Neath Abbey railway viaduct, Neath

Neath Abbey railway viaduct, Neath

The five-arch viaduct beside the remains of Neath Abbey ironworks is attributed to the legendary engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He was chief engineer of the South Wales Railway, which launched its train service between Chepstow and Swansea in 1850.

Here the challenge was to carry the railway across the gorge of the river Clydach – on tall stone piers – while minimising disruption to the iron works, founded in 1792.

The tracks on the viaduct were originally broad gauge, which Brunel had set as the standard for the Great Western Railway between London and Bristol. The rails were 2.13m (just over 7ft) apart. The track gauge was later narrowed to 1.44m, Great Britain’s “standard” gauge. This is the gauge of the trains which cross the viaduct today, en route from Swansea to Cardiff, London, Manchester and other cities.

The Neath Abbey district had its own railway station, not on the main line but on the Vale of Neath line (near the foot of Terminus Hill).

Photo of model of Neath Abbey steam loco Industry
Model of Industry, built in 1832 by Neath Abbey Iron Co.
© Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

The Neath Abbey Iron Co. contributed to the development of railways. It constructed more than 65 steam locomotives from 1829 onwards. Many embodied pioneering features. The photo shows a model by Robert Preston of Industry, built for Dowlais Iron Co. in 1832. It was the world’s first loco with vertical rocker beams for the valve gear (the mechanism which controlled the admission of steam to the cylinders for each piston stroke). The model is part of the National Museum Wales collection.

A loco for the Dowlais Iron Co. c.1832 was the world’s first to transmit power through both adhesion (the wheels on the rails) and a rack-and-pinion drive (a cog which engaged in a toothed rail laid centrally in the track).

Another first, for the Rhymney Iron Co. c.1838, was the use of a gears and rods to transmit power from the pistons to articulated power bogies. The driving wheels were on short chassis which swivelled to cope with sharply curved track.

With thanks to Robert Preston, of the Friends of Neath Abbey Iron Company

Postcode: SA10 7NH    View Location Map