After the closure of Abercanaid to coal traffic the remaining track was quickly lifted. The third viaduct of the River Taff at Edwardsville was demolished in 1969.

Ticket from Michael Stewart, Route map drawn by Alan Young.


See also:Abercanaid, Troedyrhiw Halt, Pontygwaith Halt & Quakers Yard High Level

Aberfan Station Gallery 1: c1908 - 1973

Aberfan station looking north west, this view being dated c.1908. This photograph comes with a 'spot the illusion' game. The telegraph pole on the right appears to be mounted behind the signal but passes in front of the signal arm. These signals are of the Rhymney Railway somersault type and what appears to be the pole passing the camera side of the signal arm is in fact the pivot point for the arm. Other photographs give the true picture perhaps better than words can describe. Note the flat-bottom rail in short lengths. This type of rail was standard on the Rhymney Railway until c. 1910 but much of it remained for many years subsequently and would only be replaced by bullhead rail when necessary. The station platforms, at least, are gas lit. The burners are inside glass domes which are themselves inside the lamp casements; this arrangement might seem a little elaborate today due to the familiarity of gas mantles but in the 19th century and into the early 20th century the arrangement was not uncommon. The local gasworks stood on the east side of Nixonville (a road name) and immediately south of Merthyr Vale Colliery. The site of the gasworks is now mostly covered by housing. To the right can be seen the northern end of Aberfan goods yard, most of which, including the goods shed, was a little further south. Photographs of railway stations from a century or more ago usually included a staff line-up and this has tended to become the butt of jokes due to the seemingly excessive number of staff. This view is therefore perhaps unusual in that only three obvious staff members are posing, with what was presumably the stationmaster nearest the camera. Who the two gentlemen with bowler hats were is not known. This views provides a good idea of the topography of the area. Apart from the obvious background hills note the houses on a higher level at extreme left and the houses at a much lower level at extreme right. This is, after all, the Vale of the River Taff.
Copyright photo from John Alsop collection

1899 1:2,500 OS map shows the layout of Aberfan station and goods yard as built. The station entrance is just visible adjacent to the bridge on the upper floor of the north west corner of the building. Passengers would go down stairs and out through an arch in the south east corner. A wide ramp leads to the down platform. A signal box south of the down platforms stands opposite the entrance to the goods yard. The yard comprises a loop with one side running through the goods shed and a short head shunt off one side of the loop. Beyond the loop, a long siding, probably for coal, runs diagonally across the yard to terminate north of the station building. From this siding a reversal gives access to another siding running under a canopy behind the good shed. Road access to the yard is along a steep drive up from Aberfan Crescent.

1916 1:2,500 OS map. By this date the yard had been partially relaid. The long coal siding has been shortened and realigned behind the up platform. The short head shunt from the loop has been removed and another siding has been added running behind the goods shed and along the east perimeter of the yard. The reversal from the coal siding has been removed. WM indicates a weighbridge and office.

Aberfan station looking north west c1908. The addition to the 'For Merthyr Vale' suffix in 1902 saw the original running-in boards remain but with a second, larger, board added beneath them as seen here on the right. One might not unreasonably assume the lengthened name came about through competition with the nearby, very nearby in fact, Taff Vale Railway's Merthyr Vale station. It was something of a feature of the Welsh Valleys to find lines of different Pre-Grouping companies running more or less side by side and topography was no minor reason for this. In the era of coal mining and other heavy industries goods traffic would have sustained these lines for a time but passenger traffic was another matter. To discover why it is necessary to research the history of what were once very much self-contained, insular one might say, mining communities. On the west side of the railway and immediately behind the arched wall the long-defunct Glamorganshire Canal once ran. Only a small fragment of this canal remains watered but in Aberfan nothing especially obvious remains. The course of the canal can be followed by a footpath and it is not difficult to confuse this with the course of the former railway trackbed even though the two are on different levels. The exit from the booking office was through the arch in the south east corner of the building
Copyright photo from John Alsop collection

