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A survey of railways in Wales and the tourist attractions they serve

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First Great Western

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About Wales

Serving South Wales, the Cotswolds, Avon and the West Country, Great Western Trains is part of the First Group of companies, and is based in Swindon.
It operates high speed trains to some of the most beautiful and historic areas of the British Isles.

(Great Western Trains' corporate web pages may be accessed at http://www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk)

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High Speed Trains

A First Great Western Adelante train is pictured at Cardiff CentralThe high speed trains - known variously as HSTs or IC (Intercity) 125s - were the flagship of First Great Western services, but more recently streamlined Adelante units (left) have also been introduced.
Both are capable of speeds of up to 125mph and have a high level of passenger comfort both in first class and standard class accommodation. The HSTs are formed of eight coaches, with a power car - officially a Class 43 locomotive - at each end, and have undergone a complete refurbishment. Coaches A through E are standard class: F through H, first class. There is a buffet compartment serving drinks and hot and cold snacks located between first and standard class accommodation. Certain trains lay on a more informal bistro menu.
The power cars are almost 18 metres in length, and weigh about 70tonnes. Many of them are 'named' and have plaques fitted to both sides commemorating places, personalities, or business, educational or charitable organisations.
The Adelantes are of completely new design. Officially designated Class 180s, they are five-car sets which can be linked to form longer trains.
FGW has its own depots where the trains are serviced or maintained, the principal maintenance facility being Laira, which is located at Plymouth, South Devon, while in Wales, some work is carried out at Landore depot, which can be seen from the right-hand side of the train shortly before arrival in Swansea.

FGW trains in South Wales

Monday to Friday, trains to and from London Paddington and Cardiff run at half-hourly intervals, with an hourly service to Swansea. On Saturdays and Sundays the service is hourly. Some trains start at/are extended to Carmarthen or Milford Haven. Most trains from Paddington call at Reading, Swindon and Bristol Parkway (some trains also serve Slough and Didcot) before passing through the Severn Tunnel to enter South Wales.
FGW also runs trains to Portsmouth and Weymouth via Bristol Temple Meads.

The South Wales stations served are:

Newport
The Transporter BridgeStraddling the River Usk, Newport was the principal port of the old county of Monmouthshire. The central area contains the shopping centre, library and museum, cinemas and theatres; and is surrounded by steep hills. The town was at the centre of the Chartist rebellion of 1839, and there are many reminders of the uprising. John Frost Square is dedicated to the leader of the rebellion, and was dominated by Andy Plant's massive sculptural clock called "In the Nick of Time." On the hour, the 31-ft tall, stainless steel construction emitted smoke and split asunder with alarming clanks and groans while devils and skeletons appeared at various windows.
One of Newport's more famous literary figures is the tramp-poet W. H. Davies, and there is a sculpture in the Square based on one of his most famous lines: 'What is this life if full of care....' Both the above have been removed while the square is redeveloped.
At the top of Stow Hill is St Woolos Cathedral, while down river is one of the unique features of the town: the recently restored Transporter Bridge (pictured). One of only three in the world, cars and passengers are taken across the river in a gondola suspended by cables from a motorised overhead trolley.

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 The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff staged eleven Olympics 2012 football matches between July 25th and August 10th. Four of the opening matches involved teams in the Women's Tournament, and the last game was the play-off for the bronze medal in the Men's event won 2 - 0 by Japan.  

