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.
SARPA members were somewhat surprised to learn that over the summer, Network Rail is planning a huge amount of engineering work in our area. The comprises not only maintenance on the Cambrian Main Line but also features major interventions at Shrewsbury and along the Welsh Marches too.
Whilst we are delighted that there is continued investment in the railway, I cannot help but feel that it could have been better timed. After all, the railway in our area is a major player in the tourist industry and disruption at this time of year will not be well received by either passengers or tourist related businesses alike. At Shrewsbury, the intention is to excavate the bridge at the north end of the station for some much needed maintenance. This will necessitate the removal of all the permanent way in the vicinity, resulting in the segmentation of Shrewsbury with all services to and from the north being replaced by buses for the duration.
The track replacement on the Cambrian does not have quite such drastic consequences, with much work being done at night. All the same, several weekends will still feature upheaval and inconvenience for passengers at the time our railway is at its busiest.
Earlier in the year, Network Rail failed to make any friends when they scheduled engineering work on the Cambrian to clash with the Machynlleth Comedy Festival. I believe Arriva Trains Wales were none too impressed about this, having shelled out quite a considerable sum in sponsorship for the event.
One could be forgiven for thinking that Network Rail couldn't care less about its image and reputation with the public at large - after all, in today's fragmented railway industry its relatively easy to avoid responsibility for bad stuff.
Nevertheless, I cannot help but feel that NR neglects its public face at its own peril. It is after all, a publicly owned operation which is heavily unionised and doesn't make a profit, something which is total anathema to the present administration in Westminster, the more so since our wonderful leaders are looking for a way to make a quick buck by selling things off to their greedy corporate friends. In reality this is an organisation which is essential for effective transport in the UK but it definitely doesn't need enemies.
So all the more peculiar that NR almost goes out of its way to avoid making friends. This has been something of a long standing attitude - their approach to the steam service which operated successfully on the Cambrian Coast until 2010 was not exactly inspirational, it being effectively wiped out by the introduction of the ERTMS signalling system. This despite the fact that when employed selectively on the Cambrian, steam locomotives pulled trains and made money, without subsidy. Also, it might help if NR officials made the effort to attend regularly, meetings of stakeholder groups but all too often they are conspicuous by their absence.
Meanwhile, Tory plans for NR have varied from a complete to a partial sell off with an emphasis on further asset stripping of the railway to help offset the burgeoning national debt, which to be fair to the railway is not really its problem. This includes the disposal of land which is currently"redundant" but in fact could prove most useful given projections for continued growth in rail use. Successive Tory administrations have not exactly been supportive to the rail industry so this is very worrying.
The most bonkers idea thus far has been a proposal to sell off major stations (many of which the taxpayer has forked out recently to refurbish) and lease them back. This seems an invitation to the property sector to fleece the taxpayer further to a completely outrageous extent. Notably, such "public - private partnerships" (PPP) have tended to end in tears for the long suffering British Taxpayer. PPPs are used to conceal public borrowing, while providing long-term state guarantees for profits to private companies - the corporate gravy train. Private sector corporations exist to maximise shareholder value. That's it! On the railway, this can conflict with the interests of the passenger or even the would-be freight user and when it all goes wrong, the general public winds up footing the bill. For instance, the Metronet PPP contracts to upgrade the Tube left the DfT without effective means of protecting the taxpayer. Metronet's failure led to a direct loss to the public purse of between £170 million and £410 million.
Also, any potential sell-off by Westminster of railway property around the UK poses serious questions with regards regional sovereignty. This is doubly the case in Scotland as rail is much more devolved there than is the case here in Wales. Both countries were heavily ravaged by the Beeching cuts, Wales probably more so than Scotland and re-connecting lost lines should be of greater importance for the local regional economies, rather than selling off railway assets, whether still in use or not.
Meanwhile, NR seems to obsessed with rolling out the "Digital Railway" (does even NR know exactly what this means?) and one hopes that this is not history repeating itself. In the early 1960s the scheme to rid the world of steam traction as quickly as possible was thought to be the great panacea for all ills, when truth the real problems lay elsewhere.
So, come on Network Rail. Make some friends who will support you against a further round of Tory malevolence and asset stripping, learn to talk to local organisations and - Get A Grip.
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