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.
Its debatable whether any of the UK regional governments actually get it. It is questionable as to their understanding of the matter - just how much of an economic driver a frequent and affordable rail service can be.
If you don't believe me, just look at the economy of the South East of England. Ask yourself, what would it be like without that network of lines radiating from London? It would certainly not be where it is at the present, given that the commuter culture was developed and encouraged around 90 years ago by such as Sir Herbert Walker, the General Manager of the Southern Railway (the railway company) from its inception in 1923 until he retired in 1937. He was a big advocate of electrification and indeed he is responsible for the Third Rail system still in use in the south today. He also was keen to promote housing developments near Southern lines, where people would use the trains to get to work.
So the railway had a head start over road commuting. Its continued importance can be noted with regard to the recent dispute between the Department for Transport and Southern Railway (the similarly named train operator we have now) on one hand and the RMT Union on the other. If the railway was insignificant, the disruption so caused would be minuscule in comparison.
Nevertheless, UK administrations bury their heads in the sand and continue to put most of their transport eggs in the roads basket, thinking that the private car is the panacea for passenger transport issues.
In truth this is an outdated line of thought and a throwback to the early 1960s where the railway was viewed as out of date and no longer of much use. That was a fallacious way of thinking even then, if the truth be known, brought about as it was by a transport minister who had formerly been the managing director of a roads building company. Ahem! Thereafter followed the disaster of Beeching and Yes, it was a disaster, having saved only an estimated £7m in 1963 money, or around £132m today. This is pretty small beer and hardly going to achieve the shibboleth of making the railways pay......... just think what might happen if the closure of all uneconomic roads were threatened!
Back in the 1960s, there were lines with timetables which had not changed for ages and which had received little investment since before the First World War, so its not surprising that they were not serving the public properly any more. People expressed their displeasure at poor service by voting with their feet. Here, the Cambrian was thought of as a basket case and was several times threatened with complete closure.
Contrast this with today, where the service to Aberystwyth has been enhanced at key points of the day and we have seen growth in usage of up to 40% in some areas but governments are still not getting the message. There is no great vision to provide the extra rolling stock we need to cater for more passengers. They would rather spend extra money on roads. There is a huge amount of money being thrown at the Newtown Bypass at the present time, for instance - probably enough to take the railway back as far as Llanidloes, whilst the average "growth" in road traffic along the Upper Severn Valley over the 9 year period to 2014 works out at a rather interesting -9%.......Yes, that's MINUS NINE PER CENT! (Source, Campaign for Better Transport Maps).
Do roads offer the best value for money as solutions to transport problems? The huge sums being lavished on the new road around Newtown are a clear indication of this lack of analysis. The amount which has been thrown at the A465 "Heads of the Valleys' Road" would possibly have paid for the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen railway link to be rebuilt and what a difference this would make to the local economy!
The net effect of this scattering large sums of cash like confetti on road schemes to enhance links which already exist is that Wales is unlikely to get the communications it needs in order to flourish and rail has the edge here. It would be possible to provide a link from Newtown to Newport with a target journey time of 90 minutes, inclusive of stops. Just think of the money needed to provide to reduce the road journey time from 2 hrs 10 minutes for the 83 miles. Dual carriageway would be necessary for most of the way. (The fastest present rail time-going via England is 2 hr 25 minutes by the way, which considering the extra distance is not too bad.)
Wales is not unique either. In Scotland, the government is spending untold billions on the A96 Aberdeen-Inverness road and the A9 between Perth and Inverness. Do these schemes offer the best value and what other connectivity could be provided by putting rail schemes first?
Now, we accept that there are more trips by car than journeys by train but the method of calculating is not strictly fair. I can buy a rail ticket from Welshpool to Birmingham and get off in Shrewsbury and see a friend, continue to Telford and do business and then even go shopping in Birmingham but that still only counts as one journey. If I do the same by car it counts as three and statistically, most car journeys are less than 5 miles, which is not an area in which the railway is competitive anyway.
The situation is not much different with regard to infrastructure either. The redoubling of the section between Wrexham and Chester (Will it ever be finished?) is being curtailed by the bridge over the Wrexham Bypass, which remains single track. Can anyone think of a dual carriageway road scheme where the road is forced back to single carriageway over a bridge? The railway is clearly viewed as a Cinderella service by those who provide funding, except we understand it to be tax neutral.
Time for governments to wake up to the economic benefits of a properly resourced railway, instead of grudgingly providing a rather less than first rate service. That means more rolling stock, greater frequency in the timetable and reopening key routes.
Sadly, this is my last Chairman's message owing to my moving on to pastures new, as I indicated at the last AGM held at Machynlleth in October 2016. I would like to thank the group for their input and assistance over the period during which I have held the office and together we have achieved much. I would also like to say how much I miss the countenance of various members who are no longer with us and whose judgement and comment at a senior level was always highly valued. Charles Williams, Cllr. Mansell Williams, Peter Gatward and Glyn Davies. I will be continuing in the role of Webmaster and wish the group every success for the future.
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