The Elan Valley Railway was built to facilitate the construction of the Birmingham Water Corporation Dams.
Railways were the main form of transport. This one transported equipment, materials and men to the dam sites, visitors from Birmingham and also King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra for the official opening on 21st July 1904.
Building of the railway began in 1893 and was completed in 1896. It was built of standard gauge in four stages. The sharp curve of the tracks required short wheelbase locomotives.
A double junction was built to join it to the Cambrian Railway near Rhayader.
The Elan Valley Railway Branch Line was inspected and passed by a Board of Trade Inspector in July 1894 and the Elan Valley Railway branch was officially born.
Railway 4 took the route to the furthest away Craig Goch Dam. Blasting the cutting mid-way along this route held up the construction by 3 months, earning itself the name 'The Devil's Gulch'!
The locomotives were all named after rivers and streams on the Estate. The first two were acquired in April 1894 and were named Elan and Claerwen. These were joined by Nant Gwyllt and Methan in October 1894 and Rhiwnant and Calettwr in 1895.
The Visitor Centre has been converted from the old workshops and part of the car park was the site of the locomotive shed and sidings.
By 1898 the steep 1:33 gradients of some sections of the railway had taken their toll on the original locomotives, so Coel and Marchnant were bought.
At its busiest time the railway had an estimated 53 kilometres (33 miles) of track. Seventeen coaches were used for transporting men to the work sites and the tracks were used for steam powered cranes, power drills and crushers. At the peak of construction around 1000 tons of materials were moved every day!
In 1906 the Birmingham Corporation Water Works locomotives were sold.
In 1908 the Elan Valley Double Junction was dismantled.
Finally in 1916 the Elan Valley Railway was completely closed.
In 2004, to mark the centenary of the opening of the dams we managed to bring the only surviving locomotive (Rhiwnant) back to the Elan Valley from a private owner in South East England.
Today you can now retrace the old route of the railway by following the Elan Valley Trail, which runs for 13 kilometres (8 miles) from Cwmdauddwr (just outside Rhayader) to Craig Goch Dam. This passes alongside four of the reservoirs and offers stunning views, and can be used by walkers, cyclists, horse riders and the less able.
More information about the Elan Valley railway can be found in C. W. Judge's book 'The Elan Valley Railway', published by Oakwood Press.
Elan Valley Aqueduct
Delivering the large quantities of water from the Elan Valley to Birmingham through hills and river valleys was a huge undertaking and, unlike the building of the dams, was carried out by outside contractors in allotted sections beginning in 1896. The first continuous flow of water through the aqueduct took place on 28th July 1904, one week after the official opening of the system by King Edward VII.
The water from the Elan Valley reservoirs begins its journey at the Foel Tower, just behind Garreg Ddu viaduct. Here, water is drawn off through screens to exclude larger debris and into 2km of brick-lined tunnel to a series of 30 filter beds. These filter beds did not form part of the original plans, but were included after blockages occurred in a similar system supplying Liverpool. In order to meet the required gradient (1:2300) to supply water to Birmingham by gravity alone, the filter beds had to be constructed high up on the hillside east of Caban Coch at considerable extra expense.
After being rough filtered, the water continues its journey through the aqueduct towards Birmingham via a system of tunnelling, 'cut and cover' work and iron and steel pipes. Rather than following a straight line, the aqueduct follows the contours of the land for 118km, dropping only 52m in height before arriving at its destination at Frankley Reservoir in Birmingham after about 3 days.
Little can be seen of the aqueduct today except for the many red-brick service buildings situated along the route and the ornate bridges where it crosses river valleys.