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It was once hailed as the future of rail travel with ambitions to provide some of Wales’ largest towns and cities with transport networks to rival the very best in the world.
But as finances ran dry following the death of its chief investor, the dream of creating London Underground-style mazes of subterranean train tracks throughout the nation evaporated.
Yet now, more than 120 years since construction first began, ambitious plans to raise more than £250m could turn Wales’ forgotten underground systems into high-tech 21st century metros.
Sal Loripof, an Aberystwyth-based historian and chair of the Welsh Underground Rail Restoration Trust (WURRT), has set his sights on attracting investors in from the oil-rich Middle East to bring the abandoned tracks into use.
“If you look at the private sector run parts of the London Underground they make a considerable return on their money,” he said.
“This, combined with the fact we could be bringing history to life, is a fantastic incentive for people to get behind the project.”
He added: “We realise investors are more careful with their money these days but this project has real potential and we are hopeful we will get the backing from some high-profile figures in the Middle East having held positive talks during the past year.”
In 1895 John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, the second Marquis of Bute and the man often credited with turning South Wales’ coal into cash, pumped significant amounts of his own personal fortune into developing comprehensive tube networks in Aberystwyth, Cardiff, Llandudno, Swansea and Wrexham.
The construction of the ill-fated services, which in total was due to consist of 63 stations, was led by a handful of South Wales’ most senior miners who bought into the Marquis of Bute’s vision.
They recruited many of their fellow tradesmen to excavate more than 250km (155 miles) of tunnels in preparation for the tracks being laid.
But when the Marquis of Bute died in 1900 so too did the project.
Few people – apart from a few historians – still remember the network of half-finished tunnels buried more than 100ft underground and which now stand deserted, riddled with cobwebs and hidden from the public gaze.
Mr Loripof, who first became interested in underground rail networks after studying the Moscow Metro in his native Russia, said it was time for that to change.
He said: “If we can get the money together then we can really put Wales on the world map.
“These tunnels are part of our industrial history and what better way to rediscover them than by making them part of our modern infrastructure.
“Plus just think of the incentive it would provide to businesses to set up base here.”
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