the unbuilt Mountain Section

History of the unbuilt Mountain Section        Modelling the unbuilt Mountain Section of the MMR

Great Western Railway/Western Region

Manchester and Milford Railway

Ysbyty Ystwyth





History of the unbuilt Mountain Section

In 1845 the Manchester and Milford Railway [MMR] was proposed to shorten the route to America by build a railway line to and creating a deep water port on Milford Haven. The scheme lay dormant for several years, during which time other companies had covered the intended route, except for the 51 miles through central Wales from Llanidloes to Pencader. In 1859 MMR was relaunched to build the link in central Wales but was beset by lack of capital, boardroom infighting, conflict with other railways, and dodgy contractors. It started building from both ends of its route. The North section extending 3 miles from Penpontbren Junction to Llangurig was opened in 1864 and used once by a goods train. The southern section opened in 1866 was much more successful extending 27 miles from a junction at Pencader to Starta Florida Station (actually the hamlet of Ystrad Meurig). As the capital crisis bit a cheaper alignment via was proposed (see below) but then the MMR diverted to Aberystwyth. The MMR became an unprofitable cross country line eventually absorbed by the Great Western Railway (GWR).

Map of main railways in Ceredigion, proposed and built by J. de Havilland, copyright status unknown

The original alignment needed a 280ft high viaduct across the Ystwyth Valley and 1½ miles of tunnels. By following the Ystwyth Valley the new alignment saved much of these expensive civil engineering works but at the operating cost of  3½ miles of 1 in 30 and five miles of 1 in 45 on what was intended to be a trunk line. The unbuilt Mountain Section would have run from Ystrad Meurig Junction via Ysbyty Ystwyth*, Pontrhydygroes*, Cwmystwyth*, Llangurig*, to Penpontbren Junction (*stations). As owners of the MMR the GWR would have routed north bound traffic via the MMR. The London North Western/London Midland Scottish Railways would have routed south bound traffic via the Central Wales Line (now Heart of Wales Line) which they owned, was directly competitive with the MMR and easier to operate. In the 1860's the local economy was sheep farming, forestry, quarrying and lead mining. Mining was near its peak and would soon be beset by foreign competition and scammers. Mine tailings (waste) was used as ballast. Conversely quarrying has grown produced more tonnage and related industries like block works. Population fell in sympathy with mining from about 3,500 in 1861 to half that in 1931 and tourism wasn't significant till the Edwardian period. A railway would have encouraged local industries and tourism but traffic would still have been light.

The Llangurig branch in Montgomeryshire: (© Ordnance Survey)

Local bus service (522, 525, T21, T22, and YP22) suggest a daily passenger service of 3 trains each way Llanidloes - Aberystwyth and a round trip Aberystwyth - Cwmystwyth. A daily coach service (409) London - Aberystwyth implies a through coach. Comparing the Mountain Section with lines with similar grades suggests travel time between Aberystwyth and Llanidloes would be three hours for passenger and five hours for goods trains implying a loop at all stations and Cwmystwyth able to cross two passenger trains. The following exclude mine and quarry traffic. In Edwardian days the Mountain Section's population was 70% of Ross on Wye. Scaling from Ross's data suggests 23 passengers and 15 parcels per passenger train implying trains' of a loco and single coach possibly augmented by a through coach or a fitted wagon or two. Goods traffic would be general 42 tons inbound & 42 tons outbound and 42 tons of coal inbounds & empty wagons outbound implying a daily local goods train and stations handling 2-3 wagons/day. Finally given the routing point above an unbalance service with a North bound 'express' goods returning as engine and break van. The stations would have a porter-signalman on each shift with a station master and a relief porter-signalman at Cwmystwyth. During the inter war period declining population and a switch to road transport would have reduced usage. Passenger trains loadings would have fallen to an average of 10 passengers and 7 parcels per train. Goods traffic would have fallen to 41 tons/day about half coal. The GWR would have tried to cut costs with reducing staff and downgrading posts. An ideal railway for modellers combining beautiful scenery, powerful locos because of the steep grades, short trains because of limited traffic, and simple stations because of limited demand.


Modelling the unbuilt Mountain Section of the MMR

I plan to build Ysbyty Ystwyth, Pontrhydygroes, Llangurig, and possibly Cwmystwyth. My problem is lack of money and storage so I'll take one of my standard approaches - the layouts will share the same fiddle yard and u-turn boards (in my terms a wrap) and each station will be built on a separate station scenic board. The exception is Cwmystwyth which I may converted from Criel-sur-Mer. Again to save money and space I will build the MMR wrap on a wrap recycled from Tiernseebahn and two of the stations will be built on the baseboards recycled from Tiernsee and Giesalm. The fiddle yard loops are electrically split into two to allow up to four trains on the layout. I try to use industries with local roots, so the Kingside Ballast (mine tailings) is named after one of the shafts of the Cwmystwyth Mine and the sawmill is named after a mill between Pontrhydygroes and Cwmystwyth shown on the Ordnance Survey 1919-47 map


All stations are planned to cram the required 'standard' facilities into the inevitably small area. The station building would be minimal a waiting room and office used by the porter signalman for tickets and parcels built of corrugated iron on a wood frame - the MMR were almost as economical as Colonel Stephens!  A wide range of goods facilities are provided including side and end loading docks for arriving/departing machinery, carriages etc., cattle pens, more accurately sheep pens, for the local farm product and the goods shed, like the station made of corrugated iron, used for a variety of traffic. Like Ludwell the small station building would leave space for a small shop to be named Merlin Cheeses. L and G Forestry is a local producer of wholesale kindling and firewood. Kindling is small sticks of dry softwood. Firewood is softwoods and longer burning hardwoods split to the required size and either air dried or kiln dried for a lower moisture content. I hope to add a coal merchant with an office and a bin or two and while if possible a low relief industry possibly another local firm such as the Lisburne Garage.


To differentiate Pontrhydygroes from Ysbyty Ystwyth the track plan is mirrored and simplified. The station siding isn't long enough to allow the kick back siding to be shunted so accesses is by a none working point and the siding is used to display those pretty but poorly running wagons we all seem to end up with. The cattle pens have been moved to make things a bit different. Otherwise facilities are standard the shop is Gary Jones Butchers and the industry is Cig Oen Caron Abattoir  both local firms. The signal cabin is really at the wrong end of the station but can't be moved - hopefully there's a prototype.


Differentiating Llangurig from prior stations has proved difficult due to the need to cram in the standard facilities. The station track plan mirrors Pontrhydygroes and the cattle pens have moved to the kick back/sawmill siding. Again a coal merchant will be added if possible. The shop is Llangurig Post Office & Stores I assume the last shop left in the village. If it can be fitted in the low relief industry will be Montgomery Drilling Services Ltd a back dating of the local Powys Drilling Services Ltd and gives a chance for some visually interesting fencing, huts, details, and to using painted straws as pipes.

Well that's the plan hopefully Ysbyty Ystwyth will be exhibited in September. The other layouts will depend on the availability of an operator. And there will be changes as I have 'bright ideas' and adapt the plan to make best use of materials in stock. Hopefully the layouts will amuse the public while keeping the operator interested.