THE last train to Lavernock and Sully left Penarth 40 years ago this week. Brian Keitch takes a look at 'The End of the Coastal Route'...

AT 11.44pm on Saturday, May 4, 1968, the last train to Barry from Penarth left - amid a fanfare of fog signals - ending 80 years of service to the local communities around the coast.

The line was was opened in stages in 1887 to, respectively, Lower Penarth, Lavernock, Sully and a temporary station in a field near Biglis Farm, before finally reaching Cadoxton in 1888.

The railway was built by the Taff Vale Railway - under the title of the Cardiff, Penarth and Barry Junction Railway - as an end-on extension of the Penarth Town branch, with a view to preventing the construction of Barry Number Two Dock.

The opening of Barry Docks had left the Taff Vale company reeling as a result of lost revenue.

But the ploy to stop the Barry expansion failed and the "Cadoxton Branch" as it became known, settled down to an existence of rural bliss!

In the event, a moderate amount of goods trade was realised from local cement and brick works, and summer excursions to the seaside hamlets of Lavernock, Sully and later Swanbridge became a major source of revenue, right up until the end.

Further stations at Lower Penarth and Alberta Place attracted some extra passengers too.

The highlight of the railway's history was in the early 1920s, when the famous 'Ports to Ports' express from Newcastle to Barry was occasionally routed over the line.

Apart from small goods stations at Sully and Lavernock for agricultural goods and local coal supplies, the latter also had a set of camping coaches for holiday makers!

Rationalisation began with the closure of the Biglis good yard, and in 1954 Lower Penarth Station (having already been downgraded to a "halt") was closed to passengers.

Although the line continued to flourish with the introduction of diesel multiple units in 1958, and appeared to have escaped the Beeching Axe on the railways, the Penarth to Cadoxton route was not included in the signalling modernisation scheme of 1967 which was introduced around Cardiff.

The writing was on the line!

The Penarth Town branch was singled from Cogan Junction while services to Sully and Cadoxton were left "on a limb" - the line being severed at Penarth Station.

The inevitable 'Notice of Withdrawal of Railway Passenger Services' was announced, and despite objections and a public inquiry, closure plans were upheld on the grounds that there were more than adequate bus replacement services.

With the growth of housing along the coastal belt, no doubt the railway may have had a secure future had some foresight been given.

However the line might yet rise from the dead!

If the Severn Barrage does come to fruition, huge amounts of aggregate will be needed - rail being the most suitable means of transporting it there.

Plus the planned rail connection to the West Country main line could see main line trains back to Penarth again one day!

All that needs to be done is to bulldoze a few flats and houses along the trackbed, and a way for renewed rail services for Lower Penarth, Cosmeston Park - who knows? - even Swanbridge/Sully!

Today what remains of the route is the preserve of dog-walkers and cyclists!