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Part 3: Tintern Quarry to Tintern

(including the Wireworks branch)

Map not to scale.WVR in dark blue. Stations marked by red dots; WVR ones with black outlines, branch ones without. Footpaths in brown (proposed and in place). Local roads in yellow. Major roads in red. Water in pale blue. North at top.

The section of the line between Tidenham and Tintern tunnels is the most scenic length, running along the Shorn Cliff above the Wye. The railway gently falls from its summit at Netherhope all the way to Brockweir at a fairly steady gradient of 1-in-100 or 1-in-90. En-route, we pass Tintern Quarry (which kept the line up to here open until 1981), Black Morgan Viaduct (a tidy three-arch structure which is in need of an overhaul) and Wireworks Junction, at the south end of Tintern Tunnel, where the erstwhile branchline to the equally erstwhile wireworks in the centre of Tintern diverges.

It is an expensive and awkward section of line which is currently encased in trees, minimising the view.

Shorn Cliff

This leg is spent running along the hillside above the Wye through deep woodland. The steep hillside makes for awkward engineering, with a ledge having to be provided along the hillside for the (mostly) single track railway. On the easier bits this ledge is a convential embankment or cutting, but in places it needs some rather fine retaining walls. This one is about halfway between Tidenham Tunnel and Tintern Quarry.

Much as the trees, ivy and moss are all looking very happy, before too long they will return this section of hill to its natural state (i.e. sans railway) so their removal will be a priority. The wall will then be repointed and, where necessary, partially dismantled and rebuilt, probably with strengthening bars and modern drainage facilities.

Attempts would be made to persuade the Forestry Commission to thin the trees around the railway along this length. While dormouse bridges and the like would be retained, a slightly thinner forest would allow passengers to see into the trees properly. As it is all they would see is two miles of dense leaves sailing past at anything up to about 50mph, which isn't really the scenic glories that the leaflets will be promoting.

Tintern Quarry

Ysglyfaeth Tyndyrn

Tintern Quarry was begun in 1931 to extract the limestone which makes up the hills around here. It was briefly permitted its own halt, but this never appeared in public timetables and eventually disappeared. Following the axing of goods trains to Tintern and Monmouth the quarry became the destination of an unusually scenic siding, with a short loop, extensive loading equipment and headshunts at each end. Occasionally a railtour would run up here to break the monotony of stone trains. All traffic ceased in 1981.

This 2005 scene shows the site during one of its clear periods. The loop is under the brown bit in the centre and the main running line is off to the right. The trees are now about 8 feet tall so obtaining a replacement photo is tricky.

Re-opening the quarry with the railway would make a useful source of ballast and a profitable stream of stone traffic (railways always make the most money on bulk freight). It would also be massively unpopular due to the environmental degradation involved in resuming quarrying in a site that's just starting to recover nicely. Therefore the quarry will be left to slumber. However, the loop would be useful as a passing place for out-of-course and high peak running and would be extended, signalled and recommissioned accordingly.

Shorn Cliff Halt

There are two possible locations for a halt in the Tintern Quarry area. This is the more northerly, at the point where a public footpath from the top of the hill joins the trackbed from the right and runs straight on north to Tintern. The other is quarter of a mile to the south of here at the north end of the Tintern Quarry loop. This is our preferred location; installation of the platform would be much easier here and the quarry is slightly less tempting for the curious.

(The alternative location would be called Tintern Quarry North or Tintern Quarry Halt, being further from the Shorn Cliff proper. The name Shorn Cliff has the advantage that punters are unlikely to confuse the wayside halt, a mile from anywhere, with the main Tintern stations two miles further north.)

This halt is not planned with the idea of serving the massed hoards of locals, of which there are none, or picking up traffic from an adjacent road, since the nearest (the B4228) is a mile away up a steep path. Rather, it is intended to serve the rambling and climbing community (Shorn Cliff is popular with climbers) and allow us to avoid claims that the re-opening of the railway will prevent use of a popular footpath. It will actually make this more remote end of it more accessible to the less able, although there will naturally be a small charge for carriage.

Tintern Abbey

Abaty Tyndyrn

The WVR installed a junction at this quiet location as part of the scheme to compensate Tintern for re-routing the railway shortly prior to commencing construction in 1874. The rest of the scheme involved building a 1-mile branchline veering away from the mainline to the left and running along the hillside before crossing the Wye and passing through Tintern to access its Wireworks. Accordingly the branch was called the Wireworks Branch; the WVR was the only one of Monmouth's railways to have its very own little branchline until the Pontypool to Monmouth route got a spur into Glascoed during the Second World War (by which point the Wireworks Branch had closed; the Glascoed spur survives today, along with two miles of track connecting into the mainline near Pontypool, under verdent undergrowth).

After the Wireworks branch shut the trackbed was allowed to fall into disuse and trains passing through the south portal of Tintern Tunnel paid the overgrown site very little attention. Oddly, neither the GWR nor BR ever attempted to open a halt here. Perhaps they felt that the walk down the old trackbed from Tintern was too far.

A platform here would nonetheless be useful. This would be a 75m affair with some form of station building - probably a large wooden shelter built into the trees seen growing between the two platforms in the upper picture. Every effort would be made to preserve as many of these as possible. Unfortunately the trees to the right of both images (the lower one looks north from the south end of the proposed platform) would have to be removed as part of the restoration of retaining walls above the line.

Removing the trees to the left would provide fine views of Tintern Abbey, hence the proposed name. However, it's also preferable in an area like the Wye Valley not to propose felling too many trees. A good view can be obtained by heading down a public footpath into the adjacent watermeadows.

