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Updated 19th February 2015

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 Speeding along the double track

Speeding along the double track section near Forden    Photo;- Gareth Marston


You can download a copy of our latest newsletter in *.pdf format.

   Newsletter 65 Jan 2015

Up and Down the Line

Station refurbishment? Well some men turned up did a little and put some screens up and then cleared off for weeks on end before coming back doing a little more then going again. However, work is now ongoing - and the station nameboard has been refurbished locally.

Borth is to have extra car parking space made available in conjunction with the introduction of the enhanced train service. Also, we understand there are plans to close at least one of the level crossings in the Borth area, though at present we are not sure which, given that there is a choice of EIGHT, including foot crossings! We think that either Capel Sion or Capel Soar may be involved.

You can see a complete list of all level crossings on the network by clicking here.

Meanwhile, British Transport Police (BTP) have been clamping down on crossing misuse with an initiative called "Operation Look". This has involved Police vehicles with number plate recognition facilities and officers handing out leaflets to motorists at level crossings.

In the 9 months from 1st April to the end of 2014, crossing misuse has resulted in 400 people being charged, 568 Driver Awareness Courses, 16 Cautions, and 357 Fixed Penalty Notices .

BTP have also released a video of some very scary things being done by road users and which is featured below.

You guessed it: there been no follow up to the white lines drawn on the platform for the Access for All lift shafts. We understand the old footbridge is to be demolished. Completion date is now said to be late 2015.

Work to provide more car parking space at the station continues apace, however with the former stationmaster's house already having been cleared away to make the land available. Also, the public toilet block on the east side of the station has also been knocked down, with facilities now being provided in the station building. Whether this is to be a permanent arrangement is not clear at this stage.
 An old style BR Totem at Machynlleth
. .

We understand that the Station Action Group continues to make slow progress against all the hurdles placed in their way. They recently had a meeting with Edwina Hart at Carno

The station house is for sale, with an asking price of £125,000. Selling agents are Morris Marshall & Poole in Newtown.

Planning permission for a change to residential use would have to be sought if a prospective purchaser wishes to reside at the property. Like other buildings on the Moat Lane to Machynlleth section, the substantial stonework probably came from the cutting at Talerddig.
 Caersws Station House is for sale
Caersws Station House               Photo:- Owain Betts for Morris, Marshall and Poole, Newtown

The middle section of the station building has a new tenant who has opened it up as a Café and small shop. They are aiming to be open from 0600 to 2200 Monday to Saturday. The announcement of the extra trains from next May appears to have been a factor behind them taking the plunge on the expectation of increased footfall.

Powys County Council is pressing ahead with plans to apply to the Welsh Government for a grant to redevelop Newtown bus station on its existing site. Where this leaves bus/rail integration remains unclear and also where the buses to serve it will come from. Having cut support to around half the bus routes in the county in 2013, a further package of cuts has been proposed on the bus support grant but without any detail on where the axe will fall. Public transport by bus in the county may soon become a trip into a market town for school/college time and a trip back when school/college finishes.

Whilst construction is carried out a temporary bus station has been made available, well concealed between the bowling club and the River Severn.

Work has been completed in closing the level crossing at the site of Forden Station.Trains now pass through the old station site at maximum permitted line speed.

Buttington-Trewern School have teamed up with Arriva Trains Wales to provide floral decoration at the station. Arriva have provided two tubs for the project and children from the school planted bulbs in December.

Concern has been expressed at the lack of additional parking space for rail passengers arriving by car, which could become acute when the service frequency is enhanced next year. Additional space could be made available on the east side of the station, although where the funding to convert it into car park space will come from is not clear.

Members of the local agricultural community have become concerned about the prospect of an hourly service claiming that they need half an hour at a time to get cattle across User Worked Crossings (UWC), and they will no longer have the time with more trains running. Their claims have been met with some scepticism from within railway sources, who point to other areas of the UK with double track and even more frequent services that seemingly have no issues with live stock crossing. It has been suggested that the farmers are primarily looking for compensation and it has pointed out that north of Welshpool to Buttington Junction up until 1965 there were close on 50 train movements a day on summer Saturdays. As far as we are aware, there is no record of any livestock crossing problems.

Buttington Crossing Collision
The report on the accident was released early in 2014; it can be accessed online by clicking here.

