The Swansea and Mumbles Railway was the world's first passenger railway service, located in Swansea, Wales, United Kingdom.
Originally built under an Act of Parliament of 1804 to move limestone from the quarries of Mumbles to Swansea and to the markets beyond, it carried the world's first fare-paying railway passengers on 25 March 1807. It later moved from horse power to steam locomotion, and finally converted to electric trams, before closing in January 1960, in favour of motor buses.
At the time of the railway's closure, it had been the world's longest serving railway and it still holds the record for the highest number of forms of traction of any railway in the world - horse-drawn, sail power, steam power, electric power, petrol and diesel.
In 1804 the British Parliament approved the laying of a railway line between Swansea and Oystermouth in South Wales, for transportation of quarried materials to and from the Swansea Canal and the harbour at the mouth of the River Tawe. and in the autumn of that year the first tracks were laid. At this stage, the railway was known as the Oystermouth Railway and controlled by the Committee of the Company of Proprietors of the Oystermouth Railway or Tramroad Company, which included many prominent citizens of Swansea, including the copper and coal magnate John Morris (later Sir John Morris, Bart.). In later years it became known as the Swansea and Mumbles Railway (although the original company was not wound up until 1959), or just the Mumbles Railway, but to local people it was simply the Mumbles Train.
The Early Days
There was no road link between Swansea and Oystermouth at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century and the original purpose of the railway was to transport coal, iron-ore and limestone. Construction seems to have been completed in 1806 and operations began without formal ceremony, using horse-drawn vehicles. As constructed, the line ran from the Brewery Bank adjacent to the Swansea Canal in Swansea, around the wide sweep of Swansea Bay to a terminus at Castle Hill (near the present-day Clements Quarry) in the tiny isolated fishing village of Oystermouth (colloquially known as 'Mumbles' although, strictly speaking, that name applies only to the headland at the south-western tip of Swansea bay with its distinctive twin islets, on one of which is mounted the Mumbles lighthouse). There was also a branch from Blackpill which ran up the Clyne valley for nearly a mile to Ynys Gate which was intended to promote the development of the valley's coal reserves.
Horse-drawn tram on the Swansea and Mumbles Railway, 1807
In 1807, approval was given to carry passengers along the line, when one of the original proprietors, Benjamin French, offered to pay the company the sum of twenty pounds for the right to do so for twelve months from 25 March 1807. This is usually cited as the date when the first regular service carrying passengers between Swansea and Oystermouth began, thus giving the railway the claim of being the first passenger railway in the world. Passenger services operated from The Mount, the world's first recorded railway station. The venture was evidently a success because the following year French joined with two others in offering the increased sum of twenty five pounds to continue the arrangement for a further year, but the construction of a turnpike road parallel to the railway in the mid-1820s robbed it of much of its traffic and the passenger service (by that time in the hands of one Simon Llewelyn) ceased in 1826 or 1827, ironically just as events elsewhere in the United Kingdom (particularly in the north east of England) were paving the way for the development of railways as a truly national and international transport system.
In its early days the line operated in the same manner as the contemporary canals and turnpike roads. Tolls and charges were laid down in the enabling Act of Parliament and any trader could use the line on provision of a suitable waggon and after paying the appropriate toll to the owning Company. The railway was laid in the form of a plateway, with the rails being approximately 4 ft (1,219 mm) apart.
After cessation of the passenger service the line became derelict and the original company of proprietors virtually moribund. However, the Clyne valley branch was relaid in 1841/2 and extended for a further mile (as a private line) to the Rhydydefaid colliery where George Byng Morris, the son of one of the original proprietors, had started to exploit the coal and iron reserves of the valley. From about 1855, George Byng Morris took the line in hand, relaid it with edge rails (i.e. as a conventional railway) to the standard gauge of 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) and reintroduced a horse-drawn passenger service between Swansea and a terminus at The Dunns in Oystermouth.