This image, also c1908, explains the 'signal illusion' mentioned in another caption. This time we are offered a rather better view of the staff line-up and it would appear certain of them, especially the stationmaster seen here farthest right, are present in other images. Stationmasters could remain at a particular station for many years but it was also not uncommon for them to be moved frequently, therefore it is not unreasonable to wonder if these three views along the northbound platform were taken at approximately the same time and perhaps within a few months of each other. The apparently immaculate white collars will be noted; in the days of steam locomotives and dirty air resulting from industry in general it must have been difficult to maintain a clean and tidy appearance but nevertheless that is exactly what these people did. Even the 'lower ranks' seen here were able to maintain smart collars and polished shoes. The exception is the gentleman wearing an apron but what his job was is difficult to say. The most likely explanation is he was a road vehicle driver, delivering goods arriving by train by means of a horse-drawn vehicle.
Photo from John Mann collection

Aberfan station looking north west along the down platform c.1920s/30s; the running in board has now been replaced by a single board. The steeply graded goods yard is seen on the right ; vehicle access was from Aberfan Crescent, also seen on the right.
Photo from John Mann collection

A dramatic painting of an empty coal train passing under the hairpin bend in Station Hill and into Aberfan station c1950. The station building stood at the bend in the road with the passenger entrance adjacent to the bridge.
Painting by George Chapman (1908 - 1993). From Newport Museum and Art Gallery.
Looking north across the two platforms at Aberfan in 1954 after passenger traffic had ceased. Note that station name has reverted back to Aberfan. In the background a tramway over the River Taff takes spoil from Merthyr Vale Colliery. Within a few years this tramway would be extended past Pantglas Junior school to a new spoil tip in the hills above Aberfan.
Photo from John Mann collection

Aberfan station building on a wet day c1967. The building is now roofless and in a dilapidated state. During the 1960s it was a playground of local children and was even home to a homeless person for a while. The trackbed is being used as a road for removal of spoil following the Aberfan disaster of 1966 and would continue to be so used for some time thereafter.. Note the lamp standard still in place on the platform.
Photo from Jim Lake collection

The remains of Aberfan station c. 1967. Most prominent are the posts made from lengths of redundant rail, the two nearest the camera, at least, are flat bottom rail and likely of Rhymney Railway origin, being surplus when the GWR relaid the line with bullhead rail. In the centre background platform remains are evident and the station house is in a derelict state awaiting demolition. In the centre of the picture, what the apparently concrete objects are is not known although they appear to be coal bunkers. They sit on what had been a goods dock, the location having been the northernmost end of Aberfan goods yard.  The remains of No. 7 spoil tip, that involved with the disaster, can be seen centre distance and the trail of what was in effect a mudslide is discernible down the hillside. It should be mentioned for orientation purposes that north of Aberfan station the railway turned to run in a north-north-east direction before turning again to run due north. The school and houses at which so many lost their lives and the former railway, which at that point was on embankment, are therefore just out of view at the extreme right background of the picture. Subsequent to the disaster the remaining spoil tips, some of which are visible here, were removed but not until after much argument. The National Coal Board (NCB) argued against on the grounds of cost. In the end the task was paid for in part by the NCB and in part from the disaster fund, helped in no small part by one Margaret Thatcher, then Shadow Treasury Spokeswoman, who spoke out strongly in support of Aberfan. The spoil tips were on the hills between Aberfan and Mountain Ash, to the south-west, with spoil being transported from Merthyr Vale Colliery by means of a narrow gauge and largely cable-worked tramway. The tramway was known for many years of 'Nixon's Colliery Spoil Tramway', Nixon being the name of the colliery's founder. Merthyr Vale Colliery ceased operation on 25 August 1989.
Photo from Jonathan David Herron

Aberfan station looking north west from the down platform in 1973. The station building was demolished c1968 with only the back wall remaining. The degraded platforms are still there as is the retaining wall and fencing at the rear of the up platform. The goods yard which was behind the wall was at a lower level.
Photo by Nick Catford

Aberfan station looking south east from Railway Hill in 1973. The huge amount of lorry traffic that has used the old track bed is obvious.
Photo by Nick Catford

Looking south east towards Aberfan station in 1973.
Photo by Nick Catford

Click here for Aberfan Station Gallery 2: 1973 - 2022




[Source: Nick Catford]

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