We have heard, via "Sources from within the industry" that the centre freight road through the station is to remain out of use for the time being. We understand that part of it will be lifted to allow access for bridge repairs beneath, within the station area. The intention is to replace the track at the conclusion of the engineering work.

The privatised railways' practice of making train miss connections by a few minutes continues with Virgin Trains new London service from Shrewsbury. The first departure @ 0639 is some half an hour before the first arrival from the Cambrian and the second weekday departure @1524 conspires to leave 2 minutes before the 1330 from Aberystwyth arrives. On the return direction there are arrivals @ 1256 & 2056 giving waits of 31 minutes for the 1327 to Aberystwyth & Pwllheli and 46 minutes to the 2142 to Aberystwyth. Figures from the Office of Rail Regulator shows that journeys from the Cambrian to London and the South East are around 130,000 per year, around 3,500 a week, and passengers still have to change in the West Midlands.

Here's the full timetable:-

5J21    04:30 Barton-under-Needwood depot - Shrewsbury 06:17 [empty stock]

1R21    06:39 Shrewsbury - London Euston 09:13

9J14    10:23 London Euston - Shrewsbury 12:58 [stables at Coton Hill sidings]

1B68    15:24 Shrewsbury - London Euston 17:56

9J38    18:23 London Euston - Shrewsbury 20:55

5D38    21:14 Shrewsbury - Barton-under-Needwood depot 22:55 [empty stock]

Notable is the extraordinary distance involved with empty stock working, which is well over 100 miles. At around 18% of the revenue mileage, is this the most efficient way to use resources?

 A Virgin Voyager unit at Shrewsbury
A Virgin Voyager having arrived at Shrewsbury @ 1256 waits for its scheduled 1524 return at somewhat cold and desolate Shrewsbury station on Tuesday 16th December.
Photo:- Gareth Marston

Havoc at Harbury
Passengers who prefer the Chiltern service from Birmingham to London Marylebone are having a tough time of it owing to a massive landslip in Harbury Cutting between Leamington & Banbury, which occurred on 1 February. At the crest of the slope at the top of the cutting, the land dropped 4 metres (13 ft). Network Rail estimates that around 350,000 tons of material may have to be removed, though they hope to reopen the railway at Easter.

Meanwhile, replacement bus services are operating for Chiltern Railways passengers between Leamington and Banbury, adding about 90 minutes to journey times. Meanwhile, the BBC reports that London Midland and Virgin operators are accepting Chiltern tickets on their services.

Cross Country services from the Midlands to Reading, Southampton, Bournemouth and Guildford are also affected. Below is a Network Rail video of the situation, featured on Youtube.

Birmingham New Street
Passengers using Birmingham New Street will note that progress continues on the massive rebuilding project at the station, with large areas where work continues being panelled off.

The final piece of the station's new atrium roof covering was put into place on Tuesday 14 September 2014, marking another important milestone in the station's redevelopment. Made from the same high-tech material as the Eden Project in Cornwall and the Allianz Arena in Munich, the translucent roof covering will allow natural light to stream down through the atrium onto the huge new concourse below - but not before demolition experts remove around 6,000 tonnes of concrete over two floors of the old Pallasades shopping centre.

Chris Montgomery, Network Rail's project director for the Birmingham New Street project said:

"As our work to transform New Street station continues, excitement among our 1,000-strong workforce is really starting to build. Piece by piece, the design and concept for the station is being brought to life and it's great to see the last section of the new roof covering lifted into place."

We understand that there are also proposals for a moving "travelator" which will operate between New St and Moor St stations.

You can find out more about the project by visiting

Network Rail have kindly allowed us to use the pictures below, which give an artists impression of the rebuilt station. The webmaster rather feels that the striking atrium feature would be further enhanced by some large plant life. An opportunity for Birmingham Botanical Gardens perhaps?
 The new atrium at Birmingham New Street station
The station will feature a large atrium over the ticket hall and concourse. A great improvement.
 The rebuilt station from the London end
The rebuilt station from the London end

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Other News


Archive Newsletters
We have now included an archive of previous newsletters on this site, right back to 2001. These are *.pdf files and they have an added advantage over the photocopied originals in that you can see all the photographs in full colour.

You can access the archive by
Clicking Here.

Enhanced Service Update
The new timetable has been made available for booking tickets from 24th February. You can take a look at it by going on line. The webmaster favours the Accessible UK Train Times site as being easier to use that of National Rail Enquiries.

