The Llanelly Railway & Dock Company was formed by businessmen who had taken on the coal interests on the Llangennech Estate a few miles north east of the Llanelli itself. The authoring Act was obtained on 19 June 1828.
The first line was a tramroad from the coastal district of Machynis to the village of Dafen. The Company built the New Dock near the existing Copperworks Dock. At Dafen an incline was built to the new St David’s Colliery. Problems at the colliery meant that the line did not carry coal until 1833. This branch closed in 1963 but the route can still be traced as a footpath near Llwynwhilwg and the M4 link between Halfway and Dafen. The incline survives as a footpath.
In 1835 the Company obtained another Act to build what was to become the beginnings of their main line. The first six miles from the dock to Pontardulais was opened in 1839. Another 10 miles was added over the next year to give access to the coal outputs at Garnant (known as Cwmamman at the time).
The first train out of Garnant was on 10 March 1840 although the new steam locomotives were not delivered until June. (The Dafen branch continued with horses.) The following year the main line from Pantyffynnon extended to Duffryn (renamed Tirydail in 1889 and now Ammanford) and passenger coaches were added to some trains. When the 3rd and 4th locomotives were delivered in 1843 a passenger timetable was introduced. The locomotives, however, were not too successful and horses were reintroduced at times. This coincided with a dip in the Company’s fortunes which delayed expansion.
By 1853 the Company was in a better state and powers were obtained to extend to Llandeilo. This section was opened on 24 January 1857. The Company had further expansion plans contained in the Llanelly Railway (New Lines) Act 1861. The first line was from Llandeilo to Carmarthen (opened for goods on 14 November 1864 and to passengers on 1 June 1865). The second was from Pontardulais to Swansea and opened in January 1866 but Victoria station was not finished until December 1867 but needed financial input from the LNWR.
The line between Llandeilo and Llandovery was built by the Vale of Towy Railway and was run by the LR&DC under lease from its opening on 1 April 1858. The LNWR had plans to reach into GWR territory by the central Wales route and the LR&DC was important to them. In the 1870s a dispute between the Llanelly Company and the LNWR ended up in the House of Lords. The result was the loss of some lines to the LNWR. The GWR stepped in to run the remainder from Llanelli to Llandeilo and the Brynamman and Mountain branches eventually buying the Company in 1889. The branch service that ran from the bay platform at Llanelli dates from those days but the Llanelly Railway’s main line is still in use as the southern section of the Heart of Wales Line.