SARPA is the local rail users group for the Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth
running from the English border through Montgomeryshire to the coast of
Ceredigion and ending up in the increasingly important University (and
) town of
Aberystwyth. We exist to preserve and promote the line so that there is a
transport system for future generations. SARPA is one of the more active
user groups in Wales and meets monthly. We are continually campaigning on
various issues from train times and frequency to station maintenance and
welcome any comments anybody has about the rail service in Mid Wales.|
We hope that during 2015, Arriva continues to make improvements.
We are delighted with introduction of an augmented train service between Shrewsbury and Aberystwyth, which began in May 2015.
Time to name and celebrate. Those people who many years ago who had the idea for an enhanced service on the Cambrian and put together a draft proposal. It was in 1998, under the auspices of our predecessor group CRUG that Gareth Marston, Peter Compton, Ifor Morris and Paul Atkins worked out that an hourly service for part of the day was possible, utilising a Class 153 unit which was laid over at Shrewsbury for a period in between workings on the Crewe line.
The plan required no extra fixed infrastructure. Trains would have run between Shrewsbury and Newtown only and the whole scheme was costed at less than £250k. Great value on today's railway. Trouble was that the scheme was seized upon by various agencies who thought that a full hourly service along the whole line to Aberystwyth was what was really needed. Some truth there indeed but when it was discovered that this could only be achieved by means of track improvements and extra rolling stock, government funders suddenly got very cold feet and the project stagnated for many years.
The interesting point about the early proposal is that it could have been operated on the existing railway, without reliability being compromised. Trains would only have needed to cross at Welshpool. Once off to a good start, additions to the service could have been put in place as funding for track alterations and extra rolling stock permitted.
We have, however seen that additional infrastructure is not always built with sufficient redundancy in mind. There are many instances where the railway provided has been the bare minimum which will suffice, rather than the best railway to do the job. The new Borders Railway in Scotland is a case in point, being constrained by the decision to construct any new bridges for single track only and a reduction in the amount of double track from 15 miles or so to about 9. I am prepared to bet my shirt on this being a decision which will be regretted in quite a short space of time. Closer to home, as yet there is not enough infrastructure on the Cambrian to permit a full hourly service throughout the day.
Nevertheless, the serious message to get across is that rail activism actually works. It prevented the closure of the Settle - Carlisle line. It saved more or less the whole main line network of the former Highland Railway, which was at one point earmarked for closure in its entirety. Activism eventually led to the reopening of the "Borders' Railway", part of the erstwhile Waverley Route between Edinburgh and Carlisle. The enhanced service we now enjoy here on the Cambrian would not have happened without a multitude of people all working hard to persuade government that it would be worth while.
Conversely, I could point to an inter-city route that has extensive lengths of single track and operates a two hourly interval service mainly with just two car trains - which are sometimes totally packed out. It even appears to have what must be the last section of pole route in commercial service as well as a short section of double track with bullhead rail..... This piece of railway is clearly underperforming and it probably comes as no surprise to find that it has no rail user group to fight its corner. This is the former Great North section from Aberdeen to Keith and beyond.
In truth the fight to prevent closures only became effective in the wake of the campaign against the abandonment of the Settle Carlisle route, waged by the Friends of the Settle Carlisle Line. This group was a pioneer in taking up the fight against the seemingly unremitting dismemberment of the UK's rail network and is now a very serious operation indeed, having invested over £300,000 of their own money in railway buildings and structures. Their work has been the model for rail user groups everywhere.
It shows what can be achieved with determination and the real requirement for any rail campaigner is resilience by the trainload. Without doubt the Beeching/Marples plan for the UK's rail industry was a seriously flawed one and we are still living with its grim legacy. Before becoming transport minister Marples had been the managing director of a road building company; I prefer to think that if anyone tried to hatch a similar plot today, the public outcry would force resignations.
For ourselves, we have been very grateful that the Line Liaison Committee under Mansel Williams and Trevor Roberts have taken up the cause and brought it to the present state of fruition. All the same, there is plenty of work still to do!
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