We have also pieced it together from the Open Train Times website, which also gives reporting numbers. The results, showing departures from Shrewsbury and Aberystwyth can be seen in the tables below.

Departures from Salop.

Reporting No













Birmingham New Street






Birmingham International











Birmingham International






Birmingham International






Birmingham International






Birmingham International











Birmingham International











Birmingham International




Departures from Aberystwyth

Reporting No




Birmingham International






Birmingham International






Birmingham International



Birmingham International






Birmingham International



Birmingham international



Birmingham International






Birmingham New Street


Turnaround times @ Aberystwyth approx 14 min.

Dovey Junc - Dovey Junc times approx 54 min.

In our view,the absence of 0830 and 1630 departures from Shrewsbury are unfortunate. We hope that there are plans to strengthen the 1727 ex-Salop to cope with what undoubtedly will be heavy demand. Also, a 2030 departure from Aberystwyth in the summer months would probably be popular, though the present arrangements east of Shrewsbury would only allow the passenger to travel as far as Wolverhampton at that time of day.

Shrewsbury to Chester
The proposed extra trains on the Cambrian have not met with universal acclaim as ATW have confirmed that they are looking at cutting two services on the line to find a spare DMU. The current 0700 Shrewsbury to Wrexham and 0749 Wrexham to Birmingham International would be withdrawn with the unit instead forming the 0625 Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth and consequential diagrams. The current Welsh Government funded express which leaves Wrexham @ 0732 would have additional calls at Ruabon, Chirk and Gobowen added but users on the line point out that this will then leave a 6 hour gap between through trains to Birmingham. Users are also up in arms about the Welsh Government proposal to run an hourly service between Cardiff and Holyhead and point out that the spasmodic through traffic usage on the current 9 trains a day demonstrates that it's a thin market and that the overwhelming choice of destinations for through services off their line are for the major cities of the North West, West Midlands and London and not Cardiff.

CIS Screen Improvements
Arriva tell us that information being sent to CIS Screens at stations from the Wales Route Operating Centre in Cardiff is being improved. In a rolling programme of upgrades, Arriva's customer information team are supplying more detail to passengers about services. Train formation information is now also being displayed on screens with bulletins such as "This train is formed of 3 coaches".

The CIS system is also cascading delays to the next rolling stock working. If, for example, the 0537 Cheltenham - Maesteg is reported 5 minutes late, the system automatically calculates that the next working will be late starting and applies this delay to the train. Prior to this, the return working would be advertised as "On Time".

We understand that further improvements are planned

Station Footfall
Full details of all station usage nationwide can be found on the website for the Office of Rail Regulation.

Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth Railway Liaison Committee
The Liaison Committee which comprises County Councils, Town and Community Councils, Network Rail, Arriva Trains, British Transport Police, Aberystwyth University and other interested railway groups. recently announced they now have their own website. The remit of the committee is to discuss, gain information and influence improvement of passenger services and all other aspects affecting the Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth Railway Service

Meanwhile Welshpool Town Council still have available on their website, previous proceedings of the Liaison Committee. This material goes up to February of this year. You can access this information by clicking this link.

Ticket Machines & Split Ticketing
THE NEWS GOT IT WRONG... Self service ticket machines won't tell you cheapest price. News reports in December told us that, from March, train ticket machines will tell you the cheapest fare. NOT TRUE...

1) They just have to warn you they may not be cheapest.

2) They ignore split ticketing, which on some routes halves costs.

There are quite a number of split ticketing websites available. Here are a few to try

For mobiles:-

For looking up any fare:- Will even offer you a day return from London Victoria to Calais, including sea passage for £39.50p.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back On The Railway
Someone came up with a scheme to refurbish those most hated trains, the Pacers! Oh No!

Despite announcements that their days would be numbered, rolling stock leasing company, Porterbrook has unveiled a programme to upgrade the Class 144 units and extend their life beyond 2020. The company owns 23 of the Class 144s and 16 Class 143s and is intending to spend a total of £800,000 on the fleet. Most of the spend is on a serious upgrade to the interior. However, there are no plans to do anything about the awful riding qualities. The project is referred to as an "Evolution scheme".

Hang on, didn't evolution eventually wipe out the dinosaurs?

