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 Passengers disembark at Machynlleth


This page updated 5th January 2015

SARPA is the local rail users group for the Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth line running from the English border through Montgomeryshire to the coast of North Ceredigion and ending up in the increasingly important University (and Assembly administration ) town of Aberystwyth. We exist to preserve and promote the line so that there is a more sustainable transport system for future generations. SARPA is one of the more active rail 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 at the recent announcement by the Welsh Government of an enhanced train service between Shrewsbury and Aberystwyth, due to begin in May 2015.


"It cannot be said that the Cambrian any longer fulfils the purpose for which it was built. It still offers speed, reliability and reasonable comfort; but most of its customers have deserted it....... As some indication, passenger bookings at Aberystwyth for the Cambrian Line declined from 46,000 in 1963 to 31,000 in 1967...... The days of standard gauge rail transport in Mid Wales seem, therefore, to be ending, much as we must regret to see them go."

So wrote the rail author, John Snell in 1969. What a long way we have come since then and thankfully, the Cambrian lines from Shrewsbury are still with us and thriving. It would have probably been beyond the most optimistic commentator's imagination back then to think we might ever have a service which is hourly in frequency at least for parts of the day.

In the 1960s, the presumption was that the car would provide the answer to all passenger transport problems. It was thought that the passenger railway would fade away as vehicle ownership increased, whilst rail freight would increase - this at a time when road deaths were running at around 7,000 per year. That's about nineteen people every day being wiped out; just going about their business. In the early seventies, the Cambrian service was fairly sparse, with a mere six trains each way and no Sunday service at all in winter. The first departure left Shrewsbury at 0415 - an overnight mail train from York - but if you tried to travel on the day from London Euston the first departure from Shrewsbury was 1130. There were massive service gaps in the middle of the day. From 1130 until 1417 and then until 1824, there were no Cambrian departures ex-Salop. The last departure for Shrewsbury from Aberystwyth was at 1828, the York mail. Through passenger trains even as far as Wolverhampton were the exception, with only one working each way.

By the late 1980s, the service had improved somewhat with the re-introduction of the "Cambrian Coast Express" as a through service to Euston, Mondays to Fridays; threats of closure had abated. The 0415 ex-Salop had disappeared but the total number of trains each way had increased to seven. There was still a fairly large service gap in the Up direction in the afternoon, with no through departures from Aberystwyth between 1330 and 1712. The exception was on Saturdays when there was a 1500 service, which if I recall correctly was something of an indifferent timekeeper.

From the mid-1980s, BR had introduced a Sunday service of sorts by providing a bus which called at stations on the Cambrian Main Line. By 1988, service provision had risen to two trips each way. So now, we can look forward to an increased train service from 18th May. The total footfall figure today at Aberystwyth is 320,000; the 160,000 entrance footfall consists of tickets bought locally, return tickets from other originating points and a guesstimate of rail rover usage. It's not a direct comparison with 1967's ticket sales as the methodology has changed over the years, though in all probability we've seen a multiplication of users in that time of around threefold. Increased train frequency will make the Cambrian railway even more attractive for travellers. This is the culmination of a campaign which is older than SARPA itself, going back to the days of the old "Cambrian Rail Users' Group" and it really is fantastic news. We extend our thanks to all in the Welsh Government and the Local Councils who have worked so hard to make this possible, as well as all those in the railway industry over the years.

We have been asked by some people where SARPA is going next? Well we still have plenty of work to do. Monitoring the new service will be of the utmost importance as the rolling stock provided should be adequate for the number of passengers using the trains. We are not entirely convinced that the various authorities have quite grasped this, which may yet prove embarrassing for the railway if it becomes a victim of its own success. The replacement Wales and Borders franchise is of utmost importance and the many mistakes of 2003 cannot be allowed to be repeated. We also hope that adequate effort will be made to publicise the new service, which starts in less than two months' time.

Angus Eickhoff
Moel y Garth

March 2015

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Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth Rail Passengers Association (SARPA)
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