Slate from North Wales

Discussion in 'UK Railway Discussion' started by Oxfordblues, 4 Sep 2019.

  1. Oxfordblues

    Oxfordblues Member

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    I understand from Andrew Macfarlane, reported in this week's North Wales Coast Railway notice board, that Network Rail are shortly to start clearing vegetation from Llandudno Junction yard and Glan Conwy freight terminal in preparation for a new flow of crushed slate waste for Breedon Aggregates. This will presumably be brought-in by road from Penrhyn Quarry and possibly elsewhere. This will be the first slate despatched by rail since the late-1950s (was it Greaves' siding at Blaenau Ffestiniog, Port Dinorwic or Port Penrhyn?)

    I wonder if readers have any further information? I believe Freightliner once made a trial run of aggregate wagons to Blaenau but nothing came of it. I think there is something like 10 million tonnes of slate waste in North Wales.

    Also nearby Penmaenmawr sidings are being refettled for new traffic for the Hanson Group apparently.
     
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  3. Dr Hoo

    Dr Hoo Established Member

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    These stories were in Branch Line News recently. I had heard suggestions that the flows were connected with HS2 in some way, which might mean that they are pushed back again.
    Further (hard) gen would be welcome.
     
  4. alex17595

    alex17595 Member

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    There will be multiple times that amount of Slate in Blaenau, Rhosydd slate mine (which is medium sized - about 170 chambers) has an estimated 10 million tonnes of waste alone. The Oakeley tips alone must be magnitudes bigger, even after some were removed where the viaduct used to be. Victorian methods left 10 tonnes of slate for every ton of workable slate. I have been visiting the old mines for a few year now and they are vast underground caverns.

    Where abouts is Glan Conwy freight terminal? I thought it was just single track in that area.
     
  5. krus_aragon

    krus_aragon Established Member

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    It's just south of the junction of the Conwy Valley line with the mainline. There's convenient road access off Jn19 of the A55, along Maelgwn Road. It's practically connected to the Llandudno Jn yard.

    I suppose it's the nearest suitable railhead for the Penrhyn Quarries: while Bangor is nearer, the goods yard's largely been taken over by a car park in recent years, and sending aggregate lorries along Caernarfon Road and Penchwintan to get there would be fun, with traffic levels as they are these days.
     
  6. randyrippley

    randyrippley Established Member

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    What would it be used for? Seems too friable to use as an aggregate
     
  7. HSTEd

    HSTEd Established Member

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    It can be used as volumetric fill, when you simply need something to fill in some space in bulk rather than resist any mechanical forces.
     
  8. Tomos y Tanc

    Tomos y Tanc Member

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    I hope they're selective in where they take waste from. Some of the waste tips, in Blaenau in particular, are very stiking features of the landscape. Sure, they're man-made but they're very dramatic and help tell the story of the town.

    I know UNESCO are considering some of the mines and associated landscapes for world heritage listing which presumably will protect the most important sites and there's no real shortage of the stuff around Gwynedd!
     
  9. edwin_m

    edwin_m Veteran Member

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    About ten years ago someone was looking at bringing it out via the Conwy Valley to make the heavy bases for offshore wind turbines.
     
  10. krus_aragon

    krus_aragon Established Member

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    It's also used for a number of decorative purposes such as garden landscaping (depending on how finely it's been crushed).
     
  11. HSTEd

    HSTEd Established Member

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    I even heard of some people wanting to use it as aggregate for concrete radiation shielding in nuclear power plants.
    All that matters there is that it is heavy.
     
  12. Meerkat

    Meerkat Established Member

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    It’s grim, particularly when it is raining....which is a lot!
    Ship the stuff out to use instead of digging holes elsewhere and leave the area much greener and more pleasant.
     
  13. Ploughman

    Ploughman Established Member

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    Why load at the Glan Conwy terminal?
    Wouldn't it save clogging up the roads by loading at Blaneau instead?
     
  14. PeterC

    PeterC Established Member

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    I agree that it would be better to bring the trains as close as possible but I assume that the line would need improvements that wouldn't be cost effective.
     
  15. Meerkat

    Meerkat Established Member

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    Frankly I can’t help feeling that if they can’t improve the line for getting millions of tons of slate out then they should just give up and shut it.
     
  16. sefyllian

    sefyllian Member

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    Penrhyn quarry is in Bethesda, not Blaenau – the line to Bethesda closed in the 60s, so yes, would need quite a lot of “improvements”!

    Doubt they’d be any conservation issues either (re. Tomos’s message), as Penrhyn is still an active, working quarry. There are literally mountains of slate waste, taking a few train-loads won’t make much difference anyway.
     
  17. krus_aragon

    krus_aragon Established Member

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    And following on from earlier replies, driving slate lorries from Bethesda to Blaenau Ffestiniog would involve going through the congested tourist hotspots of Capel Curig and Betws-y-Coed (and a good portion of the Snowdonia National Park) then crossing a mountain pass to get to Blaenau. It's far more sensible to sent the lorries a few miles north to the A55, and then find a railhead.
     
