Railways in West Wales Part 1B – Pembrokeshire – the Mainline Railways

A holiday in West Wales in the early Autumn of 2022 led to a little research on the railways in the area. This is the second article about Pembrokeshire’s Railways. The first focussed on the pre-railway age.


The featured image (above) is an image from “Britain From Above” of Fishguard Harbour, Goodwick and Fishguard.

The Railways

Mainline Railways of Broad Gauge

The South Wales Railway – “The main line from Swansea to Neyland, a port on Milford Haven Waterway, was opened as a broad-gauge line by the South Wales Railway from 1852, and that company merged with the Great Western Railway in 1862. The main line was converted to “narrow gauge” (later known as “standard gauge”) in 1872, and most of the original main line is in use today.” [31]

“Several independent lines were opened in West Wales, and at the “grouping” of the railways in 1923 most of them were absorbed by the Great Western Railway. Some of them were chiefly mineral railways, and many have closed as the industries they served declined. Some rural routes too have closed, but branch lines to Pembroke and Milford Haven, and a main line extension to Fishguard are still in operation.” [31] Other local lines became part of the GWR almost as soon as they were built.

The route of the South Wales Railway © Afterbrunel licensed for use under a Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-SA 4.0) [31]

Carmarthen and Cardigan Railway (C&CR) – On 7th August 1854 “the Carmarthen and Cardigan Railway obtained Parliamentary authorisation to build a line to Cardigan from a junction with the South Wales Railway at Carmarthen. It was to be a broad gauge line, and a new Carmarthen station closer to the town than the SWR station, was to be constructed. The company found it difficult to raise money for construction, and at first was only able to open from the SWR as far as its own Carmarthen station: this section was opened on 1 March 1860; the SWR Carmarthen station was renamed Carmarthen Junction.” [31]

The C&CR extended a further 6 miles to Conwil on 3rd September 1860. It was worked by GWR engines, and unprofitable, and it closed on 31st December 1860. It reopened on 12th August 1861 and opened an extension to Pencader on 28th March 1864 and to Llandyssul on 3rd June 1864. It got no further during its independent existence, and its own traffic was never busy. [31]

Please see a separate post on this blog for further details about this line. ……….. TBA ……….

Mainline Railways of Standard Gauge

The Manchester and Milford Railway was originally intended as a trunk route connecting the industrial areas of Lancashire with the developing port facilities in Milford Haven. Funding was not forthcoming for the grand scheme and a lesser option of connecting with the Llanidloes & Newtown Railway was pursued, in the hope that the wider network would give access to Manchester. At the Southern end it would connect to the C&CR at Pencader. [31]

As an afterthought, a branch to Aberystwyth was included. Eventually, during construction it became obvious that the link to Llanidloes was beyond the railway company’s resources and the branch to Aberystwyth became the mainline. [31]

Still desperately short of money, the M&MR opened its first section from Pencader to Lampeter on 1 January 1866. The C&CR had not laid the necessary third rail for through running, and for several months the break of gauge was an obstacle. The M&MR instructed its own contractor to lay the rail, and M&MR goods trains ran through to Carmarthen over the C&CR from 1 November 1866; passenger train operation commenced on 1 November 1867. [31]

Meanwhile, the M&MR had been building northwards, and opened its own line as far as Strata Florida (the railway location was known locally as Ystrad Meurig at first) for goods trains by the end of August 1866. The entire route of 41 miles to Aberystwyth was opened throughout on 12 August 1867. At first the service was operated by the contractors, using three Sharp, Stewart locomotives.[31][32][33]

The Pembroke and Tenby Railway was a locally promoted railway in Pembrokeshire, Wales. It was built by local supporters and opened in 1863. The line, now known as the Pembroke Dock branch line, remains in use at the present day. In 1866, the Pembroke and Tenby Railway was extended to Whitland on the South Wales Railway broad gauge main line but being of the narrow gauge – later known as standard gauge – it was not possible to run Pembroke and Tenby trains on the South Wales Railway lines to Carmarthen. [30]

The Pembroke and Tenby Railway was built in two phases. The first part between Pembroke and Tenby was completed in 1863. The second length linked the railway to the wider railway world, running from Tenby to Whitland, © Afterbrunel licensed for use under a Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-SA 4.0). [30]

