The Carmarthenshire Railway was authorised by Act of Parliament on 3 June 1802 making it the first public railway in Wales (and the second in Britain). The instigator was Alexander Raby. He had arrived in Llanelli in 1796 to invest in and develop the iron and coal trade.
His enterprises centred around the village of Furnace. Over the next few years he took up leases to mine coal and invested in a steam pumping engine for deep mining. He built a tramroad from Furnace to a dock excavated near Seaside which was in use by 1799.
Raby saw the potential of getting coal and limestone out of the hinterland around Mynydd Mawr and promoted the new railway. The new company bought out Raby’s line and reconstructed the tramroad using L shaped plateway track. The first 1½ miles was opened in May 1803. By 1805 the line had reached Gorslas, just two miles from the expected destination. The horse drawn trains took a day to complete the round trip along the 12 mile line.
About 1809 a proposal to double the track at the lower end and increase the size of the dock caused concern among the London based shareholders. This was the beginning of a close look at how the enterprise was run and it was discovered that Raby had used some company resources to build spurs to his own mines and had not paid all the dues for the line. This ended Raby’s management of the line. The loss of revenue at this time and lack of traffic later meant the line struggled and in ten years was mostly only using the lower section. The decline continued until it fell out of use altogether, probably by the 1830s or so. The route was resurrected by the Llanelly & Mynydd Mawr Railway.
The first Public Railway?
The first railway to receive Parliamentary approval was the Surrey Iron Railway. That company obtained its Act on 21 May 1801 making it the first public railway in the world. The question does arise, however, about which line was the first to become operational.
The Surrey line was built from scratch and the first section of track (from Croydon to the new dock at Wandsworth) opened on 26 July 1803. This was six weeks after the Carmarthenshire line received Royal Assent but as the Llanelli company was using an existing private line it does seem possible that traffic was running on the Welsh line during May or June 1803.
The world’s first passenger carrying public railway was the Swansea & Mumbles Railway. Their Act is dated 29 June 1804.