Swansea & Mumbles tramway to re-open?

In one of the most unexpected and bizarre news items to appear on British Trams Online in recent memory, outline proposals have been revealed for a possible revival of the legendary Swansea & Mumbles Railway system, which closed in 1960. Heritage Railway magazine has confirmed early suggestions for the popular line to re-open with at least two organisations expressing serious interest in the idea.

The Amman Valley Railway Society (which is a registered charity as well as a social enterprise company) have put forward a scheme to create a heritage railway scheme along the former tramway route, and it is reported that the appropriate licencing to re-open it has already been issued by Network Rail. The group has recently met with South Wales West Assembly Member Byron Davies to discuss an even more ambitious idea: the creation of a light rail network around Swansea Bay, which would take in the old Mumbles line, at an estimated cost of some £235 million. Further expansions to Swansea Airport and the Gower peninsula amongst others may also be considered.

The next stage will be to place a planning application and consult local residents to gain a better understanding of their views on the scheme, although Mr Davies believes that a favourable response is likely as it would potentially offer a much better transport network for commuters who regularly travel into Swansea. He claims that the area is “plagued by poor but expensive public transport provision” and that a light rail system could “unlock the economic potential of these old industrial areas”. Davies added that foreign investment is a distinct possibility, and that if the development goes ahead, he will be keen to retain access to the bay promenade for pedestrians and cyclists.

Such a development is likely to be greatly welcomed by transport enthusiasts, as the Swansea & Mumbles tramway is fondly remembered by many even today. It held the record as the longest-running railway ever and utilised a huge variety of different forms of traction over its lengthy existence. No complete tramcars survive from the system, although one end of Swansea & Mumbles 7 is preserved locally. If a heritage angle could be incorporated into a future redevelopment of the former tramway, wouldn’t it great if this could form the basis of a reconstruction of one of these trams… or is that asking too much!?


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12 Responses to Swansea & Mumbles tramway to re-open?

  1. Nigel Pennick says:

    Does Network Rail own the trackbed? How did NR acquire it?
    The original Midland Metro trams will be on the market soon as a cheap way of getting rolling stock for a new line.

  2. Pete C says:

    There has been some suggestion that the original Metro trams may be retained for possible future extensions. They have however had a lot of problems particular with the electrical wiring, so they may be a bit of a poisoned chalice for any new owner.

  3. Anthony Powell says:

    Local newpapers seem to believe low floor versions of teh Parry people mover will be used hower another proposal is to run a 15 minutely service from Mumbles to Swansea burrows yard with trams then running to Port Talbot via Baglan using tram-train vehicles serviing the swanline stations at Briton Ferry and Baglan.

    Certainly Swansea is one place where a tram-train service would be brilliant

  4. Leon L says:

    This story always crops up from time to time but hard facts usually spoil the dream, unfortunately:

    > The original SMR trackbed lies under the dual carriageway along the coast
    > The old LNWR/LMS trackbed is also partly under the road and the remaining section is a popular council owned cycle and pedestrian path that would have to be retained
    > Previous attempts to resurrect the line have failed early due to planning considerations
    > To create a completely new line, the business plan would need to demonstrate ridership in the region of 2,000 to 20,000 journeys per hour, per direction could be achieved (Barry, 1991) to make it worth the investment
    > It takes over 10 years from idea to fruition to achieve a tram/light rail system in the UK at the moment, so the Midland Metro cars are unlikely to be a realistic option

    I would love to see a tram along the bay again and I can imagine hard economic facts will cause this to happen in the future but for the moment, I won’t get too excited but wish the promoters all the luck in the world.

    Barry, M. 1991. Through the cities: the revolution in light rail. Frankfort Press: Dublin.

  5. Bill Shepherd says:

    Locally the Mumbles Train was never called a tram, only visitors who saw the double deck cars as trams, I once saw 4 cars joined, to return a break-down back to the depot at Rutland Street.
    The closure was due to a track problem between Blackpill and West cross, which is where it earned it’s title of the “Rock and Roll line” At the time the train was owned by South Wales transport, a bus company that wanted to do away with the opposition. The track bed was owned by the town council as it was then, (Now the City Council)but the track it’s self by South Wales transport.
    In the late 1950s there was a bad accident when a lorry was leaving the BR Swansea Bay station. The lorry put his bonnet on the Mumbles Train track and got crushed against the high BR station wall and overhead electric pole. Another reason for South Wales transport to close it. The driver (not a local) was trapped for 7 hours.
    I had a relative who worked a quarter of a mile from Rutland St. She could go home to Oystermouth have dinner with her mother, and back within her hour break. The replacement bus didn’t run to Rutland St, and the run home at lunch time became 1hour 40 minutes more in the summer as more people started to use their cars. There was many attempts to reopen the line, and they always come up with a reason not to
    I understand that the layed Track was not the standard 4’6″ and a bit. It was more like 4foot. so standard kit wouldn’t work had the track still have been there, which could also have been a reason to close. The double deck cars were 44 years old and in bad repair, so there would not have been an off the peg replacement. Currently there is a 3 car road train that runs every 2 hours weekends and everyday in the holiday season, but that can’t carry many people. The Parry People Mover may be a good idea as they have a number of options, but I understood that they were looking for a cash injection from some where, (I hope that is not the case)
    My family history goes back to the steam train in 1875, and I joined the masses to celebrate the 150 anniversary in 1954, so I would love to see it again.