Cardiff...
...is the gateway to the coast and Valley areas of south east Wales.
A city since 1905, and the capital of Wales since 1955, Cardiff stands at the mouth of the River Taff (part of which was diverted in the mid-nineteenth century to clear a site for what is now Cardiff Central railway station). Noted for its Victorian arcades and pedestrianised shopping areas, it also offers top class facilities for sport, theatre and the cinema.
Cardiff Castle with the clock tower to the left, and the Norman Keep at upper centreCardiff Castle (left)  has Roman and Norman connections, but, apart from Roman remains at the base of the south east walls, the Norman Keep and the 15th century Western Apartments, what you see is mostly a Victorian reconstruction.
Nearby, the civic centre is considered among the finest in Europe, and incorporates the museum, law courts, the former Welsh Office (now the secretariat of the Welsh Assembly), university buildings and the City Hall. With a referendum in September 1997 narrowly voting for the establishment of a Welsh Assembly to govern Wales, the City Hall was one of the venues under consideration to house the body, but the Assembly - which first sat on June 1 1999 - was first housed in Crickhowell House in Cardiff Bay but has moved into the adjacent Senedd (Welsh for Senate) Building (see below).
Behind City Hall is Alexandra Gardens with its imposing War Memorial commemorating two World Wars and more recent conflicts.
The floodlit Millennium Stadium on the banks of the River TaffIn the city centre, the other building of great antiquity is St John's Church, parts of which date from the thirteenth century.
There are several malls off the pedestrianised shopping area, which also has St David's Hall - renowned for concerts by top-class orchestras and entertainers - and the Motorpoint International Arena, the venue for conferences, pop concerts, ice shows, and the like.
St David's Phase Two, a new shopping mall on the southern side of the city centre, opened on October 22 2009.
The New Theatre celebrated its centenary in 2006, and stages plays and other productions, including those by the internationally-celebrated Welsh National Opera until the WNO moved into its new home: the Wales Millennium Centre for the Performing Arts (see below) which opened in November 2004 with a spectacular Gala concert attended by Her Majesty The Queen.
Close to the city centre, on the banks of the river, the Millennium Stadium (right) is the home of Welsh Rugby. Opened for a Wales v South Africa friendly in June 1999, it took on international importance when it staged early rounds of the Rugby World Cup that October, and the Final on 6 November of the same year. It is now used to stage Wales' home games in the Six Nations Rugby Tournament, international football matches, concerts and other high-profile events. While Wembley Stadium was being developed it was also the venue of prestigious football matches, including the Worthington and FA Cup Finals. A very versatile building, it also stages speedway, monster truck and religious conventions.
In 2012 Olympic Women's football, and men's finals were staged in the Stadium.
A mile to the south, the Cardiff Bay development has transformed the derelict docklands area into a leisure, residential and light-industrial complex, while the barrage which dams the mouths of the Taff and Ely rivers was brought into operation on November 4 1999 to create a 500-acre freshwater lake. It is now possible to walk over the barrage from Cardiff Bay to Penarth. In June 2012, the Dr Who Experience opened, dedicated, as the name suggests, to all things Dr Who, which is filmed in the Porth Teigr studios a short distance away, as well as locations around the city and farther afield.
To the north of the city, is Llandaff Cathedral, which has been a place of worship for more than 1,400 years. Partly destroyed by bombs during World War II, the cathedral was rebuilt and rededicated in 1958, its nave overarched by the sculpture of Christ in Majesty by Jacob Epstein.
On the city's western boundary is the Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagan's, which recreates the Welsh way of life in authentic buildings from all over Wales. Dismantled brick-by-brick from their original locations and reassembled at St Fagan's - itself a manor house dating from the Civil War era - they provide a base for many practitioners of old crafts such as pottery and woodcarving, and also includes a blacksmith's forge.

