(Photo 8 © D Chandler collection)
In 1894, the Port Talbot Railway and Docks Company obtained Parliamentary approval to redevelop the town's existing harbour and docks, construct a new dock with a deep water lock and piers, and equip them with the best handling facilities available at the time. The intention was to open up the extensive and practically untouched coalfields of the Llynvi, Garw and Dyffryn valleys by providing unrivalled shipment facilities, Port Talbot being much closer than the existing docks at Swansea, Barry or Cardiff.
To transport the coal for export, the second element of the scheme involved the laying of a meandering 17-mile railway linking Port Talbot with Pontyrhyll via Bryn, Maesteg and Lletty Brongu. This opened in August 1897. As a further phase, the PTR&D extended its reach by opening two connecting lines during 1898, one of which - known as the South Wales Mineral Junction Branch - headed north from Ton-y-Groes West (North) Junction to meet the SWM at Tonmawr Junction, a distance of 5 miles 31 chains.
At Pontrhydyfen, the single track crossed a viaduct of ten spans, each comprising a six-ring brick arch. Built by contractors Topham Jones & Railton, it curves gently to the west on a radius of around 40 chains, extending for 165 yards. Spans 6 and 7 cross the River Afan, the mid-water pier standing on a concrete raft and protected by a masonry-topped cutwater on its upstream side.
The structure is architecturally striking, featuring a blue-brick string course and red-brick parapets. Corbelled refuges emerge from the spandrels above each pier but their openings were filled in as part of work to accommodate the Richard Burton Trail which now passes over the viaduct. It received a Grade II listing in March 2000.
Much of the South Wales Mineral Junction Branch was closed on 27th May 1954 but access to the viaduct was maintained by the opening of a new spur from the parallel Rhondda & Swansea Bay line. Its operational status was however secured for just another ten years, closing on 2nd November 1964.
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