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 2013, Arriva continues to make improvements.
We also continue to press for the introduction of the hourly service on the line, which was promised for 2011 by Welsh Assembly Government.
It was interesting to hear on the radio recently about events in Brazil, where the people had taken to the streets on account of increases in the cost of public transport. In truth it turned out that there was more to the story than just a hike in travel fares. All the same, it is difficult to imagine anything similar happening here.
Maybe the time to demonstrate about changes to public transport in this country would have been 50 years ago, when the odious Beeching Report was published? No doubt the philosophy behind it emanated from Transport Minister Ernest Marples; of whom let us just say that today, conduct such as his would probably lead to loud calls for his resignation. The effect was to deprive great swathes of the UK of public transport provision and make people dependent on the motor car. It is ironic and probable that there would have been less damage done to provincial towns had people actually taken to the streets and set things on fire, as opposed to the iconoclasm that was done perfectly legally to accommodate humanity's answer to the Daleks. Road vehicles don't do stairs very well either but you have to admit the scale of their invasion has been pretty comprehensive.
In the end, the great British Public's response was more along the lines of "Mustn't Grumble" rather than howls of protest. There were some small demonstrations here and there but not much worthy of note. Looking back half a century its astonishing that such large scale removal of a service for the public was achieved so easily.
Recently, there has been discussion within SARPA regarding the proposed new footbridge at Machynlleth, designed to make the station compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). The projected cost for this is said to be £2m, which all would agree is quite a large sum for quite a small structure. There have been views expressed that spending this amount on a bridge when apparently there is not enough money to run any extra trains is a nonsense. At first thought, I have to say I concurred. After all, a "Rolls Royce" solution would be to operate Machynlleth station from a single platform face which would obviate the need for a bridge. It could also be linked to the bus interchange being proposed by Lloyds Coaches. Easy.
But wait. The money allocated for the bridge is DDA money, no doubt ringfenced to the nines and not available for anything but to make the railway DDA compliant. Moreover, the present platform face is not actually that long and given that 6 car trains are now a reality, then it needs an extension to accommodate two of them at any one time. Now you need a crossover as well to enable trains to pass each other in the platform. Moreover, SARPA understands that the bus interchange proposal did not score very highly in a cost-benefit analysis so sadly, that's not likely to happen either. The funding for all this would probably have come from an infrastructure budget rather than a DDA one and so suddenly, the single platform face idea is not looking very wonderful at all, let alone simple! In addition, once provided, the new bridge will make things easier for more than just the disabled. It may even make it easier for the railway to do more things than just carry passengers.
We should not be upset about the amount of money which DDA compliance is costing. Even if we cannot afford to run extra trains for the moment, there are lessons for us here. The disabled lobby has been very successful in persuading the government to attend to its needs and make better provision. Disabled people too need to be able to travel, to get to work, to college, to hospital. Quite simply, they have won the argument in favour of their needs. Not only have they won the argument, they have achieved this by and large without taking to the streets and definitely without setting anything on fire.
This is of course impressive and a great achievement. We should look to the disabled for inspiration. We have to get the message across that better public transport is good for the economy; that building more roads is unsustainable; that cars contribute to rural poverty. If you don't believe the last one, just consider their insurance and running costs. Think about a young couple, both under 25 and they each need a vehicle to get to work because of poor public transport. Factor in the rent. Factor in a child and the pressures on those people are enormous. Suddenly we get to a situation where more rolling stock and integrated transport can have a positive effect against social breakdown.
Probably by now you're wondering how I'm going to tie all these disparate threads together. Or even if I'm going to manage it at all!
Well, its not 10 years since I sat in Westminster, opposite a Minister of State for Transport, at a meeting arranged by one of our local MPs. The Minister was rather holding forth which I thought was a little rich, considering that along with a great many other good folk, I was paying him as opposed to the other way round. When I managed to get a word in edgeways, I had the temerity to suggest that in Wales we should be making attempts to reopen railways which were closed in the 1960s as this would improve connectivity in a land where it is very much absent. His response was that "There is nothing there." Now I'm not entirely sure as to what the good people of Ystradgynlais, Brecon, Builth, Llanidloes, Mold, Denbigh or Caernarfon might have to say about being regarded as "Nothing" but I can take an educated guess. He then went on to say that he thought "Beeching was right..........".
Winning the arguments? Clearly we still have a little work to do here.
Moel y Garth,
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