  6. David says:

    This is one project that cannot be allowed to fail. The tourist revenue alone would cover the cost in the medium term. However, traffic congestion, pollution, fuel economy and a host of other factors would render this one of the most desirable prospects proposed, not to mention kudos for local politicians. Far greater funds have been acquired from Euro/Assembly/(even)Westminster and associated kitties. My guess is that an IPO/bond issue would be inundated by locals. As for track gauge and site location these are facile arguments for inaction. Anyone who regularly walks the Bay and environs can see the obvious solutions.
    Our Council, like most others, regularly suffers opprobrium for lethargy, but personal experience suggests they are more farsighted and driven than the majority. With the vision and enthusiasm of representatives like Miss Sybil and her colleagues, it should be possible to get construction underway before the year is out! Swansea has one of the longest ‘can do’ philosophies in the world – that’s why the railway was originally built.

  7. Christopher Williams says:

    Come on good people of Swansea demand, demand, demand that you are heard and get this little bit of history re-built.

  8. Peter says:

    i moved into swansea City in 2006 having lived about 18 outside for all of my life. I am now in my mid 60’s and we’ll remember travelling on the train / tram ( whichever you prefer to call it) and it was a memorable experience as it hugged the coast for all of its journey

    Swansea Council…. Please think BIG and work with the keen enthusiasts to get it running again.

    It would be a fantastic tourist attraction throughout the year

  9. hannah ost says:

    The story of the “Mumbles Train”, as it came to be known, is as heart breaking as it is fascinating. Considering its myriad achievements and world records, it’s incongruous that the railway isn’t more famous. It is disgraceful also that the railway was abruptly dismantled in 1960 (at that time electric tram powered) – 153 years after those historic first steps in 1807. To the commuter age and the world of transport that we take for granted today, this was an innovation equivalent to any. The world’s first – and the longest surviving railway until 1960 – is a worthy candidate of the history books. It is a complex human story of courage, humour and idiosyncrasy. It is a very Welsh story for it is as large, folksy and extraordinary as the ancient folk tales of our ancient Celtic nation of Wales, except all of it happened!

  10. shiniqua says:

    The original act of Parliament which furnished the necessary legal permission to create the five mile railway in 1804 was worded so the line could employ mechanical power, in addition to horses, to draw the wagons and carriages. This was highly controversial at the time. Most scientists of the early industrial revolution, such as James Watt, were convinced that steam engines converted for the purpose of locomotion would be an impracticality. However, the owners of the line at Swansea had close links with Samuel Homfray’s ironworks of Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, where Richard Trevithick was developing a mechanical device that would be capable of pulling heavy wagons by steam traction. In February 1804, Trevithick confounded his critics and produced “Pennydarren”, the first steam powered locomotive in the world to run on rails. The locomotive hauled ten tons of iron and seventy people along a nine mile route to Merthyr-Cardiff canal. Unfortunately, the experiment’s initial triumph was frustrated by the relative weakness of the early 19th Century iron rails, which broke under the weight of the seven ton locomotive. The importance of the outcome of this experiment affected the Swansea passenger service’s opportunity to also become the first steam powered passenger railway service in the world, which would have predated the more famous Stockton-Darlington railway by twenty years. Undeterred by Trevithick’s failure, the creative Benjamin French was determined to make his passenger carriage run faster, and he experimented with various other forms of traction. This included attaching a sail to the carriage, which reduced the journey to 45 minutes; however, this method depended on a strong wind which wasn’t always forthcoming!

  11. paul gibson says:

    if any of the “can’t doers” out there would like to walk the route with me and show me why it cant physically be done…i would like to walk the route with you and you point out where and why and i’ll give you the solution..i’ve walked it hundreds of times and the solutions are there…..

  12. Paul Gibson is precisely right, the solutions are there.

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