The Narberth Road and Maenclochog Railway – In 1871 Edward Cropper and Joseph Babington Macaulay obtained a Board of Trade certificate to build a standard gauge line from a slate quarry at Rosebush, about 8 miles north of Narberth Road station on the South Wales Railway main line. The line was named the Narberth Road and Maenclochog Railway, and it opened in January 1876, and from September 1876 passengers were carried. The business was not profitable, and the railway closed at the end of 1882, but it was reopened in December 1884, closing once again in 1888. [31]

This image shows the additional railways in place in Pembrokeshire by 1876. These include: the Whitland and Taf Vale Railway (which was to become the eventual route to Cardigan); the Narberth Road and Maenclochog Railway; and the Milford Junction Railway (Johnston to Milford Haven), © Afterbrunel licensed for use under a Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-SA 4.0). [31]

The Whitland and Taf Vale Railway is shown on the map above. On 12th July 1869 the Whitland and Taf Vale Railway obtained its authorising Act of Parliament, with capital of £37,000. The line was opened as far as Glogue to goods and minerals trains on 24th March 1873. By this time the former South Wales Railway main line had been converted to standard gauge. Early in July 1874 a short extension to Crymmych was opened to goods and then to passengers on 12th July 1875. There was a connecting road service to Cardigan and to Newport.[31][32][34]

A fuller account of this line as part of the line through to Cardigan which was completed in …… can be found elsewhere on my blog. ……..TBA…………….

The Milford Junction Railway – 1854 saw the South Wales Railway reach Haverfordwest, at which point a decision had to be made as to the terminus. New Milford at Neyland was selected, in spite of local opposition and the line was completed in April 1856. [35][36]

Robert Fulke Greville, a local landowner determined to finance a project himself which would see the railway come to Milford Haven under the Milford Junction Railway, a four-mile spur from Johnston. Construction was completed in 1863, [37] when the line was connected to the South Wales Railway at Johnston, and a station at Milford was opened. [36] The line was, and remains, single track, but sufficient room was allowed in cuttings and under bridges for doubling the track if required. [35]

The North Pembrokeshire and Fishguard Railway – was promoted in 1884 with the intention of extending the Maenclochog Railway to Goodwick on Fishguard Bay. [38]

The Fishguard Bay Railway and Pier Company – An Act of Parliament permitted Joseph Rowlands and James Cartland to incorporate this company on 29th June 1893. The Act permitted a line to be built from Fishguard Bay (at Goodwick) towards Narberth Road via Rosebush. Necessary running powers were granted. In parallel, “the Waterford and Wexford Railway was engaged in improving the harbour facilities at Rosslare … and negotiations took place to combine the activities on both sides of the ferry crossing. This culminated in the incorporation of the Fishguard and Rosslare Railways and Harbours Company by Act of 31 July 1894.” [31]

In 1894, Rowlands and Cartland purchased the derelict Maenclochog Railway for £50,000. “The line was in a very poor state of repair, and much had to be done in the way of improvements, but goods traffic started on 13 March 1895 followed by passenger trains on 11 April 1895.” [31]

The GWR turned down an opportunity to purchase the railway as the original Maenclochog line was inadequately engineered. In doing so the GWR left themselves open to Rowlands approaching the LNWR and promoting an alternative link from the Maenclochog line to Carmarthen. His Bill was passed in Parliament in 1895. “Rowlands prepared plans for further schemes including a line to Swansea, and in 1896 to Aberdare and make junctions with the LNWR, the Midland Railway and the GWR en route; sale to any of those railways was now a theoretical possibility.” [31]

I am aware of one locomotive from this line which reached preservation as a static display at Scolton Manor Museum, Bethlehem, Haverfordwest. [44][45]

1378 North Pembrokeshire & Fishguard Railway 0-6-0ST on static display at Scolton Manor. [45]
The railways discussed here are shown on this drawing. The earlier route to Goodwick and Fishguard is the more northerly line in red and orange. The later route developed by the GWR is in black, © Afterbrunel, licensed for use under a Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-SA 4.0). [50]

The Great Western Railway had long considered revival of the original South Wales Railway’s scheme to reach Fishguard Bay securing a share of the transatlantic shipping trade. The possibility of the LNWR acquiring access to the West Wales network motivated the GWR to step in; it acquired control of the railway from Narberth Road to Fishguard Bay in February 1898. [31]