Speaking to "Rail"magazine, Karen Jackson of Porterbrook said, "The Class 144 rolling stock is technically sound and reliable.There is no reason why it could not operate successfully and economically for a further ten years".

Now these vehicles were intended as an economic solution for operating rural branch lines, although in practice they have been used on some quite long sectors between significant regional centres. The effect is to render disagreeable an otherwise pleasant journey with their noisy, bouncy ride. We would bet that Ms. Jackson doth not often travel in one.

A short while back, we had sight of some contractors drawings of Pont Briwet, the dual-mode bridge on the Coast Line and which had been released into the public domain. They showed what appeared to be a Class 144 on the structure. We received several items of correspondence filled with a serious degree of alarm at the prospect of their being used on Cambrian services. Don't even THINK of sending them down here!

For those who are not easily frightened, there is a photograph on Wikipedia of the prototype unit in Platform 2 at Shrewsbury.
 A Class 144 unit
                A Class 144 Pacer.             Photo:- Peter Skuce/Wikimedia Commons

Possible reopening to Caernarfon?
The possibility of re-opening the Menai Bridge to Caernarfon line has been put forward in draft plans by the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways. The proposal is for a standard gauge line, ending at a new station in Caernarfon. The Welsh Highland would be extended through the Maes Tunnel to the new station.

The project has been costed at under £40 million. It has the backing of Dwyfor Meirionnydd Assembly Member Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas. The aspiration to reopen the line has been included in the North Wales regional transport plan. Arriva Trains Wales included a similar proposal in its bid for the Welsh franchise in 2003.

Possible reopening Aberystwyth-Carmarthen?
The West Wales Rail Campaign - Traws Link Cymru continues to make progress with its plan to re-instate rail links between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth. They have also added their weight to the scheme to restore the line between Bangor and Afon Wen on the Cambrian Coast line, to create a rail corridor along the west coast of Wales. However, their projected journey times of 90 minutes for the 56 miles between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen is somewhat unambitious and not really competitive. In truth the trip should take no more than 70 minutes to be attractive.

They also have a very active Facebook page.

Don't forget the Two Together Railcard (Yes, it has its own website) which allows two named people over 16 to travel together and receive a discount of one-third off all fares, at all times except between 0430 and 0930 on Monday - Friday. You don't have to be related! The card will cost £30, but a discount of £3 can be obtained online here. The offer is available until 17th May 2015 but can only be obtained when you purchase your card online.

The card is also available from station ticket offices. Each person must provide a passport photograph. The card can only be used when the two named people travel together so does not replace any existing railcards.

The Welsh Government's ongoing obsession with road building schemes continues. The vast amount being spent on the A465 "Heads of the Valleys" road in South Wales, originally amounted to a total spend of around £800m. Since we first reported this on the website we have heard from various sources that the road has been gobbling additional money at an alarming rate, to the extent that it has been dubbed "The Black Hole". The snazzy video is still on line, with the opportunity to post a caustic comment, if you feel so inclined. By the way, if you actually drove like this and the law got wind of it..... well you wouldn't have a licence any more! Still, one presumes the Welsh Government feels it has to do something to inspire the petrol-heads. The total amount of money being thrown at this pile of tar would be enough to take the railway from Moat Lane Junction back to South Wales again. Rather better value for money and the Welsh economy.

There are rumours that the extent of the overspend has been serious enough to delay the start of construction for the much vaunted and misguided Newtown Bypass. Meanwhile, we have been able to identify no less than FOUR snazzy videos of the route, all displaying a fair amount of we would say is illegal driving to boot. We wonder if in any way, such profusion of media presentation is a portent the final cost!

And another thing! Whilst we're on the subject of Cash Gobbling Roads..........
Well, it's a bit off our patch and probably none of our business. Nevertheless, we could not help noticing that Scotland has been much in the news in recent months so we shall take the opportunity to pass comment on the Scottish Government's obsession with roads. They want to put dual carriageway on the A9. More astonishingly, they want to perform the same trick with a rebuild of the A96, which runs between Elgin and Inverness! The cost of this truly gargantuan quantity of tarmacadam is projected at a hefty £6bn for both routes. A real gobbler! Fortunately, we are at least spared the snazzy bad driving video in this instance.

We have to confess a small interest here, as we hope such deeds will not encourage the The Welsh Government, given over as they are to expensive highway schemes, to consider dualling the A470 when they have finished throwing money at the A465. Moreover, the Chairman points out he is not called 'Angus' without good reason.

