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 Driver's view of the line

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


This page updated 12th December 2017

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.

The Wales and Borders Franchise is due to change later in 2018 and we look forward to working with the new operator. We are sorry that after all the hard work put in by Arriva to improve the quality of the service, they have decided not to bid.


As your new chairman, it gives me great pleasure to write my maiden chairman's message. I'm passionate about the railways in general, and in particular the Cambrian, which I use on a regular basis.

I've taken the reins at a key time: confusion reigns supreme regarding the new franchise, the details thereof and even about which government will be awarding the franchise. On a more positive note, the railway scene is booming with major increases in passenger numbers, additional services, better connections to the Coast line at Dyfi Junction, the campaign to link Aberystwyth and Carmarthen by rail is at its strongest since the line closed, and plans for a new station at Bow Street are well advanced (which we emphasise will require significant line speed improvements and perhaps an extra passing loop if punctuality is to be maintained).

I'd like to be able to present positive news on the new franchise, but the opacity from the Welsh Government leaves us all in the dark, trying to glean conclusions from whispers and snippets. Suffice to say, SARPA have pushed strongly for major improvements: a full hourly service on the Cambrian mainline, additional carriages, infrastructure improvements, station improvements and so on. SARPA have pushed a strong agenda for improvements to the Cambrian services through our own consultation response, through representation to the Line Liaison Committee and through the individual responses of our members. It remains to be seen if our demands will be fulfilled, and the campaign certainly isn't over yet!

One encouraging news article from a couple of weeks ago was the Welsh Government announcement that all trains will have a guard in the new franchise. The spectre of Driver Only Operation (DOO) had been a bone of contention for unions, user groups and passengers alike, and it would have been entirely unsuitable for the Cambrian in particular. SARPA have called repeatedly for this and it's great to see that the safety of the travelling public will be maintained.

Perhaps the largest uncertainty surrounding the new franchise, however, is the question of which government will be responsible for awarding the franchise. Although devolution of the powers to do so to the Welsh Government had been expected to occur prior to the franchise award, the Westminster Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has muddied the waters somewhat with a plethora of diverse and sometimes contradictory announcements, apparently on a whim at times. This threatens to delay the franchise award significantly. SARPA is home to a range of views about the devolution of rail services, and our primary concern is the service levels provided, investment in trains and infrastructure and so on. However, the political games currently taking place create perhaps the worst possible scenario: a delay in the franchise could see an extension of the current unfavourable zero- growth model in the meantime and would most likely delay the work to make trains compliant with the 2019 Disablity Discrimination Act regulations. These regulations require any service train running after 2019 to satisfy a variety of regulations, such as an accessible toilet; this requires current trains to be withdrawn for refurbishment for weeks at a time on a rolling programme. The longer the franchise award is delayed, the faster the refurbishment has to be undertaken, therefore a number of units could be out of action at the same time, leading to a shortage.

Certainly the 2003 franchise award was disastrous, and has led to acute overcrowding for passengers and extraordinarily high profits for Arriva. The recent cancellation of the Cardiff to Swansea electrification has also been a blow to the Welsh (and borders) railways. However, moving the franchise award powers from London to Cardiff does not in itself change the situation, it simply moves the decision closer to home. Improvements to the rail network come from groups like SARPA lobbying government. And here's where you, the members, come in.

The franchise process is still in progress. Assuming that the Welsh Government will, in the end, award the franchise, there's still time to lobby our AMs (for those of us in Wales). Under the Welsh system, all of us have 5 AMs and an MP. Our members in England each have an MP too (though no AMs). Let's seize the opportunity to continue lobbying in order to get the best possible deal for the line. A full hourly service, more carriages, infrastructure improvements, station improvements - all aboard!

Jeff Smith
November 2017

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)
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