Cardiff Bay

The Cardiff Bay area has been developed as a waterfront park with leisure, residential and light-industrial complexes on reclaimed derelict dockland, and is the start of the Taff Trail which can be followed as far as Brecon, 57 miles away.
The major feature is the Barrage which can be reached by road train from its stop outside the car park in Stuart Street. You can also walk across the barrage as far as Penarth, passing en route the new Dr Who Experience which opened on July 20 2012, close to the new BBC studio complex at Roath Lock where Dr Who, Casualty, Sherlock and other prestigious productions are made.
The Pierhead Building with the Senedd debating chamber at rightThe Welsh assembly meets in the Senedd (Welsh for Senate), the  new debating chamber which has been built alongside the Pierhead Building (pictured left, a striking terracotta edifice that was once the headquarters of the Bute Dock and Railway Company, which opened the first of the docks in 1839, and was the prime influence behind the Taff Vale Railway. It is now used as the Visitor Centre for the National Assembly.
The Millennium Centre with (at right) water cascading down the steel column, supposedly the entrance to Torchwood in the TV seriesThe Wales Millennium Centre for the Performing Arts opened in November 2004 with a spectacular Gala Concert attended by Her Majesty the Queen. It is the home of Welsh National Opera and seven other performing arts groups including the Urdd, the Welsh organisation for the youth of Wales. Adjoining is Alun Hoddinot Hall, named after the late Welsh composer, which is a base for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
Outside the Millennium Centre is Roald Dahl Place - named after the children's writer who was born in the Cardiff suburb of Llandaff - built on the site of the basin of the Bute West Dock, now used for street theatre and open-air concerts. The steel column with water cascading down it (at extreme right in the photograph alongside) will be recognised by fans of Torchwood - the spin-off from the successful BBC Wales television series Dr Who, filmed largely in Cardiff and the surrounding area - as supposedly the entrance to Torchwood. The latest series of Torchwood has emigrated to the United States, though.
A coffee bar and art gallery has been established in the Norwegian Seamen's Church where Roald Dahl was baptised as a child. A short distance away was 'The Tube' - a cigar-shaped structure which housed the Cardiff Bay visitors' centre. It was the base for the Spirit of Cardiff, a powerboat which attempted the fastest circumnavigation of the world in 2002. The target was almost 25,000 miles in 50 days, calling at 26 different countries, but a series of misadventures, culminating in a heart attack suffered by one of the crew, led to the attempt being abandoned, though not before a number of records were broken,
Tied up permanently at the quay alongside the site of The Tube is the Helwick Lightship, which was stationed off the Gower Peninsular guarding a treacherous sandbank 50 miles northwest of Cardiff, but is now used as a Christian Fellowship centre.
A short distance along the quay is a sculpture recognising the role of miners and the mining industry in creating the wealth which made Cardiff the foremost coal exporting port in Britain; the foundation of the capital city we see today.
A water taxi passes in front of the pier and TechniquestA little farther away, Techniquest is a unique hands-on science centre which demonstrates scientific principles and phenomena in colourful and surprising ways.
The St David's Hotel was one of the first Five-Star rated establishments in the city. Mermaid Quay a is modern eating and shopping complex which also overlooks Plas Roald Dahl (Roald Dahl Place).
Boats and water taxis (pictured left) ply their trade around the bay and up-river as far as the Castle near the city centre. They will also land you on the Barrage itself - also reached on foot from near the Norwegian Church - where you can see the massive sluice gates in operation.

Bridgend
A market town, Bridgend gives access to the Vale of Glamorgan, and has a number of medieval castle ruins in the area. Among these are Coity and Ogmore, the latter close to stepping stones across the River Ogmore which also gives access to the Glamorgan Coastal Path. Two miles from Bridgend is the village of Ewenny, with its pottery and Norman Priory. North of the town are the formerly industrialised valleys of Llynfi, Garw and Ogmore, while to the west is the traditional seaside resort of Porthcawl. Arriva Trains Wales run services into the Llynfi Valley serving stations to
Maesteg. There are also connection with the Vale of Glamorgan line to Barry and Cardiff.

Port Talbot
Port Talbot is dominated by the steel works to the south and the oil refinery to the north, but beyond the industrialised areas there are many areas of beauty and interest. Aberavon, nearby, was once a seaside resort, but this function ceased soon after the closure of the railway from the Rhondda and Afan valleys, on the course of which, the Afan Country Park has been created. On the Aquadome watersport centre, is based the revival of the town as a leisure-based resort. Surfers are attracted to the beach area, where cross currents and straight-off-the-Atlantic breezes sometimes whip up some fair waves.
Three miles east of the town, is fifth-century Margam Abbey, around which has been created Margam Country Park, which includes a boating lake and a one-acre maze. The abbey houses a remarkable collection of Celtic and medieval stone crosses.