In May 1898 an agreement was concluded between the GWR, the Great Southern and Western Railway in Ireland, and the Fishguard and Rosslare Company which secured the completion of the two harbours, rail link from Rosslare to Waterford, the GS&WR’s commitment to work the necessary connecting railways on the Irish side; and the GWR’s commitment to making a new line from Clarbeston Road to Fishguard Harbour, and work the Welsh railways. [39] It appears that the GWR was also obliged to provide “an effective steamboat service” between Waterford and Milford or Fishguard, in addition to the Rosslare service. [40]

“The agreement was ratified by Parliament in 1899, and the acquisition by the GWR of the North Pembrokeshire line was included. On 1st July 1899 [41] the GWR opened the extension from Letterston to Goodwick (later named Fishguard and Goodwick) station. [42] The Fishguard and Rosslare Railways and Harbours company became a joint enterprise of the GWR and the GS&WR.” [31][43]

St. David’s Light Railway – on 9th September 1904 the Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser carried an article entitled, ‘Proposed Railway to St. David’s: Details of the Promoter’s Intentions.’ The article advertised a meeting of interested parties on 10th September 1904 to consider the possibility of a light railway between Haverfordwest and St. David’s under the purview of the Light Railways Act 1896. As the express intention was to create a junction with the GWR at Haverfordwest it would have been a standard-gauge line. It would have had a total length of about 16 miles and would also serve the anthracite coalfield in the Newgale district. Two branches were proposed to Porthclais and Solva Harbours and Newgale sands. [46]

A compressed extract from an illustration of the planned route of the St. David’s Light Railway included in the Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser on 9th September 1904. [46]

The project was still under consideration in the 1920s. Pembrokeshire Record Office holds a drawing showing a longitudinal section of the line dated 1924. [47] The National Archive holds a further document relating to the proposed line, dated 1929. [48] Sadly, the St. David’s Light Railway did not get built.

The next article in this series will look at the industrial railways in Pembrokeshire.


1. M.R. Connop-Price; Pembrokeshire: the Forgotten Coalfield; Landmark Publishing, Ashbourne, Derbyshire, 2004

30. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pembroke_and_Tenby_Railway, accessed on 11th September 2022.

31. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Western_Railway_in_West_Wales, accessed on 11th September 2022.

32. D S M Barrie, revised Peter Baughan; A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain: volume 12: South Wales; David St John Thomas, Nairn, 1994.

33. J S Holden, The Manchester and Milford Railway, Oakwood Press, Usk, 1979.

34. M.R. Connop-Price; The Whitland and Cardigan Railway, Oakwood Press, Usk, 1976.

35. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milford_Haven_railway_station, accessed on 11th September 2022.

36. Wing Commander Ken McKay; A Vision of Greatness: The History of Milford 1790-1990; Brace Harvatt Associates, 1989.

37. James Frederick Rees; The Story of Milford; University of Wales Press, 1954.

38. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Pembrokeshire_and_Fishguard_Railway, accessed on 11th September 2022.

39. W M J Williams; North Pembrokeshire and Fishguard Railway; in the Railway Magazine, September 1899.

40. H Fayle; The Jubilee of the Fishguard and Rosslare Route: I; in the Railway Magazine, May 1956.

41. Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith; Carmarthen to Fishguard; Middleton Press, Midhurst, 2010.

42. John Morris; The Railways of Pembrokeshire; H G Walters (Publishers) Ltd, Tenby, 1981.

43. E T MacDermot; History of the Great Western Railway: volume II: 1863 – 1921; published by the Great Western Railway, London, 1931.

44. https://preservedbritishsteamlocomotives.com/1378-north-pembrokeshire-fishguard-railway-0-6-0st, accessed on 12th September 2022.

45. https://www.culture4pembrokeshire.co.uk/content.asp?nav=8, accessed on 12th September 2022.

46. https://newspapers.library.wales/view/3063690/3063692, accessed on 12th September 2022.

47. Ref. No. HDX/287/19/799; https://records.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/CalmView/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&id=HDX%2F287%2F19, accessed on 12th September 2022.

48. Ref. No. BT 56/10/363; https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C6230599, accessed on 12th September 2022.

3 thoughts on “Railways in West Wales Part 1B – Pembrokeshire – the Mainline Railways

  1. Pingback: Railways in West Wales Part 1C – Pembrokeshire Industrial Railways – Section B – The Saundersfoot Railway (First Part) | Roger Farnworth

  2. Pingback: Railways in West Wales Part 1C – Pembrokeshire Industrial Railways – Section C – RNAD Trecwn | Roger Farnworth

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