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 Driver's view of the line

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


This page updated 3rd July 2023

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 Welsh Government 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 we are continually campaigning on various issues from train times and frequency to station maintenance. We welcome comments from anybody about the rail service in Mid Wales.

Transport for Wales rail services were brought under Welsh Government control from February 2021. The takeover from KeolisAmey has taken place with day-to-day services now run by a publicly-owned company. This follows significant falls in passenger numbers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

KeolisAmey will continue to be involved in operations, particularly in the South Wales region.

However, all is not well and the current dire state of Transport for Wales rail services, not only on the Cambrian but elsewhere across Wales and the Borders, was feared by some as the outcome of the Welsh Government getting its hands on control over day to day rail provision. The consensus is that the service provided is currently at its worst in living memory, worse than the maligned Arriva Trains Wales operation, worse than Central Trains and worse than British Rail's later post sprinterisation years. For all the bluster of a world class Wales and repeated use of phrases like Metro and embarking on journeys; the actual journeys that the public in Wales are finding on their rail network at the end of 2021 are very different.

We really do hope that the effort is made to effect a real improvement.


Modal Shift: in the wrong direction

We face a climate emergency. The consensus among scientists and most politicians and policy-makers is that major changes are required in order to avoid disasters which could kill large numbers of people. It is widely acknowledged that action must be taken sooner rather than later, in order to secure the best chance of avoiding the worst effects of climate change. In reacting to the problem the railway, and public transport in general, has a large part to play. Public transport is much more energy efficient than private car use, as well as providing transport to people who don't own a car. According to recent analysis by the TUC, the kilometres travelled by car in Wales must to reduce by around 20% by 2030 and the kilometres that passengers travel by train must increase by 133% (124% for the buses). The report estimates the required investment to achieve this would be £700m per year of additional subsidy and £14bn of capital spending (on the railway).

Many positive sounds have come from the Welsh Government's direction regarding modal shift, where people are encouraged to use public transport rather than private cars. Parts of the new road building programme have been stopped, in order to invest more money into public transport after 2025, which will be something to welcome - but the public transport system needs investment now. In 2021, Welsh Government published Llwybr Newydd, a plan which is on paper an ambitious document to reduce carbon emissions from transport and to reduce transport inequalities in our society. One of the main priorities is to ensure modal shift, another is to locate services closer to people in order to reduce their need to travel. However, the Welsh Government's actions and the situation on the ground do not match the ambition nor the rhetoric.

Although the Welsh Government run Transport for Wales (at arm's length), the number of cancelled trains has been increasing, whilst others are late or overcrowded. This has been driving people away from the railway. In areas suchg as Newtown and Welshpool people report losing jobs due to the unreliability of the railway and some drive instead of taking the train. The situation has been done to death in our recent newsletters, but it's worth repeating in order to compare the Welsh Government's promises with the situation on the ground.

The situation with buses is worse if anything. In counties such as Ceredigion, several bus routes have gone from one bus an hour to one bus every 2 hours and passenger numbers have been much lower than before covid. The buses don't run as late as they used to and some routes don't provide a route home for those working in Aberystwyth. I have recently noticed how many more middle aged and older people are learning to drive around Aberystwyth - it is likely that cuts to bus services are mainly responsible for this phenomenon. Of course, SARPA is a rail group but the bus network feeds the rail network and they are an essential part of the public transport network. In terms of moving services closer to people, little improvement can be seen here either. If anything, community amenities are continuing to close - shops, schools, libraries etc - and healthcare is moving further away from the patients. A perfect example is the idea of a new hospital between St Clears and Whitland to replace Glangwili and Withybush hospitals. In the interests of geographical equality, it will be approximately the same distance from Carmarthen and Haverfordwest - in the middle of nowhere. It is possible that this will be near the railway but there isn't much talk of a station. Certainly from the viewpoint of northern Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion the direct buses will not go there and journeys will be longer. Again, more people will drive rather than using public transport.

From the above, it can be seen that there is a large gap between the Welsh Government's policies and the Welsh Government's actions on the ground. Is the Welsh Government encouraging modal shift? Yes, but in the wrong direction: their actions and decisions are encouraging people to use cars rather than public transport. The Welsh Government's actions need to match their aspirations before it is too late.

Jeff Smith
Cadeirydd SARPA/SARPA Chair
June 2023

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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