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The Melincourt Fall, near Resolven in the Neath ValleyNeath
Standing on the River Neath, the town has its origins in the Roman fortress of Nidum. An attractive market town, here is the ruin of the castle and Neath Abbey which was founded in 1129. Before the coming of the railways, the port was served by two canals - the Tennant and the Vale of Neath - the latter having being restored in its upper reaches.
Outside the town are the Aberdulais Falls with its restored tin plate works, and, a little more distant, Cefn Coed Colliery Museum. Throughout the Vale of Neath, there are many waterfalls and cascades, principal among which are the Melincourt near Resolven (pictured), Ysgwyd Gwladys (the Lady Fall) and Ysgwyd Einon Gam near Pontneathvaughan. Also reached by an hour's strenuous walk from Pontneathvaughan is Ysgwyd-yr-eira (the Fall of Snow), remarkable because it is possible to walk behind the torrent of water from one side of the valley to the other.

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Swansea is approached over the 389-yard steel viaduct at Landore, which replaced an original Brunel structure. On the top of the hill to the right of the train just before this crossing are the jagged stone ruins of Morris Castle. Not really a castle at all, it is the remains of the first tenement building in Britain - and possibly the world - built by John Morris to accommodate workers at his Landore copper works. The nearby town of Morriston is named after him.

Swansea
Wales' second city, Swansea was extensively damaged during World War II. Over the years, the bomb damaged areas have been replaced with modern shops and houses, a process completed with the redevelopment of defunct dockland to create the Maritime Quarter.
It has a modern shopping centre, with many attractive parks close by. 
The Grand Theatre celebrated its centenary in 1997, and has been refurbished to a very high standard. It was opened by the celebrated Italian soprano Madame Adelina Patti, whose pavilion stands in Gors Lane.
A barrage across the mouth of the River Tawe, and the conversion of part of the former dockland area into a picturesque marina, has given Swansea an attractive waterfront quarter which harks back to its seagoing heritage. On the northern quay of the marina is the Swansea Industrial and Maritime Museum - which will soon become the Welsh Industrial and Maritime Museum -  with extensive displays and artefacts which highlight that heritage. Close to the Dylan Thomas Theatre is a statue of one of Swansea's most famous sons: the writer, poet and playwright, most notoriously of 'Under Milk Wood' a wickedly whimsical day in the life of the fishing village of Llareggub (try spelling the cod-Welsh name backwards!). 2014 is the centenary of Dylan's birth and there are many events taking place to commemorate the event.
A hanglider soars over Rhossili, with Worm's Head seen in the distanceThe city's university is located at Singleton Park, a public area which has a boating lake amongst its many attractions.
Swansea is the gateway to west Wales, but closer at hand is Mumbles, famed as the site of the world's first passenger railway, which used steam, diesel, electric - and even sail - power in its 153-year existence from 1807 until 1960. There were plans to resurrect the Railway using a revolutionary flywheel driven tram system, but this has been abandoned, one reason - ironically - being that the original route has been developed as a promenade and cycleway.
A little further west is the Gower peninsular - the first region in Britain to be designated an area of outstanding natural beauty - which features sheltered bays and walks along clifftop paths and onto hills with spectacular views. At the south-western extremity is the village of Rhosili where, in the church of St Mary, is a memorial to Lt Edgar Evans who died in 1912 with Sir Robert Falcon Scott on the ill-fated expedition to the South Pole. Stretching out to sea and accessible at low tide is the rugged promontory of Worm's Head (pictured right with hang-glider) said to resemble a sea serpent swimming from the shore,

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West Wales Services
First Great Western trains also operate a few services into west Wales. For gazetteer information on these towns, see Arriva Trains Wales' page

PRESERVED RAILWAYS served by FGW Trains
In South Wales, FGW trains can be used to reach the
Barry Island Railway (formerly Vale of Glamorgan Railway Society)
The withdrawal of financial support for the BIR has meant it has had to vacate its site at Barry. It has moved to join the Garw Valley Railway Company at Pontycymmer.
The Garw Valley Railway Company has its base at Pontycymmer, and can be reached by alighting at Bridgend and catching bus services 12 or 14 from the nearby bus station.
The Swansea Vale Railway is another preserved railway which has failed due to the withdrawal of local authority support. Nothing remains at Upper Bank or Six Pit, so do not travel to visit.

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Copyright 1996/7/8/9/2000/1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10/11 /12/13/14 by Deryck Lewis. All rights reserved.
Page created July 21 1996; Redesigned March 29 1999;
Updated May 18 2014
If you have any suggestions, comments, or glitches to report, please contact the author at WalesRails