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 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.
Elsewhere, at last the message about the benefits of rail may be starting to get through to some authorities, hitherto wedded to transport solutions involving roads. It would be difficult to have avoided hearing about the plans to improve rail links across the North of England as part of the £15bn "One North" transport plan. Nevertheless, under the scheme as it is at present, there will still be significant gaps. For instance, there does not yet appear to be any scheme to revive the direct link between the East Midlands and Manchester which was removed in 1968. |
The same cannot be said here in Wales just yet. The Welsh Government has still to initiate any plans to replace any of the internal Welsh rail network which was being so ravaged by the Beeching Cuts 50 years ago. All the same, what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander and the principles of connectivity apply here in Wales as much as in the North of England or around the South East. Indeed, because road communications are so sub-standard throughout much of Wales, the railway has the potential competitive advantage in terms of speed, so investing in new railways makes economic sense.
Meanwhile, the project to "Improve" the A465 "Heads of the Valleys Road" continues to swallow money at an alarming rate. We hear from sources near to the Welsh Government that it has now been dubbed "The Black Hole", such has been its appetite for additional cash. Originally priced at around £800m for 25 miles, it compares poorly with rail, where in Scotland, 30 miles of the Waverley Route are being rebuilt from dereliction for substantially less than half this amount.
In the rush for High Speed Rail we wonder if the alternative viewpoint has been overlooked? Examining connectivity across the existing network would reveal a number of distinct gaps and anomalies given the relative importance of various towns. Why do Berney Arms (1054 passengers in 2013), Ascott Under Wychwood (2484), Llangynllo (958) and Aberech (1214) have railway stations but Consett, Lutterworth, Denbigh and Brecon do not? What benefits to the development of the local economy would be provided by replacing these links? Has the road alternative, so much beloved of successive governments since 1963 really delivered?
The answers to some of these questions come from councillors in the far north of Scotland. Stephen Smith, SNP councillor for Peterhead South said in an interview with that wonderful regional newspaper, "The Press and Journal" (P & J); "Peterhead cannot rely on the Aberdeen bypass to make it more attractive as a location for new businesses" and added "I am more and more coming to the view that a rail link will be a vital component of how the town develops in the next 20-30 years."
Meanwhile his counterpart in Peterhead North, independent councillor Alan Gardiner commented "The Borders Railway is due to be completed next summer and I expect we will see in the Borders what we have come to expect from every other re-opening of a railway track or station in the last 30 years: an economic boost to the area and a well used, modern facility."
There we have it. Railways are modern, help the economy and people want to use them. Moreover, the train does not go where nothing happens.
It is of course, generally illegal to use so much as a mobile telephone whilst driving a motor vehicle. On the railway, you can use whatever device you like whilst you speed along. This means that people who use the train for work have the potential to be much more productive than their road bound colleagues, making rail linked locations much more attractrive for business development.
I well remember the weekend in 1968 when swathes of the old Great North of Scotland Railway were wiped from the network, seemingly forever; the P & J ran a large feature. Now it seems that the Buchan section, part of which survived for freight until as late as 1979 could be reopened to provide proper connectivity for the region.
So this is a lesson which should be well learned here. If the Welsh economy is to develop in a sustainable way, then new internal rail links warrant serious attention.
Moel y Garth
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