CONTRARY TO what we said in the caption to the picture on p21 of the July issue, the train in the photo showing empties on the Neath Abbey Wharf to Stourton run is not related to sand traffic. The flow concerns high-quality gritstone used for its anti-slip properties on the approach to roundabouts and junctions. It is quarried just outside Neath and is loaded at Abbey Wharf (the proximity to the river is purely coincidental).
Proud Welshman Julian Worth from the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport says: ‘Gritstone has become a real growth sector for rail and accounts for all the aggregate rail hauls out of South Wales and the Marches to the South East and elsewhere, in spite of the fact that none of the quarries are rail-connected. All the aggregate majors are involved and variously use loading points at Neath, Cardiff Docks, Machen (which is not a gritstone quarry), Moreton-on-Lugg and Shrewsbury – in the latter cases the stone is roaded out of Mid Wales.
‘Whilst the volume varies from day to day, three or four trains a day is not unusual and, with payloads of 1,500-1,600 tonnes, this amounts to 5,000-6,000 tonnes a day. By way of comparison, this would equate to 250 to 300 traditional coal wagons – and it is a very long time since that amount of house coal was sent from South Wales to the South East and elsewhere, certainly not since the mid-1970s. It is therefore not an exaggeration to say that gritstone has replaced house coal as Wales’ prime bulk export!’