  18. ChiefPlanner

    ChiefPlanner Established Member

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    A5 and A55 , about 21 miles , which makes a lot of sense. Probably do an efficient road haul shuttle , as opposed to many millions spent on the branch line. I seem to recall , in any case , some environmental concerns in Blaenau last time around when they suggested making a loading point in the community.

    Of course , economics will be critical in any decision making. Slate waste not exactly being a high value commodity. Perhaps one's hopes should not be too high.
     
  19. Meerkat

    Meerkat Established Member

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    The Conway Valley line needs to be binned off or invested in to make it sustainable. Passenger traffic will never justify serious investment but government funding improvements to allow large scale removal of slate waste by train could tick a few political boxes (investment a long way from Cardiff, trucks off road, an improvement to the scenery, jobs for the locals etc etc)
    A new small reactor at Trawsfynydd would help traffic too.
     
  20. PeterC

    PeterC Established Member

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    I had always assumed that the need to haul spent fuel from Traws was why the line survived at all.
     
  21. krus_aragon

    krus_aragon Established Member

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    Likewise.

    And remember that the nuclear fuel wasn't originally intended to go along the Conwy Valley: the original rail route was to be via Bala from the south. The flooding of the Tryweryn valley cut across the trackbed (though funds were initially allocated for a diversion), and then BR decided to close the Rhiwabon-Barmouth line, all while the plant was under construction. Building a connecting line through Blaenau and keeping the Conwy Valley line open was the cheaper option.

    I wonder when the last slate traffic ran along the Conwy Valley?
     
  22. Rail Ranger

    Rail Ranger Member

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    I understand that the land which would have been required for the slate to be loaded onto rail at Blaenau Ffestiniog has been sold off.
     
  23. krus_aragon

    krus_aragon Established Member

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    If you're referring to the old freight yard of Blaenau Ffestiniog North, the sidings are long gone anyway, so would have to be rebuilt for exporting slate from Blaenau. If you're building new infrastructure, you could do it at another suitable site. The land immediately south of the tunnel entrance may be available, and it's right next to the spoil heaps of the Oakley quarry too.

    But that's all academic, as it's not Blaenau slate that's being targeted at the moment (and carting slate across Snowdonia to load it at Blaenau would be silly).
     
  24. 6Gman

    6Gman Established Member

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    Whether greener would make it more pleasant is a matter of opinion.

    You think so. I differ.
     
  25. Tomos y Tanc

    Tomos y Tanc Member

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    These things are subjective, of course, but I find post-industrial landscapes fascinating and dramatic.

    There's plenty of natural beauty in the Snowdonia National Park and the story of the slate industry deserves to be preserved and told. That doesn't mean every single tip and ruin should be frozen in aspic but the success of preserved railways like the FfR and the Slate Museum in Llanberis shows that industrial heritage is of interest to large numbers of people.
     
  26. alex17595

    alex17595 Member

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    Agreed. The remains are a monument to people who spent there lives working underground, including the many the died there.

    I don't think I would have ever visited Blaenau if the slate wasn't there, if you want a nice scenic villge in Snowdonia there are much nicer places but the Slate has a draw of its own.
     
  27. Dr_Paul

    Dr_Paul Member

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    Yes -- I find the huge piles of slate waste around Blaenau an amazing sight, quite unworldly. It would be a shame if it were all removed, as has been done with many tips in former coal-mining areas. Some of the latter were unstable, so there were good reasons for removing them, but as far as I know slate waste is pretty stable.
     
  28. DarloRich

    DarloRich Veteran Member

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    but there is cash in them there piles!

    PS - are we actually advocating for less rail freight?
     
  29. Tomos y Tanc

    Tomos y Tanc Member

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    No, I don't think anyone's doing that! There are millions of tons of slate waste in quarries right across Gwynedd. It's just a matter of where you take it from.
     
  30. ChiefPlanner

    ChiefPlanner Established Member

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    Slightly off topic , but parts of SW Wales was referred to as "the land of the Pyramids" , as in the general undulating topography , coal waste tips stood out on the landscape . Virtually 100% removed after the Aberfan tragedy , though of course prioritisation was given to those in narrower Valleys where risks of further tip slides was more likely. Now a very little of this was moved by rail up at the Cwmbargoed end ,a gruesome job on a Winter night shift I would imagine.

    Much of the M8 in Scotland was economically graded by a well planned shuttle operation of "bing waste" on the Bathgate line , and Kent mine waste was railed in for the major remodelling of the Selhurst junctions in the 1980's.

    One of the benefits for clearing the South Wales tips , was that there was a considerable coal content , in the 19thC , miners were paid by the tram load of good lump coal - so that anything much smaller than say the size of an orange was jettisoned with the waste shale , (no market at the time for small coal) , but this was thriftily recovered in the 20thC and sold on. Some of which in the Ammanford area went by rail to market.
     
  31. DarloRich

    DarloRich Veteran Member

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    fair enough. I wouldn't want there to be an impact that reduced the attractiveness of the area to tourists as that seems like the main income stream these days!
     

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