Swansea East Dock

Swansea East Dock stabling point remembered

Imagine the scene, it a quiet Sunday morning in Swansea and you have been walking for what seems an age since getting off your train at Swansea High St.  You have passed shops, a ruined castle, crossed the River Tawe and gone under the railway bridge but still no sign of any locos!

A few more yards and the fog swirling off the sea and docks lifts slightly and in the distance you can see on your right the unmistakeable nose of a class 37.  On getting nearer “Swansea East Dock” stabling point is now nearing. 2 long lines of 08’s and class 37’s many with guards vans attached are stabled. You wander unchallenged (this stabling point nearly always seemed deserted of staff!) up to the locos and record the numbers of the work stained machines.

Then after 10 minutes or so you return to Swansea High St noticing the extensive dockyard cranes and sidings in the docks themselves. Over the years a good few of us would have made that long but worthwhile walk to the East Dock, or perhaps piled out of a RESL coach tour to take in the scene.  The stabling point was also called “Swansea Eastern Coal depot” as the coal depot was alongside the stabling lines. 

On one occasion in March 1982 I arrived in Swansea very early off the overnight train from Paddington to Milford Haven. In the dawn half light I encountered a loco inspector checking the locos were secure. After the initial surprise of actually seeing a railwaymen at East Dock, a few friendly words were exchanged and we continued on our separate ways!  

Like many railway depots associated with Dock traffic, Swansea East Dock ceased to stable locos in the mid 80’s as docks traffic declined. Today the area where the likes of 37177 once stabled at weekends are housing, garages and a hotel alongside the much widened A483 “Fabian Way”. All tracks are long removed with just a solitary disused isolated overbridge where the lines crossed the entrance to Prince of Wales dock, a reminder of the past.

Swansea East Dock Loco stabling point 1964-1983

Sunday May 17th 1964 (10 locos)

D3352, D3743, D6930, 5656, 6768, 7404, 7427, 9472, 41535, 47003

Sunday 28th June 1964 (20 locos)

D2116, D3355, D3358, D3359, D3360, D3361, D3760, D3808

D6821, D6908, D6929, D6890

7404, 41535, 51218,

Dump – 5656, 6765, 6777, 7427, 47003

Friday 14th February 1969 (15 locos)

2121, 2122, 3195, 3356, 3605, 3743, 3804, 3827, 3830, 3987, 6607, 6887, 6944, 9536, 9555

Sunday 25th May 1969 (19 locos)

2122, 3356, 3606, 3743, 3825, 3826, 3827, 3829, 3830, 3986, 3987, 6604, 6877, 6883, 6891,

6892, 6931, 6944, 6972

November 15th 1969 (19 locos)

2120, 2122, 3593, 3743, 3760, 3823, 3825, 3827, 3828, 3829, 3987, 6604, 6880, 6886, 6887, 6931, 6933, 6934, 6989   

Sunday 30th September 1973 (13 locos)

3356, 3804, 3825, 3827, 3830, 3986, 6601, 6903, 6918, 6921, 6958, 6882, 6889

Saturday 6th April 1974 (9 locos)

08286, 08602, 6606, 6607, 37159, 6837, 6922, 6943, 37223

Thursday 14 August 1975 (7 locos)

08658, 08887, 37220, 37228, 37229, 37241, 37298

Sunday 23rd January 1977  (12 locos)

08591, 08637, 08658, 08659, 08792, 08942, 37178, 37180, 37236, 37238, 37290, 37299

Saturday 26 April 1980  (11 locos)

08489, 08577, 08659, 08660, 08792, 08804, 37175, 37214, 37230, 37274, 37292

Saturday 1st May 1982 (8 locos)

08577, 08658, 08663, 08819, 37138, 37177, 37213, 37251

Sunday 15th May 1983 (last day of main line locos at East Dock) (8 locos)

08354, 08400, 08660, 08664, 37180, 37222, 37247, 37284, 37290

Swansea East Dock power variety and turns

The power stabled at Swansea East varied in numbers, being busiest at weekends with class 08 and 37 the staple power. The 1960’s also saw class 03 and 14 stable at East Dock.  The class 14 turns off East Dock ended in April 1969 with the 03’s soon following. The stabling point in steam days was the location of Swansea East Dock shed (87D) with an allocation of over 30 locos. The core traffic for locos stabled at East Dock was coal from Neath valley pits with vast tonnages loaded onto ships from MDO wagons via the coal drops in nearby Swansea Kings Dock. The Prince of Wales dock also took  much steel slab and coil traffic plus some imported products. Only shunters normally worked in the dock complex itself.

The 1980’s decline and closure

The early 80’s saw the export coal traffic handled by Swansea Docks fall drastically. The “Railway Observer” reported that the East Docks stabling point closed to main line locos on Sunday May 15th 1983 with 37180/37222/37247/37284 and 37290 leaving the depot for the last time. They then all worked ballast turns in the Port Talbot area before going to Margam depot for future work.

Dock pilots 08354,08400, 08660 and 08664 remained outstabled at East Dock in May 83 as the signing on point remained here until accommodation in nearby Burrows Sidings became available a few weeks later.  

 The coal traffic handled by the docks finished completely in 1987 when the surviving Irish coal export traffic began using containerised coal wagons which were exported via Ellesmere Port on Merseyside. Steel was the last principal rail traffic handled by the docks with a solitary Burrows sidings pilot doing the work that once kept many more shunters busy in the once vast Swansea dock railway network.   

Perhaps next time you travel on the “Fabian Way” into Swansea,  look to your left and think back to the happier days when lines of grubby Shunters and class 37s stabled at the long lost Swansea East Dock. Long gone but not forgotten.

37178 at the head of classmates 37238, 37299, 37236, 37290 and 37180 at Swansea East Dock on January 23rd 1977

A side on view of 37180 with the mist hanging over St Thomas behind, note the 08s stabled behind the 37s at Swansea East Dock on January 23rd 1977

A workworn pair of 08897 + 08769 stand stabled in the isolation of Swansea Eastern Dock on 4 September 1988. 08897 was introduced to traffic in 1962 with withdrawal coming in the summer of 2009. She had been scrapped at Booth’s, Rotherham in early 2011. A rosier future beckoned for 08769. Having been introduced in 1960 the end of her working life in front line traffic came in 1989. 08769 still survives to this day in preservation at the Dean Forest Railway carrying her D3937 number and named GLADYS..

Thanks to Mark Beal for the photo

parts of this article appeared in Traction mag a few years back, the above class 37 phots “not being suitable for publication!”, not that Traction is worth reading these days!

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