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 are delighted with introduction of an augmented train service between Shrewsbury and Aberystwyth, which began in May 2015.
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
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!
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