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Llangammarch and the Railway

Much of what we know today as Llangammarch Wells came into being as a direct result of the railway. The line reached the village in 1867 and the through route was opened from Craven Arms to Swansea a year later.

In the middle part of the last century, roads were generally in a poor condition, particularly in this part of Wales.  Rail technology was developing rapidly and facilitated the easy transportation of goods and passengers.  Lines were promoted the length and breadth of the country, often by small companies made up of speculative businessmen.  A number of such companies were responsible for the line that runs through Llangammarch.  Each built sections, working northwards from Llanelli and Swansea, and south from Craven Arms on the Shrewsbury to Hereford Railway.  The bid to complete the through route fell to The Central Wales Extension Railway Company.  This company built the line through the village.  Although some of the line had been double track, the line through Llangammarch was constructed as a single track with passing places at Garth to the north and Llanwrtyd to the south.  One platform was constructed with a simple red brick station building comtaining a booking office, waiting room and toilets.  Behind the platform a siding was provided into a small goods yard.  A house was built for the Station Master.

By 1870, the London and North Western Railway (LNWR), one of the largest railway companies of the time, took over the line. The company began to promote the whole area as a place where waters with healing properties could be sampled and the fresh air would restore health and vigour. Llandrindod and Llanwrtyd quickly grew as spa towns. Llangammarch was promoted for its unique barium water and it was the railway that added the suffix "Wells" to these place names in the 1880s. Other evidence of the LNWR can be seen in the former railway hotel opposite the church gate near the station. Known for many years as "The Cammarch", this is now a private dwelling. Many of the large houses of the village along with the other hotels were built to house the early tourists brought by the railway. It was the railway that carried regular consignments of the precious barium water to many parts of Britain.

Llangammarch nearly became a junction as powers were obtained by the Neath and Brecon Railway to construct a line from Defynnog (Sennybridge) to Llangammarch across the Epynt. A few earthworks were begun before the contractors went bankrupt. The LNWR later attempted to resurrect the scheme but it too abandoned the plan. A regular service of between five and seven passenger trains each way served Llangammarch with trains direct to Shrewsbury and Swansea Victoria. During the heyday of the line in the early twentieth century, through carriages were available from Llangammarch to Manchester, Liverpool, York, Birmingham and London Euston. Through freight trains traversed the line besides a daily pick-up goods train which collected and despatched wagonloads of merchandise at most of the stations.

In 1923, all the railways of Britain were grouped into four large companies and the line through Llangammarch, along with the rest of the LNWR, became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, commonly known as the LMS. The pattern of services remained largely unchanged. 1948 saw the nationalisation of the railways, and the Central Wales Line came under the control of the Western Region. This was dominated by the former Great Western management, who did not take kindly to their previous rival. Although services did not change much, the railway saw little investment during this period.

The 1960s saw the most interesting part of the railway's history. A proposal was made to upgrade the signalling on the line to cope with freight flows from South Wales to the North West. The equipment for this work was stored at Llandrindod. In the event, the levels of freight reduced with the increase in road transportation, and the decision was made to concentrate what was left on the South Wales main line with a new yard built at Margam. This change of heart paved the way for an attempt to close the whole line in 1962. This was resisted but two years later there was a dramatic change to the working of the line. All freight trains were diverted via the South Wales main line, apart from a limited pick-up goods service, which lingered until 1970. The line south of Pontarddulais to Swansea Victoria was closed completely and steam haulage on the railway ceased. The remaining passenger service became just four trains each way between Shrewsbury and Llanelli. These were formed of two-car diesel rail cars, although by 1970 the service was increased to five trains and extended to Swansea High Street Station by running along the main line. Another threat of closure was fought off in 1967. Wags of the day said that the line survived because it ran through five marginal constituencies!

These changes directly affected Llangammarch. Goods facilities were withdrawn and the staion became an unstaffed halt. This was a low point for the railway. The station bagan to look uncared for and run down. In 1980, the building was demolished and replaced with a crude, simple wooden shelter.

1980 also saw the formation of the Heart of Wales Line Travellers' Association (HOWLTA), and the fortunes of the railway began to improve. In 1985, over half a million pounds was invested in the line, which brought a modern signalling system and improvements to the track. This allowed excursion trains to run along the route enabling visitors from all over Brtain to sample the scenic delights of the area. In 1993, the first of a number of steam-hauled trains returned to the line with many people turning out to watch.

In 1996, with the privatisation of the railways in full swing, the track became the responsibility of Railtrack, and the passenger service was taken over by Wales and the West Railway. Although service patterns changed again, with fewer trains being convenient for Llangammarch passengers, the overall use of the railway increased. In 1998, Railtrack resurfaced the platform and car park at Llangammarch and rebuilt the station in an attractive brick design. It is now pleasant and inviting for passengers. Continuously updated train information available at the touch of a button was installed in 1999. Freight has also started to rumble through Llangammarch again at night when the line has been used as a diversionary route. Heavy loads of steel coil have been hauled through by the very latest high-powered diesel locomotives of the English, Welsh and Scottish Railway, which currently runs most freight traffic in the United Kingdom.

The railway through Llangammarch has probably never made much money! Today it only survives through government subsidy paid to the train operators. Its future is assured until 2003, when the current franchise expires. A good case will then be made for its retention and development but the pressure to close on financial grounds will remain. We cannot predict its future fortune. What we do know is that, long before modern road transport, it was the railway that brought good fortune to Llangammarch.

written by Jonathan Smith and taken from Llangammarch Wells Past and Present - A History and Guide. March 2000