Some form of link would be provided from here to Tintern. A miniature-gauge railway alongside the current footpath (which would have its surface upgraded to match) is a possibility. A footbridge across the Wye from here would land straight outside Tintern Abbey but might be regarded as spoiling the delightful view south from the Wireworks bridge. A ferry is a possibility.

(A decent link from here to the Abbey is particularly desirable because part of the aim of reinstating the railway is to remove tour coaches from the A466 and get their passengers to come up from Tidenham or further afield on the train. Confronting them with a two-mile walk will leave them wondering why they bothered and loading them onto a coach at Tintern station will leave us wondering why we bothered. A nice footbridge will largely solve both of these problems. Hopefully the result would be an A466 with rather fewer big coaches, which would then be nicer to drive and cycle on.)

Tintern Wye Bridge

Pont Gwy Tyndyrn

This was the first point at which the WVR had to cross the Wye on its own bridge and is also the first point out of Chepstow where the continuity of the trackbed has been broken. The line emerged from Tintern Tunnel, which brought it through the hill to the right, and crossed the river on a three-span girder bridge. (A similar, though longer, structure was built at Redbrook; that survives today.)

The bridge was, as can be guessed from the big empty space in the picture, demolished after closure of the line. It can only be assumed that it was falling down at the time - there are suggestions from the local press in 1959 that it was not in the best of health - since BR had recently been learning the hard way from the nearby Severn Railway bridge that if you don't have to demolish 1870s concrete-and-steel structures (concrete piers encased in steel or cast iron panels with girder spans on top) then it's much cheaper not to bother. (The Severn Railway bridge - half a mile of splendid ironwork - was demolished in the mid-1960s after being hit by three barges over two accidents. The process bankrupted two contractors, took far longer than planned and wasn't really ever finished. BR showed something of a habit of leaving abandoned structures standing after that.)

The bridge was on a slight curve, which makes replacement a little awkward. Re-instating the original structure is a possibility but putting the four legs required into the river bed would be an awkward process (and not likely to appeal to environmentalists). Alternatively we go for a bowstring structure in the style of that built for the Ross and Monmouth Railway at Monmouth. How that would look in the middle of winter is seen in the lower picture.

Due to the need to accommodate a curving railway on a straight bridge some interestingly convoluted bits of design would be involved. Apart from any other issues it would likely have to be wider than the original and carefully stressed to take into account the fact that trains from Chepstow would join and leave it on the right hand side but be on the left hand side when in the middle of the river (swap right and left for trains from Monmouth). To justify making it bigger than should really be necessary we propose slinging a footpath off this side and the current Tintern miniature railway off the other; the miniature railway would terminate at a turntable alongside the tunnel and the path would find some way of getting up the hill to join the Monk's Path which runs along the hillside between Tintern and Brockweir.

There will now be a short diversion via the Wireworks Branch before picking up the WVR again at Tintern Old Station on the next page.

 The Wireworks Branch  


Handy map. WVR at right; dashes mark Tintern Tunnel. Wireworks branch runs from centre right to centre left. A466 in red; other roads of any note in yellow and side tracks in white. Rivers Wye and Angiddy marked in blue.

The Wireworks Branch was something of an afterthought, constructed to link the WVR mainline with the village of Tintern and its heavy industry after the plans of the original route (which would have run to the left of the red line on the map) were ditched and replaced with that which was actually built. It struggled on for a remarkable 60 years through steadily declining traffic until it was killed by a hot summer in 1935. Until Beeching arrived in 1963 it took serious effort to persuade a railway that it was worth lumping through the paperwork involved in axing the service along any line - even one which was worked by 1-horsepower locomotives with 4 legs and a top speed of 4mph.

The railway leaves a convenient ledge along the hillside between Tintern Tunnel (South portal) and Tintern village plus the associated river bridge. Re-opening it as a standard-gauge line is out of the question due to the tight curve at the east end of the bridge, the state of the bridge and the limited clearances. We suggest a miniature gauge line (12 to 15 inch gauge) laid out along the riverbank side of the trackbed between the former junction and the centre of Tintern. Full reopening to the old Wireworks is a possibility, particularly since the site is now a handy car park.

Tintern Riverside

The picture shows the point at which the Wireworks Branch is joined by the Monks Path from Brockweir and a steep path from the Tops, seen descending from the left. A rail link along here would benefit from picking up traffic from here and wheeling it into Tintern (some people would buy it). It would also make a general point of interest en route. Besides, it's polite to put in stations at path junctions when you've just built on some of the paths.

The platform would be a simple, low affair with a couple of benches, a nameboard, low level lights and no shelter.

The path would be tidied up a bit, given a nice gravel surface and separated from the miniature railway with a line of logs. The nice gravel surface would be organised even if the railway was dropped.

Tintern Central

Tyndyrn Canolog

Here we see the point at which the Wireworks Branch crossed the A466 (south to left, WVR behind us). The station would be located behind the gate. Ideally the railway would proceed to the old Wireworks and a shed and terminus station would be provided there.

The rails on this side would be set into the tarmac. On the other side the railway would have its own dedicated right of way. The A466 would be raised into a speed hump here and a crossing for pedestrians, cyclists and trains provided across the hump, complete with traffic lights.

Should the railway element be ditched the crossing would be provided anyway, but without the railway. Consideration would also be given to organising the path to the Wireworks along the trackbed.

Home Wye Valley Jcn to Netherhope Tidenham Tunnel Tintern Quarry to Tintern Tintern Station Brockweir to St Briavels St Briavels to Redbrook Wyesham to Monmouth Signalling & Timetabling Rolling stock The Journey

Last modified 16/03/11

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