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 2014, 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.
We are truly impressed with the results of the recent survey carried out by the Shrewsbury-Aberystwyth Line Liaison Committee (SALLC) with regard to the projected service enhancements on the Cambrian Main Line. There were over 6000 respondents and the projected increase in usage which would result from having more trains is generally in line with what we at SARPA would expect from experience elsewhere, though we would stress that this figure would knock any "normal" government predictions to pieces!|
It was well before my time but I am told the story of what is now referred to as the "Hourly Service" began many years ago in 1997, under the aegis of a previous organisation. This was the Cambrian Rail Users' Group (CRUG) which eventually morphed into SARPA in 1999. In the wake of the line speed enhancements carried out by British Rail in the early 1990s, several members got together and schemed out a skeleton timetable for some extra services in the Upper Severn Valley. They figured out that it would be perfectly possible to run an hourly service between Shrewsbury and Newtown without any extra fixed infrastructure being required. Trains would cross at Welshpool and the idea was that a single Class 153 would suffice for rolling stock.
The idea was put to Central Trains, the then operator, who liked the idea. All the same,they maintained they hadn't any stock to operate it, though the service was costed at around £400k. Apparently it was then, in the autumn of 1999 that the Welsh Development Board became involved, along with Lembit Opik and the concept was increased to become a full hourly service for the whole line between Shrewsbury and Aberystwyth. The downside was a consequent increase in cost, with extra infrastructure being required and the service could no longer be operated with a solitary Class 153!
The result has been that successive funding providers have somewhat taken fright. I have rather lost count of the number of times various delegations from SARPA have been to see the respective Ministers, firstly at Westminster and latterly in Cardiff. Each time we have been given the same tale. Essentially this is along the lines that the "Hourly Service" is an aspiration but at the present time there is no money to fund it. Indeed, the service was promised to start in 2011 but was postponed to 2015. Now, looking at the Welsh Government website we find that the service "might be included when the new franchise is granted in 2018".
Heigh Ho! It might pay those good people in Cardiff to take a look at the present franchise agreement from 2003 where the Cambrian Hourly Service is actually included already! Nevertheless, the actual Franchise Agreement lists a number of service enhancement options including those for the Cambrian but there is no obligation to introduce them during the life of the franchise. Its not just here where they haven't been implemented. An obligation actually to introduce the service after 2018 would therefore be a somewhat belated start........
We rather feel that if those at the Development Board had listened to us, instead of making a bid for a full hourly service, an enhanced train service might have been achieved over 10 years ago. After all, what we had proposed was an affordable way to test the water rather than asking for the moon. In truth, this would follow an established practice here on the Cambrian for improvements to the service. 30 years ago there were no Sunday trains at all in wintertime. To evaluate demand, British Rail put on a bus which ran from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth in the evening. Similarly, the present 05.14 from Aberystwyth only ran on Mondays and Saturdays at that time. In the early 1990s efforts were made to improve things and the service ran every weekday but originating from Newtown.
The lesson to be learned here is one of working together, rather than one organisation taking over an idea in the hope that they will cloak themselves in glory. Ahem!
It is clear that there is a demand for an improved timetable here. SARPA's position has always been one of enhancing the service at times of day where there are significant shortfalls. The full scale hourly service is something we support but which is not necessarily the path to an improved timetable. The true strength of the survey undertaken by SALLC is that it outlines clearly the heavy demand for more trains. The large number of responses should leave the Welsh Government in no doubt as to the veracity of this. We must all work together to prevent them from wriggling out of this commitment again.
Whilst on this theme I would like to extend my most heartfelt thanks to all SARPA members who have assisted in making my job as Chair that much easier and more pleasant. In particular, Mr Harvey, Mr Morris, "Dusty Cat", Mr Redfern, Mr Denis Bates, Cllr Williams, Mr Goodhew and "Our Man in Borth". Many thanks!
Wishing you all a prosperous 2014.
Moel y Garth,
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