South Wales Railway
The broad gauge South Wales Railway opened through Llanelli to Carmarthen on 12 September 1852 bringing main line services to the town. It had been two years since the SWR had reached Swansea.
The opening followed the usual approach with speeches at stations along the way. The first train had three locomotives and 20 coaches. The Great Western’s locomotive superintendent Daniel Gooch was in charge of the train indicating how closely the two companies were linked. Isambard Kingdom Brunal had engineered the line.
The regular timetable started on the 19th. It was reported that hundreds of people gathered each evening to watch the expresses go by. The line from Loughor to Burry Port is level with just one significant curve through Llanelli station requiring a reduced speed limit.
The difference in gauge meant that the local railways had no direct interchange. The year after the main line opened the Llanelly Railway built a spur from their station in the New Dock district to the SWR platform and provided a separate platform as an exchange point for passengers who wanted to travel on the line to Pontardulais.
The GWR ran services from the start and took over the SWR in 1863.
Great Western Railway
The change of ownership was seamless to the travelling public. The next significant event was the change of gauge. The GWR had been under pressure across its system to convert to standard gauge. The whole of the South Wales line from Gloucester to New Milford (later Neyland) was converted in one highly planned exercise in 1872. The last down broad gauge train arrived in New Milford during the evening of 11 May. It left immediately and was followed by an inspection train headed by 2-4-0 Brunel. The conversion of the up line had started in 1 May and could now be used in both directions by standard gauge trains until the down line was completed ten days later.
In the 1870s, perhaps prompted by the gauge conversion, the GWR wanted to build a road bridge to replace the level crossing in Station Road and to close the one at Glanmor Road. The plan would have eliminated the operating problems for the railway and the delays to road traffic. However, there were protests about the plan especially the closure of the Glanmor Road crossing even though there were hold ups reported as up to 40 minutes at times. There was a similar plan in the 1930s which included rebuilding the station to accommodate a four-track main line. Again there were protests and the local council and railway could not agree on the details.
Going back to the turn of the century, the GWR had plans to develop its Irish Ferry Services from Fishguard and to attract trans-Atlantic Ocean Liner services by providing fast trains to London. It planned a direct route to avoid the steep climbs around Swansea and built the District Line in 1911. A start on the second section of the new route around Llanelli was interrupted by the War and not built.
In 1921 the government grouped railways into four main companies. As part of this the GWR took over the Llanelly & Mynydd Mawr Railway and the Burry Port & Gwendraeth Valley Railway. Further government intervention after the second World War resulted in the nationalisation of Britain’s railways in 1948.