special feature
What difference?
At the dawn of the Railway Age, timber
was in widespread use for the construction of railway infrastructure. Explore the story of timber rail structures in Wales, source of materials
vital to the Industrial Revolution.
This essay was funded by
the ICE R&D Panel
Institution of Civil Engineers
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Timber Railway Viaducts in Wales
introduction |  use of timber |  Brunel in South Wales |  Rhys William Jones
South Wales Railway |  Vale of Neath Railway |  Cambrian Coast Railway
other timber railway structures |  sources + reading list
Timber viaducts : Vale of Neath Railway
The Vale of Neath Railway was constructed contemporaneously with the South Wales line, between 1847 and 1856, by the same engineer — Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-59). It was constructed in two main projects and linked the town of Neath to Merthyr Tydfil in Glamorgan, Wales, along with some branch lines.
The Vale of Neath Railway was a broad gauge line that included a number of timber viaducts. For their design, Brunel mainly used the fan style, in which the main timber members conduct deck loads directly to the piers using converging straight members. As with the South Wales Railway, he confidently specified timber viaducts for suitable crossings, notably at Neath and Aberdulais.
The main members of the viaducts were typically of 305mm square section yellow pine. Up to five of these members might converge in a specially shaped cast iron shoe placed on top of a brick or stone pier. It was said that a good repair gang could renew any element in an hour, and that the timber could be expected to last 30 years.
Neath Viaduct
At the town of Neath, the Vale of Neath Railway shared a station with the South Wales Railway. The first and longest timber viaduct on the Neath line, extended from the junction between the two railways. It was a fan-style viaduct, 247m long.
Proceeding north east up the valley, the next station is at Aberdulais. Here the railway crosses the River Neath again, alongside the 104m long canal aqueduct built by George Tennant (1765-1832).
Dare Viaduct
The Dare Viaduct (or Dare Valley Viaduct, or Cwmdare Viaduct) was at Aberdare on an 1857 branch line into the Aman valley. It was 137m long and 21.3m high, and also of the fan type. The branch line closed to traffic on 1st September 1939. However, the viaduct remained in place until it was demolished in 1947, after a life of 92 years. The Dare and Gamlyn (see below) viaducts were the last complete examples of Brunel's famous timber structures to remain in active use. The masonry piers for both can still be seen.
Gamlyn Viaduct
Also on the Dare and Aman branch line of the Vale of Neath Railway was the Gamlyn Viaduct, at Penywaun in the Cynon Valley. It was 183m long, 21.3m high and of the fan type. It was demolished along with the Dare Viaduct in 1947, leaving only its masonry piers.
next >
introduction |  use of timber |  Brunel in South Wales |  Rhys William Jones
South Wales Railway |  Vale of Neath Railway |  Cambrian Coast Railway
other timber railway structures |  sources + reading list

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Neath Viaduct
Neath Viaduct (demolished) crossing Neath Canal and the River Neath.
Photo: courtesy National Museum & Galleries of Wales, WI&MM collection
Dare Viaduct
Dare Viaduct (1857, demolished)
Photo: Stephen K. Jones collection
Gamlyn Viaduct
Gamlyn Viaduct (1857, demolished)
Photo: Stephen K. Jones collection