The top line, the higher railway on our side of the valley, passed right below the garden of 1 Beech Terrace. Twice a day the longest coal trains in the world trundled slowly past.
We used to illicitly walk along the top line, over the viaduct at Pont-y-Waun, into Risca to go to the swimming pool. The railway was easily the most direct route and avoided troublesome gradients. The trains were infrequent and slow, but if we were lucky we could jump up on the guard’s van and hitch a lift home.
We wondered where the trains came from; where they went to. Perhaps they never stopped, like the Flying Dutchman. Other kids had great ships or silver planes to carry their dreams beyond the horizon. We had black coal trains that steamed on for ever.
Below the top line a foot-bridge led over the main line from Newport. Slag heaps bordered the River Ebbw, dark as the Styx. A good afternoon would begin on the bridge, to be blasted by the steam and smoke of the train heading up towards Newbridge and Crumlin. It would then continue with hours glissading down the slag heaps, as if they were Stygian alps. There was always the chance of a misjudged slide ending up in the river. I don’t think that ever happened, but I do remember desperately grabbing at saplings and branches to avoid a soaking.
I’m sure that somewhere there on the black river lived Charon Reese the boatman, waiting to ferry the souls of Welsh miners to the green hills of heaven, or to carry sinners down to Newport.