Seasonal area

January 2010

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The Roman god Janus, God of doors and after whom January is named, had two faces - one for looking forward to the new year and one for looking back on the old. Janus was evidently a long-term viewer, since the new year would generally not actually be due to begin for another 49 days after his month finished and he totted off to be replaced by whatever Roman god February was named after. Perhaps it was partly in a mid to make the name make more sense that one of the Pope Gregories moved the beginning of the year to the 1st of January in the 16th Century.

Although Janus is now widely accepted as having never existed anyway, his month continues to bear his name and is still a time for looking back, grumpy and disappointed, on the dreary old year and looking forward, excited and interested, at the bright new one. There are people who do this every year without realising how silly it seems not to notice that years, being big things, tend to be recycled and come round again on a regular basis. 2010, for example, is rather liable to be a recycled version of a year which has previously come round in 1979 and 1970 - following economic collapse, there are a few strikes, a cold winter, a new Tory Government, lots of depresssed, miserable and unemployed people and, eventually, another Christmas and a New Year, which will again be suitably recycled from a previous era. To highlight this optimistic future, we present a picture of an arch - a nice, solid arch, on one side of which is snow, ice and gloom, and on the other side of which is fresh new sunshine (although it is still winter there too).

The home of this arch is Penrhos Upper Junction, a former railway spot of some importance between the South Welsh towns of Caerphilly and Taffs Well. It was originally built by the Rhymney Railway, which decided that the River Rhymney south of Caerphilly was of no interest to them since it didn't got to any coal ports, so they clambered out of the valley and dropped down into the adjacent Taff Vale, home of the Taff Vale Railway and conveniently terminating in Cardiff Docks, coal ports for the world. Subsequently they were joined by the Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport Railway, creating Penrhos Junction, with the new line using clapped out locomotives and old circus coaches for its passenger trains and occasionally finding a spot of coal traffic to shuffle around on its obscure route. Then the Rhymney built a replacement route through Caerphilly Tunnel which avoided the Taff Vale Railway bit. Eventually the Barry Railway turned up by means of a large viaduct and some impressive earthworks and used the junction to shuffle the Rhymney's coal off towards Barry Docks; a subsequent and more favourable deal saw them build South Wales's largest railway viaduct so they could take their line somewhere else; this new route also included building a bridge over Penrhos Junction with some nice big arches in the piers (see picture) and a new junction a little down their line, which was called Penrhos Lower Junction (because it was closer to Barry amd the sea; it is actually slightly higher than the Upper Junction).

Lower Junction and the railway across these piers lasted for twenty years, until 1926, when the extension was closed; the Great Western had been told by the Government to extend its brand across these three railways (which it had not do particularly willingly when it came to the line from Pontypridd, since it entailed reclaiming some rather decrepit old engines which it thought it had got rid of 30 years previously) and had no desire to pay for the upkeep of stupidly big viaducts so that it could compete with itself. The junction became a single railway again in 1968, with the Rhymney line surviving - for coal - until 1981. It would now be a useful chord for additional passenger trains around its replacement and so that the surviving coal trains do not have to squeeze through the bottlenecks of the core of Cardiff's suburban rail network. Needless to say, it has been built on.

Some things never change, and the curious need of local authorities to build on railways is one of them.


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