We came across the Scottish highway scheme via the Far North Line website and to be entirely fair to the Scottish Government, there are also substantial works planned for the Aberdeen - Inverness Railway too, involving route and signalling upgrades and improvements to line speed to give an end to end time of 2 hours, with talk of a half hourly service between Inverness and Elgin as well.

This is welcome news for the route, which in the '60s was scheduled for closure under the Beeching Plan, along with everything else North of Aberdeen. The scheme managed to go as far as chopping up most of the former Great North of Scotland Railway (GNoS) network, including the iconic Speyside Line and also the Buchan section, where recently there have been tentative mutterings about reopening.

It is worthwhile taking time out to consider what else might be achieved if the £6bn were to be spent in different ways. Given that the Borders Railway has delivered 30 miles of rebuilt route for around £300m, does the road scheme along the North East Coast actually offer reasonable value for money? The upgraded road will no doubt be a fantastic place to put the Beamer through its paces when the cops aren't looking but what for the rest of us, who cannot afford the latest BMW offering?

SARPA members have on many occasions made the point that road travel is all very well but you still have to find the money to buy a car, tax it, insure it and pay the maintenance, in addition to the fuel costs. For young people, this is an increasing burden - indeed the cost of car insurance for the under 25s is now quite prohibitive. Additionally, unless you can afford a chauffeur to drive the Beamer for you, working whilst on the move is totally out of the question. Given the opportunities for this offered by modern computing and communication devices, road transport is at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to business travel.

We would surmise that problems with the road might be addressed relatively cheaply, with selected upgrades to remove serious pinch points. This would leave substantial sums for improvements to public transport infrastructure.

An intelligent scheme would be to take the railway back to Banff, which would do much to bolster the economy of the region. This could be achieved using much of the old GNoS alignment and with a probable price tag of less than £400m.We understand that Park Signalling in Manchester have devised a wizard scheme for signalling secondary lines, which if fully developed could significantly reduce the cost. Also, to save meandering across the countryside from the erstwhile Lossie Junction, it would make sense to branch off from the existing railway near Lhanbryde and link up with the old route between there and Garmouth.

There is indeed the problem of a humongous hole which has been dug for mineral extraction to the West of Portgordon but this is not insurmountable and the former junction at Tillynaught would need to be re-aligned as the line from Banff went North-South, rather than East-West. Also, a new route near Cullen would be advisable to avoid reinstating that horrible curved platform, which is now replaced by housing anyway.

There would be stations at Buckie, Cullen, Portsoy and Banff. For an hourly service, trains would need to cross on a dynamic loop near Lhanbryde and at Portsoy, with loops at all stations to allow for flexibility.

Possible timings from Elgin, which are based on those already being achieved here on the Cambrian are a wake up call and in reality vital for the success of a reopened railway. Buckie would be reached in 17 minutes; Cullen 26 minutes; Portsoy 35 minutes and Banff 47 minutes with schedules from Inverness taking less than 90 minutes over the whole route. The key to this is the fantastic bridge over the Spey at Garmouth, which has lain idle since the line closed.
 The Spey Bridge at Garmouth
The Spey Bridge at Garmouth                         Photo:- Ronnie Leask/Wikimedia Commons

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Steam News

So far attempts to find a solution to the problem of fitting UK steam traction which is suitable for the Cambrian, with
ERTMS signalling equipment continues to draw a blank. However, we understand that the group who are responsible for the new A1 Pacific, Tornado have made some progress. Take a look at this report for more information. What Network Rail might say about having this engine cross Barmouth Bridge is anybody's guess, however!

As ERTMS spreads across the network, the problems with it affecting steam traction will have to be addressed in some way or other. As far as we understand, the former 5AT Group, who earlier had expressed an interest in managing a new build steam project for the Cambrian, complete with ERTMS installed no longer wish to pursue this.
 GWR King Class at Shrewsbury
Flashback to 2006. Former GWR King Class 4-6-0 No 6024 at Shrewsbury with a special in May of that year.

Steam traction will appear at Shrewsbury next on 28th March with a special from Bishop Auckland and also on Wednesday 8th April when a train from Dumfries will feature. Motive power to be confirmed.

Full details of all steam traction on the main line can be found at

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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