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 2012, Arriva continues to make improvements.
We are also pressing for the introduction of the hourly service on the line, which was promised for 2011 by Welsh Assembly Government.
In 1964, an architect called Christopher Alexander
published a book entitled "Notes on the Synthesis
of Form". He began:- "These notes are about the process of design; the process of inventing
physical things which display a new physical order, organisation, form, in response to function.|
Today, functional problems are becoming less simple all the time. But designers rarely
confess their ability to solve them. Instead, when a designer does not understand a problem
clearly enough to find the order it really calls for, he falls back on some arbitrarily chosen
formal order. The problem, because of its complexity remains unsolved."
How prescient for our own age! We live in an increasingly complex society, something which
Alexander had commented upon when he first wrote his book. He said that over long periods of time,
ethnic cultures had evolved design solutions which were well suited to function. Buildings and artefacts
were made in a certain way which became a tradition. Because of our quickly changing society, we
do not have the luxury of this slow method of evolution. He pointed out that rather than approaching
design in an intuitive manner, a more rational approach was necessary.
He outlined the case for what he called "Hierarchical Decomposition of Systems"; a close
examination of design problems which involved extensive use of mathematics. Essentially, what he
was investigating was a digital approach to design. He wrote a computer program to look at the
relationships between design parameters which ran on an IBM 7090,
an extremely impressive machine
for its time, with a computing power of around 3mb/sec and a total memory of around 1mb. However,
you needed a Very Large Room in which to put it and a pocket filled with 2.8 million American Dollars
to buy. Remember that when you plug in your laptop on one of Arriva's Class 158s.
Alexander's words resonated with your chairman as a callow youth. At the time, I was spending
quite a bit of time working on steam locomotives and understood quickly that there must have been
a better way to design these things. For instance, why put all the valve gear in the middle of the framing
where nobody could get to it? And dead loss lubrication systems? They were just........well, a dead
loss. A persistent failure to deal with the problems had led to a machine which could have been a
much more effective tool being outclassed by other technology.
Today's railway is very much a complex structure. The way it has wound up is essentially based
on the idea that the government directs and the private sector provides the service, whilst the taxpayer
picks up the tab. This was probably not how the brave new privatised railway was envisaged by its
Tory protagonists in the wake of the 1992 UK general election, but that is what we have. We can more
or less say with certainty that they did not work through their ideas and consider all the implications
of what they were about to do, and we have to live with the consequences.
I could be forgiven if I believed that the way since 1960 that the various governments of the United
Kingdom have approached the management of the railway, has been to train a ferret to hold a
dartboard, pin ideas to it, then blindfold someone and ask them to throw. (There is actually such a
game - without the ferret - called "Audio Darts"
!) As evidence that this mindset is presently alive and
well I offer the fiasco of the West Coast Franchise, the IEP
replacement for the HST
and just now,
which - Heigh Ho! - fails completely to serve important places it passes. Leicester has been
completely left out, whilst Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield all have stations in the middle of nowhere.
Seems that some of the lessons from Wales have not been learned...... Llanbister Road, Builth Road,
Cemmaes Road.......... "Nottingham and Derby Road"? "Sheffield Road"? Meanwhile, the opportunity
to re-link the East Midlands with the North West has not been taken at all.
"When a designer does not understand a problem clearly enough to find the order it really
calls for , he falls back on some arbitrarily chosen formal order." Here in Wales we have the
situation where the Welsh Government
has decided to spend another £500m on the A 465 Heads of
the Valleys Road,
despite a poor cost benefit analysis (CBA). The total spend of approximately £800m
on this road represents enough money to have replaced the railway between Mid and South Wales,
via Llanidloes, Builth and Brecon; this would have taken towns not at present on the network back
onto the railway and contributed to growth in the Welsh economy.
A well planned railway is difficult to achieve but has benefits for the community which reach far
beyond the station forecourt, enabling connectivity without the expense of owning a road vehicle. This
is especially true for Wales, where connections are so astonishingly bad for a modern European
nation. In reality, beyond the forecourt is where the real consequences of the railway (or the lack of
one) make themselves felt, which is where Christopher Alexander comes in. He took the view that
one must not only look at all the parameters regarding the thing itself which was being designed ("the
form") but also the way that item interacted with the rest of the world ("the context").
In this respect, local and urban administrations have intuitively picked up the message rather better
than central government. This is probably more from self interest than anything else, as local transport
planners themselves are more likely to use and benefit from service enhancements! Municipal
enlightenment has provided the impetus for investment in local rail, which has brought benefit to those
communities courageous enough to build and reopen. Consider if you will, those brave souls who
planned and instigated the Tyne & Wear Metro.
A very controversial project it was in gestation and
building, but the region would not be without it now. Moreover, since it opened every other big
conurbation now wants a surface tram style metro! Remember also those folk who planned and
executed the Cross City Link in Birmingham from Longbridge to Lichfield, later extended to Redditch,,
now a central transport linchpin in the West Midlands .
In contrast, over the past 50 years or so (and even beyond), intervention by central governments
have been somewhat lacklustre at best and have not worked in the interests of the railway; neither
have the objectives of the protagonists been achieved. In the wake of the Beeching closures
almost as though central government lost its way and has no clear vision as to what the railway is
actually for. Better, more enlightened thinking is clearly needed for governments to succeed in their
chosen role as "designer of the railway". On the 50th anniversary of the infamous Doctor's "Reshaping"
surely its time to wake up and start reopening railway lines. Doesn't fresh coffee smell great?
Moel y Garth
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