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 Driver's view of the line near Welshpool

Photo:- Robert Davies/ "Of Time and The Railway"


This page updated 25th July 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 with introduction of an augmented train service between Shrewsbury and Aberystwyth, which began in May 2015.


I have a confession to make. I think it's time I owned up. I hope that what I am about to say will not result in too much disquiet within our membership and that there will not be mass resignations from the group in consequence. Nevertheless, I think it's important to get this out in the open.

I have something of a soft spot for Deutsche Bahn (DB).

To some extent, this is occasioned by having spent time blagging my way around DB infrastructure in broken German during the early 1970s as a parka clad youth; particular attention being given to various Dampf Bahnbetriebswerk, or Steam Motive Power Depots, if you will. Moreover, the railway in Germany is not fenced from end to end as it is in this country, so it was possible to approach much closer to the line and installations without being a trespasser as is the case over here.

Over the past few years we have heard much about proposals to restructure the Wales and Borders franchise as a "Not for Profit" operation when it comes due for renewal in 2018. All very well, but so far it has not been made abundantly clear by what is meant by "Not for Profit". Presumably, the idea is that any money over and above the operating costs would be re-invested in the railway. In Wales, this is somewhat academic as the farebox only accounts for some 30% of the revenue required to operate the trains anyway.

It is quite understandable why such a proposal should be put forward. Those who drafted the 1993 Railways Act probably never dreamed that it could actually be used to make profits for foreign governments, and there is an understandable disquiet about this on the part of the taxpaying public. Of course, the notion that our own UK operator might be making money operating railways overseas probably never occurred to our wonderful legislators in 1993 either, not that they would have been too happy to allow this as it would have grossly offended deeply held ideological convictions. (Remember, they just flogged off their stake in Eurostar.) One could be forgiven for wondering if the genesis for the 1993 Act as it was eventually configured, lay in too many home counties politicians and civil servants getting stuck once too often at Borough Market Junction, owing to some infrastructure failure or other on a hot day. Whatever, the result was that they consigned British Rail to history, maybe forgetting the Confucian dictum that if you decide to take revenge, you should remember to dig two graves.

Meanwhile, DB has come along and cleaned up. And how! At re-unification, the organisation merged with the East German Deutsche Reichsbahn. In 1990 it became a single unified entity, though further re-organisation in 1999 led to the present structure, whereby the track and infrastructure is part of a separate entity, DB Netz. Meanwhile DB Schenker is responsible for freight and logistics whilst DB Bahn is responsible for passenger operations, which I am led to believe go from high speed trains to bike hire!

The DB Group offers mobility and logistical services globally, and operates in over 130 countries world-wide, with more than 300,000 employees. As is well known, DB has more than just a foot in the door here in the UK, with a major DB Schenker operation on the UK rail network. It also owns the passenger operators Chiltern and Arriva, the latter complete with all the buses and Arriva Trains Wales and Cross Country too. The major shareholder is of course the German Government and heigh ho! All the profits are carted back to Berlin.

Now you can't really blame DB for this. After all, if the UK government is daft enough to pass a law giving "Free Beer Today", then it's fairly certain that someone will take them up on the offer. Like any organisation based on capitalist principles, they exist to make a profit and their prime function is to increase shareholder value. Nothing else. DB seem to be doing this rather well.

Pity then, that there is no British Rail left to operate railways anywhere at all, bringing profits home to the UK. Meanwhile, Cameron's government moan about Network Rail costs. Remember what I said earlier about digging two graves?

Nevertheless, opportunities may yet exist here for Wales, where as we know, the rail franchise is up for renewal in 2018. Not for Profit may appeal to the public but is it the best way forward? The DB business model has proven credentials and deserves examination. Why should not the Welsh Government develop an organisation which seeks to operate transport both within Wales and throughout the UK, or even beyond? It would demonstrate imaginative thinking which is absent from the transport scene at Westminster, though granted it would make those posh boys in the Cabinet rather splutter into their Bollingers once they found out about it. It may be a tall order to kick start such a scheme but once up and running, profits could be brought home to Wales to help run the railway here.

Bold and brave ideas are needed in order to bring the best solution for Welsh railways. Throughout history, Wales has been responsible for a number of important innovations. This includes the invention of mechanised rail transport itself, the first powered flight (I'm with Bill Frost of Saundersfoot!), mail order retail and the social reforms of Robert Owen. Surely it's not beyond ourselves to come up with a more sensible and profitable structure for the nation's rail industry?

Angus Eickhoff
Moel y Garth

July 2015
 001 103-1 at Lichtenfels. Photo by Angus Eickhoff

DB.....Back Then. Rebuilt 01 Pacific, 001 103-1 makes a dramatic restart from the Lichtenfels stop with the 11.49 Bamberg - Hof on Monday 18th December 1972. Note the barrow crossing as the only means of crossing the railway! Photo:- Angus Eickhoff.

You can see what we said about the railway industry in the past by clicking on this link to our archive page. We have archived all the newsletters back to November 2001.

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Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth Rail Passengers Association (SARPA)
   Llidiart Wood,   Moel y Garth,  Welshpool,  Powys,  SY21 9JF,  Wales,  United Kingdom
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Website:- Angus Eickhoff